With @fkeroge and Smiley pulling a monopoly on all of the First Impression posts, the rest of us little people at AOIA have to do up posts on other matters. Therefore, today (or rather, because this post took the better part of a month, this month) I bring you my opinion on just why people watch anime.
This was a question that popped into my head while I was on the bus home. With no source or origin, for no rhyme or reason, I found myself pondering this actually rather interesting subject.
With my good teacher Google-sensei, I took all of 0.28 seconds to search for, quoted exactly, “why do people watch anime”, and picked the first choice on the list that had at least something to do with the subject and was sourced from an anime blog. That was from thatanimeblog, whose several ideas in the somewhat short but very concise post coincide on certain points, namely the idea of escapism. So, after checking for precedence in posting and understanding that yes, “why do people watch anime” does seem to be a relevant subject, here are my thoughts.
Note: This post is not about why people watch anime, as in all the metaphysical stuff that usually involves Carl Jung at some point, but what people watch anime for, as in the reason adult 20-year-olds still watch anime instead of going on to read Leo Tolstoy or something.
The thing about thatanimeblog’s post that I don’t agree with is the idea that you cannot empathise with an anime character as much as you can a physically represented character from a live-action movie. In fact, it’s the other way around. I’ve given this some thought; ever realised that reading a book almost always gives you a stronger feeling of disjointedness from reality than a movie of that same book?
This is because the book allows you to imagine the characters for yourselves - as characters. This as opposed to a movie, which casts stars and actors who you’ve likely seen before in another show. When you watch Ghost Rider and you see the titular protagonist on screen, you don’t think “hey, that’s Johnny Blaze”, you think “hey, that’s Nicolas Cage”. Worse still, you remember that he also did Face Off, Con Air, Windtalkers and National Treasure. THEN you remember Johnny Blaze. Books don’t have that problem.
Similarly, anime doesn’t, either. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons the cartoon is actually a very strong medium for storytelling. Anime is basically what happens when you take a drama and remove the concept of stars and actors – you are left with the pure, unadulterated story, albeit one still able to benefit from good directorship and camera framing.
While you do lose some of the empathy you would normally have with a real human on screen, because anime deliberately chooses to give their characters ridiculously oversized eyes and simplified features, you have human representations that fall on the peak of the curve right before the uncanny valley. You don’t lose much in terms of empathy, and you more than make up for it by cutting the preconcieved ideas of stardom out of the equation.
Thus, one of the reasons people watch anime is because it has strong characterisation. No, seriously.
Anime is exaggerated. Bodily movements, facial expressions, voice acting. @fkeroge recently did a post on the importance of voice acting. I agree. By making voice acting a professional and semi-lucrative career, Japan has managed to create an army of talented individuals whose sole purpose in their job is to lend a credible, emotional voice to their character. Facial expressions and movements are left to the animation studios, which often have dedicated teams for each. This as opposed to actual actors, who have to juggle all the aspects of screenplay, including voice, expression and movement. By separating the portrayal of the individual into a job for multiple specialisations, anime is able to exaggerate each in its own manner, creating an on-screen individual that excels in all areas of expression.
Of course, you can’t have people in anime move like people in real life. This, of course, detracts from the fact that, scientifically speaking, 60% of information gleaned in conversations is from body language. However, take this another way: Your ‘actors’ do not suffer from bad acting. They move merely enough to represent the role they are supposed to play, and nothing more. While you won’t be getting any subtle nuances from them, you won’t be getting the artificial wooden feeling you get from bad acting, either. In other words, they behave exactly as the story demands them to.
In terms of facial expressions, while most anime won’t be winning Most Expressive Performance of the Year awards (you can’t really tell the difference between an angry character and a merely annoyed one), they function quite well when seen in context, for the most part. Of course, there are some that go above and beyond the call of duty, like the above Mami. No doubts how she feels there.
Finally, voice acting. @fkeroge covered most of this in his post,
Good Voice Acting is One of the Most Important Aspects of a Good Anime.
No matter how advanced your computers and powerful your renderers, there is no way to make your actors do what those weak-looking anime chicks do on a daily basis. You can’t have lightspeed sword battles and people doing flashsteps all over the place with real people and real, physical mass. Just look at Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. It’s pretty, alright, but it’s seriously weird. Cloud just swings that hugeass sword around like it’s nothing, and that tower climb where he just jumps off people’s hands? Seriously. People can’t do that, and your gut tells you that by kicking down the door to your brain and shouting, “THIS SHIT AIN’T GOING DOWN”.
Anime, being 2D, does not suffer from these problems. It’s too far removed from real life. Again, uncanny valley, only applied in a different context.
The reason we watch anime is because its storytelling capability excels in three areas over more conventional entertainment, to us: characterisation, exaggeration and fantasticality. If you’re the kind of person who’s not used to seeing a bunch of lines and some technicolor moving around on screen, having real flesh-and-blood or at least 3D-rendered characters in your movie/serial is probably going to be better for you. If not, hey, you get the best of both worlds.
There are, of course, other reasons. Why do you think people watch anime? Do state your ideas in the comments section below.
Oh, and also, do please vote for us to keep Valen’s e-peen growing. It does wonders for his ego. Then maybe he’ll think about giving us a pay rise or something. Wait, does he even pay us in the first place…?