Why do People Watch Anime?

Picture somewhat related.

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.

Characterisation

Right, so you can't empathise with an anime character. Try this on for size. Especially its second season. Go on.

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.

Alright, I admit, the first time I saw this image, I did NOT think "Hey, that's Nicolas Cage". But hey, you've most likely seen the meme version, and I don't think you thought that either.

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.

Exaggeration

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.

I believe the expression she has on her face indicates rather severe consternation. Just a hunch.

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.

Read it.

Fantasticality

Picture related. Advent Cirno by Yoshitaka Ushiki, artist for Yumekui Merry.

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.

tl;dr: Conclusion

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…?

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About Carillus

"Any sufficiently advanced application of locupletative language is indistinguishable from writing magic."
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23 Responses to Why do People Watch Anime?

  1. Wow, that’s some good stuff. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    But now that I’ve read this, I’ll feel bad if I do such a post since it’ll be pretty similar…

  2. I simply watch anime due to the fact Ive taken a liking to all sorts of characteristics involved around anime. Such include the animation itself, the characters, the story telling and the music.

    People often dont realise how much work goes into making anime, especially from the west. Anime itself is something unique and that should be embraced not only by otaku’s. What I certainly like is that there is a diversity in Genre. Although Moe, eechi and over the top fanservice can be seen we can still get masterclass action, romance and so one.

    • Carillus says:

      Similarly, people don’t realise how much work goes into the Justice League, or Avatar, or Ben Ten or whatever.

      The only reason anime might seem to be unique is because of the Japanese being open to putting any subject in the form of anime or manga, and the writing base being extremely diverse. If you look at the themes being dealt with as a whole, America has already long delved into them with their graphic novels and comics as well.

      Well, the Japanese do excel in cuteness, you can’t beat them in that.

  3. Shance says:

    A note about characterization: It’s not always the case, because there are exceptions to the rule. This goes to a lot of side characters who are given a lot of unnecessary importance. I detailed one such character, Shirai Kuroko, on a post that determines whether some characters deserve the appearances they get in accordance to the plot, as well as the other important characters.

    • Carillus says:

      Not exactly my point. Firstly, Shirai Kuroko isn’t a side character but a main character in Railgun (one of four protagonists, or even a deuteragonist, if you will), so she should be getting her spotlight. All the hot lesbian girl-on-girl action wasn’t exactly my cup of tea either, but as my points on characterisation deal less with over-characterisation and instead with how one is more able to accept a fictionally represented character than one performed by an actor, I’d like you to imagine this:

      If Kuroko were represented by a real, living actress, in a real, 3D version of Railgun, would she work as a character?

      No. Her character is too contrived, too exaggerated, too unreal to be a proper, physical, humanly-represented character. BUT, it works in anime, because peoples’ ability to suspend disbelief is greater.

      This is what I meant by characterisation: How far you are able to push the limits of a character before you lose the ability to empathise with them completely.

  4. None of those points are necessarily central to anime or unique to them though. I don’t think there is any 1 particular or uniform reasons for anyone watching anime (or indulging in any hobby really), its just something people like and is their medium of preference. A lot of people will indulge in very specific other mediums for everything you’ve described gaming (D&D, WOW), reading (comics, novels, visual epics), writing, music, even real life TV feature the exaggerated and fantastical elements you’ve described.

    I mean, I have my reasons for watching anime (though, I am also an avid reader amonf other hobbies) but I don’t think these reasons are necessarily shared nor do I think we could give a general reason for why all or even half of the fans watch anime. Anime, as any preference, is as wide as it its fandom – i.e. rather arbitrary.

    • Carillus says:

      The list of reasons that one can watch an anime for are many, and these are just three of the reasons I thought of. There’s all the philosophical and storyline-based reasons to consider.

      Let me clarify: The three reasons I stated ARE shared between all mediums. It’s just the level and style in which it is done. People who watch anime prefer how it’s done in anime, people who play games prefer how it’s done in games.

      These three are reasons that I believe most people would share at a more subconscious level, but that’s not to say that there aren’t other base reasons as well.

  5. TRazor says:

    I’m a little if-fy on the first point. If an actor is good enough or capable enough, he will transcend from his real life personality to his on-screen persona, so much so that it’s harder to imagine their real life persona than it is to think of their on-screen character. Case in point: Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. He’s not a “superstar”, so people don’t know much about him outside of his movies and thus he will forever be engraved in our minds as “Snape”. Even still, when Johnny Depp steps into the shoes of Jack Sparrow, I completely forget that it’s Depp. It’s all about the quality of acting.

    And if the story is immersive enough, we can get a good enough emotional investment with them too. In fact, I find it hard to relate to 2D twats. Much easier with real life ones. Tons of anime characters I can’t empathize with simply because they’re bad. On the flip side, I can empathize with lots of live-action movie stars’ characters.

    As far as voice-acting goes, it has more to do with language. Japanese in itself is a more expressive language with constant voice modulation. That’s why when you show some subbed anime to a stranger, they chuckle a little at the constant yelling or the hyper-active voices. We’ve just gotten used to it. This is also the reason why dubs sound kinda weird. The conversations in anime are way, way more expressive than real ones, with constant body movement or shaking or whatever of some sort. IRL, we’re mostly deadpan voices with little to no modulation.

    Wholeheartedly agree with the third point. Crazy shit is best told in anime.

    • Carillus says:

      I realise the first point is a bit iffy. When stories are good and the acting is superb, one is usually able to transcend the limitations of physical recognition and be totally immersed into the story. It’s just that for anime, you don’t have the physical recognition in the first place, so there’s no barrier to immersion from the get-go. Except maybe your own misgivings about the show, or your natural aversion to 2D people.

      After that, however, as I mentioned, you have the 60% communication via body language bit. A good actor who is able to pull this off will definitely have the advantage over a bunch of moving lines.

  6. Valence says:

    The curious thing about anime is that we can simply create new characters out of nothingness. Obvious, I know. Yet that’s not a reason why I watch anime, is it? I mean, just because I see Face/Off in National Treasure doesn’t turn me off entirely from movies and TV shows in search of a form of entertainment that doesn’t rehash its actors. It’s not even about the quality of acting as well – we often remember them by their greatest roles, but not by the average quality. (Case in point – Nicholas Cage, yet again.) It also doesn’t factor quite as much into the less refined genres such as ecchi and perhaps, if you could call it a genre, moe.

    The second and third points I agree with completely. Have you ever felt this vague feeling of ‘wow, this is totally like something straight out of a comic’ etc etc etc? Same here. We actually relate our lives to our chosen forms of entertainment albeit subconsciously. The humour, action and whatever else is intensified in anime due to its visual cues yet is not criticized due to the nature of anime itself. We know it exactly for its ludicrousness. People take on eyeballs the size of fists and hair in all sorts of unnatural colours like it isn’t even a thing. Near everyone is perfectly fit and leads a good life. Even in drama the ending is usually a happy one. Everyone’s life is interesting to some extent. The negative ones, intensified, become engaging and perhaps, shocking – yet convincingly, I might add.

    Yet it seems that the reason people watch anime is much less grandiose than the reasons listed above.

  7. Yamadipati says:

    I love figures, then light novels/mangas. Animes comes third. So the reason i would watch the anime most likely than not is because of the figures i’m interested in.

    But before that i usually try to find the light novel/manga first, depending which is the original media.

    • Carillus says:

      Your case seems to be more of an outlier than the norm, though…

      • Yamadipati says:

        i try to find their “canon traits” because personalities are varied from one figure blogger to another. Hence why figure bloggers rarely start drama with each other. Because even though we depict different personalities into our figures, all of them stem from the same “canon trait” of said character’s figure.

  8. kluxorious says:

    Why do you want me to watch the second season of Clannad? I fucking hate that anime so NO I WON’T GIVE IT A TRY.

    I have my reasons for watching anime. You can read that reason here: http://kluxorious.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-do-i-go-crazy-for-anime.html so I won’t have to repeat myself.

    • Carillus says:

      As I always say, everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, so here’s mine:

      Since you can’t be bothered to write down your reasons and instead choose to link me to a mysterious website that allegedly hosts your opinions, I can’t be bothered to care about your reasons or visit your website. After all, since your first sentence seems to have blatantly disregarded everything else in this post and zoomed in on one little throwaway caption, I can’t see what else I can glean from you either.

      Have a nice day.

  9. Smiley says:

    I’m not too sure about anime being that disconnected from actual people. Some viewers out there seem to have gained the ability to recognize a VA’s voice. While I generally can’t do this, I am at least able to recognize distinct voices like Kugimiya Rie and HanaKana.

    The topic of the uncanny valley is certainly an interesting one. Last time I heard it mentioned, appropriately enough, was in a computer graphics class. I have to agree that anime does it just right. Stuff like 3D-CG, on the other hand starts cutting it awfully close.

    And finally, I most wholeheartedly agree that the “unreal” nature of anime is one of its strongest points. Crazy post-apocalyptic battles aside, this is very well exemplified even in simple comedy. At least, I’m sure the comedic violence victims would probably attest to that.

    Personally, I just watch anime because it’s what I grew up watching. People are likely continue doing what they’ve always done, to a certain degree, of course.

  10. chikorita157 says:

    I think my answer is clear cut… I watch Anime simply for entertainment nowadays since I enjoy the producion values and story. Considering that I grew up with it, this comes at no surprise.

    • Carillus says:

      A good choice. Overanalysing anime is something best left to people with nothing better to do.

      …I think I need a new hobby.

  11. Canne says:

    Fantasiticality is the main reason for me. Exaggeration of expression can be charming at times but emotional expression is where the anime cannot overcome what live-action can create. Anime character is simply drawn. They are not real and they can only express one exaggerated emotion at a time. While good real life actor can appear on screen, doing nothing, but be able to display complex and wide array of emotions all in one look.

    • Carillus says:

      I agree wholeheartedly on the complex emotions bit.

      However, not many actors are able to do that, and scripts don’t often demand the ability to portray a vast variety of emotions. It is most often the camera and the director, depending on the positioning of the character, that does the job of creating tension or underlying emotion.

      • Canne says:

        LOL, good actors are really rare and good actor in the wrong film is also a recipe for disaster. In the end, anime is more reliable :)

  12. Nopy says:

    My top reason is relatively simple: I think it’s pretty. Naturally, bad or ugly looking anime usually won’t get my attention unless it has an amazingly good story.

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