Hey, kids! Guess what time it is?! No, not time for unprotected sex with multiple partners. (…so lonely…) It’s time for another Random’s Half Baked Theory!
Today we’ll be looking at why exactly I had a hard time finding anime on amazon.com for this weekend’s anime party. Here I am, loading up my fave e-commerce site, looking for something with lots of explosions and boobies and comedy and things that would suit a rowdy crowd of male anime fans (plus Jenny). Y’know, party fodder.
And lo and behold, I find none. Everything I could spot on DVD was either Gundam, sports anime, shoujo anime, or quasi-arthouse material. And I believe I’ve figured out why.
Working on half-informed assumptions about the Japanese economy, I can state with complete possibly misinformed confidence that the budgets for anime are sinking fast. TV series are more likely to be funded since the OVA market has collapsed, and TV budgets are notoriously small. Without the money to do all those explosions and contract the pop music and have wild action in every episode, animators have started thinking of alternative ways to get things done on budget, on time, and with an acceptable level of quality.
What we have thanks to this ‘strapped for cash’ motif is a revolution in anime. Where before you could pump out a dozen lame OVAs where the main selling point is the amount of blood you spill and the combined monetary total of property damage, now you need to do more with less. More dialogue, less action. More use of clever minimalist camerawork, less wild fly-through scenes. More substance and stylish substance… less indulgence.
The end result? Evangelion. Serial Experiments Lain. Boogiepop Phantom. Utena. Eat Man. Animes that use new technologies, new methods of storytelling… animes that take their weakness (lack of huge budgets) and turn it into a strength by making the most of the money creatively and artistically. Example: Can you only do still shots? Fold Gendo’s hands in front of his mouth, or show the characters in shilouette in front of a breathtaking background.
Even animes that aren’t trying to be arthouse material have benefited. Look at Initial D; it’s a sports anime and involves ‘mecha’, so to speak. But by using computer graphics for the car race sequences, they can have more freedom to animate the races without spending millions on drawing cars from infinite angles. Initial D follows the pattern of sports anime, where the main character is slowly sucked into the world of a sport and gradually grows and trains and becomes a success; a good pattern for something which can’t afford to bash you over the head with intense action every ten minutes. I got a copy of Princess Nine, which combines shoujo with sports anime, and despite being a very laid back and simple sort of story it works brilliantly.
This doesn’t quite explain generic anime pop claptrap like Angel Links (except maybe how AL uses the same launch sequence and weapon sequence in nearly every episode), but my browsing of Amazon’s anime racks — and I live in a country that typically only imported the bloody breast filled over the top violent anime, even! — shows that there’s a changing attitude towards at least some anime. And it’s an attitude strong enough to carry over into the overseas markets.
The one problem I have with all this? I was trying to plan a party, dammit. And all I had to pick from was this brilliantly done artistically designed anime that makes you think. I’m supplying for a crowd that does not WANT to think — not in general, I mean, but not during a party. And other than picking up Bastard!!, which is almost a decade old or more, I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.
There’s no way in hell this crowd could have handled the Utena movie I picked up. It’s a brilliant film — I’ve watched it twice already, once normal, once with director’s commentary. I was really moved by it, put into that mildly unstable frame of mind I get into after seeing a really good movie or a reading a really good book. But, I don’t think it would have worked at the party; it’s just too surreal and would’ve become MST3K fodder at best. I’m glad I saw it solo, I could really sit back and appreciate and study it as a former part-time film student. I don’t think I’d have been able to have that same appreciation amidst a gang of rowdy guys who’d be totally unable to look beyond all the ‘girly’ stuff and the surrealism. It might have been a sickening experience instead of an emotionally moving one.
So, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, the new wave of anime is more satisfying to the artist in me, and I’m definitely looking forward to picking up more Boogiepop DVDs. On the other hand, it’s a bit disappointing that the new wave of anime doesn’t work very well for group viewings. (At least not my group, Your Mileage May Vary.) I like to share the things I hold great value in, but I just can’t share these things except under proper contexts and settings.
But I am happy, overall, that people have learned to turn weakness into strength in anime. I’ve had to deal with lack of resources, lack of manpower, lack of time in my creative projects since I was a little kid — each time trying to find ways to turn an absence of something I’d need to make a project happen into a strength. (Don’t have enough coding skillz to make a game? Make Pong Kombat and let humor and style win over technological prowess.)
In closing… right now, there’s never been a better time to be a mature anime fan, even if it means a change in how we have to approach and appreciate anime.