The Anime Invasion
Japanese animation leaps from cult status to mainstream
November 04, 1999
BY BRUCE WESTBROOK
Anime - pronounced AH-ne-may - is a Japanese term adapted from the English "animation." But this serious brand of Japanese animation stands well apart.
Not that many Americans are hip to its nuances. Here, anime's fans are largely limited to a cult following among teens and college students.
To fans, anime is almost instantly recognizeable by the way Japanese artists draw adult characters with oversized eyes.
Yet in tone and content, anime ranges widely, unlike the kid-driven approach of most American animation.
One dramatic example is Princess Mononoke, opening Friday, an elaborate feature film directed by the genre's acknowledged master, Hayo Miyazaki.
In contrast to its wonderous, adult-level adventure is Pokémon, the children's power fantasy that began as a video game, morphed into a trading card craze, is popular as a TV cartoon and will leap to the big screen with Pokémon: The First Movie on Wednesday.
Beyond that are original animation videos - harshly violent and erotic films for adults, long a staple of private anime clubs and cultists around teh world.
Even such pornographic anime, called hentai, usually fails to render its characters as recognizably adult. For this reason, parents are advised to inspect the boxes at video stores, which will usually state whether the film has violent of sexual content.
All such work was spawned when anime arose amid Japan's postwar economic struggles. It was cheaper to tell stories in animation than as live action.
Just as U.S. animation evolved from comic strips and cartoons, anime also has its roots in manga, Japanese comic books that are as popular with the adults as they are with children.
The difference between American comics and manga is that the Japanese brand focuses on character development and story.
Anime's themes are also less conventional than U.S. animated features. It's not oncommon for major characters to die of undergo transformations that render them evil. Even children's anime deals with complex issues.
The most popular anime tends to draw heavily from Asian folklore and symbolism, especially the ancient philosophies of Zen and Shinto and the martial arts.
Many Americans got their first taste of anime in the 1960s when the series Tetsuan Atom was dubbed - badly - with English voices and syndicated in the United States as Astro Boy. In later years, anime series such as Star Blazers and Speed Racer also arose on television.
Stone Bridge Press (www.stonebridge.com), which specialises in books about Japanese art and culture, has published a number of books on the subject, including Helen McCarthy's Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation ($18.95) and The Anime Companion by Gilles Poitras ($16.95).
In Houston, Planet Anime, 2439 Times, offers anime video and books.
Filmographies, essays and information also are plentiful on the Web. A good place to begin is the Anime Cafe, www.abcb.com.
The Houston Chronicle, November 4, 1999
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