October 13, 2007
We're all animation fans here, right? And there are probably few things that irritate us more than people who think that all we watch are the juvenile antics of anvil-toting funny-animals. I've said before that the mainstream press (and marketing departments) are a big part of the problem, as they help perpetuate a limited (and often inaccurate) view of animation's content and process.

As it happens, today I spotted two articles that both refer to their writers' limited views on animation. One of these is predictably disappointing; the other is surprisingly encouraging.

I'll start with the good news. In yesterday's New York Times, Stephon Holden summarized the New York Film Festival's highlights, and he led off with (and praises) Persepolis despite, as he put it, a "longstanding resistance to animation":
Because it is animated, Persepolis is a bold choice for the festival’s closing-night selection. "A cartoon?" you may sniff. "How dare they?" But the movie is so enthralling that it eroded my longstanding resistance to animation, and I realized that the same history translated into a live-action drama could never be depicted with the clarity and narrative drive that bold, simple animation encourages.
This is a refreshing and commendable report. Confronted with an animated feature that challenged his preconceptions about the medium, Holden adjusted his worldview in light of this new experience, without once feeling the need to denigrate the rest of animation's offerings. If only more film critics, fans and artists did the same.

Montreal's Al Kratina, on the other hand, gives a typical backhanded compliment in yesterday's Montreal Gazette:
In September, Anchor Bay Entertainment released a slew of anime titles, including Perfect Blue, a film that avoids most anime clichés. It's not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster. Instead, it's a complex story of a young pop idol who's stalked by a crazed fan, with exaggerated themes of obsession and paranoia that feel like Alfred Hitchcock directing a Road Runner cartoon.
More of the same old, same old. Kratina has, like most mainstream critics (and more than a few in the animation press, as well) seen only a sliver of all that anime has to offer, and yet he figures he already knows "most" of its tropes—sorry, "clichés." So far as he's concerned, it's not typical anime if it's "not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster." And of course there's the inevitable comparison to Disney films or Looney Tunes.

Enough is enough, already. As I wrote eleven months ago, if we want to see better animation writing we need to tell writers and editors when they've screwed up. I encourage you to write to newspapers, magazines, radio shows, TV shows and websites when this kind of lazy criticism occurs; it's the only way we'll ever see real change. Here's what I wrote to the Gazette:
Sad to say, I'm not surprised that Al Kratina makes the backhanded compliment to Perfect Blue that it "avoids most anime clichés. It's not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster" ("'In' films for 'out' crowds," Oct. 12). There are many anime productions that don't fit into his preconceived categories, but as is often the case with people who don't take the time to understand a genre or medium, he figures a few generalizations will suffice.

The irony here is that Kratina reviews comic books, another medium that is often unfairly judged. If I said, "The Sandman is a title that avoid most comic clichés, because it doesn't have spandex-clad muscle-men whaling the tar out of each other in adolescent power fantasies," he'd probably tell me about how comics have become more mature and/or complex in content over the last three decades, and that there's a whole world of non-superhero comics that go beyond that tired stereotype.

In short, he'd be asking me to look at the medium with an open mind. He might consider extending the same courtesy to anime.
Have you come across anything egregious in the media lately? Let us know about it.

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Comments:
Oh, oh, oh! The coup de grâce that I've experienced in the past six months has to be an opinion/editorial written for the Wall Street Journal -- "Manga Mania" by Bianka Bosker (August, 2007). The article comments on how anime and manga are incapable of rendering any fair definition of culture, social life and politics in a competent fashion; the article of which goes on to judge the entire Japanese animation industry based on its pornographic market.

The initial argument that animated characters do not serve as genuine representatives of cultural and political ideology of a country would make for a good article; I will consent to that no problem. But basing that argument on only a fair sliver of the quality of materials available in the medium is ludicrous.
That op/ed piece in the Journal was an absolute outrage!
A recent find is literally entitled "Japanese Anime Destroying American Society" where in an Opinion/Editorial article for the Oregonian Daily Emerald writer Elon Glucklich comments that the simple-minded children's material, in Japanese animation, are corroding the intelligence of America's youth. To be fair, the article is intended to strike some sort of satirical chord... but it does nothing more than categorize itself as a poorly structured rant. (In the end, you'll laugh more at the writer than at the writer's commentary.)

Perhaps if the writer attempted to argue that plotless children's programming does no favors for a growing child then audiences would listen... But I guess that would make too much sense. The Oregonian has published a variety of interesting letters to the editor about the Op/Ed already.

My favorite quote (from Glucklich's article): "The next generations of kids aren't even getting a chance. Unless something is done to reverse this trend, we're going to be looking at millions of high school dropouts who don't see the point in going to college unless it teaches them to capture magic crystals."


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