July 19, 2008
A little while ago, I got a copy of Animania in the mail. It was a copy-for-blogging exchange, and I was glad I got a chance to see it. I had caught it on local cable a couple of weeks ago, and was curious to see the rest.
Turns out, I had only missed about the first ten or fifteen minutes. The documentary itself is only about an hour long, with a half-hour special features section called "Anime Uncovered." Despite my interest in fan studies, I thought that this was the more interesting part of the package -- and not just because it featured our friend Emru. I liked hearing from experts, specifically Canadian experts, and I also enjoyed hearing about the mechanics of modern animation.
The documentary itself revolves around a group of cosplayers (not a cosplay group, just different cosplayers) who attend Anime North, Toronto's major anime convention. The filmmaker, Felice Gorica, asks them the same questions, most of which are about why they like anime, how long they've been watching it, why they cosplay, and what they think life is like for teenagers in the twenty-first century. Also included are interviews with the parents of each cosplayer. Whether this was intentional or not, there seems to be a clear cultural divide between the minority parents and the white ones -- the Chinese, Japanese, and Caribbean parents all profess to love the way cosplay gives their kids projects to do, teaches them discipline and stick-to-it-iveness, and keeps them out of "normal" trouble. The white parents, however, seem intensely worried about how their son uses anime to help create his identity, how much money he spends on his anime habit, and whether he should be "living his life by the rules set out by a world of fantasy." (My husband then pointed out that the American Dream is more of a fantasy than anything anyone could animate, and that living one's life by its rules is probably twice as unhealthy as any fannish obsession.)
If I had one criticism of this documentary, it would be that the editing needs work. Technically it's fine -- it's not like the audio and visual tracks leap apart, or anything -- but there's a lot of extraneous footage used to split up the segments that make no immediately-apparent sense. We get unexplained cuts of anime like Slayers, but no commentary on why Slayers fits with what the interviewees have just said. Then there's the wrestling footage. To be fair, Anime North has wrestling exhibitions in full view of the registration line (it gives people something to watch while standing for hours), so it does make sense to at least acknowledge that. However, the frequent intercuts to the footage make it seem as though the wrestling should have some narrative or thematic significance to the points being made in the interviews. And it doesn't, unless the point was to highlight the fact that both wrestlers and cosplayers wear costumes.
Aside from that, though, I recommend it. It's nice to see something that's exclusively about Canadian fandom, and cosplay specifically. I also liked the inclusion of the parents' commentary. These parents seem to have great relationships with their kids, and they clearly savour the opportunity to spend time with their children at a time when most children can't wait to get out of the house or otherwise spurn parental attention. Their contribution is perhaps the most unique to the documentary, and this low-key approach was just right for talking to both halves of the relationship.