The Basics of Anime-From A-Z
Anime – Anime is the affectionately shortened name for animation in Japan. It’s written in Katakana, as a derivative of English and general refers to any animation conceived and drawn in Japan. There is however a certain style and method to anime that can be recognized the world over as unique to Japanese animation. The simple, exaggerated character features and surprisingly detailed settings along with the actual thematic content, usually a coming of age story of some sort. Some character’s development through a series of trials via uniquely Japanese morals of perseverance and strength.
Baka – Japanese slang for stupid. It’s affectionately used to describe every goofball, oddball, and erstwhile character in an anime. Usually applied by a female toward a male, it’s best defined as the catch all insult for a nerdy, insecure male (and sometimes female) who accordingly does something stupid. Hence, Baka.
Cosplay – The unique and overwhelming practice by anime fans the world over of dressing as their favorite anime and video game characters for the sake of meeting up with other extreme fans and comparing their realism. Because anime is drawn (mostly) to scale, and the clothing is generally brightly colored and completely impractical, characters are easily recognized on those who have a particular talent in this arena. Expos are held for cosplayers annually, as well as contests. It’s something of an underground phenomenon in the culture that’s become much less underground in recent years.
Doujinshi – The Japanese word for fan created manga based on existing characters. Pretty much the anime equivalent of the Star Wars novels. There’s a huge market for these fan created fictions in Japan, and because of the massive pool of talent they’re often of equal or greater quality than the source material. Seems like a good way to go. Keep your future employees on the outside, drawing for free.
Ecchi – A Japanese word that roughly translates to ‘pervert’. Basically it’s used to describe all those school girl animes in which the skirts stop about two inches above their panty line, and yet somehow magically stay on. It’s not quite the caliber of Hentai as it tries not to be pornographic, but the fan service and suggestive themes quotient are fairly off the map.
Fan – For American anime connoisseurs especially, the fan is one of the only ways to get access to some anime, and until recently pretty much the only way. Fan stands for Fansubbing (the fan produced subtitling of shows ripped straight from Japanese television ), Fandubbing (the slightly less done, and often much funnier dubbing of the same material by fans), Fanfiction (the written form of Doujinshi, often involving a whole lot of Ecchi), and Fan Service (in which a show will purposely do something over the top or suggestive because they know that’s what their fans are looking for). The fan is what floats the market for anime, especially in America where until very recently the market was mostly a blackmarket.
Gundam – One of the original fathers of anime. Around for 25 or more years now, Gundam has produced more than 25 series and movies since it debuted in 1979, and continues to be one of the most popular series on each every year, with an exponential growth of productions of late. The show was one of the pioneers of the giant mech anime and an underground favorite in America for years….and it makes for some pretty funny cosplayers.
Hentai – And of course, with any art form, when you have a large enough fan base, someone perverts it. Pornographic anime has something that normal pornography does not though, lots of creepy weird tentacles and occasionally a plot. Yes, in line with many of Japan’s finer arts, Hentai does try occasionally to inject a bit of intelligence into their mindless sex. And the production quality tends to be higher even than normal productions. Speaks to the nature of porn, I guess. It runs the industry.
Idol – The idol mentality runs the Japanese pop culture sphere. Their singers are everywhere, their movie stars are singers, their movie-star-singers are tv hosts. Their movie-star-singer-tv-hosts are voice actors. It’s all cyclical and it means mass exposure in a crowded country of a 140 million. And it leaks over in the shows they make, and the mass production of the shows (usually one a week every week until the show’s done…for some shows that’s years) and the production values all speak to this.
Jump – Shonen Jump is the monthly manga publication in Japan that broke some of the biggest names in anime. Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece, Kenshin and so on. The super popular children oriented anime that rules the charts comes out of this little gem repeatedly. And now it’s here in the US. Power in circulation.
Kawaii – Japanese adjective for cute. And that’s how you describe half of what they produce. Super cute, to the point of nausea at times. The ability to turn the ugliest, most disturbing things into cute and cuddly mascots is a distinctly Japanese ability. Just look at half of the Pokemon. Butt ugly, but cute nonetheless.
Love Hina – Love Hina didn’t invent it, but it did it best – the dorm fantasy anime that is. And it is its own subgenre now. A dorky young male who has no luck with the ladies finds himself thrown into a situation where he’s surrounded by women daily, who ultimately assault him and make his life a living hell, at the same time as falling in love with him. Ecchi moments abound and often our altruistic hero ends up with a bloody nose on the rocks outside of a hotspring somewhere.
Manga – Ah yes, the birthparent of the whole thing. Manga is the comic book, hand drawn formula for the whole craze. Started as an offshoot of the woodprint art forms of the 19th century and earlier, Manga took compelling stories and serialized them into fun, easy to read comic books. Not to say that the Supermans and Detective Comics of America didn’t help this fad along.
Neon Genesis Evangelion – A derivative of the giant mech anime, Evangelion broke into new legions of fans by being what some anime had dared before, but few had fully succeeded at – mature and intelligent. A common enough theme these days, Evangelion managed to take biblical, complicated social, and personal themes and craft them into an often times funny, apocalyptic epic 24 episode series and 2 films.
Otaku – in what is actually an insult in Japan, translating roughly as ‘you’…but more commonly known as ‘no-life geek who spends all his time building GUNDAM models…’ The definition is slightly less caustic on our side of the Pacific, generally referring to someone who merely enjoys the depths of Japanese pop culture, watches anime after school, and draws characters from their favorite shows on their notebooks. More of a clique in school than a mock-worthy subculture. But, that is quickly changing of course, as the anime arena is growing so rapidly here in the states.
Pokemon – Pokemon is the new generation of child-oriented anime born of marketing necessity, used to sell video games, video games used to sell the show. It’s been on for almost 10 years now, and still new episodes pop up. If the Japanese do anything right, it’s sell stuff, and Pokemon continues to sell, actually marketing to an entirely new generation of kids these days.
Queen Emeraldas – I’m copping out a bit here because Q as we all know is the crappiest letter in the alphabet to do an ABC list with. Queen Emeraldas is a good anime though. An OAV produced in 1998 as an offshoot of the Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 series, Queen Emeraldas continues the story of a popular character that if you haven’t seen either of the previous shows will make no sense to you.
Rurouni Kenshin – Kenshin is the epic tale of a wandering samurai in the Meiji era of Japan known as Kenshin. He finds a small martial arts school in the new capital and after saving the young heir he stays with her and undertakes various quests to help the government which he helped to form a few years earlier survive. He’s an incredibly badass swordsman and attracts a nice little entourage of characters. I don’t know if it’s the most important thing in the world in terms of anime, but it’s one of my favorite shows, so it’s on the list.
Shoujo – The term used to describe anime targeted to young girls. All the Sailormoons and Cardcaptor Sakuras out there fit here. It’s actually a nice niche to have and does extremely well here as well as Japan. It’s a testament to the popularity of a sub culture when it actually takes the time to stop drawing violent battles between half witted males to appeal to young girls as well.
Tezuka Osamu – The Walt Disney of anime, Dr. Tezuka created Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, Metropolis and countless more anime classics that more or less established the art form. He’s the guy you want to look at whenever you ask, “who’s responsible for all this?”
Urusei Yatsura – A monstrously popular 1970s and 80s franchise spanning almost 200 episodes, 10 movies and a handful of OVAs. It’s pretty much about a group of “obnoxious aliens” (the actual translation) that invade and goof up earth. They’re all girls, and were a part of the beginnings of what made Love Hina happen, a lecherous teenage boy surrounded by strange, sexy women. Yup, they sure know how to make shows over there.
Voice acting – Come on. It is animation right? Unlike the US animation sector, Japan’s voice acting pool is vast and actually talented. US companies use the same people over and over and pay them peanuts, and they generally suck at what they do. In Japan, the respect from doing what they do is that much more pronounced…and they don’t suck.
Wings of Honneamise – Another landmark anime, this is the first film produced by super studio Gainax (the guys who did Evangelion among others). It’s essentially a science fiction, military fantasy with some twists to history and technology. One of my favorite examples of how anime bends the genres in which it operates as well. It’s out there and that’s why we love it.
X – Yup, just X. From Clamp, a group of female artists whose fan base (and quality of workmanship) is obscene, X is one of their earlier films, later made into a series. The style is best described as Shoujo without the service to only girls.
Yaoi – The slightly homosexual version of Ecchi, Yaoi is usually a homoerotic fan service of male characters in typical situations acting sexually ambiguous and often getting rather close to each other. When out put is so great, you can expect anything right, and the chic-gay of Yaoi is immensely popular in Japan.
Z, Dragon Ball – I cheated again, so what. Dragon ball Z was one of the key reasons that anime spread to the mainstream here in the states after all, with a couple hundred episodes and memorably long (and I mean looooong) fights, Dragon ball Z captured the fan base of all the young violence prone kids nationwide and kept them enthralled into their 20s (yeah, yeah…quit looking at me).
And there you have it. 26 keys to understand the anime sub culture, a veritable A-Z of what you need to know…minus Q and Z.