Toon Talk- The Sounds of Dubbing

This is something I’ve been meaning to get to for a while but with Funimation’s recent broadcast dub initiative rolling out in full force, this seems as good a time as any to address this. It’s time to talk about what elements make a dub work and where English dubbing is in general right now. Without any further ado let’s jump right in

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Dubs v.s. Subs

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Okay I’m pretty sure everyone can agree this is a really tired and worn out argument so I’m not going to go too much in detail on this one but it needs to be addressed right off the bat. While preference does play a large factor in which kind of audio you’re likely to listen to on a regular basis, from a technical standpoint, “subs” or the Japanese side of the voice acting industry is generally superior. Even speaking as a hardcore dub fan there are only really about 6 or 7 dubs I’ve seen that I would really proclaim as the definitive version of a series and the absolute best way to watch it.

There are a few factors as to why but it mostly comes down to the fact that the Japanese voice acting industry is a much more well oiled machine and said industry is much larger and a lot more rigid when it comes to expectations. Plus it doesn’t have quite as many issues to deal with on a regular basis as the English side does when it comes to what can affect the production in that department. Of course this isn’t to say that seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) are nigh perfect and deliver flawless performances every time because they’re certainly capable of mediocrity (for instance Shunsuke Kazama’s performance as Yugi in Yu-Gi-Oh’s earlier episodes is so monotone that Dan Green’s performance is genuinely better acted in spite of how clearly cheesy it is)  but it’s less frequent.

Now does this mean there’s no merit to dubbing? Not in the slightest. Dubs have always been one of the most reliable methods of getting newcomers into anime and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Plus if like me (and most of the English speaking fandom) you don’t fluently speak Japanese, you’re always going to be at the mercy of someone else’s translation anyway. Dubs are also a pretty good tool for rewatching shows since you can sometimes notice things about a show you may not have paid much attention to while watching it in Japanese  and you can watch them while doing other stuff since the screen doesn’t require as much of your attention. All those technical reasons aside, even though the Japanese side of the industry is more reliable in terms of consistency, there’s plenty of exceptional talent on the U.S. side of things who’s worth paying attention to, and when a production really comes together it can stand on par with (and in extremely rare instances surpass) the original performances.

With that bit settled it’s now time to see exactly where the level of dubbing is in terms of actual quality these days.

 

The Four Stages of Dubbing

Now this is just my own personal way of ranking things and I wouldn’t really hold it as any kind of universal standard but there a few levels at which I normally rate dubs

Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but overall a bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece,  Guin Saga)

Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly great by any means but okay sounding enough that if you aren’t too concerned with the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)

Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is technically competent in more areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)

Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be perfectly comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)

So that’s more or less the general range. Now for as how it pertains to modern day dubs, I’d honestly say that extremely bad ones are generally non-existent now. There’s been some horrible stuff over the years, but for the most part even certain studios that have been notorious for putting out mediocre work such as Seraphim Digital (Sentai Filmworks) or Blue Water have worked things out to the point where they can at least put out a fairly listenable product.

Most these days generally fall into the serviceable and good range with Sentai/Seraphim stuff mostly leaning towards the serviceable end, Funimation stuff on the good end and California stuff all over the place between serviceable and exceptional work. Though speaking frankly, out of the 30+ dubs or so that are put out on average every year, only about 3-5 of them ever really fall into the exceptional category on average for me, but things are at least at the point where horrifically bad stuff is even more of an exception.

 

The Three Core Elements

So now that we’ve looked at what the general range is for dub quality nowadays it’s time to look at what elements affect them most. There are a few factors involved but it mainly comes down to these three things:

Casting

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Casting a pretty obvious thing so there’s no real need to go into why that’s important but there are aspects to it worth addressing. Specifically the idea of what counts as “miscasting” since more often than not, people (myself included sometimes) usually default to the idea that English VA’s not imitating a seiyuu’s performance = bad. At the end of the day seiyuus are also lending their voice to a characters that have already largely been written for them the same way dub actors are, and while they should be used as a general baseline to determine what a character should sound like in English, they don’t always have to be the absolute standard.

For instance in Sentai’s recent dub of Log Horizon, there’s a pretty distinct difference in tone between how the character Nyanta sounds versus how he sounds in the original version. His character is that of a smooth, polite sounding older man, and Joji Nakata portrays in the Japanese version as sounding like a middle aged butler while in the dub Jovan Johnson’s portrayal is that of a suave, jazzy sounding gentleman. The difference is pretty clear and definitely one that can take you for a loop but both are valid interpretations as they get what makes that character work and personally after hearing it, it’s hard to imagine him sounding any other way in English.

Now mind you this logic doesn’t always work as genuine miscasting happens more often than it should and even instances where it does won’t always equate to two equal interpretations of a character (I find Brina Palencia’s Yuno in Future Diary to be a mostly valid interpretation of that character, but Tomoe Murasa’s works better by far) but it is something that needs to be taken into account a bit more.

Voice Direction

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Bad performances are a pretty clear issue when it comes to voice acting, and the direction actors receive is often the culprit. Even with the industry here not being as large as it is in Japan, most of the talent pool at least has some degree of talent, so the difference between a good performance and a bad one can often come down to how an actor is told to portray their role (or isn’t in many instances) by whoever is handling the ADR (dub syncing and direction).

Funimation and Sentai’s talent pools often intertwine for example but there’s a clear dissonance between how some of them perform in Funimation dubs v.s. how they sound in Sentai ones as poor voice direction has long been an issue for the latter. Even California dubs which pretty much use the same talent pool across the board (well with the exception of union stuff but that’s a whole other thing) can sound distinctly different depending on who’s handling things behind the mic. Thankfully as dub work increases, new ADR directors pop up and old ones improve, but as a whole there’s still enough inconsistency in this area that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Scripting

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This is an aspect of dubs that often gets overlooked in favor of voice direction, but it’s also a really crucial factor. Scripting can make or break a dub production and it’s significance is often understated. Part of translating a show into English means the script too, and given that most of the time whatever the Japanese version of the script was is something that wasn’t quite intended to work in English, it often requires a few minor alterations to make the adaption work.

Given that, it’s important to note that sometimes dubs can go too far in adaptation, and even a few changes in dialogue can completely change the effects of certain scenes (for better or worse) and the quality of the dub itself, Funimation’s recent dub of Attack on Titan for instance is extremely well acted and casted, but there are more than a few questionable script choices (courtesy of J. Micheal Tatum who’s now become infamous for that sort of thing) that drag the whole production down a bit and keep it from being a masterpiece. Most cases aren’t quite as extreme but there are definite boundaries that have to be considered when making an English script.

That said, much like with casting, complete and absolute faithfulness isn’t exactly a requirement for an English script to work (in some instances it can just lead to some really awkward sounding dialogue). YuYu Hakusho’s dub has stood the test of time pretty well but it’s script is actually pretty liberal in more than a few instances and the dialogue is generally snarkier than it’s original Japanese counterpart. However the dub works well because it stays true to the core of what makes the series work and knows when to play things straight. Ultimately it comes down to a case by case basis as some shows work better with a more liberal touch while others can crumble with even the slightest alteration. As with voice direction it’s an area of dubbing that’s led to plenty of mixed results and is one that can stand for more improvement in order to find the best balance for each show.

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There’s a lot to the world of dubbing and it’s something that’s continued to evolve over the years. With the advent of broadcast dubs, it’s about to undergo another one and I’m curious to see how it effects the quality going forward. Dubs have their flaws (some more than others) but they still play a significant role on this side of the anime industry, and as they take the next step, I’m hoping that we’ll still be seeing things improve rather than the opposite.

 

Animation Talk- The Best of Anime in 2014

2014 is slowly coming to an end and it’s almost time to greet the new year. This past year has been a pretty interesting one for anime with some surprising revivals, interesting experiments, and some major disappointments. There’s been quite a bit of bad but for the most part there’s generally been a lot of good to be had so it’s time to talk about the best of the best when it comes to anime in 2014

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MISCELLANEOUS 

Best Anime Opening- Unravel by T.K.

There’s been a lot of good anime openings this year like Amazing Break for Terraformars, a few done by Back-On, and Moon Pride for Sailor Moon Crystal (and in the case of that last one it’s arguably better than the show itself) but Tokyo Ghoul’s is a standout. It’s a pretty catchy song and has some nice visuals to go with it but more than that, the lyrics to the song perfectly capture Kaneki’s transformation over the course of the series as he struggles between his humanity and his inner ghoul. Opening songs that are actually about the show they’re for rather than to sell a music label are pretty rare and even though there’s been a few others like that this year, this is the one that best understands the spirit of the show it’s for.

Best English Dub- Toradora

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It’s been a good year for dubs, and there’s been a lot of big ones like Sailor Moon, Kill la Kill and of course Attack on Titan, with all of them being successes (or mostly successful in AoT’s case thanks to a certain script writer). With all that the dub that really stood out the most this year was for a show many never expected to see dubbed, and has probably fallen under most everyone’s radar because of it. Toradora has stood the test of time as a series and the dub had some big shoes to fill but the actors really went above and beyond to deliver with a lot of extremely exceptional performances, and really sticking to the heart of what made the show so beloved in the first place. I’ve mentioned this before in my review of the series this year, but even if you’re not particularly big on dubs, it’s definitely one that deserves taking a look at.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Best Character- Favarro Leone (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)

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Anime’s generally always been filled with fun personalities and this year was no exception but Favarro easily blows away the competition. He’s the kind of lovable rogue that doesn’t really pop up much in modern anime and the show really knows where to take his anti-hero traits and make him likable enough that you can’t bring yourself to hate his guts, even when he’s at his worst. Of course anti-heroes do have at least a bit of hero in theme and as the show progresses he becomes a somewhat more heroic and well layered character while still sticking to the traits that make him so much fun to watch. He’s a shining example of how to do that character type right and hopefully he won’t be the last.

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BEST OF GENRE

 Best Mecha Series- Gundam Build Fighters Try

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Mecha shows haven’t fared to well this year with shows Captain Earth starting out well, but ultimately not going anywhere and Argevollen being a decent war commentary but too slow to grab anyone’s attention. So interestingly rather than so-called “Gundam killer” Aldnoah or even this year’s actual Gundam  series, Try takes the crown. It’s legitimacy as a mecha show is sometimes questioned but it’s hard to deny it’s charms, even if it’s an obvious toy commercial (and a darn good one) and it’s hard also hard to ignore the sheer fun that is plastic models beating the crap out of each other. The show never tries to be anything too ambitious but that’s to it’s favor as where other mecha shows this year failed by not saying enough, this one takes the cake by just being as is.

Available for streaming on Youtube

Best Comedy Series- Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun

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Comedies have done pretty well this year and there’s some pretty good stuff to choose from like Kawai Complex and Gugirri-san but Nozaki-kun is really something special. The show serves as a nice affectionate parody of shojo manga tropes, often putting a spin on some of the different character archetypes, while also not shying away too much from what makes those work. It’s almost always funny, it’s characters are charming and it’s hard to not root for Chiyo getting with Nozaki, even if the show’s not likely to let that happen anytime soon.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Action Series- Akame ga Kill

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Akame isn’t exactly the best written action show this year, and far from the best animated, but when it comes pure action, this show has some edge. The battles throughout the series are always intense, it’s characters never safe from death (if sometimes too much so) and there’s almost never a moment where something crazy isn’t happening. It’s a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, and even if it’s not always as smart as it thinks it is,  it knows how to deliver on over-the-top action

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Slice of Life Series- Shirobako

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Slice-of-life shows have fared just as well as comedies have this year, with the two sometimes intermingling, but Shirobako stands out from the rest of the pack. It’s a pretty nice look into how the anime industry works behind the scenes, and portrays both the creativity and the struggles that come with working in that industry, even if it’s not completely honest about the latter. More than that though, it’s also a nice coming-of-age story for young adults trying to find their place in the world, and the balance between pursuing your dreams and handling reality. The show’s still continuing on into next year so hopefully it can keep it’s momentum going, but for now, it’s looking to be a winner.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Sci-Fi Series- Knights of Sidonia

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There’s been a lot more notable sci-fi series this year such as World Trigger, Parasyte and Psycho-Pass 2, but most of them have struggled (and in the case of Psycho Pass 2 turned into a non-stop trainwreck). Though while Parasyte is a better show, nothing quite gets sci-fi this year the same way Sidonia does. The world of the series is fascinating, full of mystery and really fun to explore as the show delves into it. It’s completely 3DCG animation actually helps to add to the atmosphere of the show rather than take away from things, and really gives the show the feel of a retro 80’s sc-fi epic, and the show pretty much takes that ball and runs with it.

Available for streaming on Netflix

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BEST SHOWS OF 2014

Best Series(Adaptation)- Parasyte-the maxim & Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (tie)

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 Adaptations are always mixed in execution throughout the year, and this year especially show as there were a lot of heavy hitters, but while some succeed in finding an new audience, others failed spectacularly with many more being left in the middle of the road. With all that said, these two shows are exceptional adaptations and so much so that it was pretty much impossible for me to choose between one or the other. Parasyte does a good job of modernizing it’s source material while sticking to its strengths, telling the chilling story of Shinichi’s transformation into something not quite human. Tokyo Ghoul covered similar territory, and pretty well at that, but Parasyte has a lot more breathing room to tell that story and it uses it very well, having it all occur gradually while never shying away from violence (which Tokyo Ghoul was a little short on thanks to censorship) and hard hitting tragedy (now if only the musical score was better…)

Fate/Stay Night also takes the best of it’s source material and uses it as a springboard, taking some of the best elements from it’s original three separate storylines, and weaving it into one solid piece of storytelling. The show’s tale of idealism v.s. reality when it comes to heroism is a familar one, and told slightly better by it’s prequel Fate/Zero but while it’s not quite as deep, the show is a much better production with some of the best action sequences this year (though Parasyte’s no slouch in that department either) and great visual direction. Both shows stand as examples that an adaption doesn’t necessarily have to be an exact panel by panel recreation to succeed and hopefully there can be more like these in the near future.

Parasyte available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Fate/Stay Night available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

 

Best Series (Original)- Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

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This one shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen my episode reviews of the series on The Fandom Post but I adore this show and it’s really something special. It’s a gigantic love letter to Hollywood cinema in terms of theatrics and an incredibly gorgeous looking production with a fun cast of characters and some solid storytelling. The series never really looks to break the mold in any particular way in terms of genre tropes but it really knows how to have fun with them and takes the best of both worlds by having tons of surface level fun and giving just enough depth to it to make the show hard to dismiss. It’s also a show that has the potential to reach a more casual audience and hopefully Funimation takes the opportunity to capitalize on that. In the meantime though, this series stands as one of the best if not the best for the year and if you haven’t seen it, you should go and correct that mistake immediately.

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

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And there you have it. Some of the best of the best when it come to 2014. This year has been a mixed one but after a slow start it’s ended on a pretty high note in terms of notable shows  and there’s plenty to check out. Now hopefully 2015 proves capable of doing even better.

Animation Talk- 10 Best Events in Naruto

It’s been several years in the making, but at last we’re towards the end of Naruto, though it’s an event with met with mixed feelings. Naruto has dragged on it’s final arc far too long for it’s own good so I’m personally not too torn about it on that end and yet as the show that got me and many across the globe into the hardcore anime scene, it’s also a little sad to know it’ll be gone for good. As we head closer towards the grand finale of the series, let’s reminisce for a bit and look at some of the greatest events from the journey of our favorite orange jumpsuit wearing ninja.

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#10- Naruto’s Graduation

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It’s often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step and so it’s fitting to look back at what got the journey started in the first place. Naruto started off his tale as the village outcast with everyone staying away from him. He was also the class clown, not being good at any jutsu, and his teacher initially failed him on his final exam. Since his worst skill was the Clone Jutsu he did some secret training with the help of a special scroll given to him by another teacher (who’s CLEARLY not evil) and masters it just in time to find out the real reason why everyone in the village hates him. Before he can give into despair, his teacher tells Naruto about his own past and says that he still has faith in him, giving him the courage he needs to beat the evil teacher and also conveniently graduate.

#9- Birth of the Rasgengan

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Every hero needs a flashy special move and while the Shadow Clone Jutsu did some cool stuff, it just wasn’t cutting it. Naruto had some trouble figuring out the technique at first due to the complexity of having to do two things at once, but thanks to his skills with Shadow Clones he figures out a loophole to accomplish that and figures it out just in time to rip a giant hole in poor Kabuto’s chest. Thus the Rasengan was born and would then go on to have a ridiculous amount of variations and movie tie ins including one done by riding on a speeding fat guy (I kid you not)

#8- Naruto vs Neji

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Before Naruto added “war is bad” to it’s list of convoluted messages, it was a originally the tale of an underdog defying expectations. This fight best highlights that message as it pits our favorite underdog against Neji who’s regarded as a genius and believes that everyone’s abilties and fate are determined from the outset. The odds are (obviously) against Naruto and he appears pretty outclassed at first but with some clever tricks and a newfound mastery over his Nine-Tails chakra he manages to defy expectations and win the match as well as teach Neji that talent and skill aren’t necessarily pre-determined.

#7- Squad 10 vs Hidan & Kakuzu

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Shikamaru was already a stand out amongst the other Konoha rookies (and was also deservedly the first to become a Chunnin) but Asuma’s death at the hands of the zombie duo marked the highlight of his character development as it forces him and his teammates to grow up the hard way. They decide to get their revenge on the duo and even though Naruto partially steals the spotlight with a new technique, Shikamaru still gets to show off his smarts by luring the immortal Hidan into a trap he can’t escape and leaving the guy trapped in rubble (hopefully no one gets any ideas about digging him out). The battle ends with our heroes victorious and Shikamaru  inheriting Asuma’s will to protect the next generation as well as his unborn child.

#6- Naruto vs Gaara

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Naruto’s been an outcast all his life, but through hard work and finding people who have faith in him, he’s managed to get by. However he’s given a pretty clear picture of what he could have become without all that encouragement when he encounters Gaara, a murderous psycho who grew up an outcast much like himself, and also for the exact same reason. Though Gaara’s past is much more tragic and he’s a lot more unstable, Naruto still manages to see a bit of himself in Gaara and after duking it out with him in spectacular fashion he manages to convince Gaara to believe in others again, eventually leading him to become the Kazekage years later (whoever said bloodlust looked bad on your resume?)

#5- Taming the Nine Tails

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The Nine-Tails has long been at the core of Naruto’s anguish as it’s the primary reason he grew up isolated and without the beast inside him, he’d have probably grown up as the son of a hero. So when Naruto is forced into his final confrontation with him. he’s also forced to face parts of himself he hates the most and the resentment he felt towards those who shunned him. At first he’s overwhemled by the fox’s power but with some beyond the grave assistance from his mother, he manages to gain control over the Nine-Tails and also marks the beginning of humanizing him.

#4- The Truth Behind the Uchiha Massacre 

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Itachi was the initial source of Sasuke’s massive angst trip over the course of the series, and was bitterly remembered by his resentful brother for murdering their entirely clan. After finally managing to track him down and narrowly defeat him, Sasuke eventually learns the truth behind his brother’s actions. As it turns out the Uchiha clan was planning to overthrow Konoha which would have consequently lead to another world war. Itachi was forced to make the hard decision of selling out his family and killing them to prevent future tragedy but ultimately couldn’t bring himself to kill his precious little brother, turning a cold enigma, into an extremely tragic character. Too bad his precious little bro’s response to said revelation was to decide to wipe out everyone in the village in retribution, even though the elders were the sole ones responsible, but eh what can you do?

#3- Kakashi Chronicles

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Despite being occasionally mishandled and Kishimoto constantly teasing at his death, Kakashi still remains the best character in the series, so it’s appropriate his backstory is a huge highlight(even if it ties into the main storyline less than ideally). Before becoming the cool and protective guy we know today, he was cold and distant thanks to his father having died disgracefully and bringing shame to his family for putting his allies over the success on the battlefield. When a mission with his teammates Rin and Obito takes a turn for the worst though, Kakashi learns the importance of camaraderie when Obito dies protecting him and allows Kakashi to inherit his trademark Sharingan eye. This event is the first in a series of tragedies that turns Kakashi into the man he currently is, and why he’ll put his life on the line every time to protect those closest to him.

#2- Naruto vs Sasuke at the Final Valley

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Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship got off to a pretty bad start (and a moment that would launch a thousand slash fanfics) but over time the two began to slowly connect so when Sasuke decided to run off and join Orochimaru, Naruto chased after him eventually resulting in a confrontation. As the two fight, Naruto reveals just how much Sasuke has become like a brother to him, though the latter is pretty desperate to break that bond between them. The battle itself is pretty intense but in the end Sasuke emerges the victory and spares Naruto’s life, showing that he’s not quite as willing to cut ties with him as he thinks. Though Sasuke has abandoned him and Sakura, Naruto vows to chase after Sasuke for as long as it takes to get him back (and boy is it a long chase…)

#1- Naruto’s Talk with Nagato

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After battling against several incarnations of him. Naruto eventually comes face to face with Nagato, the man behind Pain. Nagato reveals his views on the world, it’s endless wars and the cycle of hatred that comes from it as he questions how Naruto intends to resolve any of it. Unlike most of his previous encounters with villains though, Naruto can’t bring himself to muster up any level of forgiveness for Nagato’s actions as they helped to bring about the death of their mentor Jiraiya and forced him to experience his first true loss. In spite of the hatred he feels towards him, Naruto decides to spare Nagato states that while he doesn’t have a definitive answer to Nagato’s argument he won’t stop until he does find and answer and resolves to struggle for as long as it takes. This allows him to win over Nagato and marks the biggest moment in Naruto’s character development. The resolution so heartfelt that it’s almost easy to overlook the deus-ex-machina that immediately follows it, but even that’s not enough to fully take away the impact.

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And there you have it folks, the greatest highlights in Naruto’s journey. Thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animation Talk- The Importance of Rewatching Shows

There’s a lot of stuff out there to watch and with the internet and thanks to various streaming services making it easier than ever to find new things it’s rare that you won’t be able to find something you haven’t seen before that might appeal to you. Of course if there’s a lot of stuff out there to watch it begs the question of whether or not it’s worth it to retread some of the stuff you’ve already seen before. The answer is that there is some value in rewatching things and there are a couple of reasons why it can be essential to occasionally go back over them:

How Well Does the Show Hold Up?

As time passes people change and more often than not their tastes tend to change along with them. While we’d all like to think that we’ve always had good tastes in shows there’s no guarantee that everything you’ve seen previously will hold up to your current tastes. Personally I’ve seen and read a lot of things that I know for a fact probably wouldn’t hold up well for me at all and I’d be amazed at how I got through them.

Even some of the stuff people consider to be all time favorites may not always hold up as well as expected. For instance my 3rd favorite anime of all time used to be Madhouse’s Kiba, which I enjoyed for it’s dark action tone as well as the main character being more serious than most shonen leads I’d seen at the time and after rewatching the show a few years later I found that while I still mostly enjoyed the show, it was plagued with issues, some minor and some major, that I hadn’t noticed before and it brought my opinion of it down considerably. There’s not a lot of necessity in revisiting everything you’ve seen but at the very least, it’s at least good to revisit some of the shows in your top 10 or so every now to see if those shows are worthy of staying in that position and for some of the middle of the road stuff you might get a good laugh out of mocking yourself for having managed to sit through something you now see as bad the first time.

Second Viewing, New Experience

The other major issue some tend to find with rewatching shows is the assumption that regardless of feelings on it, the experience of watching them will generally be the same since it’s the same material you’ve seen before. To an extent this can be true, but there are quite a few instances where rewatching a show can put an entirely different spin on it for you.

There are some things for instance, that only ever really make sense on a second (and possibly even more than that in some extreme cases like the Watchmen comic) viewing as certain plot points  or symbolism that you might not have payed much mind to in the first viewing, can come back with enormous levels of clarity upon re-watching it as it’s a lot easier to connect the dots and see where certain events may have been foreshadowed or layed out. I remember when I saw Casshern Sins the first time I liked it a lot but there were also quite a few aspects of it that didn’t make sense to me but when I rewatched the show for the first time a few months later it worked a lot better for me since I could see a bit better how some of the minor plot points I thought originally didn’t go anywhere had actually worked out and the show shot up to being in my top 3 as a result.

Additionally if you watched a show on a week-by-week basis, there are some series that flow much better when marathoned as it’s once again easier to be more attentive to certain aspects of the story that way. It may not happen for every show but second viewings can dramatically alter the experience of a series.

Just One More Chance

This one kind of barely counts but nonetheless there can be some obvious benefit to attempting to revisit something you may have dropped or lost interest in before. Admittedly I have pretty low standards when it comes to just watching stuff, so if I actually happen to drop or lose something it’s rare I’ll ever bother to give it another show but there have been instances where I found it was worth it. While I never really disliked Adventure Time and I found the episodes I’d seen to be okay at best I never really understood why it was popular until I made the decision to epic marathon it  and get a clear picture of the whole thing, after which I fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since. Again this is a rare occurrence, and that’s the same for pretty much everyone, but it’s always possible you may come across that one series where giving it another shot worked out in your favor.

 

While it’s always good to try and check out as much new stuff as you can since that keeps things interesting, there is some benefit to making the attempt to revisit things every now and then. You might find that your opinion of a show may have lessened overtime but there’s always the possibility of coming across something that works out even better for you the second time around.

10 Most Memorable Villains

Ah villains. They can be so much fun to hate or really horrifying to watch depending on the circumstances and they usually don’t fail to entertain you over the course of a series. However, despite the fact that it’s generally easier to make a good villain than an interesting protagonist, making a villain that’s capable of leaving a lasting impression well after you’ve finished watching/reading something is easier said that done.  So here’s a list of some of the most memorable villains in animation and manga who have earned their claim to infamy through their complexity, epicness, insanity and for just being a total prick.

*WARNING!!* I’m going to be going in depth on a few of these and that’ll include some potential spoilers so there you go

#10. Slade (Teen Titans)

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Teen Titans runs though several central antagonists over the course of it’s five season run. Slade is by far the most remembered of them and for good reason. He’s a pragmatic and manipulative criminal mastermind whose end goals are pretty much a total mystery but for the first two seasons where he’s the main villain he’s out to find himself an apprentice to take up the reigns and he’ll do anything to achieve that end.

When he actually does manage to succeed in that goal at the end of those seasons though, he’s show to be ridiculously abusive and controlling and his abuse of his second apprentice Terra specifically, has some pretty disturbing rape like subtext to it (which can come off as weirdly ironic if you know what their relationship is like in the original comics). The guy is effectively the world’s most effective child predator and even in some of the later seasons it’s shown that even death isn’t enough to stop him from being totally creepy and obsessive.

#9. Eddy’s Brother (Ed, Edd n Eddy)

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Eddy’s Brother makes exactly one appearance in the show during the movie finale, and even then he only really appears for about five minutes. However in those five minutes we get a fully fleshed out character and the only true villain of the show. Eddy spent most of the series proclaiming his brother to be a great guy and a total hero but when we finally meet the man we see get to see him for how he really is. As it turns out, he’s pretty much been physically abusing Eddy for his entire life (and if this doesn’t come off as that creepy to you keep in mind that Eddy is only 12 and his brother is at least somewhere in  his 20’s) and is the cause behind Eddy’s mask of arrogance and his inferiority complex.

He’s also not show to be above harming other kids as well and it’s pretty heavily implied that the reason he works at an amusement park is because enjoys messing with children in general. The revelation of his depravity is enough to make the neighborhood kids (who were practically out to kill the Eds at that point) sympathetic towards Eddy and even the Kanker Sisters were disgusted by him. You know you’re bad if you can make borderline serial rapists look good.

 

#8. Freeza (Dragonball Z Kai)

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Dragonball Z has a lot of powerful villains, but their usually know for their power rather than their actual villainy. Freeza however, is by and far the exception to the rule. He’s introduced as a power hungry evil overlord who wants to rule the universe and when he learns that his loyal servants the Sayains may someday produce a legendary “Super Sayain” who is the only being capable of defeating him, he proceeds to wipe out the entire race. While this is by and far his largest act of villainy in the series it’s far from his last as he ruthlessly annihilates the Namekians and Goku’s friends in his pursuit of immortality before finally  being defeated by the very thing he feared.

What really puts him above some of the other major villains from the franchise is that he wasn’t created to be a menace (Cell) or is too naive/insane to understand what he’s doing (Majin Buu) and gleefully commits genocide of his own free will. Though he walks around with an air of politeness and pretends to act like a gentleman there’s no hiding the horrifying monster underneath (Oh and if you’re wondering why I mentioned Kai in the listing and not regular DBZ it’s because he came off a bit differently in the old Funi dub and the less said about Granny Freeza the better).

#7. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

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The main villain of the series is established pretty much from the get go, but Azula stands out the most. Whereas her father, Fire Lord Ozai is a pretty generic evil overlord (his saving grace is being voiced by Mark Hamil) Azula is much more interesting to watch as she’s a lot more calculating and manipulative constantly staying one step ahead of our heroes and playing others to get what she wants.

Her most notable trait though is her need for dominance. So much so that it’s slowly revealed to be more of a instability than a weapon for her villainy as she constantly tries to keep people in fear of her so she can’t be betrayed, but when that fear is lost and she slowly loses those closest to her, she subsequently breaks down and we she how broken she truly is underneath it all.

#6. Shinobu Sensui (Yuyu Hakusho)

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After going through several arc villains whose actions and motivations were pretty straight forward (though Younger Toguro was fairly interesting) Sensui brought something different to the table as his personality and motivations were much more complex.

As a child he grew up with a very white and black sense of morality with humans being good and demons being evil. Because of this he was recruited to become the Spirit Detective of Earth and hunt down criminal demons but he wasn’t prepared to learn that humans could be just as cruel-if not more so-than demons and subsequently went insane from that revelation. After viewing some of humanities greatest atrocities first hand through a video called “Chapter Black” (which is full of some of our greatest hits like the Holocaust and Hiroshima) he resolves to destroy humanity by flooding the human world with demons. 

His insanity is largely masked by his suave and classy demeanor as he was one of the progenitors for more sophisticated villainy in later series made by other authors, but it makes him a more compelling character as the more we learn about him, the more we see just how unstable of a person he truly is. He’s ultimately a pretty tragic villain however as his fate could have been avoided and his real desire is something much more personal.

 

#5. Kumagawa Misogi (Medaka Box)

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Being the anti-thesis of the main character in many ways, Kumagawa is the Joker to Medaka’s Batman and has the personality to match as he comes across as what would happen if the Joker had a love affair somewhere in Japan. Where Medaka is extremely talented and constantly trying to get people to better themselves, Kumagawa is a born loser and resolves to drag talented people down to his level. Though outwardly friendly, he constant trolls and deceives others through pragmatic-ism and underhanded tactics which generally makes him incredibly entertaining to watch.

Through it all though he remains surprisingly earnest about his desire to defeat so called “elite” people to the point where he could almost be completely heroic if his personality wasn’t so twisted. As a born loser his destiny prevents him from pretty much never being able to truly win the things he wants but even though he’s miserable he considers himself a beacon to other miserable people that there’s someone out there more miserable than they are and yet smiling through it all.

#4. Light Yagami (Death Note)

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As he’s also the protagonist of the series, there are some who don’t really consider him to be a villain but his evil is established so thoroughly over the course of the series that it’s pretty much impossible to paint him as anything else. After picking up the Death Note and quickly learning that it’s exactly what its advertised as, he resolves to rid the world of evil and eliminate heinous criminals. This would seem like a pretty noble goal  except for the fact that he’ll go to pretty much any means to achieve it. He constantly controls and manipulates others to get what he wants and he lives by trying to stay one step ahead of those who are after him.

While he generally remains pretty dedicated to his new world order project, his priority quickly becomes eliminating those who are in his way including his allies he’s more than willing to kill them if they present even the slightest threat to his goals. His biggest flaw however is his pride which eventually leads to his downfall, but by the time he gets there there’s pretty much nothing left of the man he used to be as he’s becoming nothing more than a ruthless criminal confusing himself with godhood and is called out as such. Though he’s much better remembered for his incredibly planning skills and genius rather than his heartlessness Light stands out as one of the most heinous villains in fiction.

#3 The Joker (DCAU)

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There isn’t much I could say about the Joker that hasn’t been said already, but the Joker has been talked about a lot for a reason. If Batman is the personification of order and justice then the Joker is the pure embodiment of chaos and he pretty much runs with it. He commits atrocities and mass murder pretty much for laughs (the most infamous being in the Batman Beyond movie where he mind rapes and tortures Tim Drake for weeks just for the heck of it) but if he has any one true motivation it would pretty much be Batman.

As long as Batman exists the Joker will commit to his crime spree to see if he can eventually break good ol’ Bat enough to get him to actually  killing him and without Batman his existence is without meaning as the Joker rarely directly tries to defeat him. One will pretty much never exist without the other and the Joker’s brand of crazy stands out in pretty much every incarnation of the character as he never fails to be horrifying and entertaining all at the same

 

#2. Hao Asakura (Shaman King )

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As the main antagonist of the series and the evil twin of the hero, he’s successfully managed to avert most of the cliches that would be expected of that kind of character. Being the most powerful Shaman in history with mastery over the elements and even death itself, Hao’s main goal is to become Shaman King, the elimination of regular humans and the creation of a world only for Shaman after having a vision of humans eventually destroying the planet . Though this puts him at odds with our heroes he generally tries to remain pretty friendly with them while slowly manipulating them towards his own ends and much like with Sensui his exact motivations behind his goal are a bit more complex than the end goal itself would appear to be initially. While his anime counterpart (though still a very solid villian) doesn’t fully capture his character and abilties, his manga incarnation stands out a lot more for doing the one thing no shonen villain before him was ever able to:

*WARNING* EXTREME SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

He wins.

He successfully manages to become the Shaman King. In fact the final arc of the series isn’t even so much the main characters trying to stop him from becoming the Shaman King (they all pretty much acknowledge they can’t beat him) but to stop his end goal of wiping out humanity and while they kind of succeed in that department, they only convince him to delay it while they attempt to find a way to show him that humanity is worth saving. Of course that goal doesn’t seem to work out much either as the characters still haven’t quite found an answer well into adulthood. Perhaps their children in the sequel series Shaman King Flowers will fare better in convincing him (though considering he has them fighting on his behalf that seems unlikely) but for the moment Hao stands as pretty much THE most successful shonen villain of all time.

#1. David Xanatos (Gargoyles)

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Xanatos is one of two main villains to the series, but he stands out not only above the other but over most villains in general. He seemingly starts out as an ally to the titular characters as he introduces them to the modern world a bit, but he’s quickly revealed to be using them for his own goals and they come at odds with each other before too long.

The thing that stands out the most about his villainy is how pragmatic he is. Even more so than villains of his archetype are generally expected to be.  He’s almost always one step ahead of his opponents, generally having anywhere from one to several backup plans in place to ensure his victory and even in rare cases where he actually does lose he makes an honest effort to learn from those experiences never makes the same mistake twice. He’s also extremely careful to avoid many of the typical pitfalls villains of his archetype would normally make. He never tries to take anything personally (the one time he actually does kind of do something out of vengance it costs him), never attempts to go to any major extremes, and tries to stay on good terms with the Gargoyles rather than directly antagonize them so long as they aren’t an immediate threat to his goals.

However he’s well remembered for being a really great villain one of the things that makes  him great is that while he does grow as a villain where most villains typically don’t he also grows as a person over the course of the series. His character arc, while generally subtle, is handled pretty well and by the time he gets to where he is at the end of the second season, it feels like he was always meant to go in that direction.

Honorable Mentions

Demona (Gargoyles)

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Demona is the other main antagonist of Gargoyles and while she doesn’t leave as much of a lasting impression as Xanatos, she’s still a pretty interesting villain. She’s the former lover of the protagonist Goliath and holds an undying hatred of humanity for the annihilation of their clan. While this seems pretty stereotypical as the show goes on her backstory is fleshed out bit by bit as see what drove her to the breaking point as how much of the tragedies she’s caught in are self inflicted. Her inability to take responsibility for the things she’s done is her greatest flaw, but it’s also part of the reason why she didn’t make the list(the other being I didn’t want to have two villains from the same series on it) as that whole schick can get a bit repetitive.

Sosuke Aizen (Bleach)

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Much like Xanatos and Light above, Aizen is well known for being a master manipulator and a brillaint chessmaster in terms of planning as he goes through his scheme to take over the Soul Society and Earth, and his planning abilties are so over the top that even when the series goes downhill later on it’s entertaining to see what he’s mapped out next. However unlike some of the other chessmasters on the list Aizen is a bit one dimensional in terms of his goals and motivation and for all his scheming he’s defeated pretty anti-climatically

Ragyo Kiryuin (Kill la Kill)

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Ragyo will likely go down in history as one of the worst anime parents of all time putting even Gendo Ikari to shame (sadly the only reason he isn’t on the list is he doesn’t technically qualify as a villain) as she physical and sexually abuses her two daughters and even casually attempted to dispose of one of them as an infant when the results of her experimenting on them didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. Oh and she’s also sold out humanity to an alien race of clothing monsters who want to take over the universe. She was actually extremely close to making the list but as she’s extremely recent it’s hard to say exactly how well she’ll stand the test of time and for all her epic villainy she isn’t really given an exact motivation for the whole selling out humanity thing.

Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)

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Dio grew up with an abusive alcholic for a dad but it’s pointed out pretty quickly that this is just an excuse on his part and he’s pretty much a total prick cause he wants to be. He makes his adopted brother Johnathan’s childhood a living nightmare, stealing his girlfriend’s first kiss and literally setting his dog on fire before eventually attempting to kill his stepfather and becoming a vampire in the process. He pretty much exists to be hated as he delights in his villainy and is hammy enough about it to avoid coming across as generic. Sadly for all his ham he’s just barely one-note enough to not make it on the list.

And there you have it folks. Some of the most memorable villains out there from child abusers to genocidal maniacs. I would have included movies in the list but doing so would have flooded the list with Disney villains and I’m pretty sure that’s been covered enough be others as is.

So thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.

Animation Talk- Neon Alley’s Transition: A Retrospective

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One week from today Viz’s streaming channel service, Neon Alley will be making a full transition away from it’s livestream format and will instead be a more traditional streaming service through partnering with Hulu. So now’s a good time to look back and see exactly how far its come from its earlier days.

Admittedly even though I’ve been a subscriber of the service since day one, it intially seemed like an idea that would fall on its face pretty quickly. A linear streaming format with no on-demand offerings, commercials, Ps3 exclusivity  and dub only content looked like a recipe for disaster and many were awaiting its demise. I had frankly only really subscribed to it because of Viz’s promise to use it to make good on actually releasing stuff as that was still an uncertainty for many concerning their titles at a time.

But then the service launched and a strange thing happened: It worked.

While the format seemed pretty unappealing at first there was a certain charm to the channel that kind of seemed to click. Being able to watch a 24/7 anime network still had a certain ring to it for the audience Viz was after and the commercials were actually pretty okay to deal with as they were pretty fandom centric and were usually for upcoming releases and the like. It also started up with a pretty strong initially lineup with shows like Tiger & Bunny and Blue Exorcist making their dub debuts on the service and the shows were solid enough to win over some of the skeptics.

Of course a lot of skepticism still remained as the service was still pretty flawed, but to its credit the service continued to evolve and better itself. It eventually expanded onto other platforms including the Xbox 360 and PC and the creation of the Catch Up feature won over a bit more of the people who were still skeptical by making it easier to get around the linear format and keep up with the newer titles on their own convience. The service continued to survive past it’s 1st year, defying people’s expectations and as more and more content continued to be added it seemed to be thriving pretty well.

Then a little over a month ago the transition was announced and it was met with mixed reactions. Some thought it meant that the linear format was doomed from the get go and that had been a flop from the very beginning while others lament the loss of the livestream since it did provide viewers with a way to watch shows they might have otherwise ignored. Personally I kind of figured something like this would happen from the get go regardless of how much of a flop the service may or may not have been. Having two seperate streaming offerings (the other being the VizAnime site which generally hasn’t been paid much attention to as it’s titles are available elsewhere) seemed like something that wasn’t going to last forever and I figured they’d probably get merged together at some point though the transition being free was certainly a welcome surprise. I don’t think the service as it currently is was actually a flop since it kind of lasted a bit too long for that to make sense but as I don’t work for Viz and have access to the numbers or anything I can only guess on that.

So is the transition a good thing or a bad thing? I’d say it’s mostly a pretty good deal. Losing the livestream is a bit of a downer but we’re getting access to a lot more stuff on demand and hopefully they can afford a lot to have a lot more newer content as well since they aren’t paying to keep the app running. Canada’s (unsurprisingly) kind of getting the short end of the stick on this one but hopefully Viz won’t take long to make good on their promise to find a solution for them.

Neon Alley has come a long way in the short time it’s been here with us and the evolution of the service seems pretty logical as the next step. How much will stay the same is unknown but hopefully the service won’t lose too much of its charm through the transition and new users will be able to see some of what made the service work.

One week to go till it all goes down. Time to see if Neon Alley can make the magic happen a second time.

Animation Talk- 6 Common Misconceptions Fans Have About the Anime Industry

The anime industry is a pretty tricky thing for  fans as there are a lot of things unknown to us and some who have been following the industry still don’t know everything. Nevertheless there are some things we do know that some fans both new and old have often gotten confused so here are some common misconceptions anime fans have about the industry.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be an industry insider or super expert as there’s frankly a lot of things I don’t really know myself. These are just the things I do actually know. I am not legally liable for any confusion  or mistatements you may have/make afterwards. Now let’s begin

6. Everyone in Japan Loves Anime

Since anime is such a beloved, though niche medium internationally and has often garnered the attention of those who normally wouldn’t give two craps about any other kind of animation it’s generally assumed that Japanese people have a lot of respect for the medium since their the ones who make it. In reality what we consider anime is a niche medium even in Japan and outside of shows designed to sell toys like Beyblade or super mega hit shonen titles like One Piece, the majority of anime airs late at night and only a very specific audience (i.e. otaku) generally watches it, though there are exceptions every now and then In fact big animated movies from the west such as Disney titles are better know and more popular to the general public in Japan. Though the industry is obviously bigger there than elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s mainstream.

5. The Amount of Source Material Determines How Long an Anime will Run

Admittedly this is something I used to believe was the case for awhile because on the surface it kinda makes sense as something that’s run 5 years or so would have a lot of material to adapt and could run a lot of episodes. The actual truth is far from the case as anime production commitees don’t really care about that sort of thing. If they don’t  think it’s worth the risk then it could have 10 years of material to run with and could still potentially end up with a 13 episode run (see the Zetman anime for an example). In the older days adaptions would generally run a bit longer but these days 13 episode adaptions are more or less the norm. What seems to be the defintive factor currently (and this is partially a guess on my part) is how large the pre-existing fanbase is sales-wise and recently only things that were already kind of a hit to begin with receive 24 episodes or beyond.

4. Studios Have a Say in How Much of Something/What Gets Made

Tying into the above misconception, some also assume that studios have a say in how much of a show is actually made. Production committees fund the actual shows so they’re the ones who hold power over how long stuff is, even for original works. There’s also the misconception that studios have full control over the production of the shows they work on and there is some truth to it as the creative staff does generally determine how a series will function. However the executive staff does have some control in that department as well and they can override creative decisions if they so please. One of the biggest examples of this was the entire second season of Code Geass being rewritten from what the creators had originally planned due to some of Sunrise’s meddling.

3. The Studio Determines the Quality of the Show

This is another one with a little bit of truth to it as some of the larger studios such as BONES or Production I.G. generally produce shows with a high animation budget, get popular japanese bands to do the theme songs, etc., but there’s generally no direct correlation between the studios and the shows themselves in terms of what’s good. For instance, Studio Pierrot is generally met with scorn as their known these days for their badly paced battle shonen adaptions like Naruto or Bleach but they’ve also produced shows such as Yuyu Hakusho, which stands today as the most well paced adaption of an (at the time) ongoing action series, and Hikaru no Go (similar deal), both of which (arguably) outdid their source material. Additionally some of the larger and more popular studios like A1 Pictures have (again arguably) produced somewhat medicore anime adaptions like Blue Exorcist alongside some of their more popular works like Sword Art Online. Production committees again generally determine things such as the actual budget of the show or the episode count but the biggest deciding factor for a show is generally the staff itself and that’s not always directly tied to studios so the staff list is generally what’s worth paying attention to more.

2. Japan Cares About the International Market

While there are some exceptions such as what’s currently going on with Space Dandy airing new episodes on Adult Swim before Japan gets them, Japan generally doesn’t care much for the international market. Due to middlemen distributors such as Funimation, Viz Media, Sentai Filmworks, etc. only a small percentage of sales actually makes it back to the japanese producers. Japan has made several attempts (such as the existance of Aniplex of America) to directly penetrate the english market themselves but for the most part their concerned with japanese audiences since that’s where most of the direct sales come from. The middlemen companies do of course have their benefits like bringing us more affordable prices and dubs, since they’re here, don’t expect to have any direct say in what gets made.

1. US Distributors Have a Direct Say in What/How Stuff Gets Made 

It’s a mistake generally only made by newer fans who don’t know much about how the industry works and it’s died down for the most part, but there’s still the occasional suggestion that Funimation or Viz have some direct say in anime. They don’t. Funimation doesn’t own Dragonball Z, Viz doesn’t control when we get new episodes Naruto and they can’t promise you future seasons of anything. Again it’s rare that anyone actually makes this mistake but it can be a bit frustrating to see.

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And there you have it. These are mistaken assumptions often made and hopefully someone’s a little more aware now. There’s a lot we can’t know without actually working inside the industry but there are some things we can avoid having to guess.

 

 

 

Animation Talk- Snydar’s Departure: A Retrospective

So for those who are unaware it was announced a little earlier today that the current president of Cartoon Network, Stuwart Snydar will be resigning from his position at the end of the month. His time at the company has been an interesting adventure and though we’re all pretty glad to see he’s gone, now’s a pretty good time to take a look back at some of the good and much of the bad that happened during his reign

Syndar first took over Cartoon Network roughly six years ago and his appointment to the position brought a lot of changes to the network. One of his first and perhaps most notorious changes was the axing of Cartoon Network’s original Toonami block (recently revived by Adult Swim almost 2 years ago) which ran for about 11 years due to the ratings being in a slump as a result of Naruto, which had become the ratings pillar of the block running into it’s infamous 86 episode filler run and hitting a massive decline (which kinda stung since the cancellation occured during the final season of filler and before the sequel series Naruto Shippuden could air). This caused a lot of controversy and backlash with long time viewers of the network and this would not be the last instance of this happening.

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Syndar sure didn’t

Around the end of 2008 he started what was perhaps the most significant shift in Cartoon Networks programming: the introduction of live-action programming. The first instance of this came with the series Out of Jimmy’s head which was a spinoff of the movie Reanimated. For the most part this was somewhat tolerable as the show had a mix of live action and cartoon elements but the show was very short lived and only lasted for about 2 seasons before getting cancelled. Despite this, Snydar continued the push of live action shows in an attempt to directly compete with Nickelodeon and Disney and this eventually lead to the creation of the CN Real block which had it’s own series of bizarre live action programming that aired on and off until very recently where it seems to have more or less gone away outside of airing movies on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

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We hear ya man

Adding onto some of the controversy surrounding some of his decision making regarding CN’s move away from third party anime content,  he was also known for being very unsupportive of some of CN’s own original action shows and valued toy sales over ratings which led to the cancellation of well acclaimed shows such as Young Justice and Green Lantern the Animated Series, which were strong ratings performers, but weren’t as strong on the merchandising front.

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We’re still bitter

It’s perhaps unsurprising that as a result of much of the controversy and changes that happened during Snydar’s run as president. the network has seen a pretty sharp decline in it’s ratings as compared to it’s prime, and it’s due to this that the network has gradually lost some of it’s airtime to the more popular late night Adult Swim block, and has been pushed back from it’s original 10PM end time, to 9PM and later on in the month, 8PM.

Despite much of the bad that happened during his reign there was some good to be had. CN’s original comedies over the course of the mid 2000’s were mostly forgettable and weren’t quite able to create as much of a following as the classic “Cartoon Cartoons” of the late 90’s/early 00’s which are still remembered to this day, but around 2010, CN began having a renaissance of sorts with their primetime comedies as we were introduced to Adventure Time which has become CN’s most popular and iconic show in recent memory. This was followed up by the creation of other strong comedies such as Regular Show and mostly recently Steven Universe which have seperated themselves from the norm in terms of children’s programming and have offered experiences a bit more adult than some of CN’s other properties.

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This probably one of the least suggestive jokes made in the show

So what’ll happen now that Snydar is gone? Well seeing his replacement has yet to be announced there’s a lot that’s up in the air but we could see some significant changes occur. I’m not expecting to see anything as drastic as non-toyetic anime return to daytime programming (those days are long over) but I’m personally hoping we can see CN shift back to action programming (which they’ve been severly lacking in as of late) and possibly see the creation of a new action block though I imagine that wouldn’t happen anytime soon. I’m also hoping we’ll see a bit more variety to the channel in terms of having female oriented shows as that’s been a notable issue for them as of late.

Syndar’s departure brings about new winds of change and it’s hard to be certain of where exactly things will be headed next. Though, as Snydar’s reign brought about what many have considered to be the network’s darkest age, there’s much to be optimistic about. While it’s very unlikely the network will make a return to it’s glory days, hopefully we’ll see some grand changes for the better.

Animation Talk- 10 Essential Western Animated Shows for Anime Fans

It’s can sometimes be a difficult thing to recommend some western animated shows to a hardcore anime fan. While the two sides of the ocean aren’t as stylistically different as some claim, each does have their own set of elements that work for them. Of course as with anything there are some instances where these elements borrow from each other so here are some essential shows that maybe worth checking out for the average anime fan:

10. RWBY

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Synopsis: The world of Remnant,  is filled with supernatural forces and shadowy creatures known as the “Creatures of Grimm”. Mankind waged a battle of survival against the Grimm before discovering the power of a mysterious element called Dust, which allowed them to fight back against the monsters. In the present day, Dust is used to power magical abilities and weapons. Those who use these abilities to battle the Grimm are known as Huntsmen or Huntresses. The story centers on four girls, each with her own unique weapon and powers. Together, they form team RWBY at Beacon Academy in the city of Vale, where they are trained to become Huntresses alongside team CRDL (Cardinal) and team JNPR(Juniper).

Why it’s essential: This series made a pretty big splash last year with it’s heavily anime influenced artstyle and it’s unique animation. I’m personally pretty neutral on the series myself since while I did enjoy it I could never really quite understand all the massive praise it got. Nevertheless the show made a noticeable impact on the western anime fandom and even enough so that Crunchyroll took a chance on adding it to their lineup (and a gamble that was well rewarded). The story and the characters are fairly basic and though there is some minor character development here and there but it’s greatest strength is it’s sense of style and it’s got a lot of it.  Plus it has some pretty well choreographed fight scenes.

 

9. Green Lantern: The Animated Series

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Synopsis: The series focuses on the adventures of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, and his partner Kilowog. Hal Jordan travels t “Frontier Space” the region of space at the edge of the Guardians’ territory, where Green Lanterns are being picked off by the Red Lanterns and they must make their return back to central guardian space to bring news of the threat

Why it’s essential: This is the only actual superhero show on this list, but it’s also feels the least like a superhero show out of the many DC animated works made over the years. The show is much more an adventures in space thing a la Bebop though it’s a lot more plot focused and it occasionally veers into full on space opera territory (especially in the second half)as the threats escalate. The show also puts a lot of emphasis on the relationships between two of the crew members and the group as a whole slowly grows into a family of sorts. Sadly there’s only one season of the show, but the ending is solid and enough plot threads are closed that you’re not left with a massive thirst for more.

 

8. Steven Universe

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Synopsis: The world is protected from evil threats by the Crystal Gems, a group of intergalactic female warriors who use the power of special gem stones embedded on their bodies to summon magical weapons. Steven is a young boy who inherited a gem stone from his mother, a Crystal Gem named Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to figure out the secrets to using his gem, he spends his days in Beach City doing activities with the other Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl,  whether it’s helping them save the universe or just hanging out.

Why it’s essential: Though the show has just started out it’s hard to ignore some of it’s anime influences. It provides a pretty interesting twist on typical magical girl fare as Steven has many of the personality qualities of a magical girl show protagonist and is surrounded by them but doesn’t have a full handle on the abilities. The series also features some pretty heavy fantasy elements and though it starts off in media res it’s a bit more grounded than it’s sister series Adventure Time. It’s greatest strength though is that it’s a pretty heartwarming tale as Steven grows into a true Crystal Gem though when exactly that’ll happen is anyone’s guess.

 

7. Code Lyoko

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Synopsis: Jeremie Belpois, a gifted child attending boarding school at Kadic Academy, one day discovers a supercomputer in an abandoned factory near his school. Upon activating it, he discovers a virtual world and Aelita, a young girl trapped inside Lyoko. After unusual events begin to occur at school, Jeremie learns of X.A.N.A., a malevolent destruction-bent artificial intelligence/multi-agent system running on the supercomputer whose goal is to take over the world. Jeremie soon forms a goal to materialize Aelita into the real world and stop X.A.N.A. in his tracks. With the help from Jeremy’s friends and classmates, Ulrich Stern, Odd Della Robbia, Yumi Ishiyama, and Aelita, the group goes to Lyoko in hope to saves the world.

Why it’s essential: France has a lot of love for anime (possibly even more than the US) and it shows in this series as it takes a lot of cues from anime in terms of its artstyle and character relationships.This show is by and large a character driven work and the main cast is pretty interesting in that there really isn’t a “lead” character per se as most of the emphasis is placed on the group becoming well…a group and they’re all given a solid amount of focus with one never really outshining the other as they all grow a bit. As for the main storyline itself if you can get through the repetitive first season the  show pays off in stronger story arcs and the ending is pretty satisfying. Additionally for all you young guys out there the show offers a surprising amount of genuine fanservice (how it all slipped past Cartoon Network’s radar is something I’ll never know). It also has a pretty sweet theme song

6. The Powerpuff Girls

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Synopsis: Sugar, spice and everything nice. These were the ingreidents designed to make the perfect little girl but Proffesor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction: Chemical X. Thus the Powerpuff Girls were born. Using their ultra superpowers Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup have dedicated their lives to fighting crime and the forces of evil.

Why it’s essential: When the Powerpuff Girls first came out it was a cultural phenomeon in the US and it’s still pretty well remembered even today (recent special by CN non-withstanding). The show provides a unique blend of magical girl show elements and superhero fare (though the Kaiju esque monsters and villains the girls tend to fight lean it towards the former half of the scale). It’s influenced a lot by japanese monster movies  and 80’s anime in many instances and in some ways the show itself is kind of a prelude to modern moe anime as the girls generally do act their age and there’s just as much emphasis on them being adorable little girls as there is them punching out giant monsters

 

5. Xiaolin Showdown

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Synopsis:  Set in a world where martial arts battles and Eastern magic are commonplace, the series follows four young warriors in training that battle the forces of evil. They do this by protecting Shen Gong Wu (ancient artifacts that have great magical powers) from villains that would use them to conquer the world.

Why it’s essential: Admittedly this is probably the weirdest thing to have on this list but there’s no denying this show had a pretty strong impact during its intial run. It mostly functions as a blatant parody of martial art movies and also shonen anime to an extent as it frequently plays with and lampshades many of the tropes and cliches associated with both genres. Despite being mostly a comedy however the show does have some actual depth to its main characters as they learn various lessons over the course of the series and the ending does  a pretty interesting twist on the group dynamic that you wouldn’t see coming at the start of the series. Unfortunately the currently airing sequel series Xiaolin Chronicles so far doesn’t seem to carry the same level of writing and comedy (and it also screws with the continuity of the original constantly) but the original still stands as a pretty solid work.

 

4. Megas XLR

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Synopsis: In the distant future , Earth is fighting a losing war with an alien race known as “the Glorft”. In order to save the planet, the human resistance steals a prototype giant robot from the Glorft  renaming it MEGAS . The idea is to use a time-traveling device called a time drive to send MEGAS and its pilot, Kiva, back in time to defeat the Glorift

Before the plan can be executed, however, an attack by the Glorft sends the now-crippled MEGAS all the way back to the 1930s. It stays in a  New Jersey junkyard until it ends up in the hands of a slacker mechanic, Coop, and his slacker best friend, Jamie, around the year 2004.

Kiva goes back in time to retrieve MEGAS, and when she finds she is unable to pilot it because of Coop’s modifications, she grudgingly decides to train Coop, who is now the only person who can pilot it. However, the Glorft have followed her through time and, much to Kiva’s chagrin, it is now up to Coop to defend Earth from the Glorft and other various threats.

Why it’s essential: Despite the rather lengthy premise the show doesn’t take itself that seriously. In fact much like Xiaolin Showdown above, the show is a massive parody of it’s genre (mecha shows) though it takes its parodies to much higher levels as it proceeds to make fun of as many giant robot anime as it can get it’s hand on (sadly it didn’t live long enough to parody Evangellion). Destruction and mayhem are the norm and through it all the show is pretty much out to say what’s advertised in it’s theme song: That giant robots are pretty flippin’ awesome and it won’t rest till it proves it. It’s definitely a show worth seeing for any mecha fans out there as it’s one gigantic love letter to the genre.

3. Samurai Jack 

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Synopsis: Long ago in the distant past, Aku the shapeshifing master of darkness unleashed an unspeakble evil across the world. But a young samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck however, Aku tore open a portal in time transporting the warrior to the future in which Aku’s evil is now law. Now the young warrior, taking on the alias of Jack, travels the world seeking a way to return to the past and to undo the evil that is Aku.

Why it’s essential: Series creator Genndy Tartavosky has been known for numerous anime influenced works but this is by far his most prevalent and iconic. The series pays homage to samurai films as a whole and each episode functions as it’s own mini-samurai film as it delivers on solid fight scenes and a slick artstyle. It’s also a fairly violent show though in a way that’s a bit unconventional as it ducks around the censors in some pretty creative ways. Though the show never really gets to a definitive conclusion, it’s more about the journey itself as the show becomes more of “who will Jack fight next?” rather than “will Jack ever make it back to the past?” and it’s certainly a fun ride. Hopefully the movie that’s been teased for years will eventually get made but until then what we have of the show is pretty great and if you like swordfights then there’s fun times to be had here. 

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus The Legend of Korra)

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Synopsis: Long ago the Four Nations of the world were at peace, but everything changed when the Fire Nation declaired war on the others. Only the Avatar master of the four elements and spiritual guardian of the world could stop them but one day he vanished. 100 years later the Fire Nation is nearing victory in the war when two youths from the Southern Water Tribe discover a young Airbender named Aang. This airbender is the long-lost Avatar and now he must fulfill his destiny to end the war and restore balance to the world.

Why it’s essential: Well there’s pretty much nothing I can say about this show that hasn’t been said already as to why anime fans should watch it but that pretty much speaks towards its quality. The show is very heavily influenced and isn’t ashamed to admit it as the series creators have admitted to being huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Shinichiro Watanabe’s works (which might be why Jet looks a heck of a lot like Mugen from Samurai Champloo) and the show has a pretty well constructed fantasy setting as it slowly fleshes out its world.  Though the series is generally a staple of the battle shonen genre, it stands out even among some of the most iconic shows of that genre and in many ways it’s a much more fully realized story than as it’s 61 episode run allows it to have a tightly scripted story (though one particular plot thread is purposely left open to mess with fans).

The sequel series The Legend of Korra mostly continues in the footsteps of the original in terms of storytelling and characters while being a bit darker in some areas though it struggles a lot more (especially in Book Two) which is part of why I didn’t give it it’s own entry.

 

1. Gargoyles

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Synopsis: 1000 years ago, superstition and the sword ruled. It was an age of darknesss, a time of fear, it was the age of Gargoyles. Stone by day, warriors by night, the Gargoyles were eventually betrayed by the humans that they had sworn to protect and were frozen in time by a magic spell for 1000 years. Now in Manhatten, the spell is broken and the Gargoyles as brought back to life as they adjust to the modern era and become its new protectors.

Why it’s essential : I know what you’re all thinking: “Something in front of Avatar? You must be out of your mind!” but please hear me out. While Avatar the Last Airbender is artistically closer to what anime fans want, Gargoyles is closer in terms of writing as it leans towards somewhat darker storylines.  Though technically a kids’ show (and one made by Disney no less) the show carries itself with a level of sophistication that leans it more towards an older audience as it delivers on great character arcs, solid continuity and a surprising amount of violence given who it was made by all while generally straying from getting too dark for it’s own good and remembering who its target audience is. The show also borrows a lot from Shakespear as it uses some of his characters and themes to drive its storylines and though it drags a little in the later half of the second season it stays strong throughout everything. Gargoyles’s adult appeal is what has allowed it to remain legendary even today and it has enough fantasy element and continuity to keep anime fans well entertained throughout.

And here’s the list. Some of these are obvious but their significance is hard to ignore.  Honorable mentions go to Sym Bionic Titan and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go (both of which were pretty heavily anime influenced but ended on too large of a cliffhanger) as well as Adventure Time (which does have some of the necessary elements but it’s weirdness can make for a difficult barrier to entry). There’s a lot more in common between western and japanese animation than some fans want to admit as some of these shows prove and while the individual strengths of both sides are good, it’s always great to get things with crossover appeal between fandoms so while these shows are some of the most prominent examples, hopefully they won’t be the last.

Animation Talk- The State of Animation Culture

Last night I watched a video by the PBS Idea Channel on YouTube asking if Avatar the Last Airbender should be considered “anime”. (I recommend seeing the first 4 minutes of the video before reading this). Though I consider myself to be a fan of animation in general, my first thought was a simple “no”, and that’s the answer you would expect from most fans based on what we consider to be anime. However, the video then went on to question how exactly we define what anime is and it got me thinking about exactly how animation culture as it were, has kind of neatly categorized animation into certain labels that we’ve all generally come to accept as fact. I think it’s important however that we do occasionally step back and look at these labels and whether or not they hold up to be as absolute as we’ve come to terms with and to do so I think it’s best that we look at each of them individually starting with the biggest elephant in the room:

What is “anime”?

If we were to look at just the technical definition of anime as defined by Japan itself, anime is simply a term used to describe animation in general and not just animation made in Japan. As far as the japanese are concerned whether it’s The Simpsons, Disney films or Evangellion it’s all one in the same as far as the medium goes. Of course to fans across the rest of the world, anime has a different meaning and how exactly one would define it tends to vary from person to person. For some anime is defined soley by whether or not an animated show was “made” in Japan. This is the definition I personally use as well but as time has passed it’s become difficult to define anime as being by that alone. Several “western” animated shows, even dating back to the 90’s have had the bulk of the show animated by Japanese studios. The Thundercats reboot in 2011 was done by Studio 4C in Japan (the same studio behind the Berserk trilogy films) and the most recent season of The Legend of Korra was primarily done by Studio Pierrot of Naruto and Bleach fame (or infamy depending on who you ask). Similarly while many have come to define anime as stuff animated in Japan the reality is most of it is in fact done by lesser known Korean studios (as is the case with western animation today as well) so it is questionable if that definition alone is really enough.
Some who understand some of the grey areas above have come define anime by the fact that the targeted audience is Japan, stating that if the show wasn’t intended to air in Japan then it shouldn’t be considered anime. This definition has generally held up the most over the years though that too is a bit questionable. While not every show is made with an international audience in mind some do stretch out far enough to eventually be targeted towards Japan. My Little Pony (which I’d rather not bring up but it’s hard not to) has a japanese dub that started airing a few months ago and it’s the same deal for several other western animated shows including The Simpsons, The Boondocks, and Adventure Time (interestingly enough Avatar was supposed to get a Japanese dub as well but talks on that apparently fell through). The argument can of course be made that Japan has to be the audience targeted first for the show but even that occasionally can occasionally be questioned. Space Dandy for instance which is currently airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block is unequivocally defined as anime and yet new episodes air in the states before they do in Japan. Not to mention the fact that the show was quite clearly made with a western audience in mind and the producers seem to be banking on the western audience providing a large chunk of support for the show (especially since director Shinichiro Watanabe isn’t quite as popular in Japan as he is here in the states).
Lastly there are those who define anime by style alone, where if it has an ongoing storyline, handles itself seriously enough and has good art it qualifies as anime. As thus shows like Avatar are included into the mix and are considered to be “above” other western animated works (I’ll go into this a bit more later on). Of course this defintion is often the most frequently challenged as it goes against the “purity” of anime as it were(I’m covering that next) but even putting that aside, such a definition can leave certain japanese animated works out of the mix such as Panty and Stocking which borrows heavily on the style of western animated works and doesn’t really seem to have a definitive plot until the last couple of episodes of the series. Such could also be said for Space Dandy, but it’s a bit too early in the run of the series to make that kind of call.
Now it’s not really my intent to get anyone to change their definition of “anime” as what it means to us individually does differ greatly as we can see above, but the definitions we’ve come to accept for them do all have their holes, and there really is no absolute definition of it other than the one Japan had made for it to begin with.

The “Purity” of Animation

As addressed above, anime fans (though typically the most extreme ones) tend to often view anime with a sense of purity in terms of how it’s defined. If one so much as utters Avatar and the like in the midst of an anime discussion there will almost always be at least one person trying to dismiss those shows as “childish” or saying that they shouldn’t ever be compared with the likes of anime. While not everyone thinks as such, it generally seems to stem from a belief that associating those shows with anime will to some effect, lessen the value of anime as a whole and thus it becomes a defense mechanism of sorts where anime has to be put on a pedestal in order to maintain the perception that it’s art.
Now this leads us to the question of why we feel the need to do this. Though some will give different reason it mostly comes down to the perception caused by the Animation Age Ghetto (I recommend reading up on that if you find the time) where animation is considered to be “for kids” and got more and more targeted towards them over time. Since anime does often have material aimed at older viewers, we’ve created a barrier of sorts where we have completely seperated and categorized western and japanese animation into two main viewpoints: anime= “mature and thought provoking” while western animation= “childish and stupid”. These viewpoints have been the driving point of discussion for many a “east vs west” debate but both have their set of problems as we’ll examine next.

“Silly Rabbit, Cartoons are for Kids!”

Ah, cartoons. Things have gotten to the point where the word itself has become a slur and is pretty much only ever used to immediately dismiss a western animated show as being only for little kids and nothing else. Even those who do consider themselves fans of western animation are quick to categorize shows such as Avatar, Young Justice or Sym Bionic Titan as being something completely different from the so-called childish cartoons such as Spongebob, My Little Pony or Adventure Time. This again comes from the mentality brought about by the Animation Age Ghetto where shows with such a look are almost immediately cast into a little dark corner of animation culture to be mocked and dismissed as not being worthwhile in terms of mature themes
The reality of it is of course a bit different. Personally while I do admittedly sometimes watch such shows as a reminder not to take myself that seriously, these kinds of shows can occasionally tackle some interesting subject matter. My favorite animated show of all time is Ed, Edd n Eddy and while it’s a fairly goofy show, it’s also the only animated show that I’ve felt accurately portrays pre- adolescent childhood for what it really is.  Of course, Adventure Time is probably the most notable example at this stage as show has a fairly tight continuity and frequently addresses serious themes. One of the more notable examples in the show is the episode “Princess Cookie” which (to my surprise) is a subtle yet fairly obvious story about a character dealing with gender identity issues and there’s also the entire saga of Ice King and Marceline episodes which are a pretty depressing and fairly realistic depiction of what it’s like to have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (and that’s not even getting started on what the backstory of the show really is).
These kinds of shows are capable of addressing deeper themes and should be acknowledged as such, yet we’re quick to dismiss them as having nothing to offer. These kinds of shows can be a slow burn (Adventure Time in particular is a show I’ve found that has to be marathoned in order to be properly understood and doesn’t fully come into it’s own until the third season) but there is some gold to be found somewhere.

Anime is all “art”

On the other side of the looking glass we have the view that all anime is mature and deep. Or more accurately the idea that all anime is mature and deep when compared to western animated works. Now if you were to ask me which I prefer between anime and western animation I would undoubtedly say anime, and though I’m frequently a defender of western stuff I’ve always maintained that standpoint. This is mainly due to the fact that as mentioned earlier, anime is capable of tackling certain themes in a way western animation currently can’t and is occasionally capable of producing masterpieces that can be considered high art such as Evangellion, Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena or Fullmetal Alchemist.
However while anime is capable of reaching these kinds of heights, it has also been known to go to extreme lows that can make some of the dumbest stuff out there look like gold in comparison. OniAi which has been recently released by Funimation is one such low. While I generally don’t mind watching the occasional goofy harem show the show makes little sense, goes absolutely nowhere, and has just about every joke being about the girls trying to get in the male lead’s pants. It’s a pretty silly show, and many would acknowledge it as such and yet when compared to some of the higher quality western shows it’s still considered to be superior by some and often for reasons not pertaining to the quality of the story itself.
Similarly while some of the more serious western animated shows are occasionally categorized alongside the “childish cartoons”. Anime that is targeted at a younger audience, and clearly accepts that it is such as Pokemon or Beyblade are occasionally given the label of being “mature” works in some fashion compared to Avatar and the like, in order to maintain the idea that anime is completely unaffected by the Animation Age Ghetto and that viewers of these shows aren’t labeled as “immature” for watching them.
As a medium anime has a lot of diversity, but it’s because of that diversity that it can also display some serious flaws and thus the illusion made by animation culture, of anime being a perfect medium of artistic talent is one that is worth calling into to question

Changing the culture

 
The culture we’ve established as fans of animation is one that has it’s share of problems but those problems are capable of being changed. While I’m not seriously expecting anyone to suddenly change their stance on things it’s definitely time that we come to terms with how our need to perpetuate the culture has lead  to viewpoints that are either outdated or were never really the case to begin with. I’m hoping there will come a day where the shadow of the Animation Age Ghetto is completely gone from and all animation can be viewed as just animation, but until then it’s at least good to recognize that the some labels we’ve created for ourselves are only hindering and not helping how the world views what we love.