Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...
- How FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST Saved Anime (For Me) *** SAILOR MOON is for Boys (Too)!
- KINGDOM HEARTS Rescued an Anime Fan *** The Art of the Remake Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3
- The Do's & Dont's of Conventions *** For Under-Rated "Japanimation" *** Capcom vs. Alex!
- America in Anime * Why the EVA Rebuilds are Trivial * It's Not So Fun to be an American Otaku in Japan?
- A Photologue of Nerdy Japan * Real Japanese Cuisine for the Traveling Otaku * Stop Hating on DBZ!
- Live ZELDA Music: an Epic Win? * Shopping for an Anime Nerd
“Does art matter in anime?” This is a question I’ve run into with disturbing frequency in my 15 some years of watching this stuff. In fact, I've just recently been posed this very question in the comments section on this fair site.
As a fan, this confuses and frustrates me because so much of what I love about these Japanese cartoons we spend our time staring at is the way they look. However, perhaps more to the point, as a visual artist, this question fills me with a deep and powerful existential dread that what I do is unappreciated or irrelevant - - even to fans of my work. It’s a bit like telling a chef, “I don’t care about the way food tastes. I just use it for nutrients.”
So enough of the suspense: there is no question that the art in a visual medium absolutely does matter. I say this, not only because I happen to love art, but also (primarily) because anime and manga rely on images to convey their story. As a visual approach to storytelling, anime and manga artists have an additional set of tools to get across important information, establish characters, engage you in the world they’re creating, and hopefully make you give a shit about what’s happening in their work.
So here’s a quick breakdown of where art matters to anime...
How a character is drawn conveys personality. This is pretty basic stuff, but the shape of a characters face and eyes, the color of their clothes and hair, and so on, can tell you a lot about them. This can be used to quickly establish roles of characters or play with audience’s expectations of what a character will be. This is especially helpful when a “bad guy” turns out to be a trusted ally (for example: every shonen anime ever).
DYNAMIC STORYTELLING :
Manga frequently relies on splash pages, close-ups, detailed setting images and layout to convey importance or heighten the impact of a scene. Tezuka often used series of small panels to guide your eyes quickly across the page. Anyone who’s watched even a little bit of anime will notice the abundance of epic establishing shots, or close-up reaction shots. These tell the audience in a not-so-subtle way to “pay attention to this part” or “gasp at this epic shit!” It actually does draw you into the story more effectively.
Long sequences without dialogue are used to establish tone and setting powerfully. Consider the beginning of PRINCESS MONONOKE, when Ashitaka is riding through the forest, trying to lead the infected boar away from his village. Or the scene later on, when the Forest Spirit brings him back to life. There is very little dialogue in these scenes, and they’re both more powerful for it.
In GHOST IN THE SHELL, we watch the mechanical construction of Kusanagi's body followed by her waking up in her bedroom, rubbing her eyes and putting on her coat in an entirely human way - - all of this without a word of dialogue. This simple sequence conveys so much about both who and what she is, what kind of story you’re in for, and what the themes of the story will be.
Later in the film, there’s a beautiful sequence of shots of the city in the rain. Skyscrapers standing monolithically, canal boats bobbing, a plane flying overhead... all of this setting a great tone and making the world seem completely realized and believable.
The look of anime is largely what sets it apart from other cartoons, comics, movies and games. I was drawn to anime initially by the fact that it looked completely different from anything I’d seen before. Sure, I dug deeper and found stories I loved that keep me coming back, but what sets anime and manga apart immediately is the look. There’s a different approach, a different sensibility, a different set of goals from American comics, art and culture.
Yup, the art of animation is at the heart of this genre. These are Japanese cartoons after all. Anime, at its best, has some of the most dynamic, well-realized, exciting, and fluid animation you can find. It's also home to some of the laziest, phoned-in, half-assed crap that I’ve ever seen. Being able to tell the difference is part of being a fan of this stuff, and forming an opinion about what you like is part of being a thinking human being.
Would you still love Miyazaki’s movies as much if they weren’t gorgeous to look at? I know I wouldn’t.
IT’S ALREADY IN YOUR EYES :
You have to look at the damn thing - - wouldn’t you rather it not look like dog shit? Since you are watching or looking at something, you owe it to yourself and the creator to pay some attention to the artistic choices. You’ll understand it on another level and actually enjoy it more!
Yes, it is possible to tell a story without pictures. If you’re looking for a way to get a story into your brain without having to look at any images, I recommend reading a book. I hear libraries are full of the things, and with the exception of the covers, many are completely image free!
As otaku, we’ve all chosen to watch cartoons and read comic books, so art is intrinsically unavoidable. If you choose to ignore the art in anime, manga, or any visual medium, you’re ignoring at least 50% of the work.
If you don’t care about the art in your anime, then you don’t care about anime. It’s as simple as that.
Disagree? You're wrong, but feel free to let me know in the comments section below.
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - - dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn