I was reading Kotaku this morning and an article about the evolution of anime styles caught my eye. The post featured an image of how K-On! would have looked had it been made in each of the previous decades dating back to the 1960’s with an tongue-in-cheek bonus ukiyo-e styled print added at the end. Many of us are familiar with the maturation of Belldandy’s look in the Ah My Goddess manga and it serves as a good example of design trends over a period of time.
In reading the comments regarding the article, one reply suggested that the 90’s look wasn’t all that prevalent during the decade. The comparison was made to Saber Marionette J (1997), and it was characterized as being unique. I didn’t find that to be true at all. In fact, like the K-On satirist, I identify that style specifically with the 1990’s. I see that character design influence in:
There are many shows from this same time period with different art styles than this; some subtly so (El Hazard the Magnificent World ~ 1995) while others more definitive (Serial Experiments Lain ~ 1998). I do not think that everything from the 90’s looks the same, but I do think there was a “look” to the decade.
That thought made me wonder what shows exemplify the look for the current generation of anime. Is it K-On? I remember remarks about Sora no Woto K-On-like appearance and I, myself thought that this summer’s Kokoro Connect was a spin-off or something.
I think it’s what’s become the traditional moé design as seen in Clannad and Lucky Star. I can see that style repeated in a variety of romantic comedies of varying quality such as Hayate the Combat Butler to Kanokon. Hell, Tayutama -Kiss on my Deity-, Haruka Nogizaka`s Secret and Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun are practically indistinguishable from each other. If there are complaints about modern anime (we’ve all heard or voiced them in abundance) it’s that it looks the same. I don’t believe the detractors are just talking about clichéd characters and unimaginative story development, but also about monotony within the art itself. This decision to cash-in on the moé popularity is ultimately what killed it. While I remain a fan of the romantic comedy genre, I’m not sorry to see its recent signature style go.
That actually makes me wonder what influence will proliferate the medium next. What anime will represent anime’s look into the next decade?
Looking over EquitasInvictus’ “Just Anime” thread Generally Unpopular/Controversial Anime Series (Guilty Pleasures) again, I was curious to see what shows people consider shameful. Perhaps that’s too strong a term, but anime communities, local and online, tend to form broadly accepted opinions of what’s good and what’s bad; the respected versus the undesirable. The latter doesn’t necessarily equate to poor quality but only that some element of a show falls outside what is welcomed by the group. All-to-familiar story formulas, clichéd characters, gratuitous sexuality, and genres that don’t specifically target the demographic of the community can all contribute to a show’s unpopularity. Whatever the reason, mentioning that you enjoy some shows can be met with praise or repugnance.
For the titles we suspect are ill-favored, we call them our “guilty pleasures”. The expression publicly devalues a series, but in doing so, makes it acceptable. The purpose may be two-fold. First to inform the group that you understand that your appreciation for a show isn’t commendable and that their opinion of you should not diminish based on those affinities alone. Second, to categorize within our minds what has greater value. Some shows either set the standard or try to break free of mediocrity. When they accomplish that they deserve to be held in higher esteem. Entertaining titles that remain conventional or unsophisticated are placed lower within our personal hierarchy. Perhaps that’s just an excuse, however, which allows us to enjoy something we recognize as inferior. How else do we quantify the satisfaction we feel from both Tantei Opera Milky Holmes and Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo?
I’m no different than anyone and I have labeled several of the franchises I have a propensity for as guilty pleasures. I have strong enthusiasm for the Pretty Cure/PreCure franchise. I like the lighthearted stories of plucky, extravagantly dressed, young girls fighting for the dreams of their loved ones. Being marketed toward juveniles, they purposely don’t challenge my adult mind, but that doesn’t lessen the good feeling I have while watching. My head maybe left wanting, but the joy within my heart is equal to that received from more substantial shows. Having said that, the series isn’t something I expect others to extol. I may sing the praises of Suite PreCure here, but I’m not truly seeking converts.
There is another side to this coin, though. Those shows we unabashedly cherish and deem worthy of unquestioned respect; the stories and characters that transform us from mere fans into vocal advocates. They are central to our anime-loving identity. Here just as with “guilty pleasures” our passions may be rebuffed by our community. Apathy, misinformed preconceptions, and a general reluctance to experiment outside the familiar can explain the community's rejection of our beloved properties. How we accept that defines our bonds. If we are reluctant to promote or defend a series, we may harbor some of the shame earlier explored. However, if we defiantly persist in our acclaim, our affection for the show becomes a source of our pride.
For me, shows from the 80’s through the early 90’s provide the most self-satisfaction. As I’ve noted in the past, my introduction to anime began with the programs of the 1970’s, but my obsession didn’t take root until years later. Every morning I’d wake up early enough so that I could watch Robotech uninterrupted before venturing off to school. As I grew older, I would routinely travel a hundred miles to anime dealers in search of new video tapes. I attended paltry conventions held in the back of public libraries to watch raw footage and accumulated mangas from sellers in “Little Tokyo” undoubtedly amused by my illiterate purchases. This is the foundation that formed my love for the medium, so even today when I watch something from that time period; I appreciate it with a greater attachment.
Anime based on the works of Rumiko Takahashi generate the strongest affection within me specifically Urusei Yatsura (1981) and Maison Ikkoku (1986). With her creation, Lum Invader, Takahashi significantly contributed to archetype of the “magic girlfriend” and the harem genre at a time when those concepts were still fresh and undefined. She followed those fanciful comic hijinks with a more down-to-earth romance in Maison Ikkoku. It explored a five-year, frustration-filled courtship between a hapless college student and apprehensive apartment manager. The complete satisfaction I felt at the end has rarely been duplicated among other series.
Other shows affixed to my anime-pride include Tsukasa Hojo’s City Hunter (1987), Haruka Takachiho and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s creation of The Dirty Pair (1985) and Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) created by Toho, Group TAC, Gainax from a concept by Hayao Miyazaki.
When I talk about these shows, I am confident in my feelings. My resolve is certain and I unequivocally believe in them. It comes from a different place in my heart than my love for favorites Gintama, Eureka 7, One Piece or even my most cherished School Rumble. Simply put, the fulfillment they provide strengthens my fondness for the hobby.
I haven’t written anything in a long time, so I am jotting down these few impressions while I’m in the mood. I hope to cover in brief everything I’ve seen since my last blog ages ago.
Recently I finished watching Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ and some things ran through my mind while enjoying it. I finished off the preceding series in the franchise, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam a few months earlier and it was one of the few shows I actively had to force myself to continue. I am a big fan of the original Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979, and Zeta Gundam follows that one directly. The tone of the show is much darker though. In fact, I would describe it as bleak, pessimistic and angry. Furthermore, I found the show’s main protagonist, Kamille Bidan to be an insufferable prick most of the time. I really didn’t like him at all and that made the whole series difficult to watch. Fortunately, Amuro Ray of MSG’79 was in a few episodes and Char Aznable returned for the sequel, as well. So, with a few elements to keep me involved I managed to make my way the whole thing.
I was reluctant to watch MSG ZZ after my experience with Zeta Gundam, but I’d been on a magical girl kick for a while and I felt like I needed a change following the uncorrupted innocence of Cardcaptor Sakura and the enthusiastic demeanor of Pretty Cure Splash Star’s heroines. Sandwiched in between those two was xxxHolic which was more sullen, but an occult-themed show wasn’t something I desired at the time. No, “space” would satisfy me. So, I approached Double Zeta prepared for plenty of pathos. I must say, what I found was quite a surprise. Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is a farcical comedy for maybe as much as a third of it. I don’t believe that anyone dies during the first dozen episodes which, if you know Gundam, is practically unheard of. The protagonist this time, Judau Ashta, was a much more carefree guy and quite the opposite of Kamille. He tried to avoid conflict, he sought to improve the lives of people he cared about and harbored no ill-will towards anyone. With a crew of delinquents, he schemed to steal the Zeta Gundam robot from the war battered Argama spaceship and sell it for parts! The villains for the show were equally off-beat. Mashymre Cello was a rose twirling, overly theatrical Zeon noble and Chara Soon; a bawdy, busty woman with two-toned hair. She would become sexually aroused when in a mobile suit and stroked the control sticks with eager anticipation. I laughed out loud at their antics quite a few times.
I read somewhere that the director of the series, Yoshiyuki Tomino suffered from depression and that impacted the Gundam franchise during his tenure. [source] I haven’t seen the two succeeding Gundam series’ MS Victory Gundam or Turn A-Gundam, but they are supposed to be similarly different. Victory Gundam is said to be a bloodbath for heroes and villains. Tomino gained a nickname in anime for his ruthless disposal of characters; “Kill’em All Tomino”. So, I wondered how the personal lives of anime writers and directors influenced their shows over time. If he was going through a rough time with his illness, the cast of whichever series he was working on could reflect that despair. If he was calm or even manically upbeat, the show might turn into a silly satire as was possibly the case with ZZ.
After about episode 16, Double Zeta leveled off and became a more traditional show with an appropriate balance of lightheartedness and tragedy. The contrast between the Zeta Gundam and Double Zeta was startling to me initially and I wondered if their disparity was due Tomino’s health or audience reaction. It also made me think about how much control anime directors have today versus thirty years ago.
After all that Gundam, I watched Hime-sama Goyoujin. Following the rollercoaster of Gundam ZZ, this one fulfilled my appetite for something silly. It was very very silly. It was about a ditzy high school girl who finds a bulbous crown that turns her into the queen of Japan while wearing it. An assortment of wacky thieves and assassins are out to steal it from her, too. Oh and there’s some pink space cats who open a ramen shop. The most remarkable thing was that the show had an engaging, if erratic plot where the end of one episode opened the following show. A big, long arc of insanity.
That’s that for now. Hopefully the next one won’t be six months in the making.
Oh, I wanted to recommend the Powerpuff Girls doujin over on snafu-comics.com. It’s a web-comic with a strong anime style. The story focuses on the Powerpuff Girls in 4th or 5th grade but includes appearances by a ton of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon characters such as Dexter – Boy Genius, Samurai Jack, XJ9 (Jenny), Hoop and the Megas, Invader Zim, Billy and Mandy, and others. There are around 240 pages up online to read right now, so check it out if you’re a fan of the girls or 90’s cartoons. I think a new page goes up every week, but don't quote me on it.