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By Akino Suzuki The Age of Anime

The Anime Era

We interviewed our very own in-house Anime expert Akino about all things Anime!

What makes anime different from other cartoons or animation like Disney?

Stylistically, anime production houses will often start off with a storyboard hand drawn from scratch. The level of mastery and technique combined with the imagination of the animator creates a different viewing experience than you would typically get from CGI animation and technology used in Disney.

It uses immersive realism to draw kids and teens into the story plotlines. There’s an extraordinary level of attention to detail and a sense of scale in the animation with wide shots that show towns and cities with lots of people or the character’s emotional expressions. There are small background details to help recreate this well-rounded world where every character has their own story.

Why do you think anime is/ has become so compelling for kids?

The narratives and themes are very diverse and ‘unconventional’. Some anime geared towards both Gen A and Z, deal with themes that might be deemed as ‘adult concepts’ through a Western lens and seen as heavy in subject matter; post-apocalyptic worlds, anthropomorphic cats, nuclear clean-up workers, powerful librarians, or homeless deities. I think the level of depth and richness in these worlds is what makes it so captivating for children where it’s something they haven’t seen before.

Even though these worlds are fictional, because of the great level of detail, it’s easier for kids and teens to transport themselves into these imaginary spaces and see themselves in characters better than real life representations. They can connect or relate to certain characters from a certain community that they haven’t yet seen in the mainstream.

Since its inception, anime and manga also have a lot of space to play with gender roles than other media forms. Tezuka Osama created gender fluid characters in Metropolis and Princess Knight so as an art form they touch on current social political undercurrents in society that mainstream entertainment tend to shy away from.

On a side note, manga and anime also play a crucial role in shaping children’s world views as children often encounter it from an early age (around 10 years old) which is a crucial time for identity formation. It shapes their worldview and perceptions of other cultures, climate issues, gender representations and more wrapped into a compelling story.

What is the difference between anime and manga?

There are times when people use manga and anime interchangeably by mistake. Manga has long historical roots dating back to the pre-Meiji period as an old classical art form on scrolls in the 12th century but has transformed over time to adapt to modern day tastes. On the other hand, anime is the Japanese abbreviation from the word ‘animation’. I find it easiest to distinguish between the two as manga is the paper comic book format while anime is Japanese animated films.

Are there any specific themes or patterns that we see as key ‘hooks’ within the anime realm i.e. colour palette/design, narratives?

At its core, anime needs to have a certain sense of realism to help the viewers place themselves in that imagined world. Hayao Miyazaki said that an ‘animator must fabricate a lie that seems so real, viewers will think the world depicted might possibly exist’ [excerpt from the novel Starting Point]. This is depicted through character movement, colour, sound, artistic scale, to get as close as possible to this sense of realism. They take the recreations of the real world and bend them within a fictional scene.

There are popular narrative hooks that have entered the mainstream like Squid Game for example. Its dark narrative is inspired by manga books like Battle Royale, a manga and feature film in the 90s about a group of delinquent school children sent to an island to battle each other to the death. Survival drama story hooks are commonplace in manga and popular with Gen Z because they show the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

What truly sets Squid Game apart are the visual aesthetic cues and colour palettes that make this narrative appear fresh and innovative. The cinematic visuals draw from manga and anime influences using collective scale as a metaphor for society divided by hegemony. There is contrast between these two worlds that showcase dark tones in the world outside of the game and then cuts to a world of bright pastel colours that mimic surrealist pop art on the island that further enhances the dark nature of the story.

What are kids learning about Japanese culture through anime?

Manga and anime is a gateway into Japanese culture where children can learn about the codes of society and culture by observing a completely different lifestyle to their own. It may be social mannerisms or etiquettes, whether it’s how a family eat at the dinner table, how children get ready and make their way to school or the way someone enters the home when they take off their shoes as a signal of respect.

As these behaviours or events are happening within specific contexts, this helps children understand the nuances and cultural meanings behind small but significant cultural acts.

Have kids ever discovered something about language / culture / food / art / history through manga or anime that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise?

If children are reading manga then they may pick up certain Japanese words or phrases that can sometimes slip in. There is a lot of onomatopoeia in Japanese language e.g. ‘fuwa fuwa’ is a term used to describe something that is light and fluffy in texture. This connects back to kawaii culture where certain phrases are used to express a sense of playful fun and almost personifies inanimate objects with characteristics to describe light puffy pancakes, or ‘pari pari’ the crispy crackling texture of dried seaweed. Manga and anime can unlock so much about culture, language, history, society and even prompt children to learn about their own cultural roots through these two mediums.

What touchpoints are Gen As and Zs engaging with anime the most e.g. content, merch, publishing, social media etc?

If it’s manga, then publishing is the go-to place for reading. Anime content is now entering mainstream streaming platforms from international behemoths like Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO showcasing Studio Ghibli Productions. Funimation on Hulu also recently acquired Crunchyroll which is an animation megaplex that will attract plenty of young viewers to come.

Manga cons and anime events are where children and teens can go to express their fandom love and even do cosplay, dressing up to embody traits (and even powers) of their favourite characters.

During the time of the pandemic, manga and anime became really popular due to people being stuck at home and TikTok showcasing manga hauls and collections that helped spread the word.

Hack Squadder Halina at Comic Con, dressed as a character from Witch Hat Atelier
Hack Squadder Halina at Comic Con, dressed as a character from Witch Hat Atelier

As for merch, there are plushies, vinyl anime figure dolls for enthusiasts to collect and digital drawing tablets for the creative teens who want to try out their animation illustration skills.

What’s the most popular anime and manga with Gen Z right now?

Currently, the most popular anime right now is Jujutsu Kaisen, Tokyo Revengers, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan. There is also That Time I Reincarnated as a Slime, Promised Neverland, Haikyu, Rent-a-Girlfriend and Miss Nagatoro.

What are your favourite animes/mangas?

If we’re talking about Gen A anime then I would recommend My Neighbour Totoro as a heartwarming tale where two sisters move to the countryside and meet some enchanting wood spirits, a film that symbolizes the joys of rural living and companionship.

Princess Mononoke riding Moro, the god of the wolves
Princess Mononoke riding Moro, the god of the wolves

Princess Mononoke is a film more suitable for older teens, set in a medieval world inspired by Japanese folklore. A lot of the references have ancient historical roots with symbols to animism, Shinto symbology, and environmentalism. And it has a strong female protagonist who was raised by wolves to fight the humans who are destroying the land, as well as a stunning soundtrack, what’s not to love?