Why is Japanese Animation worth watching? There are many answers. Some are obvious. Others are deceptively simple. Among the obvious ones are Anime's wonderful imagery and aesthetics. In its use of sexuality and beauty, the imagery can be as tantalizing as a Klimt or a Goya. In its evocation of fantasy and myth, the imagery reminds us of the 19th century Romantics. In its presentation of giant fighting robots fighting for freedom, Space cowboys fighting against corruption, and vigilante flying ships juxtaposed against an utterly black void, Anime shows us the irrepressible power of freedom.
If imagery is a partial answer to the question of Anime's continued place in popular culture, so too is its music. The music can be upbeat, sad, stirring and peaceful, but like a Wagner opera, it is always a central part of, not a mere addition to, the narrative. The music borrows from all idioms; we are as likely to hear jazz and hip-hop as we are to hear heavy metal, classical or blues. And it is all done to move the story forward, to be a seamless part of a film's entire fabric.
Anime shows us the irrepressible power of freedom.
But these two reasons for watching anime, imagery and music, belong in the domain of the connoisseur; they are derived primarily from the animators' technical skills, and while they, in themselves, are certainly valid answers to the question why we watch Japanese Animation, there are two others that I believe are at the very core of the art. Without them, the other two are not possible. I am referring to the power of its characters and the universality of its themes. The characters in Japanese animation are deeply and melodramatically human; they feel intense love, happiness, and rage, yet they also certainly feel isolation and alienation. We are drawn to these characters because at their essence they are just like us. We have experienced their joy. And we have endured their loss. Just as the characters are human so are the themes. They address real world topics; themes of relationships, themes of corrupt corporations and politicians, themes of alienation and power, and certainly themes of rebellion, liberation and freedom. Themes are often organized within the structure of Japanese mythology, seriously addressed by their directors and creators.
As Darren Ashmore, an old friend who teaches at Yamanashi Gakuin University noted several weeks ago, much of animation was for kiddies, but Japanese Animation creators didn't trivialize the characters, their stories, or their themes. But, you ask, where can we watch such wonderful stuff? Japanese animation can often be hard to find. Fortunately, the folks at Netflix recognize the importance of Japanese Animation. As a start, I would recommend these six. I think they'll cause you to make Anime a regular part of your diet...