The Anime Talk Block: a fresh start

The evolving shape of Anime in a globalized world

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Illustration of character Hachimaki from the sci-fi drama Planetes

If you live in the plugged-in 21st century on Earth, chances are you have heard of this thing called Anime. The reputation of this industry and its creative output, however, continues to pose a liability. This applies both to certain groups of people as well as the art form itself.

This introduction is intended to lay out the core mission of the Anime Talk Block, a space for answering the question, “Does Anime need figuring out?”

 

Daikichi from Usagi Drop, a slice-of-life meditation on what it means to be a parent, thinking, “Does this even matter?

So what?
Anime’s checkered past as a medium for audio-visual narratives, i.e. TV shows, has put forth the occasional gem, worthy of notice and respect. These instances of brilliance provide beacons of hope that the medium has much to offer and accomplish. At least more than what a casual viewer would usually think is possible for the medium.

So if these particular shows are so great, why aren’t they showcased and celebrated the same way TV serials are? Why don’t they rank with the likes of Mad Men, Stranger Things, and other critically acclaimed Western dramas?

It’s simple: most TV viewers, due to a history of perceiving TV as little more than an inconsequential pastime, are not TV literate.

Huh?

 

Riley (left) and Huey Freeman of Boondocks fame, whose character designs are said to be “anime-inspired”, sharing two sets of confused looks

 

To leave this odd argument open for further explanation, the long-short of it is that Anime is scripted as units of fiction. This also applies to live-action. And fiction, contrary to common belief, can be measurably ranked in order of fictional aptitude. Producing relatively clear winners and losers among works of fiction is not out of the question.

(No, I don’t think your English class ever covered this approach to fiction. Even if you were sleeping in class. It just doesn’t get much air time).

The sobriety of this approach and the practical skills one can gain from it includes not being duped by the propaganda in poor storytelling. Anime is a practical gym for a viewer to exercise these skills. And yet, if what I speak bears some truth, how has Anime largely become this escapist cesspool?

From my research, the medium offers a useful laboratory setting for imaginative play and critical thinking around fiction. These benefits have other interesting meanings when you also account for anime as a product that crosses cultural borders.

Anime is a major worldwide export to come out of not only Japan but all of Asia in recent history. What kind of effect does perceptions of Anime have not only on its viewers but also perceptions of Asians in general, whether they watch Anime or not? This question certainly sounds weighty at first. And yet, we have hardly even began to plunge into the much deeper sea of dilemmas in which Anime has become subsumed.

Please tell me you know why I included this. If not, don’t search it quite yet – let me try providing you a contextually-fit examination of what the core ideas of this image are in due time. Also, watch the original movie first, if you’re so eager.

Get to the point, Tri.

Netflix, Amazon, Hollywood, and the U.S. music industry. These colossal players and influencers of consumer values are surely making inroads into Anime. I include licensing, distribution, or industry collaborations among these inroads. And that means the likelihood of Anime becoming a greater part of mainstream consciousness is escalating. If I thought the Anime community at large was in shape to represent Anime in a constructive and clearheaded way, I wouldn’t be feeling as anxious as I am.

This is where Anime Talk Block, or ATB for short, is more important than ever.

A safe space for seasoned, casual, and non-viewers alike to share their experiences with Anime. To not only correct our misconceptions of Anime, but also to benefit from learning to think critically about its transnational effects on people and the way we think about different cultures and art forms.

As for what ATB will look like in terms of what I put out, here are a few sub-series to expect:
  • The Hot Take. This is where I will use an anime news article as a springboard to set up trickier questions and prompts for you, the reader. Chew on your thoughts about the article and my blurb, see where your mind takes you. Then, sound off in the comment section and through direct email with me what you discovered while you were thinking.
  • From Readers Like You, will be a post-Hot Take compilation of readers’ thoughts, synthesized in a way that will underscore what ideas are revealing themselves the most, while challenging readers to explore other aspects of their questions.
  • And Minoring in Anime. This will be an expanding playlist of fundamentals with regard to viewing and grasping works of fiction, especially the serialized kind. These basics become even more valuable as tools each time you reapply them to a different piece of fiction. This includes TV shows, movies, and any other product whose method of getting you to pay attention involves characters and a story.

This will be my core rotation of posts. Your voice is the most important part of this process as I experiment with these three basic models. I am excited to see how they evolve, while I commit to guiding you through this maze called Anime. So stay tuned as this dialogue has only just begun!

Signed,

Tri M Vo

“What have I gotten myself into now??” – Sora Naegino (Kaleido Star)

 

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