Professor Marc Yamada explores the history of anime and the unique ways in which the genre can approach different subject matters.
The evolution of communication technology and the simultaneous advent of the Internet and social media has given rise to a more globalized world. With just the swipe of a screen or the touch of a mouse, people on opposite sides of the globe can text, chat, or do business in real time. The result is an ever-growing global culture that borrows and blends the distinct ideas of individual cultures from around the world.
Globalization has given rise to all manner of ideas, trends, and products that may have remained localized without it. One such example is the genre of anime; once centralized in Japan, the anime industry now grosses over $17 billion worldwide. To help explore this new global medium, BYU’s International Cinema invited Comparative Arts and Letters professor Marc Yamada to present on the genre and explain the themes that the genre is able to tackle.
What is anime?
According to Yamada, anime is a unique style of animation. By his terming, animation is a “medium in which images are manipulated to appear as moving images” and has continually expanded with technological advances during the past 100 years. Anime, by contrast, is a specific type of animation, more wholly influenced by “foreign marketing, merchandising, a changing fan based and technological achievements in Japan.”
Yamada also described that anime is traditionally broken down into two categories: television shows and movies. Shows are similar to programming in the United States, but Yamada described how films are considered more of a “high art form” that tackle more complicated narratives and themes. Examples of these films would include works like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Princess Mononoke.
How did anime get its start?
Japanese animation has heavily evolved since its advent around 100 years ago. The earliest anime were shown in theatres as benshi, or narrators, would provide live context for the silent films. These initial anime were much more like a presentation as because the audience’s attention was directly focused on the benshi whose words provided the primary story as opposed to the images on the screen.
The industry slowly evolved as many soon realized anime was the perfect medium to “tell fantastic stories on a low budget.” As studios began to embrace this idea and draw upon source material like manga and other novels, anime became a medium for exploring new worlds and environments. Storytellers then began blending their new worlds with the post-humanist and post-apocalyptic themes that Japan embraced in the 1950s and 1960s which gave the genre a new layer of added depth.
What are some of anime’s major themes?
Yamada lauded anime for not only telling fantastic stories than cut down on the high production costs of traditional live-action films, but for also blending the lines between imagination and realism. “Traditionally, animation has had a difficult relationship with realism,” explained Yamada. “In anime, you get more of a complex mixture.”
Citing examples from Only Yesterday and other popular films, Yamada explained that anime blends animation techniques with imagination while also incorporating hyperrealism in instances like cityscapes or commonplace locations like grocery stores. The result is a medium that is grounded in a certain degree of realism, but is simultaneously able to explore new realities and ideas.
This combination allows anime to breach certain topics in ways that might be difficult for other genres. Yamada specifically described how anime like In This Corner of the World, Barefoot Gen, and Grave of the Fireflies are all able to explore war and the aftermath of Hiroshima through a unique lens. These films, through their unique visual mediums, are able to “soften the blow of violence” without having to sacrifice in terms of overall themes or messages.
What is the future of anime?
Yamada cited the retirement of famous director, animator, and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayoa Miyazaki as the biggest change that will come to anime in the next few years. With Miyazaki no longer producing anime, Yamada predicted that the industry would move away from much of the nature and environmental themes and visuals that have dominated anime for last few decades. Instead, viewers may be watching more anime more focused on modern, urban life with elements of the fantastic providing a sharper contrast.
For those interested in learning more about or watching anime, International Cinema is offering free screenings of The Napping Princess this week (Feb. 4-10) on Friday at 9:15 p.m. and on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. All showings will take place in SWKT 250.
—Eric Baker (News Media, ’18)
Eric Baker covers events for BYU’s International Cinema. He is a senior pursuing a degree in News Media with a minor in Political Science.