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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Anime Revolution:

Another neat thing we can do with this data is check to see when the higher ranking entities of this list were created, as compared to the lower ranked entities. It's my contention that anime has undergone a revolution in quality and the world has not yet realized how changed it is from the past, how vastly superior it is as an art form than when people were growing up (Speed Racer, Robotech, Dragonball days.) I can point to three visible 'turning points' in anime: 1999, 2002, and 2006. After each of these years anime series became dramatically more plentiful and higher quality. I'm not sure what the underlying factors were -- the entrance of new anime studios, (like Kyoto Animation), new artists (like Ryukishi and Key), or perhaps advances in computer graphics technology and display technology that made anime easier to make and prettier to look at. I'm sure it was the combination of many disparate things. In any event, in my previous post I showed that good anime since 2006 was nearly twice as plentiful as good anime even so recently as 2000-2005. But this measure wasn't as precisely detailed and accurate as it could be. If we also took into account the rankings of these series, we could see not just how plentiful good anime has become, but also how Good good anime has become in the recent past.

With a little bit of math, I'll further reveal this anime revolution:

Average Ranking of 1980's Anime: 64.5

Average Ranking of 1990's Anime: 61.2

Average Ranking of 2000-2005 Anime: 48.6

Average Ranking of 2006-2011 Anime: 44.8

Nice, huh? The last five years have produced more good anime in terms of quantity and quality. This is called a 'discontinuity.' A sharp break with the past that proves we can't judge things by our old standards and appraisals, but have to check everything again with new, unclouded eyes.

The barriers to entry for anime popularity are basically threefold: Anime's fixation with showing lots of flesh with relatively child-like features (wide eyes always makes people look younger.) A lot of people just can't see past this sinful behavior to enjoy the art underneath. Basically, puritanism. Hopefully this problem will go away as people become less religious and more open-minded. The West's condemnation of anime's exhibitionist habits is the same criticism Islam levels at western girls who don't go around wearing black bodybags. So long as the girls are cute what does it matter? They aren't being abused or engaging in underage sex or anything. It's purely a question of fashion. In the Victorian age, girls had to cover everything in massive layered dresses, but now we wear much less and no one thinks that's sinful. This is a purely cultural problem and basically the west should just get over it.

Old prejudices based on having watched old anime. The second biggest problem is people who think they know what anime is because they watched Voltron or Dragonball or Sailor Moon or something. Even if they've watched Totoro or Spirited Away, they'll just file anime away as a sort of weird nature-obsessed slow-paced movie genre. These people have already 'given anime a shot' and found it wanting. But all the old anime classics are severely outdated and don't reflect the true quality of present-day anime. They need to be watching Clannad, Code Geass, Nanoha, Higurashi and K-On. Not Totoro, Spirited Away, Sailor Moon, Dragonball and Voltron.

The third problem anime faces is 'it's a cartoon.' Nevermind that Maus is a cartoon about the Holocaust, these people continue to insist that cartoons are for kids and adults shouldn't waste their time on 'cartoons.' This mindless preference for live acting over beautifully drawn animated stories with incredible voice actors embodying their characters is probably the biggest stumbling block anime faces in the west. I can't fathom why people prefer live action. We've seen from Avatar, Toy Story and the likes that completely CG films can properly convey stories of any maturity level. Furthermore, staying in a CG world allows us to do things we otherwise can't, like impressive special effects and interesting-looking actors. Aren't people tired of this restriction called reality? How much work does it take to get Lord of the Rings Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves together on a live screen? How much money? If we rely on animation, we can have dwarves, hobbits and elves for free. People can look however we want, as can environments, spaceships, enormous battles that blow up planets, and any other special effect we please. Anime can do anything. Reality can't. Nor can real actors.

No matter how hard real actors try, they all end up just playing 'themselves.' A star is just 'star x, playing in movie y.' But in anime, characters can be themselves and no one else, because they look different each time a series is created. Even though some famous voice actors can start bleeding character traits between roles, the problem is nowhere near as large as having Tom Cruise or Natalie Portman play in your next film. These people are so recognizable that it's impossible to imagine they're actually characters in the film, and not just the actors playing said characters doing the same exact acts as they do in every other film, using the exact same facial expressions that they've always used in every movie. Basically, anime is more expressive than acting.

In an anime, we can zoom in on people's faces whenever we want, and their eyes are big enough that they can express their emotions in an incredible range nearly instantaneously. Because of the power of zooming in and large eyes, anime can transmit more feelings than actors can ever dream of -- the amount of light reflected in their eyes, the curve of their mouth, the narrowing or widening of their eyes -- animators have an enormous range of 'acting' tools that can express their characters perfectly. Can actors say the same about their faces? Their eyes? I don't think so. I bawl my eyes out over anime scenes where live action scenes are nearly 100% unmoving. The difference is in the medium's ability to convey feelings. Anime conveys more than reality, because it can rise beyond the limits of reality to express itself.

When has humanity ever wished to stay bound to reality? It was reality that we couldn't fly. Did we prefer lifestyles that didn't fly as a result? No, we invented airplanes and flew anyway. It's a reality that we get sick. Did we prefer being vulnerable to disease as a result? No, we invented vaccines and antibiotics so that we could live free again. It's a reality that most people can never look as good or express as much as characters in anime -- (of course, their voice acting is well below the voice acting of their Japanese counterparts too, so they can't express themselves as well when they speak their lines either, because they're a jack-of-all-trades, whereas voice actors can concentrate fully on delivering good lines, an obvious advantage when you think about it.) Does that mean we should just prefer reality to anime? No, like every other case, we should embrace the technological ability to surpass play-acting, stage-acting, and move on to acting with our imaginations alone, productions that are bound solely by creativity, rather than reality. Talk about differences in potential! Needless to say, this difference in potential has translated into differences in results as well. No movie or tv series filmed in the real world approaches the quality of Clannad -- or for that matter any of the top 10 anime series.

The preference for 'reality' should not be mistaken for a preference for rich detail. We all want lots of information density when we look at an image. Reality can produce this level of detail easily, just by filming reality, but animation has to work very hard to create that same detailed imagery. However, as HD widescreen tv's have spread, anime has risen to the challenge. The details in Clannad can easily be mistaken for the richness of reality. I challenge anyone who sees the cherry trees fade from black and white to color at the introduction where Okizaki meets Nagisa to feel anything but swept away by the imagery. Concerns about lack of detail are just obsolete beliefs about anime. Once Kyoto Animation came onto the scene, that complaint no longer mattered.

Take a good fighting scene from 'reality.' Pickett's charge from Gettysburg, perhaps. Or a lightsaber duel in Star Wars (which has a lot of CG itself). These are impressive fight scenes, no doubt, the best reality can provide. But are they anywhere near as epic as Seikai no Senki's battle at Aptiss gate? That involved the clashes of entire starfleets for the fate of the galaxy. Thousands of ships were exchanging fire across the vastness of space. Or how about Goku's fight with Vegeta when he went kaio-ken times 4 in order to prevent Vegeta's planet busting attack? Is Anything as epic as that scene from Dragonball? Or what about Nagato's surreal reality-programming battle with Asakura for Kyon's life, where the room was a mixture of colors and people could move regardless of gravity flinging weapons of indescribable force? Can reality portray a fight like that? Has reality ever portrayed a fight scene like Nanoha in Strikers against her own child, Vivio? The entire battleship infiltration fight is epic from start to finish, with beams, explosions, anti-gravity flight, tears, and feelings everywhere you look. Can reality depict that? Nanoha could.

What is reality? It's just another box. If we want to surpass reality, we need art that surpasses reality. If we want to know what 'should be' rather than 'what is,' film, live actors, big-budget tedious cameras and dramas and choreographed fight scenes and demolitions made to look real but can't actually hurt anyone so can never really look real, are a dead end. Movies based on reality can only be so fake. Eventually they must abide by the laws of phsyics, by 'what is.' But if you're abiding by 'what is,' you can never depict what 'should be.' You can't show a culture of space elves, you can't have a story about a princess of the Abh like Lafiel, or a humanoid data-interface like Yuki Nagato, or a magical girl like Nanoha, or a super-saiyan who can emit golden auras while smashing planets like Goku. You can't tell any of these stories because reality lacks the tools. We can never surpass ourselves. Why, then, is live acting better than animation? Why? It's unfathomable. Just another prejudice based on instinct instead of reason.

Are people incapable of relating to 'cartoons'? Do they need a real live woman to understand 'that's a girl in front of me, she has feelings and hopes and dreams and is eminently attractive?' But that's absurd. If a character is simply written ABOUT in a book, people can relate to the girls in literature, even think they're attractive. How much more is this the case when they have a pictorial form and a real live voice? (no doubt one of the greatest and most expressive voices on Earth). People can't be that useless. If we can relate to pets, we can relate to fictional representations of people. Use your imaginations. I have seen so many forum posts, by so many people, who said they had never cried in their lives until they watched Air/Kanon/Clannad/Angel Beats. These people interacted with live people and live drama/films all their lives. But they opened their hearts to the fictional image. Anyone can do it if they try. In fact, they'll find that they can do it more easily with these idealized characters, who are more beautiful and more perfect than anyone we could find on Earth, than for anything found in reality.

Reality is a pale shadow of fiction. Fiction is truer, more real, and more engaging than reality will ever be. Leave reality to inanimate matter. Imagination was given to mankind for a reason. That's our only proper realm. That's where true minds reside.

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