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animepaperscans_cowboy-bebop_nat_829Zach and I are doing guest posts on each other’s blogs this week. I run Tech + Lifestyle , a blog devoted to all things nerdtastic and geektacular (particularly PC gaming and hardware). Recently, we had the absolutely brilliant idea of switching for a post – a prince & the pauper sort of deal, if you will. I fancy myself the prince, as I’ve got way more views on my blog than he does. Anyway, here’s my take on anime, admittedly both generalized and biased. Read on if you dare…

I’ve got a slightly different take on anime than my friend Zach. He’s got this devoted, love all things anime, gotta-catch-’em-all attitude when it comes Japanese stuff. In fact, just about anything from that island nation is holy to him (except some of the really messed up stuff). If it comes in manga or anime form, even better. I’d like to think that I take a *slightly* more measured approach.

My first memory of consciously watching anime was in middle school -Dragon Ball Z, if you must know. It was a phase that ended rather quickly, in all honesty. From there, I experienced smatterings of Full Metal Alchemist, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, and the ilk, in large part thanks to Adult Swim.

It was only recently that I began watching anime with any sort of purpose or regularity. I think what kicked it off was an evening relaxing at my friend Raymond’s apartment. The son of two tel-com bigwigs, he lived in Japan from the age of two until around eleven or twelve. It goes without saying that he’s got a healthy selection of anime box sets, which I came across while looking for a movie to watch. I casually mentioned that I had seen a few episodes of Cowboy Bebop, and rather liked it. When I left, I had that and a couple other box sets under my arm, and I’ve been watching the stuff ever since.

animepaperscans_mobile-suit-gundam-00_suemura075_2509x3341_201918That felt surprisingly like a confession at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (not that I’ve ever been, mind you). While I’m on it, one of the things that fascinates me about anime is the stigma that surrounds it in American culture. For many years, anime and manga have generally remained at the fringe of pop culture. For all I know, there could be some sort of deep, dark, pseudo-conspiratorial reason for it; if not, I think it just hasn’t moved beyond the status of weird import. Americans are used to sharing spreading pushing their culture on others like it’s cocaine. The thought of really buying into someone else’s metaphoric blow is still uncomfortable. Most Americans, if they’re into anime at all, limit their consumption of it to the privacy of their own dwelling. I’ll readily admit to this – both of my roommates would mock me ceaselessly if I were to watch anime in front of them, so I usually keep it to myself.

Stigmas aside, the reason I watch anime is two-fold. First, I’m a writer – I’ll consume any sort of media with a good plot. As a writer, the more you expose yourself to, the better (not like that, you sicko). The more viewpoints you’ve seen, the more possible outcomes to a problem, the more character development, the better you’ll be when working on your own stuff. So first and foremost, I’m watching with an eye for what I can shamelessly incorporate into my own writing.

Secondly, I’m of the opinion that the media a culture produces is largely indicative of that overall society’s cultural nuances. Little by little, it gives you insight into what makes them tick. That might sound dumb, but it’s true. Example: I’m watching an anime episode where two characters are talking to each other about somebody else. For no apparent reason, it cuts to the person they’re talking about, and they sneeze. It then cuts back to the first two characters. Without knowledge of Japanese culture, that makes no sense to me whatsoever. After Zach explaining it to me, I understand that it’s based on a Japanese folk-belief relating to people talking about you, and I know a bit more about the culture.

animepaperscans_dragon-ball-z_hsn3071_1188x1680_130650So there you have it. For me, watching anime boils down to learning, whether it be about writing or about Japanese culture. I’m not completely enamored with it, though. There’s one thing that really drives me insane, and Zach and I are in disagreement over it – translations. Granted, the translations aren’t always done professionally, especially if you’re just streaming something online. It might have been an amateur, or just someone with an imperfect knowledge of one or the other languages, and they really can’t be faulted for errors. What bothers me about it is when translators try to approximate a concept that simply doesn’t exist in English, or insist on a literal translation that just isn’t correct grammar in English. I brought this up to Zach, to which he replied: “Don’t be dumb. You just don’t understand. Just watch the damn anime.”

That may be true. I might be incredibly, horrifically mistaken in my judgment. I might be so wrong that anime fans jump down my throat in their hastiness to explain to me just why, and in how many ways, I’m wrong. But take it for what it’s worth. This is the perspective of a relative outsider – the anime equivalent of gaijin, if you will. If anime is to ever achieve widespread acceptance in the US, it’ll have to make some changes. Better English translations is one of those changes. Likewise, the American public will have to grow up a bit. We’re too ethnocentric for foreign media to take hold, and we can’t get past the idea that animation is for children, despite so many excellent examples to the contrary. That’s gotta change, and it’s already starting to do so. Until it does, though, anime will remain on the outskirts of accepted pop culture, and I will stay a closet fanboy.


  1. Hi Brian,

    Good to get a diff perspective. I remember when i was an anime n00b and had the same issues you did – not knowing japanese culture, etc.

    About the fan translations – they are not always the best, of course. It helps to know Japanese so that you can listen instead of reading. Since I do know Japanese, I can tell if a translation is incorrect. This steers me towards fansubbers that have a history of producing excellent translations, to the extent that I might not watch a show if it is subbed by people who make mistakes often, and will wait for the better group.

    The hardcore anime-watching group is a special type of audience with a set of assumed knowledge, and fansubs cater to them. That is why you see literal translations, little-to-none localizing, and the retention of Japanese terms and suffixes, especially the commonly known ones. The longer you watch anime, the more you get used to it. You will pick up certain terms, and perhaps grow to like them not being translated, as I do. I believe there are always concepts and terms that don’t translate exactly into English, and its best to leave them as they are and put in TL notes somewhere. Eventually you get to intuitively grasp what these words/phrases/concepts mean in Japanese and are glad the translators don’t make an attempt to “English-ize” them. By then, you’re well on your way to learning Japanese.

    Likewise, I have also picked up so much about japanese culture just from watching anime, it’s unbelievable. It’s amazing to be able to learn about holidays, beliefs, popular superstitions,etc with virtually no effort! That’s one thing about anime that’s really great – it serves as an export of Japanese culture.

    And you’re right, we rarely get that in America. We Americans export our culture like crazy, and we don’t expect/accept the reverse. I still remember when i went to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it was released in mainstream US theaters about five years ago. The attendant selling us tickets “warned” us before we bought them, saying “You know….this movie has SUBTITLES…” as if that were some horrible thing. I have consistently met prejudice from friends and family about watching foreign films – they either must be dubbed, or not worth watching! And who the hell watches foreign movies, anyway? Obviously anything not made in Hollywood must SUCK BIG TIME and only losers would watch it!

    I’ve made no secret of my love for anime and Japanese/foreign films, and have lost friends/respect because of it. But i’ll stick by it. I won’t try to hide who I am and what I like in order to be accepted by close-minded people.

  2. Kim,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response! I appreciate your explanation regarding fansubs; it makes a lot of sense. To a certain extent, I’ve already found myself becoming selective when as to where I get my anime subs. Actually understanding Japanese is quite a long way off, though. Chinese is my current language of study.

    And as for foreign movies… I share your sentiments – Hero is far and away one of my all-time favorite movies. The subtitle translations are excellent, while still conveying the tone of the original script.

  3. Hey great first post Brian. I fully agree with several points you touched on. Its great to get another perspective on anime.

    First of all, I have to agree with Kim on Fan translations, they are exactly that…fan subs. While some are just absolutely horrible, it is a pretty good transition into the genre from anime n00b to beginner of everything otaku.Its how i got even more drawn to anime and actually started learning a little bit of Japanese. Oh and also as Kim said, it introduced me to TONS of japanese culture (that and Zach’s random tidbits he mentions everytime we talk.)

    Secondly, it saddens me to know that America will most likely never embrace anime (and much less anything else cultural unless its a type of food) as nothing more as a childish cartoon. I can’t count the number of fights I have gotten into over how different Japanese animation is from anything Disney or any form of a Saturday morning cartoon.

    But if there’s one thing I can be for certain is that one way or another, as long as you are hanging around Zach you are going to be drawn even more into the anime community. Good Luck discovering more as you delve into the anime realm!

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