To someone raised on a pop-culture diet of Mickey Mouse, Spider-man and Star Wars, the world of anime is an alien landscape filled with big eyes and its own set of strange rules. When new friends learn that I watch anime, the question of just why I watch it inevitably comes up, assuming they don’t themselves.
I watch anime because it is just so different from American animation.
I enjoy anime’s distinct visuals, ranging from the hyper-stylized look of 80’s action shows like Voltron to the beautiful scenery associated with Studio Ghibli productions. Detractors say “it all looks the same” but the same could also be said about comics and Disney productions. Now, anime does have its own set of visual cues and tropes that have to be learned, but once you learn the ‘rules’ it makes much more sense and becomes more enjoyable.
Secondly, nearly all genres are represented in anime: comedy, drama, horror, science fiction, mystery, fantasy, and yes, even fairy tales. As cliché as it sounds, there really is “something for everyone.” I steer more toward science fiction and comedy myself, in my opinion, there isn’t nearly enough sci-fi to be found in western animation and Japanese comedy (animated or otherwise) is just bonkers.
Finally, anime is not confined to being “just for kids.” Mature themes are more prevalent than they are in Western animation. They also don’t feel forced, instead they’re just there. Contrast this to many American cartoons, where characters don’t get injured unless it advances the plot. Powerful, moving stories can be told as just effectively in animation as they are in live-action.
I cite “Grave of the Fireflies” as the best example of this: there are no giant robots, no hyperactive girls or pretty-boys, instead it is the sobering tale of two children trying to survive in World War 2 Japan.
That’s not to say that US animation is bad, mind you. I grew up on the works of Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera and I enjoy them on their own merits. For what its worth, though, I think animation in the United States is slowly but surely growing up.
For me, at least, US cartoons were the appetizer, and anime is the main course. Interesting visuals, genres that are underrepresented in US animation, and more mature content will keep me watching. The next time that inevitable question arises, I’ll probably reply by asking that person: “Why don’t you watch anime?”