[This article originally appeared in Spring 2000 in the Cornell Japanese Animation Society newsletter.]
People often deride me for spending my Saturday nights in a crowded room, watching cartoons in another language. Truth be told, I prefer this to the standard alternative, which usually involves spending my time in a crowded room listening to "music" in what I can only presume is another language, and having people bump into me and slosh foul smelling beverages and other... less pleasant substances onto my clothes. But the scorn is usually focused on the fact that what I'm watching are... "cartoons"! Now plenty of people have written eloquent arguments of why anime and cartoons are not synonymous, but I want to share my viewpoint (stifles audience's groans).
By trade, I am a writer: one of the minority of humanities majors (hell, one of the minorities of Arts & Science students) to attend anime showings and sit on e-board (I mean, come on, the survey's question on majors at one point read: CS__ Other__ ). As a writer, I'm interested in stories and characters, whatever form they take. In anime, I've found something which American animated media so often lack: compelling storylines and characters. This is not to take potshots at all American animation; on the contrary, quite a few productions exist in which characters and stories are impressively developed. To cite a few examples, there are the animated Batman and Superman cartoons on the WB Network, as well as a long-lamented favorite of mine, the Disney series Gargoyles, which was a striking departure from the company's usual forays into animation. It not only had well thought-out and developed characters, but also stories which arced successfully across the entire series.
This is, to me, what is so attractive about anime. When a writer/director like Anno Hideaki can come along and put out a series like Neon Genesis Evangelion (which, I will admit, I have issues with) and then follow it up with, in my mind, an even more successful venture like Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, then anime is right up there with other established medium like film and literature. KareKano is even more successful than Eva in my opinion because of its more relaxed nature. In Eva, Anno lumped a great deal of the characters' introspections into the final few episodes; in KareKano, he has graciously parceled out these journeys into the main characters' thoughts over the entire series. I personally felt overwhelmed at the end of Eva, and even after seeing the movies (admittedly as the victim of a poor subtitling job), I felt that while the characters' issues were resolved, the storyline itself still needed tying up. But to avoid the mounds of criticism which could quite possibly come down on my head here, I will disclaim again that this is only my opinion.
A large part of anime's benefit comes from the fact that most of the series we watch run for only one season. Yep, 26 episodes are only one season's worth. Yet, in one season, some of these series accomplish more than an American live-action television show does in three or four. But that's because so often the American television series decides only on an episodic basis what's going to happen. Anime, on the other hand, deals with story arcs that stretch for the entire series (Evangelion, KareKano, and Escaflowne just to name a few). There are, of course, exceptions even in anime (reference especially the Dragonball franchise, which totals close to 500 episodes across three series and over a dozen movies!).
To return to where I began, if I did indeed have a beginning, anime should not be dismissed with its animated American brethren; in fact, I would go so far as to say that it should be given serious attention in artistic circles, even to the level of being studied in such settings as the college classroom. Cornell, in my opinion, should take advantage of its standing as a prestigious university "where any person can find instruction in any study" and consider offering, for example, something about anime through the excellent Asian Studies department, or perhaps even Comparative Literature. While this might seem a bit radical, I think it could foster better understanding between American and Japanese cultures into this oh-so-clichéd harmonious century.