Monday, March 31, 2008
Animé's Multiple Personality Disorder
I love animé. It was my adolescent companion. That thing I enjoyed with my middle school friends. When I'm asked, "how did you get into animé?" I'm inclined to reply, "Well, how did you get into watching football?" It's no mystery. It's entertainment.
The truth is, it started with Pokémon. I was in middle school, so that was okay. It was first a game boy video game, and I found that there was a corresponding TV show. The storytelling is nothing earth shattering— it's an episodic cartoon, this I know. But at age, what, 13? Every episode was "to be continued," the characters developed and changed. And I'm not gonna lie: "GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL." Enough said. What young teenager can resit the allure of collecting?
I was hooked. With animé, you don't have a single protagonist to identify with. You get a slew of personalities, many times in teams, each possessing a different skill set or disposition. The smart viewer could identify with the brainy character. The brawny kid with the muscly character, and so on. Sailor Moon bashes this archetype into our skulls, Power Rangers may be the most recognized example of this phenomenon. I claim to real knowledge into how this system got started, perhaps that's for another day.
Back to Pokémon, factor two was the internet. Pokémon was my springboard into the heart of the animerican animé culture: the world wide web. I found forums, fanfiction, image galleries. Instant community, instant common interest. On top of that, my talent was drawing. Here on this magical web, I could draw animé characters and be instantly gratified by praise from people who like the style. Whats not to love?
Animé gets a bad rep for a lot of reasons. What they are exactly, I couldn't tell you, maybe I'm too in love to see it totally objectively, but people sneer when you say you like animé. No Lie. But is animé any different than any other mass media? Movies: They can be good, bad, and terrible. Know it all fans. Fanfiction. Forums. Idiots. Same for comic books. Bollywood. You name it, theres a culture of addicts and the good, bad and ugly. Yes, some animé is bad. You know what, lots of animé is bad. Cause you know why? Lots of things are bad too.
Now, I did the "anime art" thing, and I won't knock it. I love drawing fanart, and animé style comics. But I feel like I'm just owning my childhood. Have you rewatched the Little Mermaid, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately? Played Super Mario on the SNES or Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis? If so, don't be a jerk to animé fans. If not, why not?
Is this nostalgia? Is nostalgia okay to make art about? Is nostalgia "just" nostalgia? I don't know.
So I did the animé art thing. Right? Right. No shame. But art school taught me, right away, that "animé art" is bad and has no place in the fine art world (this was 2004, Little Boy would not come to New York for another year.) This was fair, I thought, as I was starting to realize the implications of "animé art": Instant gratification, and in a group with a specific interest. The animé world is a microcosm, where you can be good at "animé art" but step outside of it and no one knows what you're on about. You're not Japanese. What are you doing?
I had hoped to find a way to reconcile animé and "fine art," but having no luck early on, I went about the fine art training per normal, weaning myself off "animé style" along the way. I went three years systematically denying animé in my studio, with the occasional pang of guilt.
But sure enough, my answers are slowly coming to me. By now, there are others in the field who are using animé intelligently in the fine arts. They are making the connections. My big tip offs were Pierre Huyghe and Takashi Murakami. Instead of approaching animé as a fan, they approach it as members of the society animé affects. Tru fax.
This is my tactic. Animé is slowly coming back to my studio in a new form. Not in style, but in content. I'm stoked.
Image: Pierre Huyghe, poster from "No Ghost Just a Shell"
Question: What animé was your springboard into the internet animé culture? And how old are you? Come on, you remember your first message board. Fanfic? You know.