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.


Anonymous said...

"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."

taking it as an invitation to mar your post, i answer:

the first 'import cartoon' from japan was an oav/ova called 'robot carnival'. it was pure love and stimulated my senses in a way the teenage little power gem ponies never would. Sure, I had seen ‘heavy metal’, ‘american graffitti’, and new all the adventures of fritz by heart, but…the pure emotion of the man and his dolls…the solemnity of wind…the call and claw of the demons of technology trying [and succeeding] in their conquest for dominance against the utopian society…it all still makes me smile.

and then i KNEW what i wanted to do when i grew up. i wanted to LIVE ‘robot carnival’--or whatever ‘rc’ was. i needed to completely immerse myself in the genre; i needed to know the secrets, the see the sights and sounds i once thought only live-action entertainment could deliver with it’s ultraviolence and cyberpunk neons--all cotton candy pinks and dark knight greys.

from there i searched out the animated movies & series everywhere i could. i learned the vampire hunter’s secrets, saw what humanoid love could be like and did my best to understand what nerv wasn’t telling me. i craved the quest, fought the villain and even developed character along the way! imagine that. a ‘series’ you, as a viewer, could GROW with! and imagine my delight with the advent of the pokémon/sailormoon/dragonball/gundam wing explosion! ‘finally!’, I cried, ‘FINALLY I CAN INDULGE WITH EASE!’

and it was good. for a time. but i digress…

i never once let someone tell me my comics and cartoons [regardless of the country of origin] had no place in my studio. it was littered with postcards, trading cards, and low rez screen shots printed out on the back of used green paper at three in the morning because that’s all i could find in the building. everything inspired me--from the fold in goku’s gi that i emulated in a teapot, to the sharp curve of mamoru’s hip that looked smashing etched into stoneware, or imitated with conté! these were the things i loved and adored and even though they cost me dearly, i never once let them go. nor will i. and now that society is slowly learning what we fans of animated and illustrated culture knew all along, it thrills me that i was able to exhibit my cartoons and funny animals in galleries when i was younger.

…and it’s nice to see you coming to your senses. welcome back--everyone’s missed you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I saw your post on the PortCon forums, but as la_contessa said, it's always kind of exciting to get a blog comment.

I'm 22. And my introduction to anime was probably a little unusual, inasmuch as I did NOT see Sailor Moon/Pokemon/Digimon/other 'young' shows when I was a kid; we didn't have cable and my parents didn't really encourage me to watch TV anyway. So I was unaware of the existence of anime for a long time.

My senior year of high school, I spent some time trotting around the Northeast visiting colleges. I stayed overnight at one school--the one I ended up attending, actually--and my 'host' was an officer of the school's anime club. She brought me along to a meeting. They were watching 'Cowboy Bebop', and I was entranced. It wasn't even the first few episodes; I believe it was 16-20 or something like that? Anyway, I was hooked. I was a regular member of the club when I entered the school in the fall. The first or second weekend of school, the vice president of the club loaned me a series called 'Pretear' which was the first series I watched all the way has held a special place in my heart ever since.

Internet anime complicated. I still don't spend a lot of time in forums. Um, my freshman year of college I had a brief but strong infatuation with Harry Potter fanfiction (blame Cassandra Claire). I suddenly just kind of gave it up my sophomore year. But then, between my junior and senior years, a good friend had an idea for a Naruto fanfic (concidentally, the same friend who was my host and originally got me into anime....) and asked me to edit it. I actually hadn't seen any Naruto at the time, but it was AU anyway so I said sure. But when I popped over to just to see her reviews, I started reading other stories. And now I'm hooked on various fanfiction again.

I do appreciate the art, but I'm not really an 'art person' so it wasn't the artwork that got me into it. The solid storylines were a big plus, of course, but I think what really attracted me to them was that the shows really explored the thoughts of their characters. Granted it's often overdone (*cough*Naruto flashbacks*cough*), but it just seemed like such a contrast to American TV, or even most movies. Even in a popular 'plot' TV series like, oh say Buffy, how many inner monologues or explanatory flashbacks did you get? Not that many. At its best, anime (and manga) can be amazing at this; my favorite example is Paradise Kiss, which is a picture-perfect exploration of a codependent relationship. And even when it's not quite that striking, the analysis that most anime and manga have of the their characters tends to make the characters and their exploits more real and more interesting. To me, at least....