Sunday, July 27, 2008

Anime/Manga 101 - A "What's What" and "How To" Guide From a Christian Perspective: Anime Formats

In conjunction with the Spiritual Bridges series, I've decided to give a little introduction to the Japanese mediums of Anime and Manga. Why? Because Spiritual Bridges is not simply meant for people who are already fans of anime and manga; it's meant for people who are actively sharing Christ's Gospel with Japanese youth. So some of the people I am targeting with this series might not know how to approach these mediums. I don't know exactly how many entries there will be to the Anime/Manga 101 series, since I plan to alter it based on feedback, but here is what I am envisioning right now:

I. Anime Formats
II. Manga Formats
III. Genres
IV. Vocabulary
V. Common Themes

Let's begin.

1. Anime Formats

Anime exists in three basic formats: Movies, OVAs (Original Video Animations), and Television Shows. Each of these formats is paced differently and needs to be approached differently, just as you would read a short story and a novel in different ways.

Movies - These are the most easily accessible format for anime newcomers. Movies sometimes are released in Japanese theaters, and they always come to DVD. These movies have similar pacing to Western movies; all of the characters and plot points are introduced, developed, and resolved within one to two and a half hours. There are many famous anime movies in existence. Studio Ghibli is the most famous anime movie producer by far, having given us films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea. Other famous anime films include Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Beyond the Clouds - The Promised Place, Evangelion 1.0 - You Are (not) Alone, and most recently, Paprika and Tekonkinkreet.

Some anime movies are not as they seem though. Oftentimes, a movie is tied to a television show. Sometimes the movie is a prequel or sequel, sometimes the movie is a gaiden (side story that takes place during the timeframe of the original), and sometimes the movie is an abridged retelling of the show. For the prequels, sequels, and gaidens, you will probably not understand the movie without seeing the original work first. The abridged retellings, though rare, are a good way to preview a series.

How to Watch: Watch anime movies in one sitting. Pay special attention to any flashbacks that are shown, as they almost always are directly related to the conclusion.

OVAs (Original Video Animations) - sometimes called OAVs (Original Animated Videos). These are short series of an undefined number of episodes that are meant to tell a story. However, rather than a movie, which tells the story at the same time, the OVAs are released incrementaly. They often include higher production values than television anime, and they are often much shorter. These are also fairly accessible, since the episode format allows you to take the story in small sections. Recently, there have been some variant and hybrid formats that would fall under the category of OVA. The first is the ONA, or Original Net Animation, which is a series of short episodes streamed online. The second is is a hybrid between the movie format and the OVA format where a series of movies are released to theaters, each following the previous one. Kara no Kyoukai is one example of this. It is a series of 7 hour-long movies that is currently about halfway finished in the Japanese cinemas.

I also want to give a special note here. Oftentimes, OVAs include material that is inappropriate for television, including gratuitous violence and sex. This is not true for all OVAs, as it is simply a format, not a genre, but do be careful when renting OVAs, as it is the preferred format for "adult" series.

And, as before, OVAs are sometimes a prequel or a sequel to a television series. This isn't true for most OVAs, but there are rare exceptions. You should be able to tell these from the back of the box.

How to Watch: It depends on the OVA. If it is a 3-6 episode standalone story, I'd suggest watching one episode a day for 3-6 days. If it is only three episodes, you may even want to watch it all at once. If you are watching the OVA as it is currently being published, your timeframe will obviously be determined by the release schedule.

Television Shows - this comprises the main "meat" of the anime industry. Of the four Spritual Bridges posts that have been done so far, three are from television shows. Anime shows are not like sitcoms or American cartoons, where each episode is separate and can be viewed in any order. Instead, anime shows follow a continuous story from their first episode to their last. When the story finishes, so does the anime (unless a sequel is made). There are benefits and disadvantages to this. The main disadvantage is that anime shows MUST be viewed in order; skipping an episode or two will likely make the story incomprehensible. It would be the same as skipping a chapter or two in a novel. As a compensation, many anime will have recap episodes where a character will review all of the recent events and give their personal interpretation of them. This can help greatly if you happen to miss an episode.

Despite the disadvantages, this format gives a lot of benefits. The reason anime is so popular and powerful is that it becomes like a visual book, with each episode serving as a chapter. Rather than movies, where everything is resolved rather quickly, you may see a character slowly develop in a specific area over the course of ten or twelve episodes. This allows you to really get into their heads and feel each event with them. This relaxed pace makes it so that character development rarely feels rushed. It also allows the directors to throw in small details that create a fleshed-out world.

Television shows, which are aired weekly for their original broadcasts, vary greatly in their length, but there is usually a mathematical format that they follow. Everything is broken down into seasons and half-seasons. A full season is somewhere between 24 and 26 episodes. This is half a year, and allows for one or two breaks so that the network can be flexible with the schedule. Some anime comprise only a half season with 12-13 episodes. Still others go for two seasons, which is 48-52 episodes. Usually, the half-season and season markers (ie - Episode 13, 26, 39) are special episodes with a climax. These episodes also have higher production values, much like a "Season Finale" in the West. Also, if there are any recap episodes, they are likely to occur in the episode after the half-season or season finale (ie - Episode 14 or 27). It's helpful to keep this in mind in case you miss an episode or two. Then, when the final episode rolls around, you know that the storyline is finished. In contrast to American shows, where the show is only really "finished" if it is cancelled, anime usually has it's endpoint in mind from the very beginning of the production.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I like to call these exceptions "Interminable Anime", or anime which seem like they will never end. Famous examples of this include Pokémon, Detective Conan (aka. Case Closed), Dragonball, One Piece, Bleach, Inuyasha, and Naruto. For example, at the time that I am writing this, Naruto has 287 episodes, 4 OVAs, and 5 movies. The story isn't anywhere close to being finished yet. (Special Note: I will probably never cover an Interminable Anime in Spiritual Bridges. I just don't like dealing with them)

That being said, many great anime exist in Television Show format. DVDs usually include 2-4 episodes, though in America, boxsets are becoming increasingly popular.

How to Watch: It really depends on the show, whether you are watching it as it is aired or whether you are watching it on DVD, and how long the show is. If you are watching it as it airs, then you will obviously watch one episode every week. If you are watching it on DVD, approach it like you would approach a book. Very few people that I know read a book through in one sitting, or even in a few dedicated sittings. They usually take a chapter at a time and slowly work through the book until they are at the end. Treat anime the same way. Watch an episode (23 minutes long) and then go about the rest of your day. Over time, you'll eventually get to the end. If it helps, think of half-seasons like novels in a series. Watch 13 episodes, move on to something else for a while, and then come back. Unless your viewings are so far apart that you can't remember the previous episode, the more time you spend with an anime, the more you'll grow to appreciate it.

[With Interminable Anime, you really have to watch it as it comes out. Otherwise, your backlog becomes too large.]

That's all for today. In our next episode we'll look at genres (update: this will be part 3). I'll help you to understand why one show has pink cat-dogs and the next has 20-meter-tall robots hacking at each other with swords.

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