Anime speaks a familiar tongue to me. The unspoken language.
If you are like me, you are in good company. I mean, there are over 6 billion people in the world, but less than 1/40 of them speak Japanese. That’s right, 39/40 (and more) of the world population do not.
It feels like one of those “think of the children!” moment, but it is something to think about. We don’t really care that most people can’t speak Japanese, but if we were to concede that what makes anime anime is partly cultural, then it is speaking something that goes beyond the language and culture which rings true to those of us who can appreciate it and not being a part of its primary audience.
That seems like a handful. Let’s break it down.
In disguise it is a “what is anime” question re-visited, but what is unique about it? A cross-cultural exchange of the human experience isn’t unique to anime, but is there something about this exchange substantively different? Maybe, I don’t know. I know that some people ended up watching anime because it is quite different than what they’re used to see on TV, so there’s that.
In form, however, there is definitely a stylistic bend to anime that others are missing. The obvious one is what you see–art style. BESM and all that. But that’s kind of shallow: OEL manga is a good example how this is shallow (when it fails) or where the real difference lies (when it doesn’t). In fact, looking at it closely gives you a better clue to the gap between style and content and what makes anime (or manga) just that different. Serial narratives are also something fairly typical in anime but not common in the mainstream. The narrative styles and tropes, sure…
Does that explain why at all I post so much at the MT forums? Probably not.
Honestly, though, that’s not why I’m writing this blog entry. I want to document how someone who can’t speak a word of Japanese to save his life (well, I dunno about that) can watch raw anime and actually understand most of it. When I say most of it I mean it–most of anime series, most of an episode of an anime, most of the dialogues and certainly mostly what is going on narrative-wise.
Would this be true of an episode of Spongebob Squarepants? Dora the Explorer? Ok maybe for children’s programming…but The Simpsons? Futurama? Family Guy? Robot Chicken? Well, maybe it’s true for Over The Hedge or Ice Age 2, but how about Team America? I ask because I don’t know.
But what we could first think about is the children’s programming barrier. Presumably children’s animation are more visually expressive in terms of exaggerated motion to make sure the viewer doesn’t miss the visual cue. So when a show like Love Hina or Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu is so expressive, they’re clearly meant for … you get my point. So is that because they are relics from anime and manga’s earlier days, that it was meant for children but the tropes and meme stuck on? Maybe.
But on the other hand some anime are not that visually expressive; or that they are more akin to acting? Jin-Roh comes to mind. It’s a fairly expressive film when it comes to character drama and the characters’ expressions. Or shows like Cowboy Bebop and Genshiken?
But that still doesn’t explain why it’s rather easy to understand these things. Maybe it wasn’t ever a hard thing to understand, after all? Or maybe it’s something that just comes to you after you’ve seen enough? Certainly possible.
But it is a silent conspiracy. A lot of raw watchers outside of Japan probably don’t really speak much Japanese at all. Why do we do it? Is the language just not a barrier? Or better put, is comprehension not a barrier? Or the fear of miscomprehension/incomprehension not a barrier? I imagine that’s one big thing people get hung up on, at least from the people I talked to.