In Defence of Anime

Tezuka as a child

Tezuka as a child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my fifth speech from the Competent Communicator Manual. I gave this speech on 13 July 2010 (my birthday). The exercise is ‘Your Body Speaks’. The title is ‘In Defence of Anime’ and the time is meant to be 5-7 minutes. I was slightly overtime (but still within competition guidelines) at 7:12.


There has been a lot of criticism recently of anime and it’s print companion, manga -mostly by fundamentalist religious types who think anything not derived from the Bible, the Torah or the Koran is Evil with a capital E.

Mr Toastmaster, fellow members and guests, I’m afraid this speech is not nearly long enough to address all of their concerns. What I hope to achieve tonight is to highlight the main criticisms and open your eyes to some of the positive aspects of anime.

But first, a little bit about anime, Most of you have probably come across anime at some point in your lives. The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Pokémon, Astro Boy and Hello Kitty are all fairly well known in the west. These, of course, are all children’s shows, but anime encompasses a far greater variety of genres and has a large selection of quality animation for the discerning adult.

Within Japan, the word anime simply means animation and holds no connotation with regards to style or country of origin. However to the world outside of Japan, the word anime has come to mean ‘Japanese Animation’. Japanese animation has been around for quite a while, with the earliest known example being made in 1917. The characteristic style currently associated with anime was developed in the 1960’s, most notably with the work of Osamu Tezuka, who has since become known as the ‘father of anime’.

While different titles and different artists have their own artistic styles, many stylistic elements have become so common as to be almost cliché. These include exaggerated physical features such as large eyes, big hair and elongated limbs; short mini-skirts on the females; and ‘face faults’ in which shocked or surprised characters will display an extremely exaggerated facial expression. Angry women will sometimes summon a mallet from nowhere and strike another character with it, male characters will develop a bloody nose around female love interests (a play on an old wives tale, which signifies arousal) and stressed or embarrassed characters will produce a massive sweat drop.

One of the biggest criticisms of anime has to do with overt sexual content, the implication being that there is too much of it. I tend to feel that this assessment is unfair. Like any other stylistic medium, anime ranges from the overtly sexual hentai (basically anime porn) to the hilariously funny sexual innuendo of adult’s anime to the complete innocence of children’s programs. To say that hentai, for example, is representive of all anime is as unfair as saying that Debbie Does Dallas represents all of hollywood.

Many people believe that anime has too much violence. What I say to these people is ‘Have you seen the latest Quentin Tarantino movie?’ While it is true that many anime are quite graphic – Elfen Lied is a good example of this – the fact that it is animated and fairly stylized means that it has far less impact than many hollywood films. Again, not all anime are graphic in nature. As with films, it depends entirely upon the feature you choose to view.

The final criticism I will address tonight is religious content. This one really gets the fundamentalist religious folk all riled up. Apparently, anime is a very bad influence on today’s youth. Why? Well, the violence and sexuality play a part, to be sure, but worse is the non-Christian theology. I’m afraid there is really no answer to this objection since it is based squarely on the facts. Buddhist or Shintoist overtones are present to some degree in most anime. Many anime feature quasi-messianic figures and most contain various demons, spirits and gods. Many also contain magic and sorcery. Viewers will simpler have to exercise their own discretion on this matter. There isn’t much we can do about the Flanders’ of this world.

As an anime fan, I would like to point out that there are some good points to be made. Firstly, today’s distinctive anime style, while vastly different from American animation, can be fun to watch. I like the exaggerated everything. I like the animation effect of fewer frames. And I like the fairly distinctive humour present to some degree in most anime.

Fans of martial arts movies will probably also enjoy anime. Since most anime are based around Japanese culture, there are some fairly impressive fighting moves present in many anime.

Finally, there are some pretty good life lessons to be learned from anime. Loyalty. Honour. Persistence. These are all lessons that are not valued as highly as they should be in today’s society. One of my favourite anime is Naruto and, in my opinion, you couldn’t find a more positive role model for your children. Naruto never gives up. Never. No matter how many times he fails, no matter how many times his enemies beat him down, no matter how few people believe in him, he just keeps on trying and trying and trying until he achieves his goal. More importantly, he does so with a positive attitude. I don’t believe I have ever seen Naruto cowed, I have never seen his spirit broken, I have never seen him stop believing in himself.

Anime characters remind us that its okay to be different and your strength comes from being true to yourself. The good guys always win in the end and evil is ultimately sent packing. They show us that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, no matter how different that cover might be from your own and that it doesn’t matter how small you think you are – you should always stand up for what’s right, no matter how mean or corrupt the bully might be.

Surely no-one would argue that these are lessons worth learning.

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