I don’t know what I’m looking for when I watch anime. Do I want something with good animation? Do I want something to relax to? Do I want a thrilling story? I don’t know. I don’t have any specific preferences.
Because of that, I can’t really explain my anime taste to anyone. I joke a lot about liking harems and light novel adaptations and whatnot, but when it comes to my absolute favourites, I don’t know how to describe them. Maybe it’s because they don’t fit easily into a single genre, or perhaps it’s because I can’t think of a particular reason for why they’ve captured my heart.
Despite not being able to describe my tastes, however, I am certain of one thing: my taste has changed over the years.
Frederik L. Schodt is a household name in the English-speaking manga world. A close friend of the late Osamu Tezuka, Schodt translated several of Tezuka’s major works into English, including Astro Boy and Phoenix. He’s also the author of The Astro Boy Essays and the translator of the upcoming manga biography The Osamu Tezuka Story.
For all his important work in the Tezuka department, Schodt is perhaps most notable for pioneering the study of manga in English. In 1983, he published Manga! Manga!, which remains something of a cult classic among hardcore manga aficionados today. It was more journalistic than academic in its treatment of the subject, but it had a level of prescience that so many subsequent manga-themed publications would lack. For one thing, it predated the manga boom in the West for years, and for another, Schodt never limited to his focus to the mainstream and popular. His writing has aged well because he was able to observe things that people less immersed in the medium would have overlooked.
Schodt’s interest in the off-beat and obscure manga would carry over to Dreamland Japan, which was first published in 1996 as a spiritual sequel of sorts to Manga! Manga! It was written during the height of the manga boom in Japan, which was also the same time the fledgling market was starting to take off in the United States. As a result, Dreamland Japan has some interesting historical value twenty years later. As Schodt noted himself in the preface of the 2011 collector’s edition, Dreamland Japan is “a snapshot of a cultural and artistic phenomenon that is unlikely to be repeated again anywhere, in the same way.”
Even Schodt’s 2011 afterword was produced during an historical moment in the manga world. The manga bubble had recently burst in the States, leading to a very uncertain and turbulent period for the English manga industry. The industry has since recovered from the fallout, but Schodt’s observations remain very pertinent today.
In this post, I’ll examine the manga magazines, artists and works Schodt highlighted in the original Dreamland Japan. How easily can they be accessed in English? We might have thousands of titles available in English now (whether through legal or illegal means), but how much access into the world of manga do English speakers really have?
Love it or hate it, here’s one thing Clannad undeniably excels at: character animation. If you observe the visuals closely, much of the characterisation is expressed through body language and subtle visual cues. Even when the anime goes for low-brow, physical humour, the characters’ entire bodies remain quite expressive and dynamic. This is in contrast to the rather “stiff” delivery in most anime comedies.
If you don’t believe me, just observe Nagisa’s drunken scene and Chitoge’s one in Nisekoi. It boils down to the same joke, but there’s a world of difference in the delivery. It’s not so much that Clannad is more skillfully animated (although this is definitely true), but rather the storyboards themselves were conceived with quite different intents in mind; each shot in Clannad draws attention to the movements of all the characters inside and outside the frame, leading to a natural escalation of the situation, whereas Nisekoi’s scene is full of choppy transitions from one key frame into another.
Clannad’s visual strengths were particularly noticeable in the After Story portion of the tale, especially as far as Ushio’s characterisation was concerned. It would have been so easy for her character to become Generic Moeblob #85934, especially given that her role in the overall narrative is mostly one of symbolic importance. Yet Ushio never failed to have presence whenever she was onscreen, and much of this comes down to the way her body movements were animated. It was clear that the key animators put extra care into making her move like a real child.
I’ve grown up watching anime. Even if I haven’t seen as many titles as some of the more hardcore fans (I’ve completed over 500 titles, and of them around 340 are full-length TV series), I’ve still spent more time watching, thinking and writing about anime than I care to admit.
But you know what? None of this makes me a better fan than the person who only watches Naruto or Bleach. And in a lot of ways, I kind of envy those who can dedicate themselves to a small number of anime. Lately, I feel as if I’ve been losing perspective on what it is about anime that drew me to it in the first place.
In other words: I miss being a casual.