Japanese Cartoon and Animation Art

Ho Lin, Brown University '92

Animated film would be a suitable medium for explorations into cyberpunk and hyperspace, since animators and designers potentially have more freedom to let their imaginations roam and create "virtual realities" than do their live-action counterparts, who are often constricted by budgets and the laws of physics. But ironically enough, American animation has traveled in the opposite direction and is now viewed as a bastion of traditlonal values and conventlonal narratives. When people in this country think of animated movies, "family entertainment" and updates of the kind of films that were being made thirty years ago seem to spring to mind, i.e. Disney's musical-fairy tales (although Aladdin does play to the lightning-fast MTV crowd). The only glimpses of subversion can be seen in shows such as "Ren and Stimpy" or "The Simpsons," which still operate within the conventions of the standard half-hour sit-com or ten-minute cartoon. While the antics of a Ren or a Bart Simpson may comment delightfully on convention, there is precious little in American animation besides underground projects and experiments with computer animation which offers the complexities of post-modernism or cyberpunk to a mass audience.

Japanese animation, on the other hand, is not as encumbered by preconceptions and stereotypes as its counterpart across the Pacific. Comic books have always been held in high esteem in Japan, and it is not uncommon to see adults and children huddled near the comic racks in Tokyo bookstores, devouring the latest installment of a particular manga (Japanese for comic book). Japanese animation has similar freedoms, and often there are twenty or more shows that are on the television each week during prime time. Made-for-video tapes and laserdiscs offer distinctly adult films as well as standard family fare. Of course one must wade through a lot of junk to find the nuggets -- Japanese animated film, or anime (pronounced annie-may), has its own set of stereotypes, whether it be giant robot potboilers, over-the-top swords.and-samurai adventures, silly domestic comedies, or even pornography. In addition, Japanese films can be plagued by small budgets and an assembly-line mentality, which can result in mediocre animation quality. But whatever its faults, anime does offer a breadth of genres, levels of narrative, and general variety that is hard to find in the States.

It's not surprising, then, that most of the best animated cyberpunk films that have been released thus far are anime, especially considering Japan's interest in science and technology as well as its first-hand experience with its devastating effects at the end of World War II. Perhaps the best example of cyberpunk anime is Bubblegum Crisis, an eight-part series heavily indebted to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.