Sunday, September 8, 2013

2008: A Briton's Guide to Anime

@IanWolf writes manga reviews and features for MyM Magazine, anime and manga reviews for Anime UK News, and a "Beginner's Guide to Anime" for On The Box. He has a degree in Media Studies from Teesside University, where his love of anime really flourished. He also works for his local anime convention, ONECon in Middlesbrough. His main ambition is to boost the reputation of anime in Britain, which is not always good in the eyes of the media and general public.

In this article, I will be mainly be talking about the anime industry in the United Kingdom, but for those of you from outside of the UK, don't worry; there will still be plenty of interest. Plenty of anime will be covered--some fantasy, some sci-fi, some historical and some romantic.

The thing people have to understand about anime in the UK, however, is that it has never really had a good reputation. This first occurred with the video release of the tentacle-rape themed Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend back in the 1990s. When it came out, the newspapers attacked it, saying how horrible and violent Japanese cartoons were, as all cartoons for the British were for kids. Attacks came from both the left-wing and right-wing presses. However, in the end the moral panic it stirred up backfired, as Urotsukidōji accidentally received all this free publicity in a country where the anime market at the time was very small. Sales of the video boomed.

Conditions were also not helped by the fact that many anime distributors in the UK at the time practiced something called "fifteening". Companies wanted anime to be seen as something different, edgy and controversial, so they insisted that their video releases should be no less than a "15" rating, ideally an "18". Therefore, if a release was likely to be given a "12" rating, they would add excessive swearing when they dubbed it into English so the censors would give the release a "15". (Editor's note: this practice isn't strictly a UK practice; remember the original Appleseed OVA?)

In terms of anime shown on British TV today, there is hardly any broadcast at all, and just about all of it is shown on digital channels. The only anime that really gets shown are Pokemon and the Studio Ghibli films. Recently the rather small Sony Movie Channel announced it would start showing the Bleach films late at night in August 2013, but that's still a small piece of the pie. DVDs and Blu-Rays are also relatively slow in coming over to Britain. For example, One Piece, arguably the most popular anime of them all, was first broadcast in Japan in 1999. It came out on DVD in America in 2006, but in Britain, it was not released until May 2013. Also, many releases get delayed or are faulty in production.

The year 2008 is rather an appropriate year to cover in terms of Britain and anime, because there are a few series set in the country. These are mainly period pieces, one of which is Black Butler, set in Victorian Britain, complete with Japanese ideas of what children wore at the time. The animators seem to be keen on their Lolita fashion, with young hero Ceil Phantomhive constantly seen in his shorts and sock suspenders. In the series Ceil, an earl, businessman and investigator into threats to Queen Victoria, is accompanied Sebastian Michaels, a man who is one hell of a butler, in more ways than one. The series is rather fun, and has a jolly mix of characters, although as many fans point out, it is not a faithful adaptation of the original manga and thus disapproved by many people.

Another anime that came out in 2008 is also set in Britain...or rather Britannia. The fan-service-filled Strike Witches, is set in a world where an alien invasion took place just before World War II, but it would be an anime series that would not be shown in Britain. Firstly, if you told people that the Japanese created an anime series set during the war, the vast majority of people would probably reply with: "What? Who won the bloody war?! Sod your cartoons!"

Once you've got that reaction, it would probably not be advisable to tell them that in Strike Witches, the girls are magical, and this magic is boosted by the use of devices strapped to their legs. You certainly shouldn't say that because of this girls don't wear trousers or skirts so they go around all over the place with their panties in public view. (If you did, the reaction would probably be ugly.) One would have to understand that the British hate sex offenders more than anything else, with the possible exception of the French, the EU, politicians, Piers Morgan and anyone who beats a Brit in a major sporting tournament.

But moving away from Britain, there are still plenty of anime series from 2008 worthy of note. There were plenty of popular manga series that got their anime adaptation, but the problem was that most of these were of manga that had not finished, which like Black Butler, ended up with the fans complaining about their adaptation being lacklustre. Probably the biggest series to be adapted was Soul Eater. The adaptation began in April 2008 and ended in March 2009, being broadcast over 51 episodes. The characters are all enjoyable and all have their odd little quirks, from screw-turning teacher Dr. Franken Stein, to egotistical Black Star, to symmetry obsessed Death the Kid. There is, of course, the British character in the show: Excalibur, the most powerful, and indeed the most obnoxious and egotistical weapon ever created. He is wonderfully funny, but the fans of the series were still infuriated at the way the series ended, as it deviated somewhat from the original manga.

Another 2008 anime, Vampire Knight, did not deviate as much from its original plot and conveniently ended at a rather suitable point in the manga, although the manga only ended in May this year. This is a series which rather appropriately sums up a pet theory of mine: that meme theory–the concept that ideas themselves have a life of their own and can be transmitted from one mind to another, thus one idea may occur in one place and a very similar one occurs somewhere else–occurs between anime and western fiction. For example, Vampire Knight, a story about a doomed love triangle between a young girl, a vampire and a vampire hunter (who it turns out is also a vampire) came out in late 2004. Meanwhile, the novel Twilight, which covers a doomed love triangle between a young girl, a vampire and a werewolf, came out in late 2005. Vampire Knight's anime came out in April 2008, while the Twilight film came out in November 2008. It is interesting to think that two such similar ideas were made at around the same time, but were so far apart geographically.

(All things otherworldly seemed to be a recurring theme in 2008. There was the graphic Corpse Princess which features the undead, as well as the supernatural Ga-Rei Zero, a prequel to the manga Ga-Rei which annoyingly has never been published in English.)

However, my personal favourite of all these series, and indeed my personal favourite anime of 2008, were the two Clannad series. The first series began in 2007 and ended in 2008, while the second, Clannad After Story began in 2008 and ended in 2009. It has been described as a harem anime, fantasy, romance, but for me personally it is tragicomic in its content. It is the only anime series to make you laugh as much as it makes you cry. Just everything about it is wonderful: the plot, the characters, the art, the soundtrack. Youhei, the best friend of the main character Tomoya, is a brilliant comic foil and, when tragedy strikes, it does want to make you cry. At the risk of sounding controversial, I would say the tragedy in this is better than in the critically acclaimed Puella Magi Madoka Magica released in 2011, because the tragedy in this is much more believable.

There is one other anime I would like to give special mention to. One anime genre that has not really been given much attention during the course of the "Golden Ani-versary" is yaoi. For any fujoshi out there, they will be glad to know that one of the most famous and popular yaoi series, the romantic comedy Junjo Romantica, was animated in 2008. I know that many people dislike yaoi, but this is one of the better shows with plenty of humorous moments (mostly seeming to involve teddy bears) and a relationship between the main leads, Misaki and Akihiko as a charming, fun and cute one. Admittedly, the fact that the action switches to other couples can be a bit infuriating, but other than that it is rather enjoyable.

(Junjo Romantica is released by the company Right Stuf, who don't have any of their licenced works released in Britain. There's another thing to peeve us UK otaku, especially when you consider the fact the same company licences the original Astro Boy.)

In terms of summing up, it seems that Japan has a fondness for Britain's past and indeed the past of Europe. Period anime seems to be very popular, whether it is Victorian Britain like Black Butler, or the war like Strike Witches. You can expand this to other series like Hetalia, and other period pieces like the classic The Rose of Versailles set in 18th century France. It seems that this romanticised period of history is one that is rich for picking.

Looking at the British relationship to anime, some of these series mentioned might be of interest, but there is one thing that could increase the appeal of anime. One other thing the British seem to have a fondness for doing is complaining about there being too many repeats on the TV, especially the BBC. Recently the BBC has had success importing foreign language shows. They broadcast The Killing and Inspector Montalbano for example. So why not import some anime? It is at least worth a go.

Next time: The future is finally here! Welcome to 2009.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. "At the risk of sounding controversial, I would say the tragedy in this is better than in the critically acclaimed Puella Magi Madoka Magica released in 2011, because the tragedy in this is much more believable."

    That's definitely a controversial statement because it's blatantly false. CLANNAD is sheer, crystallized manipulation, lacking almost completely the agency (and therefore characterizing intention) of Madoka Magica's characters. CLANNAD places tone before intellectually stolid content, inflicting circumstances on its characters for which none of them can really be held responsible, and therefore aren't really meaningful, whereas in Madoka, the characters believably reject their balancing options because of their tragic flaws. It may be 'sadder' if a character suffers atrocities because they're pure and have no control over them, but it's not more meaningful, nor is it more respectful than a portrait of five autonomous young women with significantly damning flaws (a rare feature; especially for female characters) who suffer consequences tied directly to their flaws.