Reviewing our learning on creative talents, 8/12/2009

December 9, 2009

At this week’s class we also reviewed last week’s session on creative talents. (Copies of the exercise couldn’t be made last week so Helen decided to review the session this week instead.)

We brainstormed a list of the creative talents identified by both groups last week: Yoko Kanno (on both lists), Osamu Tezuka, Makoto Shinkai, Toei, and Manga Entertainment. We also discussed Helen’s list and recalled Leiji Matsumoto, director, writer, artist; HEADGEAR, creative group; Studio 4ºC; Satoshi Kon, director, writer; Yoko Kanno, composer

We also did a paper exercise in which class members had to mark the roles filled by 20 individuals on a grid, and also mark the periods in which those individuals were active. The individuals were identified only by name, with no clues as to their age, work or role, and many of them had fulfilled several roles in the anime industry apart from the one they were best known for. They spanned the whole period from pre-war to the present, and the whole industry from high-profile directors to lesser-known backroom staff. So this wasn’t an easy exercise.

Even though nobody had any time to prepare for this exercise, everyone did quite well. One class member wrote on the grid “I only got x, and that was with notes” – yet this person correctly identified roles of eleven of the 20 people on the grid, and got completely correct dates for 2 and partially correct dates for the other 9.

Everyone was able to correctly identify roles for about half the names listed (interestingly, not all the same ones!) and some people identified more. Everybody was able to identify one period of activity for the individuals whose roles they got right. However, where individuals had long careers there was some uncertainty as to how long they went on working.


Key Themes in Anime, 8/12/2009

December 9, 2009

In this session we looked at key themes in anime. Using the basic theme of war as an example, we talked about possible roots/inspirations for the theme, looked at different ways to interpret the basic theme  and the various threads that spin off from it, and saw clips reflecting a few of the ways anime has treated the themes of war and conflict:

as a reference to, reflection on or rewriting of Japan’s defeat and the atom bomb;

as a reflection on Japanese and Asian historical conflicts;

looking back to samurai/ninja literature and film, evolving from both history and legend, with heroic protagonists fighting impossible odds for a cause beyond their own gain or survival;

as a reaction to alien invasion, and the threat of difference;

as a reflection on the power of technology, both dark and benign;

as an indictment of social injustice;

as comedy.


We discussed why the theme of war hasn’t been as prominent in mainstream Western animation as it has in Japan over the past 60 years. These were the reasons we came up with:

Britain wasn’t bombed flat – although the Blitz had a serious impact on many cities it wasn’t so total as the firebombing and nuclear bombing of Japan.

The Allies didn’t lose the war so they were not stigmatised as Japan was.

After the war ended, Japanese society was more open and less contained. People had more opportunity to travel and to discuss and reflect.

Censorship could be a factor.

An attitude of “don’t talk about the war” has prevailed here, we tend to be more escapist and not to want to dwell on it. In just a few years after hostilities ended, Britain had the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, her Coronation and the Festival of Britain, focussing the attention of the whole country.

Western animation is mostly aimed at young children and war isn’t considered a proper subject for them.

There are still many anime and manga professionals who have experienced war and being bombed, and their experience influences their work.


Working in two groups, the class was asked to identify at least three key themes in anime, and list three titles as examples of each theme.

At the end of their discussions, both groups observed that many titles had multiple themes and could fit a number of categories. Everyone contributed good ideas to the discussion, and was able to identify several themes and examples, but because this exercise took place at the end of the session, it had to be kept quite brief.

Adam, Andrew, Rhiannon, Ruth & Sarah identified 5 themes but only had time to find examples for three of them:

Giant robots

Growing up/rites of passage

Family/team: examples – My Neighbours the Yamadas, Ranma 1/2, Sazae-san, Cowboy Bebop

Magical journeys: examples – Spirited Away, Vision of Escaflowne, The Cat Returns, Magic Knight Rayearth

Ordinary heroes (apparently average people who discover a talent waiting to be developed and follow the path it takes them down): examples – Naruto, Dragonball, Bleach

Azusa, Becky, Daniel & Jane also identified 5 themes and also only had time to discuss examples for three of them.

Robots: examples – Mobile Suit Gundam, Tetsuwan Atom, Patlabor

School life: examples – Full Metal Panic, Bleach, Ouran High School Host Club

Ninjas: examples – Ninja Scroll, Samurai Champloo, Naruto

Girl Heroes


Creative Talents in Anime, 01/12/2009

December 2, 2009

At today’s class we welcomed a new colleague, Daniel, who will be with us for the final three sessions. This was the last session for Brian, but he’ll be distance-learning – Helen is sending him the class notes so that he can finish the course with everyone else.

We talked about creative talents in anime and brainstormed a list of the creative roles involved in making anime:

ARTISTS: animators, background artists, character designers, storyboard artists, colour designers


SOUND: Voice artists, composers, sound FX team (Foley and digital), musicians, singers



DISTRIBUTORS and marketing tea,


Then we pooled ideas on which creative people or groups have been outstandingly influential in anime. We worked in two groups. Each group had to come up with a list of three creatives that they considered had been especially influential in anime, and give reasons for their choice.

Adam, Naomi, Rhiannon and Steve chose writer, comic artist and director Osamu Tezuka because, as well as its quality and variety, the sheer volume of his work has enabled him to touch and influence millions of people. Their next choice was composer Yoko Kanno because of her extensive body of work, and her mastery of many musical styles. She has composed scores for many TV series and movies giving her work a wide reach. In terms of style, on the TV series Cowboy Bebop alone she scored each of the 26 episodes in a different style. Their final choice was Toei, because the studio has been a dominant force in the anime industry since its setup in the 1950s, and as responsible for ‘pushing’ Japanese cartoons to the public in the 1950s when the market was dominated by American imports like Hanna-Barbera.

Andrew, Becky, Brian and Daniel also chose Yoko Kanno, for the same reasons, and because they have “never heard an ugly Kanno tune.” They mentioned her work on Vision of Escaflowne as an example of her range and versatility. Their next choice was director and writer Makoto Shinkai, who made his short feature film Voices of a Distant Star as a solo project on his home computer, with help from his girlfriend. He started making anime as a fan and won recognition from the industry. Their final choice was Manga Entertainment, the British (and now international) distributor. The company spread the word about anime in the UK and USA, and by putting the word “manga” into general usage they also encouraged people to explore Japanese comics. They put money into the Japanese industry by co-production, starting with Ghost In The Shell in 1995, as well as by boosting overseas sales.

Helen’s choice of ten creative talents to talk about this evening deliberately excluded Osamu Tezuka, Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki, because we have already talked about them quite a bit during classes and because their status is a “given” among fans. Her choices were:

Kenzo Masaoka, animator, director, artist

Leiji Matsumoto, writer, artist, director

Noboru Ishiguro, director

Headgear, production/creative group

Yoko Kanno, composer, performer

Kazuo Oga, background artist, director

Taro Maki, producer

Kihachiro Kawamoto, animator, writer, director

Studio 4ºC

Satoshi Kon, director, writer

Discussion: Essential Masterpieces, 24/11/2008

November 27, 2009

In our class on 24/11/2009 we reviewed and discussed ten ‘esssential masterpieces’ chosen by Helen. The class divided into groups to discuss what each person considered the ‘essential masterpieces’ that they would recommend to new fans, and why. Each group fed back through one person. The group could choose the same title/s, or each member choose a different one, and they could be titles from Helen’s list or others. These are Helen’s notes of the feedback.

Azusa, Becky, Sarah: Although we considered titles outside the list, Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro has to be among our recommended titles because it’s suitable for all ages from child to adult. We would recommend the same director’s Princess Mononoke for anyone aged 14 plus. The male and female leads are both equally strong and important to the story, so it’s good for both genders. The powerful focus on the conflict between ecology and civilisation is thought-provoking. We would also include Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, because, as an Oscar winner, it ‘s a film than non-fans have probably heard of, so it makes a good access point. Winning the Oscar raised anime’s profile in mainstream media.

Andrew, Brian, Naomi, Soraya: We all consider Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and My Neighbour Totoro essential viewing for new fans. But to introduce people to anime we would choose titles to appeal to the individual, as different films appeal to different people. For example, Soraya got into anime through a four-part historical fantasy/horror tile called Doomed Megalopolis, (directed by Rintaro) a very uncomfortable story about honour which showed her the power of anime. Yet her sister thought it was “wierd” and that Princess Mononoke was “rubbish”. Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku and samurai anime like Ninja Scroll (all three titles directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri) were also mentioned as possible access points.

Adam, Rhiannon, Ruth, Steve: We think Akira and Shinchiro Watanabe’s TV series Cowboy Bebop are essential viewing. Akira has everything Western viewers want –  a dystopian future, super-powered orphan children, a corrupt military brotherhood, hero-worship, idols shot down, grotesque elements, fabulous technology, guns and sadly no boobs. It was animated to a very high standard and still looks fabulous. A key character dies, which is not normal in Western films. Being a movie, it has a higher “prestige value” than a TV series, perceived as more serious. After watching this, it’s interesting to watch Cowboy Bebop and see where the two coincide. Cowboy Bebop has a tiny story where nothing much happens. It’s very episodic and bitty. It has a wider appeal in that it has boobs and guns but also hot male characters so it appeals to both genders. There’s a downbeat, unhappy ending, a doomed love story and a theme of failure. The technology of its world is good, but not in the foreground of the story (as in Akira.) The soundtrack is wonderful.

After the feedback was complete, Sarah added that the works of Makoto Shinkai should also be recommended to new fans, as well as the movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Towards the end of the session, the class broke into the same groups to discuss the clips reviewed. Each group was asked to decide which one title from Helen’s list they would recommend to new fans as ‘essential viewing’, and why. One person fed back for each group.

Adam, Rhiannon, Ruth, Steve: We would recommend Akira. We think movies are easier to “get into” than TV shows, which demand more time and attention than a new fan might be willing/able to give. Also, Akira is visually stunning and very stylish – if you like Akira you will like anime. It’s very fast and action-packed, unlike say Ghost In The Shell which is more story based. Newcomers need more time to get into anime so they can learn to appreciate more complex stories and older material.

Andrew, Brian, Naomi, Soraya: We would recommend Ghost in the Shell. We agree with the point about TV series, that they are harder to get into so a movie is the best starting point. Visually, Ghost in the Shell has a lot to recommend it. We think the more adult story is a plus point – many people see anime as childish, and it counters that argument.

Azusa, Becky, Sarah: We think that all the points made about Ghost In The Shell are correct, but we would choose My Neighbour Totoro. It’s accessible to people of any age, and it’s one of those stories where you would not feel ashamed to admit you like it, even though it’s very simple. Also, not everyone is into science fiction so not everyone would find a story like Ghost In The Shell accessible, even though it does raise a lot of interesting points for discussion whether you like anime or not.

Advantages and disadvantages of DVD over VHS for anime

November 26, 2009

We brainstormed this list of the advantages and disadvantages of the DVD format over videotape, specifically for anime.


You get bonus features like interviews, picture galleries and documentaries

You can have subtitles or audio track or both

You can (usually) choose to listen/read subtitles in different languages

Picture quality is better

DVDs are more portable and easier to store

You can watch ‘on the move’ by playing in laptop devices

You can freeze frames and get a clear image

The sub vs dub debate is at an end because on DVD you can have both subtitles and dub tracks.

Companies only have to produce one disc instead of separate subbed and dubbed tapes, so they can sell more copies from one master, improve the quality of the product and still make more money.


Digital formats make piracy easier by enabling streaming and downloading over fast broadband services. Helen added information: Industry sources estimate that there are as many as 6 million illegal anime downloads a week. Obviously this is hard to verify exactly but it is undoubtedly a big problem for the industry.)

Comparing Different Titles

November 25, 2009

In our class on 17/11/2009 we discussed and compared Final Fantasy: Advent Children (FF) with two titles from Studio Ghibli: My Neighbours the Yamadas (NY) and Tales from Earthsea (TE), looking for contrasts and similarities in these titles. All three were made as features for theatrical release, to a high technical standard.

TONE: FF dark and serious.  NY airy, open, pastel colours, comedy overtones. TE Oversaturated colours, solemn and almost religious overtones.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: FF teens (both girls and boys), science fiction  fans. NY family audience, lots of jokes. TE younger teens, maybe under 16s.

TECHNOLOGY: FF motion capture. NY appears completely traditional but actually made with very high spec computer equipment. TE traditional line animation.

SOURCE: FF game series. NY manga. TE novel series

ATMOSPHERE/STORY TYPE: FF futuristic fantasy. NY whimsical/contemporary. TE traditional ‘mediaeval feel’ fantasy.

NON-FAN/NEWCOMER APPEAL? FF is part of continuing saga, need to play the games/know the backstory to really get the most out of it. NY and TE have simpler standalone stories, need no prior knowledge.

HOW DOES THIS FILM MAKE YOU FEEL? FF: apocalyptic theme and action-packed story makes you feel on edge. NY/TE: both give you a good time and make you feel you’ve enjoyed yourself, TE maybe a bit darker but positive ending.

WHAT’S THE SOUNDTRACK LIKE? FF: music is dark in tone to suit the movie, completely instrumental – no human voices. NY/TE: Extensive use of vocals as well as orchestra, much lighter feeling. All use ‘big name” actors for the voices, makes them sound familiar.

How Do You Get Your Anime Info?

November 25, 2009

This discussion on 17/11/2009 asked class members to describe how they get information about anime, and how their ways of getting information have changed since first becoming interested in anime. The class formed three groups of four and one group member kept notes and fed back.

Andrew, Brian, Ruth, Soraya:

Andrew got into anime soon after Akira was released in Britain in 1991. He also saw My Neighbour Totoro at the ICA’s anime festival, read two British magazines, Anime UK and Manga Mania, and then got Helen’s first book in 1993. Nowadays he looks at the Internet to keep up with news about anime, mostly Anime News Network (ANN) and Ain’t  It Cool News (AICN). So his way of getting information has progressed from analogue to digital technology, just like his way of watching anime!

Brian is a new fan and can’t recall exactly when and how he first became aware of anime. As a longstanding animation fan he knew he wanted to find out more, and so when he saw this course advertised by the WEA he signed up.

Soraya is a longtime animation fan who remembers enjoying Hanna Barbera cartoons and the Banana Splits on TV. She first saw anime in the 1980s (in Japanese) and  decided she preferred it to most Western animation. She used to read SFX magazine for information, and also read Helen’s books and the Animerica Interviews book. Now she gets her information from anime-fan friends and buys most of her anime DVDs on eBay.

Ruth had seen some anime trailers on other DVDs, so when she saw the Barbican’s 2008 Tezuka festival on a web browser, she went along to find out more. She met Helen, and started buying NEO magazine. Now she uses the Internet and anime forums for information.

Adam, Naomi, Rhiannon, Steve:

Adam was a member of the Manga UK Club (run by video label Manga Entertainment) as a teenager, and would buy any anime with an 18 certificate on it. Nowadays he gets most of his information from NEO and SFX magazines, other science fiction publications and events like the Barbican festivals.

Naomi and Rhiannon both became fans around the same time as Adam and get their information from similar sources, and by word of mouth. They are aware that their choices are in a way ‘censored’ by what selectors for festivals and screenings, or DVD release, choose to make available.

Steve is a newcomer to anime who signed up for the class because he was curious about it. He has seen only what “breaks the surface of the mainstream” like Spirited Away, although he also went to the first ICA anime festival, again from curiosity.

Azusa, Becky, Jane, Sarah:

Azusa started watching anime in Japan when she was young. She still gets most of her anime information from two Japanese magazines, Animania and Animage. These have been published for many years.

Becky got into anime very young, watching it on TV channels like Cartoon Network and Toonami. Toonami no longer exists and Cartoon Network doesn’t show anime now, so she uses the anime fan network and YouTube to keep up with new material.

Jane is new to anime and signed up for this class to find out more because of her interest in Japanese culture. She gets her information from the Internet, anime blogs, and YouTube.

Sarah got into anime as a child in Asia, watching it on TV and watching videos. Now she searches websites for information, and has usedan online list of older anime and world anime which was packed with information. She couldn’t remember the name but by pooling our information we think it’s either Richard Llewellyn’s Animated Divots or Benjamin Ettinger’s AniPages Daily.