Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TV Review: "Anime: Drawing A Revolution"

Over the past 20+ years, anime has grown from being a niche in America to a hot commodity in Hollywood. With The Wachowskis (The Matrix series) set to bring Speed Racer to the screen next summer and film versions of Astro Boy and Gatchaman not far behind, the profile of anime is about to get even higher. This Japanese artform is explored in “Anime: Drawing A Revolution,” the newest installment of Starz's monthly series Starz Inside. While longtime anime fans may have some thing to nitpick about this special, it's actually a great introduction to anime and why it is popular in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“Anime: Drawing A Revolution” is divided up into sections that deal with a particular theme. These sections include “The Roots Of Anime,” “The Art Of Anime,” “Anime In The U.S.A.,” “Anime Is Here To Stay,” and “Hollywood Rides The Wave.” In addition, there are short pieces called case studies that explore the influences of anime in non-anime works such as Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the movie Sin City.

What makes up the bulk of the program are interviews with various voice actors, creators, producers, fans, and authors. These interviews are insightful and eyeopening as they answer many questions about anime (Why do some characters have really large eyes?) and reveal not only what drew these people to this artform but also how it informs their work. In a short clip, David Silverman, director of The Simpsons Movie, talks about how some of the animation techniques in Akira influenced him and The Simpsons itself.

There are a few things about “Anime: Drawing A Revolution” that don't make it quite as definitive as it could be. American animation fans might be discouraged at the overall tone of the program as quite a few comments praise anime while dismissing American cartoons. While the program does a good job at showing the cross-cultural exchange of ideas between Japan and America when it comes to anime (The anime version of the Witchblade comic book, for example), it doesn't acknowledge the way anime has been influencing current American animation all that well. This is a surprise, especially considering that one of the people interviewed is Glen Murakami, a producer of the anime-influenced Teen Titans series.

Although the program says repeatedly that anime comes in all different genres, most of the clips used are the traditionally violent clips from action and science-fiction shows. The program also doesn't define many uniquely anime/manga genres apart from giant robot/mecha. There's no mention of shoujo, for example. While the program does do a good job at talking about many of the shows that made anime popular in the U.S., it makes little mention of Cartoon Network beyond a passing reference to Adult Swim. For a whole generation of fans, Cartoon Network's Toonami block was one of the few places to reliably see anime that wasn't Pokemon. Also, the program's section about anime fans and the Internet is woefully underdone. This may be intentional, as issues of piracy (via fansubbing) would be interwoven into any real exploration of anime and the Internet.

Overall, “Anime: Drawing A Revolution” is a solid introduction to the world of anime to those who may not be familiar with it. It's one of the few (if not the first) television programs from a mainstream network to really deal with this phenomenon. There may be some things to nitpick for those of us who are longtime fans, but ultimately, this program wasn't really made with us in mind. It was made for people who may for people curious about anime and who had few places to turn for easy-to-understand information. Ideally, this program will help anime get more respect as an artform beyond perceptions of it being cheaply made kiddie programs and ultraviolent porn.

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