American Movies Could Learn a Thing or Two from Anime

Growing up, I remember seeing quick flashes of Japanese cartoon in music videos or in the apartments of the hackers in film. I think even in Hackers (1995) this happens. Probably in one of the scenes that crappy grunge/techno music plays while they…y’know…hack. I remember growing up and being a little creeped out by it, the various miscellaneous screaming faces that seemed to come with the territory of anime. Every one in the shows and movies seemed to be drawn with a weird amount of detail, i.e., veins in neck, veins drawn in the eyes and always seemed to be stressed out and angry. Being that the X-Men animated series grew up watching was almost too much for my eight year old brain to comprehend, Anime was left alone.

This was also true for the first couple years in my teens. I’d thought similar things about the cartoons that I had as a kid, while a girlfriend in my later years summed up the feeling I’d had then perfectly; “Anime? Oh you mean those Japanese cartoons where people who watch them wear cat ears and draw all the time?”

I just…No. Just no.

Adult Swim aired in 2001 and had begun airing many of the cartoons that eventually led to my interest in 2004, when I first laid eyes…on Cowboy Bebop.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about it, as I love the show and could talk about it nonstop with no real ending/point. I’ve added it to my shortlist of things that Hollywood shouldn’t adapt. But it was awesome. It still is today, but when I first laid eyes on it, I couldn’t believe there was a cartoon that had been put out like this. Bounty hunters, Jeet Kune Do, gunplay, and space travel. The first episode I’d ever watched was episode #5, Ballad of the Fallen Angels. I’d made it just in time to watch the Cathedral Showdown and my mouth was open the entire time. This show eventually led to my interest in several other anime movies and shows. I kept it limited then and still do really, if you realize how much is actually out there. I’m getting to the point in a minute, just hang on. I know “My History with Anime” is not the name of the article. GAH YOU’RE IMPATIENT.

Having recently watched the entire series of Death Note in less than a week (I know, it’s late), it’s safe to say I feel obsessed. I’m trying to hold it in when I’m around people who couldn’t care less about it and I’m having a hard time only saying so much when I’m around people that might be interested. I think it’s just brilliant the way it all came together. I’m a little weary of the American remake that Shane Black is directing, but we’ll just wait and see what he does. Black, by the way, is currently directing Iron Man 3 and has written the Lethal Weapon series as well as Monster Squad, whatever that means to you. He’s also the dude who tells all the dirty jokes in Predator (1987) and then dies first.

“I’m gonna be big, I tell ya! BIG!”

Moving on, my general interest in anime has been revived and while I’m not looking for a new show to get my fix (Death Note was like a good meal and I’m satisfied; won’t be hungry for a while), it does get me to thinking why American filmmakers don’t learn a thing or two from the genre. If you want to limit it to that word. I’m not just talking about American cartoons either, although I have noticed that while in 1989, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was released, a year earlier in Japan, Akira had come out. This is not to say I love Akira or even that I hate the red-headed fish girl, but look at the differences in styles. Yes, one is for any age, although mostly girls and women who watched it when they were girls are fans, while Akira is a futuristic, bizarre Sci-Fi action/drama with little freaky old kids and motorcycle chases. I know I didn’t really sell that very well but hey, you either know already, or you don’t care. You see the differences in how animation in seen by the different cultures? One is thought of to reach specific age groups, preferably 17 to 30 I would imagine, while the other is directed at kids and their parents. Seems to still hold to that today. Moving on.

Back to live action; after watching Cowboy Bebop, its movie, and it’s successor if you will, Samurai Champloo, I can’t help but think that live-action Hollywood needs to pick something up from these movies and shows. Seriously, they have put a crazy amount of effort into not just the animation, but the choreography of the fights, as well as little details that make them standout from any other brutal beatdown of opponents. Check this out:

If you can’t tell, there was dialogue between the two characters and the fight had a bigger meaning than just “Time for a fight scene!” The fight is well animated and the characters have movements unique to their person. For anybody who knows Samurai Champloo, you know this couldn’t be truer for Mugen.

But I’m not talking about just fight scenes. The characters themselves seem to have more to them. This is not true for any anime compared to any American film, anime has it’s share of garbage, don’t get me wrong. But if you line up the best Anime to the best American action film, there’s not really a comparison. Many of the tough guys in Anime still get beat up, occasionally goofy, or just in general don’t always come out on top. Put Vin Diesel in the same situations and what do you think American writers would do with him? He’s always on top, he’s always serious unless he’s making a clever remark about how he’s about to beat you to death, then he steals your car and claims it’s the last job.

“For your information, I steal those cars for my dying MOTHER.”

It’s a difference of cultures, there’s no doubt, but dang it writers, don’t you want to do something different? Japan seems okay with having characters be made fools of from time to time no matter how cool their character is, while we seem to be under the impression that if a character is cool, he’d never lose at anything. I should only say so much, seeing as how my favorite film is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Clint Eastwood never really loses his *Nicholas Cage* in any of the Dollars films. But I suppose that’s not technically American as an Italian was the mastermind behind them. I think the point is understood. If not, there’s a whole list of Action films you yourself could come up with to prove my point. If they suck or they’re awesome, doesn’t necessarily matter.

What matters is the variety, the depth, and the thought you’ve put into the story and the characters. I start to lose interest in a character if they never show fatigue and this is part of the reason Superman seems to have so many haters (Who have consumed Haterade in copious amounts) in that even after dying, the guy just wouldn’t stop. If death no longer even has any meaning for the hero, how much longer can they be entertaining since nothing is a challenge? Many times Anime and the like created by Japanese seems to be filled with issues, insecurities, weariness and imperfections. If that’s all you focus on, that makes for a lame character. If you add that stuff into a character who has already been portrayed as capable; you’ve got yourself a decent starting point no matter what the genre.

Pissed off screaming guy not necessarily included.

3 Responses to “American Movies Could Learn a Thing or Two from Anime”

  1. Steelez Says:

    What are you wanting to transition? Protagonist being beaten? Dialog in fights? Some writers are paying attention its just they aren’t that appealing to the right producers, ceo’s, and studios. I feel The Avengers was a perfect exsample of what it takes to get someones attention. Joss (i know im bias) failed with Serinity the dialog was too much people got lost. Throw 10 years later and avengers becomes huge. Big bad too big everyone gets their butts handed to them. These characters and others on tv (being human-us version, dexter, ect..) all face imperfection? So what exsactly are you wanting to see?

    • Taylor Says:

      I don’t want a transition, I want a balls-out change! I don’t want anything specific so I gave general differences in US and Japan styles. I agree that it’s not all the writers, being that just about everybody else working on their film has more power once it’s sold, but I’m trying to think of an action movie that tried to go deeper than your average shoot’ em up and there’s a small number of them that comes to mind. Look at Korean action/thriller movies. THAT’S what I want. Unpredictability. It doesn’t need to be black and white all the time, it can be gray as well. Dexter is one of the better examples though, TV or otherwise.

    • RagingWolf Says:

      Dexter pretty much always wins, only time he almost didn’t was the second season when he was on the brink of getting caught. even when his wife was murdered he didn’t lose as she was pretty much keeping him from doing his thing.
      Avengers, everyone one gets over on loki, outsmarts him, overpowers him and walks over him, from hulk to coulson, then he loses.
      There is no in between I think is what he’s going for, heroes never lose in hollywood where as in anime you get some that die at the end, survive but not with much left to live for, are just plain bad or indifferent of everything else and become heroes for reasons other than helping anyone. it would be fun to see more of this in big budget movies as oppose to vin diesel tom cruise sly stallone never dying never losing a fight always getting the girl no one’s better etc, it’s old.

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