A Guide For Getting Into Anime

While attempting to sleep last night I got to thinking about anime, more specifically the reasons why people in western civilisations don’t seem to embrace it in the same way as our neighbours in the east do.  There are sadly many preconceptions on the subject, and today I’d like to hopefully change any negative opinions you as readers might have about anime.

First up, we need to know exactly what anime is.  The word itself is not the Japanese word for their style of animation contrary to popular belief, but it’s what us western folk commonly refer to it as.  In Japan the word is used to describe any animation, so to them TV shows like SpongeBob Squarepants, Scooby Doo or Tom & Jerry are known as anime along with their own style.  Anything in cartoon form is known as anime in other words, whereas in the western world we have separate mediums.

Seeing as I’d imagine most readers are from western countries we’ll continue to refer to Japanese animated programs as ‘anime’ to avoid confusion.

A lot of anime isn't like this

I think the most common preconception with anime is that young children are the target audience.  It’s easy to assume that of course, a lot of anime feature very stereotypical childish-looking characters with big eyes and cute voices, but while a lot of anime are indeed aimed at a younger audience there are many, many more that cater for teenagers and even adults.  This is what a lot of people with even a vague interest in anime need to pay attention to, there are many out there with more adult themes – murder, violence, gore… and yes, nudity.  I don’t know for sure, but I think there are at least as many anime shows out there for more mature viewers than there are for a younger audience.

One of the most notable differences between anime and western animation is the quality of storytelling and level of understanding at which the story develops.  Despite western animation gradually changing to incorporate more detailed plots, the majority of animation is geared towards young minds and feature very little in the way of storytelling.  Anime expands one this by incorporating heavy themes of drama, powerful emotional conflicts and character development and relationships.  In certain anime people even die, and people suffer from those losses as a result.  In other types of anime there is violence, brutality, corruption and realism.  There are powerful women heroines who stand on their own without the aid of muscle bound men. There are feeble men who collapse under pressure and show their fear, passion, and vulnerabilities.  There are heavy religious connotations, powerful speeches about humanity, the future of technology, and politics.  All of these elements and more can be found in some of the most artistic, detailed, and revolutionary animation ever seen, and most likely will rarely be seen on popular western television.

Japanese anime explores themes most of us have only seen in live action movies, but expands on them tenfold as they have the time to do so.  The average movie is what, 90 minutes long?  There are some anime that are about five hundred 25 minute episodes, allowing 12,500 minutes for character development, relationships to be formed and for the viewer to form emotions of all sorts towards what they’re watching.  Some anime programs last for years, meaning the viewer has in some cases literally grown up with it, allowing for a unique bond that you can rarely get with a movie.  It’s similar to to the fondness Scrubs fans have with Dr Cox, or 24 fans have with Jack Bauer.  By watching something you’re enjoying for a long period of time you get to really appreciate the characters and the show on the whole.  I think giving an anime series a chance will generate the same feelings if you give it a chance.

So, with that said I hope I’ve opened a few minds to the idea of Japanese anime, so what’s next?

Japanese with subtitles, or English dubbed?

Subtitled anime is generally better to watch

A popular question for people new to anime is whether to watch it dubbed or in Japanese with subtitles.  Your decision should of course be based on personal preference above all else, for example if you struggle with reading (you’ll have to be quick to keep up) or simply don’t want to spend hours of your life reading text and missing what’s going on on screen you might prefer to watch a dubbed version of an anime if it’s available.  Let me assure you however, once you get used to reading the text it becomes easy to take in what you’re reading and what’s happening on the screen, but for some it’s more difficult than others.

You’ll also need to find out about the quality of what you’re watching, either the quality of the subtitles or the voice acting.  Certain anime is subtitled badly with spelling errors and missing out vital information, and some dubbed versions have absolutely appalling voice actors so prior research before making your decision is important.  In my opinion for the most part watching the original Japanese version of an anime with subtitles is best, but there are of course exceptions.  Further down the page you’ll find a list of recommended programs to watch and whether they’re better subtitled or dubbed.

Some words aren’t translated into English, what do they mean?

This is quite common in a lot of subtitled anime, certain words aren’t translated which can be confusing. Fear not, because here’s a list of the most common untranslated words.

-san:  The basic “Mr.”/”Ms.” suffix; not gender specific.  Used by adults (or sometimes younger people) to refer to roughly social equals, or as an all-purpose polite suffix.

-chan:  The standard “cute” suffix.  Generally used with the names of small children or younger girls; also used affectionately by boyfriends/girlfriends to refer to each other.  In some cases used with close friends of either gender, particularly by girls, in place of or in combination with a nickname.

-sama:  Used when being extremely polite, or more commonly toward people far socially superior (kings, lords, gods). Not common in everyday modern use outside discussions of the Imperial family, but frequently heard in anime.

-kun: Generally used to refer to social equals or slight inferiors, particularly younger males.

-sempai:  Can be used as a suffix or as a standalone “title” (not attached to a name, that is).  Usually used to refer to people with the same social standing, but somewhat higher (for example, students in a higher grade).

-kouhai:  The opposite of “sempai,” used to refer to social inferiors.

-sensei:  Roughly means “Teacher.”  Can also be used for respected people in educated positions, such as doctors.

One Piece's Luffy... Baka!

-baka:  The Japanese word for a fool, or idiot.  This is usually translated into English as any word for someone who’s either done or said something stupid.

-banzai!: A generic cheer, i.e hooray! or hurrah!

-aniki:  Honourable term for an older brother.

-yosh: an enthusiastic affirmative, for example ‘all right!” or “O.K then!”

What’s a good anime to watch?

For those starting out a good place to start is with one of the more popular anime programs, and from there you can decide where to go with other lesser-known or genre specific (such as mecha anime with robots).  Here are some recommended anime to get you started.

Fullmetal Alchemist – perhaps the most popular anime of all, there are two series’ to choose from.  The original was made in 2003 and effectively follows the manga (comic book) until a certain point as the manga wasn’t finished at the time until it goes off in its own direction.  The first half, where it is following the manga, is excellent, and even when it goes in its own direction it’s still very enjoyable to watch.  Can be enjoyed either subtitled or dubbed.

Fullmetal Alchemist is a very popular anime

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – This is pretty much a 2009 remake of the first series, with the same animation style, voice actors and characters.  The difference this time is that it follows the manga all the way through, and while the first 20 episodes or so are very similar to the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime it’s much, much better overall as the story is generally deeper and the ending more satisfying for the viewer.  I recommend to watch both though, starting with Fullmetal Alcehmist, perhaps having a break to watch something else, and then going through Brotherhood. Can be enjoyed either subtitled or dubbed.

Death Note  – another really popular one, this anime follows the story of Light Yagami who has in his possession a book that kills a person if their name is written in it.  This one features a fantastic plot and memorable characters (you can’t help but like L), and it’s suitably violent and suspenseful.  Best enjoyed with subtitles.

Baccano! – This is one to watch once you have gotten used to the idea of the quirky nature of anime, it’s a mind-bending masterpiece that’s basically a murder mystery set on a train.  The characters are again memorable and likeable for the most part, my only complaint is that it’s only 13 episodes long with another 3 specials that followed.  Best enjoyed with subtitles.

One Piece – There’s so much to say about One Piece I could be here all day, but I’ll try and keep this short.  At the time of writing the series is approaching 500 episodes, so to say there’s been great plots, characters and twists is an understatement.  It follows the story of Monkey D. Luffy and his eventual crew of misfits on a quest to become the Pirate King, with various distractions thrown in for good measure.  You will need some patience with this anime though, each plot is split into ‘arcs’ and they can be quite long, however I will say if you can get through the Arlong Park arc early on in the series you’ll be able to survive anything One Piece throws at you.  Can be enjoyed either subtitled or dubbed, but make sure you watch the Funimation dub and not the 4kids dub.

I also recommend these movies to get you started:

Spirited Away (subtitled or dubbed)

Howl’s Moving Castle (subtitled or dubbed)

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (subtitled)

Whisper of The Heart (subtitled)

The Cat Returns (dubbed)

Hopefully that list is enough to get you started, if you are indeed new to anime and keep an open mind you’re in for a treat.


Posted on April 14, 2011, in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. There are several very good anime from Ghibli’s studios, such as Tonari no Totoro, Ponyo, etc ^^

  2. To make (to turn) the air blue.

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