37

In high school English classes, we read many classics, such as Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Lee, etc. In many other classes, popular TV shows and movies are analyzed. Granted, these are also classics, such as Hitchcock's Psycho or Nichols' The Graduate.

Why is anime/manga not as critically analyzed by the general public, like other works of written/illustrated art are? There are a lot of different forums that review anime and many people on the internet who have their opinions on different shows, but why is it not recognized by the general American public like other literary works? Is it its age (it is still popular, and therefore not old enough to be considered a classic)? Is the fact that it is seen as a cartoon by many in the US? Is it due to negative stereotypes in the west surrounding anime (many may consider all anime to be hentai, for example, and therefore disregard it as an art form)?

EDIT: To explain this more...many, many anime have underlying themes and meanings that stretch sometimes deeper than current novels/books that are considered literary classics by the academic community. So, why aren't these shows studied and analyzed in an academic setting? For example, if I am in a high school/college film analysis class, why is the medium of anime not considered when picking source material to analyze?

A few of these shows I think you can find deeper meaning in easily (and this part is subjective, you may disagree), with similarities drawn to novels that are considered classics:

  • Ping Pong: The Animation: allows the viewer to determine the definition of success (similar to Invisible Man)
  • Attack on Titan: comments on the human experience, portrays reality with a hunter/prey dynamic (just like Lord of the Flies)
  • Fooly Cooly: coming of age story (just like Catcher in the Rye)

Many others can be listed, and the above shows can be analyzed much, much further.

Sorry for the poor tag, couldn't find one that was applicable.

38

I think the simplest answer is that anime is just not that popular. Though immensely popular and gaining momentum, the anime community just isn't that widespread. If you look at it critically MOST of the anime fans are limited to the popular and mostly Shounen series such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Dragon Ball, Pokémon, Deathnote etc.

Compare it to the consumption of various books and movies and their penetration into our society. The iconism resulting from this is what raised them to the platform where it seems that more and more of such media is critically analysed. As Hakase pointed out, if you go to an anime forum/blog, you'll see plenty of critical analysis of anime, especially the history and tropes.

Another factor is the geography. The popularity of anime and manga has grown and they are an integral part of the Japanese culture. However, other places are adapting and amalgamating the same later. This will automatically lead to the feeling that anime as a medium is more targeted towards the audience it sells for, i.e. the japanese. But as an "outsider" we're not in a place to critically analyze it. The same may be true for various literary works or other media.

A relevant example is the Indian epics "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana". I doubt that many people know it on this community, but Indians have critically analyzed each and every line of such epics as deep as it can go. Awareness of them is just limited to the Indian subcontinent, but now the teachings are spreading. The same is true with Anime.

Some food for thought:

Anime popularity: Blogpost: A comment that I liked

Depends. Again sales you might make the case but in terms of iconism there's no chance. Everyone knows who Batman is. No one knows who Luffy is.

A good blogpost about how to look at Anime as a medium of entertainment

  • "critical animation of anime, especially the history and tropes", do you mean critical reviews or some other word than animation? – Michael McQuade Aug 23 '16 at 17:38
  • @MichaelMcQuade meant to type analysis. Thanks for pointing it out. – Arcane Aug 23 '16 at 18:45
  • 4
    Add language to geography. High school syllabuses do stretch to a few translated novels, but the questioner's examples, including the two films, are all English. No Molière to go with Shakespeare, no Sartre (who won the Nobel prize two years after Steinbeck), no Godard or Truffaut. It is after all English lit, not French lit or Japanese lit. – Steve Jessop Aug 25 '16 at 10:12
  • 1
    For "not that popular", I might believe that more individuals today follow anime.manga than read Steinbeck, etc. Although the "classical" authors might actually get more readers, a significant fraction is due to required reading assignments rather than personal choice. – user2338816 Aug 26 '16 at 7:10
  • 2 of the big three are already over. maybe update the wording there. – Sp0T Aug 26 '16 at 11:10
23

There are critically analyzed works.

It is indeed a much newer and nicher area than traditional film, but there are communities around it. There is just much less of it (as @Arcane states) due to popularity

Critics in anime come in a few different forms:

Academic Critique & Analysis

Many film/media journals accept papers on animated media - this is a large area of publishing, rather than more focused papers such as Mechademia - simply because researchers may not be focused solely on one media format.

Due to the nature of popularity, anime such as the Ghibli films get a lot more exposure than others.

More information about particular conferences, journals and papers lies here as a community wiki post

These articles delve quite deep into some topics like the representation of gender roles in shoujo manga, the influence of Western terrorism on Eastern Media, etc.

Regular Publication Reviews

A lot of book and film reviewers often work for newspapers or some sort of popular media outlet. Indeed, RottenTomatoes has a high bar for counting as a critic, requiring you to be in (and regularly in):

  • A top 100 daily US newspaper
  • A top 100 weekly US newspaper
  • A top 100 magazine
  • A top 10 entertainment-based publication

So the bar is set pretty high for specialist topics, because film and such are so far developed as a culture.

Because of the reduced popularity, an 'anime' specific column in a newspaper, is usually pretty rare, at least in the West - Meaning the chances of becoming well known are further diminished.

Casual Critics / Blogging

Most of anime reviews come from popular (and unpopular) bloggers / vloggers. Another source is company accounts - the likes of Anime News Network and CrunchyRoll can hire people for this role as it is a rare case where it will increase exposure for a company meaningfully.

However, audiences for these reviews aren't usually interested in detailed breakdowns of academic references, etc. Thus, often posts are focused on recommendation. Often hobbyist bloggers will be supported by specific anime companies - so posts often align with what review copies they have been sent.

Here :)

So, as moderator of this site I'm probably a bit biased, but on Anime & Manga Stack Exchange we have many questions that seem to fit the bill for a deeper understanding of particular works.

Here are some examples:

What is written in Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal that impacts Takao so badly?

About the artworks used in the Elfen Lied opening scenes (contains nudity)

Is there a meaning behind the paintings in Tsubaki Kureha's living room?

These are just ones off the top of my head. Personally, these are also my favourite type of questions - so I encourage there to be more on this site.

TL;DR: Academic Critique exists, and right here is good too :)

  • 1
    Exactly the type of answer I'd in mind! – Arcane Aug 23 '16 at 10:27
11

Note: I can only speak from a Western perspective here. For all I know, anime is critically analysed in Japan.

The first thing worth considering as a reason for why anime doesn't seem to be critically analysed in the West is that it's only really been easily consumable over here in the last decade or so, meaning that a great many of the established critics were already adults (and older) by the time they had access to it. Before streaming services and high bandwidth Internet connections, it would have been very difficult to find and watch anything other than anime deemed suitable for children that was broadcast on children's TV channels.

This may have contributed to the idea that anime is for children (and therefore not worthy of analysis), a notion that probably already exists thanks to the general idea that almost all animation is for children, thanks to most Western animation being aimed at that audience.

In a similar vein, the most popular anime shows do tend to be ones aimed at children/younger teenagers. Anyone looking to watch an anime show for the first time is likely to end up watching something like Naruto, Dragonball Z or Pokemon - none of those are likely to leave you with the impression that anime is an artform worthy of serious analysis.

It's also worth pointing out that there is a very big cultural divide between the East and the West, one that often manifests itself in ways that may make Western audiences... uncomfortable. In general, Japan seems to place less of a taboo on sex and sexuality, which can make some anime appear as smut to Westerners - even anime that is aimed at children often contains at least some level of "fan service", which is off-putting when you aren't used to that kind of thing.

Throw in a general culture surrounding anime that seems to be more concerned with waifus and memes than it does serious analysis, a language barrier that can be difficult to get past, and the at least somewhat racist (and somewhat accurate) idea that Japanese culture at large is "weird", and I don't think it's unreasonable that there aren't yet a lot of critical analysis' of anime at large.

8

Literature is that which is studied by teachers of literature (and by extension, their students). It may have a connection to quality of writing, but this is not guaranteed, nor that other writing of equivalent quality will be included. It's further complicated by the fact that because there's no clear evidence of what's good and bad, teachers are free to mark up students who write essays which agree with their preconceptions and to mark down students who write essays which don't.

The problem isn't exclusive to anime. You'll find vanishingly few science-fiction or fantasy fiction titles in English Lit classes. "Brave New World" and "Animal Farm" were pretty much it when I was at school - and they're written by established "classic" authors who mostly didn't write SF/F and who explicitly wrote them as parables. HG Wells and Jules Verne sometimes features on the list, but more because their stories are old (DWM) than because they're well-written. You're more likely to see Ursula LeGuin or Margaret Atwood in a list of feminist authors than a list of classic authors.

Historical fiction is in a similar genre ghetto. I'm less aware of who's out there on that side of things, but Hilary Mantel had to be really good to get "Wolf Hall" into the awards. People like Sir Walter Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson sometimes get into literature lists, but again it's because they're DWM.

Good and worthy ideas don't necessarily make a good book though. Tolkein is a perfect example - he had amazing ideas, but pretty awful execution.

6

Anime as a genre has few gems. For me it's hard to find a good anime by random. Yet, I don't think that's the main reason why it's underrated. The ones that are great, really shine bright and deserve a more in deph analysis. Animation in general is considered "for kids". Time has proven that that is nowhere near the case (this applies also to western animation), yet this missconception remains solid.

I can debate themes like existentialism, libertarianism, morality, religion and many others in FMA for example and draw parallels between it and works such as Goethe's "Faust" or Brecht's "Life of Galileo" or Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil". This being some examples I just thought of now. If you go in deph you can really uncover more. I do not refute the importance of literature of cinema (my point about the few gems can be applied to these art forms as well). Another point I'd like to make is that these art form have been there for longer, they had enough time to establish themselves and they are spread all over the world. Anime and Manga has been hitting mainstream (in America at least) since Toonami (~2008 I believe). I'm not from America so don't quote me on that. And my last point about mainstream may be flawed, but that's how I see it.

I do believe that with time these preconceived ideas concerning animation will vanish. On the other hand I doubt they will be studied by themselves soon, if ever (besides art schools and art colleges). Hope my answer has been somewhat relevant.

4

It kinda is, in the user reviews on dedicated online communities. Times change, these things become easier to write and to share.

There's more anime and reviews appearing regularly than there were (what is now considered) classics and critical analyses of it. The quantity is greater but the average quality is lower. Substantial quality is required to be considered by the authorities of the older generations of people who run those established forums.

I would not take it as a sign that all user reviews are useless, but merely that certain communities don't recognize them. It doesn't mean you shouldn't.

  • Tried to address this with most recent edit – wcarhart Aug 23 '16 at 5:35
4

I would like to just repeat what our teachers said in English class to why we analyse all of those things:

we analyse texts because it creates meaning, this will help us to appreciate literature, this is why we analyse literature. as for other texts, such as advertisements and pictures, we analyse them to allow for deeper understanding of how the author creates meaning.

she ends there.

this suggest that the texts that we analyse in school are literature and we need to (apparently) appreciate the great works from he part. clearly anime and manga does not count as literature.

to back this up, my art teacher has said to me that anime and manga does not count as art.

this shows the unfair bias towards anime and manga

this is further supported dues to the fact that we analyse comic strips.

this shows how the western culture is still somewhat rejecting the other cultures.

the final reason is: it wouldn't make much sense to analyse something that's not English in an English class.

this is from personal experience, hope this helps.

  • 2
    If your teachers have all these preconceived ideas about what is and isn't art or literature, I can't consider them true academics. The quote, to me, supports rather than discredits the idea that anime should be critically analyzed. – Torisuda Aug 25 '16 at 14:39
  • @Torisuda i can't quite understand what you're trying to say, for the second sentence – Dragon Aug 26 '16 at 8:00
  • Sorry, I was on my phone so I didn't explain myself more fully. I meant that "We analyze texts because it creates meaning, which will help us appreciate literature" sounds like a reason why we should analyze anime. More than a few times, I've been on the fence about a show, and when I start writing an analysis I'll either realize that it was a lot deeper than I thought at first, and appreciate it more, or see that it was really pretty shallow. So if analysis, by creating meaning, helps us appreciate literature, it can also help us appreciate anime. – Torisuda Aug 26 '16 at 13:15
  • @Torisuda i totally agree, but as i said in by answer, bias and the fact that it is an english lessons stops anime/manga being analysed – Dragon Aug 27 '16 at 2:58
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1. Anime has not been around long enough

The first anime was created in 1907, but the first produced and televised anime didn't came until 1961, which is more than 50 years after the first anime [1]. The first light novel with anime-ish style came in 1970s [2]. The first modern manga originated in 1945 [3]. It hasn't been a century before anime and manga exist.

In comparison, many of the Western Classics came in the 19th century, for example, The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Wuthering Heights (1847), Pride and Prejudice (1813), A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Some, such as Shakespeare's came from even further back in the 16th century. This form of art has been long enough that people have long enough time to know them and start critically analyzing them, which also contributes to my second point. It has been read by generations of human population.

2. Popularity

Most people who went to school would have at the very least heard of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, western or not. The same cannot be said about anime. Only avid anime and manga fans would know of Fushimi Tsukasa's Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii wake ga nai. Even with world-wide popular anime such as Naruto, only some would notice the name Masashi Kishimoto. Anime and manga has yet to reach the popularity that classic literature enjoys.

3. Content of anime

Being made in Japan, many if not most of anime and manga have a view on God that would be regarded as insulting to those living in religious countries. I remember when I was younger, I turned on TV to find Saint Seiya broadcasting and there one of the characters said something about "power equal to that of God". My father overheard that and told me to change the channel ASAP. This is due to the way Japan perceive God, that in Japan there are many gods, so much that it was said that Yamato (ancient name of Japan) is a land of thousands gods. Older people tends to be more religious as shown in the statistics, more people in the 80s are religious compare to the 90s and most of them are a follower of Abrahamic religions which is monotheistic and regards polytheism as sinful [4].

Another problem with the content of anime and manga, especially in modern anime and manga is that many of them contains fans service that is sexual in nature. While pornography is legal in western world, in the other parts of the world it is illegal. China and Indonesia, two of the most populous countries in the world, that is approximately 20% of the world population, have pornography as something illegal. From these two countries alone we already lost 20% of potential critical reviewer.

4. You're an otaku, pffft

When someone is known as an anime and manga lover, he will get the label, otaku. This is especially true with adults. The problem with this is that otaku is not seen in positive light. Even in Japan otaku was seen in negative light and only in 2013 that a research shows it has been seen in more positive light. When you make a critical analysis of anime or manga, then like it or not you have to read or watch it. Most kids won't be able to make make a critical review, which means most critical review would come from adult, and like I said adult watching anime was not regarded in positive light. Like shown in many anime, announcing yourself as otaku is basically a social suicide, especially when many have questionable content.

5. Era difference, the Internet, and forms of entertainment

During the era of Shakespeare and other western literary classics, there was not many form of entertainment. The wasn't video games, there wasn't Internet, no device where you can listen to music, heck, even electric light only gets famous in the 20th century. This lack of entertainment means makes theatrical plays and books has little to no contender. Today with the variety of entertainment means available, less attention is spend on each. This also translate into less of the world population watch anime and read manga and light novel compared to when the previous era, where means of entertainment are limited. Had anime and manga was born during the Shakespeare era and Shakespeare during anime and manga era then the popularity would be reversed, with anime and manga receiving more critical reviews than Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.

  • 3
    I feel like you're answering the question "Why isn't anime more popular in general?" rather than the question "Why isn't anime more popular in academic circles?" There definitely are academics in the West studying recent, relatively niche works of pure entertainment like comic books and YA novels. A professor at my university was a world-renowned expert on The Simpsons. Many academics would also find the subculture interesting rather than repellent, and in the world of publish or perish, studying something new and unusual is a good survival strategy. – Torisuda Aug 25 '16 at 0:56
3

Anime and manga are being critically analyzed. it is just that, as everyone above said, it isn't as widespread or popular. I would like to add to their opinions, though. Anime and manga, during its infancy or should I say the time when they are beginning to become popular, their target audience at the time are kids and teens. You know how kids are- when they have something they like, it became difficult to get them away from it. This gave rise to the 'otaku' mindset which in turn gives anime and manga a negative reputation. I would like to ask you then, if something has a negative reputation, are you willing to teach it inside the classroom? You won't, right?

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