Annotated Bibliography - Written June 2012
This was written for an assignment in one of my first Creative Writing papers for my Bachelor of Arts degree at AUT.
Annotated Biography Introduction
Focus: Anime and Manga
I personally have always held a deep interest since I was very young in animé and manga, as well as in Japan in general, I always found the style of their works as well as the creative storytelling and the depth to the characters more immersive with a deeper attention to detail, plus the simple fact that the common stigma of 'cartoons' being something primarily for children is virtually non-existent, a number of shows existing that are created primarily for teenage, mature or even adult audiences.
Examples include elements of religion, politics, humanity or lack thereof and other deeper, more abstract concepts. Also the stereotypical 'good versus evil' setting you often see in many cartoons – and yes, this appears in animé too as it is a popular cliché – is blurred in some series until it becomes where it is no longer 'black and white', there is an entire spectrum of points of view and the viewer can sometimes be left wondering which side is truly 'right'.
In comparison, westernised and American 'cartoons' always tended to be targeted towards the 'young child' demographic, as such they often had very simplified story lines (generally your stereotypical “Good guys versus Bad guys” scenario), shallow characters and plot, lastly the animation itself was often very low quality.
Strictly speaking, there is no distinction between animé and cartoons, they are both effectively the same thing at their most basic level, animated productions created to entertain the viewer. Somewhere along the line though, fans started specifically using the term animé to refer to Japanese animated works, while the term 'cartoon' was delegated specifically for westernised shows. Due to traditional cartoons having been in westernised society for a much longer time frame though, a result is that some people see 'no difference' between the two and classify both as childish due to the nature of how they are presented.
With regards to characters, in traditional 'cartoons' there is usually a clear-cut formula, that of a protagonist, an antagonist and a damsel in distress, these characters are usually clearly defined and leave little room for flexibility. In animé, depending on the creator, this formula can become quite varied however, a damsel in distress may have something happen over the course of the story that results in her becoming the antagonist. The antagonist may have a revelation that turns him from being a clear-cut bad guy to more of an 'anti-hero', an antithesis to the protagonist. As a result fans are drawn deeper into the story due to the characters personality and charm, rather than cut-and-paste slapstick that is primarily there for laughs.
A perfect example of this is the animé and manga known as Death Note. The protagonist-turned-anti-hero, Light Yagami, obtains a 'Death Note', essentially a 'Death Gods Notebook', that allows him to cause the death of a person that he writes the name of upon its pages 40 seconds or later after it being written down. Upon first obtaining the book he focusses on using it to eliminate criminals from the face of the earth to create a utopia where only good and decent people live. However his personality slowly becomes more warped and twisted by the power of the notebook until he wishes to become the 'new god' of the world he envisions and essentially becomes that which he set out to stop in the beginning.
A common occurrence that happened in earlier years that I touch upon in my biographies is censorship. Due to differences in moral point-of-view, social stigmas and legalities between Japanese and American society, certain aspects that are openly permitted to be depicted in animé can often be heavily censored.
This censorship can take many forms, such as airbrushing weaponry out or removing it completely – an example of this being that a character holding a gun may be altered so it looks like they are simply pointing angrily, depictions of blood or injury to characters are often heavily edited so that the visible blood is removed or the scene is removed completely, sometimes resulting in a visibly disjointed scene – someone may be shown as rushing at another character, the scene then abruptly cuts to the one that was hit laying several feet away.
Lastly, and this is probably the biggest source of controversy, most depictions of sexuality or revealing characters are often either removed or the age of the character in question is artificially increased. This is due to differences in 'legal' ages between countries, the 'age of consent' in America being 16-18 in a number of states, while in Japan is, amazingly, a mere 13 years of age, though this varies by prefecture – but I digress.
In recent years the western market has become more competitive, with shows that are designed towards a more mature audience as well as more attention being given to fine detail such as character personality and story lines, though they have a very long way to go before they will come close to matching some of the masterpieces that have been released from Japan by creators like Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
Sailor Moon is a “bishoujo” (lit. 'beautiful girl') manga and animated series that was created in 1991 by Japanese mangaka Naoko Takeuchi. It is focussed largely around the adventures of the protagonist, Usagi Tsukino, who becomes known by the name Sailor Moon and her four friends, Ami, Rei, Makoto and Minako.
The story is very well developed and develops the characters very well, revealing deeper emotions and aspects of each major characters psyche and showing them overcoming them and growing stronger as the series develops. Recurring motifs that appear frequently in the series include Astronomy and mysticism, Greek and Roman mythology, Japanese elemental themes and Astrology just to name a few.
While this series was initially designed with younger teenage females in mind, to a lesser extent it also unintentionally drew in the male teenager demographic with depicted action scenes, plus the attractive protagonists shown.
This series was one of the first animated series to be censored to any substantial degree before it would be accepted into syndication in westernised countries such as America, due to their unfamiliarity with the fact that Japanese animation is not always intended for younger audiences. Up until that time 'western' cartoons had mainly been made for younger audiences and lacked any kind of substantial violence or mature material.
As a result of this, large portions of episodes that contained above what the censors considered a minor level of violence was cut, plus later episodes and even a full series that dealt with the before-mentioned lesbianism were simply not permitted to be screened in syndication.
As a whole, the series is very well thought out, the characters have substantial back story developed throughout their respective story lines, they make good role-models for the early-teen audience the series was originally intended for and the stories always carried underlying morals such as believing in yourself, never giving up no matter how hard things get and similar morals.
Samurai Pizza Cats
Samurai Pizza Cats is an animated series that was created in 1990 by Tatsunoko productions and was one of the first 'animé' to appear on western syndicated television, being licensed and distributed by Saban Entertainment.
Animation-wise, the quality was good for its time, but nothing outstanding, the tone relatively light-hearted which resulted in minimal censoring, but still having enough action to keep viewers interested. In the way of story lines, there was a small 'overarching' aspect, but no major plot, each episode seems to focus on the antagonists latest plan to take control of the city and the actions of the Pizza Cats, or their allies, the “B-Team” in stopping them and the token 'monster-of-the-episode'.
This show was rather well known for its extremely parodic nature and the fact that it referred to pop-culture references (such as a thinly-veiled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference in the opening theme) and having character names like Speedy Servicè (pronounced ser-vee-chay, but is quite obviously a play on Speedy Service), Polly Ester, Big Al Dente and Seymour “Big” Cheese.
Another aspect that made this show stand out is that it was from an era when Japanese shows were just starting to make themselves known on western television alongside shows like Voltron, Thunder Cats and other nostalgic shows.
During the translation of this show from Japanese to English, often the original translations were very poor or simply non-existent, resulting in almost complete re-writes of episodes with quite strongly contrasting scripts when compared to shows released today, plus also contributing to one line in the opening theme which literally says “As soon as someone finds the script we might begin the show!”
While it was not a particularly outstanding show for its time and the characters were not designed to be overly memorable, it was still a good show and pieced together sufficiently enough to keep ones attention from beginning to end.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a “Mecha” genre series that was created in 1995, envisioned by designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and created by Japanese studio Gainax. It is also currently being re-envisioned and re-released as a series of four movies, entitled “Rebuild of Evangelion”.
The series won several awards for its time, including “Best Loved Series” for 3 years running, “Best Female Character” for 2 years and “Best Song” for 3 years, all in the Anime Grand Prix poll. In contrast, the male protagonist was seen as unnecessarily whiny and 'effeminate' by many viewers, though this was rectified in the 2006 re-envisioning of the series. The series as a whole also largely revolutionised the Mecha genre, with some later animations drawing inspiration from it.
The series is set in the year 2015, 15 years after an incident in the year 2000 called “Second Impact”, a global cataclysm that destroyed the the entirety of the Antarctic circle and resulted in wiping out half of the population on earth. Humankind has developed giant biomechanical robots, codenamed “Evangelion”, piloted by selected 14-year old children against a threat of beings known only as 'Angels', their key goal being to trigger a “Third Impact” which would result in the complete extinction of Mankind.
This series, while popular, was also extremely controversial as it used a lot of religious references, including references to the Dead Sea Scrolls (A reference to Judaism), the book of genesis and the biblical apocrypha (references to Judeo-Christianity) and to the systema sephirotica, also known as the 'tree of life'.
In general the series itself was praised and considered a commercial success, however the lacklustre 'original' final 2 episodes of the series that were created resulted in substantial backlash and criticism, leaving some fans feeling confused and alienated by the drastic shift in tone and style compared to the previous 24 episodes. As a result, at a later point in time the final 2 episodes were re-envisioned as a double-feature, named “Death and Rebirth”, as a lead-in to the movie “End of Evangelion”.
This story is one that depicts a society which is inhabited by both people and humanoid computers, named 'persocoms', which are physically indistinguishable from humans apart from a pair of 'ears' which hold their power and audio/visual cables, as well as varying levels of relationships with them, ranging from those who purely use them for professional and business purposes, to those that develop intimate relationships – a topic that comes up in the later part of the series being 'where should the line be drawn?'
The series tells the story of a student named Hideki who is attempting to qualify for university by attending a preparatory school in Tokyo. One evening on his way home, he happens across a discarded persocom among a pile of trash and proceeds to carry her home, intent on making use of her.
A major part of the plot is focussed around Hideki attempting to teach Chi speech and appropriate behaviours and mannerisms, while also trying to make some sense of his developing feelings for her, unable to decide if such emotions are 'proper'. At the same time, Chi seems to be developing feelings for Hideki, something that is not meant to be possible for a persocom.
While the first half of the series is quite humorous and light-hearted, the later half starts to take a darker tone focussing more on the romantic and emotional aspects, with more of Chi's past being revealed to the viewer or reader.
The animation of the series, the storyline and characters are all of high quality, the characters being likeable and memorable. The creators have put a lot of time and care into the project, this showing by the way that the storyline, the believable characters and the artwork all come together into a high-quality series.
Yu-Gi-Oh (literally “King of Games)”) is a series created by mangaka Kazuki Takahashi and published by Shueisha and Viz Media.
In this series, Takahashi has skilfully created a story about an 'average' middle-school student known as Yugi Mutou, who was given the pieces of a several-millenia-old ancient Egyptian artifact known as the 'Millennium Puzzle' by his grandfather. After managing to reassemble the puzzle, he becomes host to an 'alternate personality' that is in truth the spirit of a 5,000 year old Pharaoh with no memories of his past.
As well as having clearly defined antagonists in the major story-arcs, this series also makes use of an antagonist-turned-anti-hero as well as a character that starts out as an antagonist due to being possessed by an evil spirit but later becomes a friend of the protagonist.
The series was created originally with younger audiences in mind, and focussed on themes such as communication between friends, the power of friendship and believing in yourself, but held elements that were edited from the 'syndicated' American version, most depictions of religion were edited out (such as a card with a picture of a hexagram on it being deliberately edited, as well as a reference to the 'Ouija board' being changed to 'Destiny board'), any semblance of sexuality or maturity being altered, such as female characters being edited to have extra clothing, lastly almost all references to death or injury being removed; in the original series there is several situations where a character is at risk of being killed or injured, in the dubbed version they are simply at threat of being sent to a place called the 'shadow realm'.
In contrast, the graphic novel version of the series had surprisingly little censoring due to the studio that licensed the series being given more leeway with their efforts, allowing them to keep a decent portion of the original content.
As a result of the difference between the manga and animé mediums, reception was quite varied for the two, the animé version being seen my some as 'dull and uninteresting', while in contrast the manga version is considered 'surprisingly dark and moody'.
Da Capo II
This is a romantic comedy/'harem' series that had a very unusual beginning, in the fact that it was originally what was considered a 'hentai' (literally 'perverted' in Japanese) visual novel. However the characters and storyline were so popular among people that took a liking to it that it was re-released in a more traditional manga, an animé series and several console based games for the Play Station 2.
This series is very different to your traditional animé and manga, often the traditional protagonist/antagonist scenario is clearly visible from the outset or becomes more clearly defined as the story progresses. In this story there is no 'antagonist', or if there had to be one designated, it would be that of an inanimate object, a magical Sakura (Cherry Blossom) tree.
The story starts when one of the key characters, Sakura, makes a wish upon a magical tree that can grant wishes, resulting in the 'birth' of the protagonist, however the tree starts 'malfunctioning' and starts granting all wishes, regardless of how impure they may be. Sakura and one of the key love interests, Otome attempt to handle the problem but it continues to deteriorate until it gets to such a point where they must make a decision of whether or not to save the island they live on by deactivating the tree forever – which will result in the protagonist being erased from existence.
All of the female love interests have strong, well-developed personalities and have their own positive traits as well as quirks, but are also so closely tied together that often one or more of them gets emotionally hurt, drawing the viewer, reader or gamer (depending on the chosen format) in deeper emotionally, lending a sense of what could be considered realism to the series and games.
As this series was originally envisioned as an 'adult' game and visual novel, the subsequent manga and animated series were voluntarily censored during the production process however they are pieced together in such a fashion that the storyline still flows perfectly of its own accord.
The music that has been attached to certain scenes is well placed and suits the scenarios very well, so that one can almost feel for themself what the characters are feeling, whether the music is upbeat and almost comical, or whether it is sad and sweet, meaning one can't help but be drawn deeply into the story.