Comics course encourages sampling of anime television

Cartoons always seem to get a bad rap. They’re too violent, mind-numbing and I shouldn’t sit so close to the TV while watching them, my mother used to say.

I didn’t watch every cartoon out there when I was a kid, either. I was into the classics like “Rugrats” and “Rocket Power.”

And, like nearly everyone I know who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, I had a fanaticism for “Pokémon.” The universe, the stories and the animation were unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Back then, I had a basic acceptance that “Pokémon” had been adapted for American television after first being successful in Japan.

But, as the years passed, the Pokémon brand grew to ridiculous money-grubbing heights and I matured out of the trend. The Japanese animation style that initially I only associated with Pokemon expanded with the birth of new shows like “Digi-Mon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh.” It was too late, however; I was too old for such overt children’s entertainment.

Which brings me  to this semester. Currently enrolled in Comics and Culture, I’ve been a part of discussions about the role of manga in Japanese culture. Manga, the Japanese equivalent of comic book serials, had an enormous impact on animation. In fact, the pacing and storylines translated so well that oftentimes the cartoon was produced by lifting the manga right off of the page.

Despite the stereotype in this country that cartoons and comics are predominantly aimed toward children, Japanese manga bucks that trend; there is truly a story, theme or character suited for every audience.

In class, Dr. Vohlidka introduced us to “Bleach,” an anime that chronicles the adventures of Ichigo, a teenager who can see evil spirits and thus joins the league of Soul Reapers. “Bleach” is available on Hulu, and I highly recommend it, but during Fall Break I decided to give another piece of manga-turned-anime a shot: “Fullmetal Alchemist.”

At first I worried that I was only wasting my time by watching this anime. A friend had tried to introduce me to “Fullmetal Alchemist” in high school, and I remember thinking that it was boring simply because it was “another Pokémon”; same animation style, different day. And besides, all cartoons were childish, right?

Boy, was I mistaken. I saw subject matter in “Fullmetal Alchemist” that, if I was a parent, I would not want my kids to see, even in a cartoon. Child sacrifice and a serial killer made it into back-to-back episodes. The suspense hooked me while watching these episodes, of course, but in terms of what themes and images they explored, I was stunned.

Never before had I seen such obvious adult-themed cartoons. Sure, shows like “South Park” or “Family Guy” have pushed the rating meter to the ceiling, but what rules they break they do in the guise of satire, not seriousness.

I guess I’d never quite understood what creative ingenuities Japanese manga and anime had to offer, but I’m glad I came to my senses.



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