The Magical World of Anime
When I was a kid, I would eat my cereal every single morning before school glued to the TV. The weekly morning kids program was called Cheez TV (I can’t believe I was just able to recall that with such ease from the depths of my memory bank) and one of the cartoon programs they aired was Sailor Moon. My younger sister and I were obsessed.
Sailor Moon was my first introduction to the world of anime, followed closely by Pokemon which was another huge favourite spanning many of my formative years.
It wasn’t until 10 years later when I first watched Howl’s Moving Castle, I stopped and took notice of how starkly different anime is from the Disney/Pixar kids movies I had enjoyed as a child. Japanese anime is a genre all to its own, filled with detailed world building and cultural overtones unique to the East.
It’s not fair to compare the anime genre with the western equivalent of children’s cartoons because anime is so much more than merely a genre for kids.
I didn’t see Howl's Moving Castle on the big screen because it wasn’t showing anywhere in my area and thinking back on it now, I can’t recall how I first stumbled across it. All I can remember is how utterly in love I fell with the films sense of adventure. A spirited female hero who is flawed yet determined, a charming love interest who is prideful and tormented. I don’t think I had seen anything quite like it before. The story resembled a faint echo of many of the Disney princess movies I loved but somehow it was all turned around. It was unique both culturally and in it's approach to storytelling.
Howl's Moving Castle set me on a brand new path of anime discovery. Starting with watching as many Studio Ghibli films as possible like the Oscar winning Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke to name a few. I have enjoyed seeking out anime TV and movies ever since.
When fellow film critic and youtuber Chris Stuckmann asked me to contribute an essay for his new book about my passion for anime, of course I jumped at the opportunity.
Following the success of his previous book The Film Buff's Bucket List, Chis's new book Anime Impact would be a showcase of the anime genre and it's powerful impression left on fans of the medium throughout the decades. From the 1960's to the present, the book would gather some of the biggest names in the anime world along with anime fans to contribute essays about the TV shows and movies that impacted their lives.
My two chosen titles to write on were the studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and the Mamoru Hosoda film The Boy and the Beast (2015). Two starkly different films, from different time periods and studio houses but with cultural themes and visual storytelling which exemplifies the power of the anime genre. They also happen to be two films which I personally love.
I am so thankful to have been asked to contribute to this fantastic book and to be included among such talented and established anime fans from across many industries and platforms.
"Charting anime's path from cultural oddity to cultural staple was fascinating."
An excerpt of my essay featured in Amine Impact follows here:
A giant magical panda-rabbit is the leader of Japan’s most beloved animation house, Studio Ghibli. Adorning the company logo since 1990, Totoro, a character from My Neighbour Totoro (1988) is both awe inspiring in presence and cute enough to enthuse hordes of children to buy the plushy doll. So how did this fluffy make-believe monster-spirit become the face of an internationally renowned film studio?
Studio Ghibli is a name synonymous with animation. It’s right up there behind the power house American studios of Walt Disney and Pixar. Yet the approach and tone for telling children’s stories, and I do mean ‘children’s stories’ and not necessarily stories explicitly for children, is a cultural world apart. Ghibli’s animations turn away from the glossy sheen of singing princesses and chiselled-looking princes, they are still tales of transformation and wonder but of a different nature. Being grounded in the reality of time and place makes their power all the more magical. As such, they are touches of the supernatural intertwined among the real-world tough lessons of growing up. Even when the world setting is entirely fictional, the foundations of these films grow heavily from the traditions of Japanese culture, religion and folklore. The influential father of Studio Ghibli, Hayako Miyazaki birthed a genre through the 1980’s and subsequent decades of animated storytelling, the likes of which the world had never seen.
While Miyazaki’s debut feature Nausicca Valley of the Wind (1986) is an action adventure on the environmental human impact, his second directed film My Neighbour Totoro takes a much lighter approach to similar themes. First released in cinemas as a double feature behind the more sombre Grave of the Fireflies (1988), My Neighbour Totoro, while not the most financially popular of his filmography, is still hailed as one of his most notable works primarily because of the lovable toothy grinned Totoro character. A character which adds magic and light heartedness into more mundane subject matter not commonly aimed at children. It’s these fantastic elements set amongst a coming of age sisterhood which makes My Neighbour Totoro such an understated success.