Allure of anime

Japanese-style animation draws loyal student fan base

Eric Wolinsky, MEng ‘12, dressed up as Lance from Pokemon and won the Anime Club costume contest this year. He said it took him 20 hours to sew his costume.
Eric Wolinsky, MEng ‘12, dressed up as Lance from Pokemon and won the Anime Club costume contest this year. He said it took him 20 hours to sew his costume.

Otaku is a Japanese word used to describe people with an intense interest in anime.

The word can be slang for “geek,” harboring negative connotations, but this stereotype doesn’t bother devoted fans.

Queen’s Anime Club President Sarah Wolinsky said anime is more popular than people think.

“So many people watch it but don’t talk about it. They think you must be a nerd if you like it,” she said.

Japanese comics, or manga, also incorporate the art form.

Anime has a distinctive style, Wolinsky, ConEd ’12, said.

“There’s certain features that people think of — the enormous eyes, the sparkly background,” she said. “It’s like sex appeal … you can’t describe what it looks like, but you know it when you see it.”

Anime often exaggerates physical features.

Characters in television programs Sailor Moon and Pokemon are drawn in typical anime style, she said.

Anime has been an integral part of Japanese culture since the end of the Second World War.

“It’s a huge industry, especially in Japan, and it’s ingrained in their culture,” Wolinsky said.

Anime has become a Japanese export though.

Members of the Queen’s Anime Club dress up as their favourite characters and critically analyze what they watch.

“We talk about themes, character development, stories … this is especially fun when series are in the process of running,” Wolinksy said. “We provide a really fun alternative Friday night.”

An annual field trip for the club is the Anime North convention in Toronto in May.

It’s one of the largest conventions in Canada and attracted more than 5,000 fans. It’s fan-run and features costume contests, panel discussions, dances and presentations.

In essence, anime fandom is about personal enjoyment, Wolinksy said.

Anime films have inspired several popular North American movies.

“Inception was inspired by Paprika, and Black Swan was inspired by Perfect Blue,” Wolinsky said.

Anime can also be intellectually challenging, she said, adding that Serial Experiments Lain serves as an example of a thought-provoking anime-series. The TV series, which aired in 1998 in Japan and has a Playstation spin-off, explores a young girl’s involvement with the Wired, a communications system similar to the Internet.

The show explores philosophy, alienation, theology, existentialism and conspiracy theory.

Because anime can now be found on the Internet, the Queen’s Anime Club focuses on the social aspect of watching it, Wolinsky said.

“A lot of anime these days is torrented, but in the past the only way people could see it was on VHS,” she said. “But it’s become so social. We all get together and watch it and yell at the screen.”

The Queen’s Anime Club also gathers to play board games on Sunday afternoons at 4 Colour 8 Bit, a comic and video game store on Princess Street.

“On a given night we’ll have about 30 people show up, but we have 50 members and about 100 people in the Facebook group.”

Wolinsky can count on anime to lift her spirits. She started watching Dragon Ball Z when she was in Grade 6, but it wasn’t until Grade 9 that she became more interested in anime. It’s an interest that has stayed with her.

“When I’m in the middle of exams and miserable, I’ll watch an episode of anime and everything’s a bit better,” she said.

Queen’s Anime Club doesn’t just appeal to students, though.

Kingston resident Heather Brennan has been a member of the club since its inception in 1995.

She said it began with an informal gathering in Victoria Hall.

“I’m a townie, I heard about it by accident. I noticed the posters and thought I hadn’t seen anime in a while,” the 47-year-old said. “I’ve been a longstanding member and served as a secretary.”

Brennan, originally from Montreal, was first exposed to anime as a child.

“It used to be shown on TV in the early days,” she said.

But anime isn’t just for children.

Within anime, there are several genres that feature elements inappropriate for children.

“There’s historical, fantasy, comedy, horror,” Brennan said, adding that this is something that differentiates anime from North American cartoons geared towards children.

“Sometimes it’s the style or the character development that’s more interesting than American fare.”

Anime even includes a pornographic genre called Hentai. The term is a shortened term of the Japanese word for sexual perversion. However, there’s stigma surrounding the use of the word in Japan, so a designation of H or 18-kin is used to categorize sexually explicit content.

“It’s a cheap form of getting pornography to the masses, and animation is easier than live action,” Brennan said.

Anime also refers to various kinds of animation, she said.

“It depends on the artists. All artists have different styles,” she said.

“Some of it is more realistic, when some of it is about the big eyes. If you look at babies, they have big wide eyes, so the more wide-eyed the heroine is, the more approachable they are. The more individualized they are, the more sinister they look.

“If you look at North American comics ... there’s a certain way heroes look, and a certain way that villains do.”

In terms of characterization, anime often adheres to stereotypical gender roles, Brennan said.

“You have the poor guy who has girls fawning over him and he’s clueless. It can be hilarious, but it gets tedious,” she said.

The 2002 anime film Spirited Away defied gender stereotypes with a strong, female protagonist.

To date, Spirited Away is the highest-grossing film in Japan and became the first anime film to win an academy award for Best Animated Feature.

It tells the story of a young girl who must work to free her parents from captivity in an alternate reality.

The marketing of anime largely determines its audience, Brennan said. She said Spirited Away was marketed poorly to North American children.

“Lots of kids didn’t know about it, it should’ve been marketed better. Many commercials for it focused on the art house aspects … but kids didn’t know they’d still relate to the story.”

Preconceived notions of anime are often deconstructed once people are exposed to it, Brennan said.

“I’ve shown my mother, who’s in her 70’s, some stuff and she enjoys some of it,” she said. “She said it’s actually good storytelling … like I’ve been saying all along.”

Being a member of the Queen’s Anime Club for over 20 years has kept Brennan in the know about all aspects of anime.

“It keeps me young. I wouldn’t have known about certain things about anime if these people hadn’t told me,” she said.


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