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Why Japanese animation has such a huge following in the US

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Anime characters from the anime series "One Piece."
One Piece
Anime characters from the anime series "One Piece."

Anime expert and film reviewer Charles Solomon speaks with A Martinez about some of the more popular series that you should be watching.

Japanese animation, or Anime, is a $500 million a year industry. Hundreds of anime movies and TV shows are released each year, but they don't stay in Japan. Many make their way to the U.S. market where they have a sizeable and dedicated following.

Anime expert Charles Solomon joins the show to tell us about some of his favorite anime series, and why Japanese animation is attracting U.S. viewers.

Interview Highlights:

On the who comprises the target audience for Anime in the US:

“Well, it’s mostly attracting younger viewers, anywhere from elementary school through early twenties. There are anime clubs at every university and a lot of high schools. If you go to a bookstore, if you can find one, the Manga aisle with the graphic novels on which a lot of the animation is based, will be littered with teenagers, you know, reading all of these. Because it just offers this unparalleled vision that can go in any direction you want. If you want adventure, you can find it.”

On the animated series "Steins;Gate":

One of the sleeper hits of the year is a time travel spoof called Steins;Gate that’s proving very popular both here and in Japan. You have a soi-disant mad-scientist college student with a couple of friends, a broken-down microwave oven, a cell phone, and a large screen TV. They manage to send text messages back into the past, some of which change actions that affect the present. But the hero, Okabe, is the only one who realizes it. At one point, they send one message back, and suddenly all the Manga and anime stores in their neighborhood disappear and he’s the only one who notices they’re gone. There’s also a plot apparently involving the super exotic high tech physics lab CERN. And they may have created this horrible dystopia in the future, that only he can prevent. So it’s a comedy adventure. It’s something you just can’t think of an American animation studio doing.”

On the long-running pirate-themed anime series “One Piece”:

“It ran for more than 600 episodes. The head of this crew of straw-hat pirates is Monkey D. Luffy, who’s got this kind of golliwog face with a huge grin. And he ate a cursed fruit, a gum-gum fruit, and so now his limbs stretch beyond anything plastic man and elastigirl could have imagined. So he can use that to throw these enormous whipping punches. He can swell himself up like an inflatable balloon, and ricochet bullets back at his enemies, and he and his pirate friends are in search of this fabulous lost treasure, the one piece, that a pirate hid centuries ago and everyone is looking for. And they wander through this weird world in this ship with a silly looking ram’s head, trying to find it, and just stumbling from one adventure into other. It’s silly, it’s funny, it’s sometimes, you know, kind of comic-violent.”

On the series “Tenchi Universe”:

“A very popular series that introduced a genre known as the harem-comedy, where you have this sort of seemingly ordinary guy who is surrounded by all these gorgeous babes who have crushes on him. Tenchi’s name, the characters for it, can be read as either Earth and Heaven or This Side Up. So you can see there is a certain irreverence here. In his case, he seems like an ordinary teenager in a fairly small town in Japan, but he’s actually the long lost crowned Prince of Jurai.”

On female-centric anime:

“They’re called Shojo, the word for girl. These range from the animated equivalent of the old three hanky weeper picture of tragic romances. There’s “Sailor Moon,” you know that was hugely popular here as well, that’s really about teenage girls finding empowerment. There’s another very popular series called “Azumanga Daioh,” that’s just about a group of ordinary girls at a girls high school for one year.”

On anime’s influence on American TV shows and movies:
“The obvious example there is the Matrix, which was inspired in large part by Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. And so that in turn had been partially inspired by Blade Runner. And you’re getting this interesting cross-pollination, where, you know, Blade Runner begets Ghost in the Shell begets the Matrix, then the Matrix begets the Animatrix, which was a group of Japanese animators kind of riffing off on characters in situations from that. If you talk to the artists at Pixar, they say, you know John Lasseter will tell you, ‘when we get stuck on something we go and we watch a Miyazaki movie, even if it has nothing to do with what we’re doing. Just the way he makes film, you know, will inspire us and get us thinking, and we’ll go back to the problem. So yes, I mean, there is some influence. It’s just something that’s kind of happening under the mainstream radar. This doesn’t get a lot of attention in the mainstream press, but it’s what those younger, hipper demographic is watching.”


One Piece:

Tenchi Universe:

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