It was actually some comments on my “Why We Watch Anime” post that got me thinking about this. Part of how some people perceive anime that separates them from the average anime viewer, I feel, is their perception that anime is an art form on the level of painting or literature or music. I don’t necessarily feel that this perception is wrong, but just as my post probably was only suited towards analyzing the behavior of the average anime watcher (opinions may vary on this), I feel that the perception of anime as an art form is also perhaps taking only a subsection of the masses of anime series out there and viewing them in that form.
I think it’s extremely difficult to find a proper definition of art in my view, as I think that everyone’s perception of what art is differs. I would say that art in its most general definition is just the creation of objects of aesthetic pleasure. In that regard, anime is, in its most general sense, art. Anime appeals to the aesthetic sense of its viewers. That, I would say, is a universally accepted fact.
But I feel that there are much more specific types of art that divides anime just as it divides art. In that regard, I’m talking about the difference between (these are self-made terms here) Avant-garde anime, creative anime, and commercial anime. I think that these names are rather self-explanatory, but just some quick definitions: Avant-garde anime is a series that is created with the idea of inquiry. It asks us to examine something within us, and examine our existing beliefs. Creative anime is created for the purpose of telling a story. It doesn’t necessarily challenge our fundamental assumptions. Commercial anime is created for, obviously, marketing. I feel that there are more animes that fall under the realm of commercial art as opposed to the other two categories.
In many regards, that is how I see the “moe boom” in recent history. Commercialized anime wasn’t really a reality until fairly recently. For the most part, anime was created as a means to weave an elaborate story, but as people realized the profit that could be made from the anime industry, more and more anime were created for the purposes of making money. I certainly don’t think that this era of commercialized anime is anywhere near over. Just looking at the sales of DVDs of Bakemonogatari and Evangelion 2.22, and the sales of Singles that were created for the purpose of anime (I’m looking at you My Song, My Beats! and Crow’s Song), I think that is a clear signal that demand is as high as ever for animated goods. Just look at AIC and the shows they’re producing for the Summer season. What’s that, like 6 shows or something? Ridiculous.
Dude are you kidding me? You produce enough bad shows already!
Anyway, I digressed a little bit. In the comments from my “Why We Watch Anime” post, there were people who posited three different views on why anime isn’t escapist. The first was that anime is pure entertainment, the second was that anime makes you think, and the third was that anime adds another bit of experience to your life. But the question that we have to ask is: What animes do you watch? What animes caused you to think that way? Are you a K-On! lover? Are you a Nodame Cantabile fan? Or do you exclusively watch shows like Ergo Proxy? Those three shows, I feel, are good representations of the three types of art that I stated in a previous paragraph. K-On! would be the commercial anime, Nodame the creative anime, and Ergo Proxy the Avant-garde anime.
While I think there might be some dispute over these categorizations, I feel that they’re appropriate. Most purely moe and harem shows are, I feel, a product of this commercialization of anime that has occurred in recent history. They don’t tell a tale at all, they’re just “feel good” types of animes. They’re akin to Kitsch – merely reproductions that lack any sort of self-expression from the director at all.
For God’s sake the song is terrible AND you reused the same animation 3 freaking times!
But I should probably move off the topic of commercialized anime as that is a topic that I rage about frequently (plus I’ve digressed twice into discussions about them!). Anime as an art form is a mix of painting, music, and film. It incorporates elements from each of those types of art into crafting its own identity. Going off of Chronolynx’s definition of originality, anime is indeed an original art form, one to be placed alongside other mediums of art.
Different types of art have different rationale behind their creation, and so does anime. We can trace a clear difference behind the works of Yuasa Masaaki versus Hiraike Yoshimasa (director of Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-Chan!! and Working!! if you didn’t know ). That’s how I differentiate between the three different types of anime that I outlined above. What is the director’s intention when producing this anime? I believe that every director has a motivation for creating an anime. I also feel that you can clearly tell their intentions when you watch their work. Of course that’s a completely subjective feeling. You might feel that K-On! is a creative anime, or you might even deny the existence of a commercial anime completely.
Regardless, no matter how you slice it, I will never feel that K-On! or Working! can be considered an art on the level of Texhnolyze or Evangelion. Those animes set out with a clear goal – to show something about human nature. I can’t find the same meaning anywhere in K-On! To me, watching K-On! is like viewing another piece of post-modernist art. The first time someone just drew a box with a dot in it, that was really cool. The first time someone just put a urinal in the Louvre, that was really interesting. It said something about the evolution of human thought. Now though, you can literally put a pencil on top of paper and call it “art”. You can put a brick as an art exhibition and call it “art”. That type of art is not avant-garde or even creative art.
I believe that creative art must speak to the mind and stimulate thought in ways that haven’t been explored before. It is not enough to repeatedly ram the same emotion into the viewer numerous times and call it art. That’s why I have a problem with Key. I’ve felt the same emotion about 20 times already. Stop making me feel the same thing. Do something different! I’ve stopped considering Key works art a while ago. At this point, all they do is appeal to the emotional part of my brain, which has literally become numbed by the firing of the same neurons each time I watch a Key work. That’s also why I dislike Naruto and to some extent Bleach. I remember someone mentioning to me that the author of either Naruto or Bleach (forgot which), actually regretted ever writing Naruto/Bleach in the first place. When the author of the manga starts feeling that way, then you know that it’s for purely commercial purposes.
Seriously. I get it. Girls in snow. Move on please.
Yet on the topic of shounen animes, where does my division of animes leave them? I’d characterize them as a mix of commercial art and creative art. While yes, they are original in their own sense, they have never made me consider the world in a new way. I feel that they have been produced to satiate the masses. In a sense, they’re a bit like propaganda. They take the same elements and ram it into the viewer over and over again. That’s not really creative art, but it’s not fully commercialized either. I have a certain amount of respect for a show like FMA, which took the author’s original story and twisted it, but is now going back with Brotherhood to be much more faithful to the original story. Sure there might be an element of commercial success in it, but letting the artist express himself fully is always a path to anime being considered an art.
I probably ranted and digressed quite a bit, but going back to the original reason why I wrote this post – the comments in my previous post. I feel that the reason why you felt that anime isn’t necessarily escapism depends on the type of anime that you mostly watch. If you feel that anime is thought provoking, then you’ve probably watched many Avant-garde animes. If you feel that anime is meant to add on experiences, then you’re probably watching mostly creative animes. And if you feel that anime is purely entertainment, then you’re probably watching mostly commercial, but also some creative animes. But still, there is no denying that anime is an art form, and that it is legitimate. Now whether you agree with me about how I categorize anime as an art, that’s probably a different story.