A Parent's Intro to the Asperger Fascination with Anime
Anime is a very common interest amongst my people. We watch the shows, buy the mangas, sometimes even collect the toys associated with them (when we can find them). We dress up as our favorite characters for conventions, have long debates on the philosophical implications suggested by their alternate realities, and we spend long hours writing fan fiction (some of which is better than others).
For decades now, American companies have been translating Japanese animation and selling it in the States. But these shows never really got further than a small, dedicated audience. In the late nineties, Pokémon became a runaway hit, and American companies started buying up the rights to other anime works for follow the leader projects. Unfortunately, some of the shows they picked for their Saturday line-ups were not the best shows, and the good shows they did have were often compromised by poor translations and editing them for content. Some of the best animes never even made it to network television, but went straight to VHS and DVD release. The result was that the anime market in America was flooded with substandard product. The interest fell and now Anime is just another niche market.
Let’s talk about the difference between the American and Japanese animation. In Japan, they would often have less money to spend on production per episode than American animation, so instead they would draw very detailed outfits, props and backgrounds to make up for the lack of motion in the characters (we like details). To keep the audiences coming back, episodes of a show are usually joined together in long story arcs, with a clear continuity from one episode to the next. This allows writers to spend time developing complex, dynamic characters. By contrast American cartoon episodes might be stand alone adventures that are interchangeable with each other with characters that never change (how much has Bugs Bunny or Batman changed in the last twenty years?). Also most American animation is targeted at children under the age of thirteen, and often targeted exclusively at boys. Most of the American shows targeted directly at teenagers are simple live action sitcoms. A large portion of the Anime out there is targeted at people aged 12 to 18 with many shows specifically targeted at either boys or girls. This genre is practically made for us.
As I mentioned earlier, the rich detail of the artwork has always appealed to me, and I imagine it appeals to other folks on the spectrum too. Just as movie props can become iconic (who among you would not recognize a lightsaber on sight, or Doc Brown’s Delorian?) so too can the props and costumes drawn in Anime. In the show “Attack on Titan,” the author consulted with a scientist to develop a realistic grappling hook system. Another strong drawing point is the music. When I went to college, one of the first ‘advanced’ animes I got into was “Cowboy Bebop,” the score of this show was done my a woman named Yoko Kanno (not Yoko Ono, important distinction). It was brilliant, Ms. Kanno incorporated Jazz, Bebop, Classical, and Rock elements to create gorgeous songs. When you had spent the last four years ingesting generic American pop, it was like going from baloney to angus beef.
What has really made the difference for me in the Anime that I follow is the content. Some of my favorite shows have been Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Code Geass, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. But what really drew me in was that these shows do not treat the issues of life as simple questions with simple answers. They show the complex play of intents and emotions across the field of the ideals we believe in. They ask hard questions about society, religion, and nationalism. They take themselves seriously. Keep in mind that American shows are quite regulated when it comes to censorship. This is also the reason there is much more anime on cable networks (their regulations are much looser than broadcast regulations). The censors are so strict, that often the issues they deal with are the simplest ones: Don’t steal, drugs are bad, be nice to people who are different, etc. Obvious stuff. Inevitably, an individual will need to ask far more complicated questions: How loyal do I have to be to my ideals? Do I have the right to judge others? Should I fight to end a system, or work to improve it?
One writer/director whose work stands above all others is Hayao Miyazaki. His works are distributed by Disney state side, they are so far mostly available on DVD (not on Netflix). If you can find them, I would recommend them. They are brilliant affirmations and celebrations of humanity in the form of rousing adventures.
Here is a helpful list of titles currently available on Netflix for your consideration. Titles better for older kids that parents might want to watch yourself first are marked with *:
Full Metal Alchemist*
Here are other titles currently available on Hulu:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex*
Keep in mind these lists are not comprehensive, you might find other titles perfectly acceptable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Drew Coulter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 1997. He has a B.A. degree in creative writing and an A.A. degree in accounting, works, and lives independently.
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