Why anime is so much more than meets the eye
And why it is not for children!
Ok, well, maybe some are, but still, hear me out!
Contrary to popular opinion among fans of live-action film and TV that prefer not to give it the time of day, anime is not just for children. While many of us, growing up, may remember the pursuits of Ash and his trusted Pokémon Pikachu, journeying across regions reflecting Japan, the United States and France, or witnessed Vegeta’s memorable call of “it’s over 9,000!” upon discovering his adversary Goku’s insane power levels, most non-anime lovers have not really scratched the surface of what anime actually is. Ironically, even familiar series such as Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon, feature content many, at least upon further inspection, wouldn’t be so quick to deem appropriate for children.
I remember an occasion several years ago where I entered into a debate with a friend of mine over whether or not anime was overrated. I contested that it was saturated with lazy, child-friendly themes that were often just insignificant filler to the more ridiculous (in my view at the time), over-the-top and unrealistic fight scenes. And while my friend adamantly argued that anime was far more than just an assortment of wrongfully labelled, child-friendly animation, I was just as conversely adamant that it was nothing more than an array of rudimentary-themed, unrealistic cartoons. Boy, was I wrong.
Naturally, if you’re someone that finds it difficult to look past the animated aesthetic, and have subsequently formulated a pre-conceived idea of what anime is, then you probably haven’t taken the time to delve into the vast catalogue of anime available. Which, by the way, is completely understandable… but that’s why I’m here, to inform you about what you’re missing out on and to simultaneously convince you that anime is the single greatest form of entertainment known to man! Ok, so that was definitely hyperbole, but I am going to do my level best to explain why you should give anime a chance.
So, how did I go from playfully teasing friends over their anime consumption to watching so much anime on a week-to-week basis some may assume I have nothing better to do with my time? Well, that’s easy, I simply did what I’m asking you to do: I gave anime a chance.
As I alluded to earlier, anime, antithetical to what many believe, features offerings that are not appropriate for children. In fact, even anime about children isn’t always suitable for younger audiences. Take Made in Abyss for example, which sees its young protagonist Riko journey into a colossal chasm, which surrounds her home city of Orth, in search of her missing mother, the White Whistle, Cave Raider, Lyza.
If you were to look no further than the poster for this particular anime, you would more than likely be convinced that it features a child-oriented story of expedition and discovery. When in actual fact, it is a heart wrenching, emotionally investing, and at times, harrowing exploration of the difficulties faced by orphan children, the dire consequences of scientific discovery at the expense of human consideration, and the unyielding desire to protect the ones we love. It also features some of the most graphic and difficult to watch scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime, but thankfully, these scenes exist without seeming gratuitous, or unnecessary, and do not come at the expense of sacrificing the anime’s artistic integrity for the sake of ‘shock factor’.
Made in Abyss is just one example of how misleading an anime’s aesthetic can be. Another anime released earlier this year that has the same deceptive, if you will, aesthetic is Wonder Egg Priority. Much like with Made in Abyss, if you can look past the fact that the anime is centred on the individual and interlaced stories of four teenage girls (and the awful title! What were they thinking?), you’ll be treated to one of the most complex and thought-provoking animated series in the anime catalogue.
Unlike the anime Western audiences with little interest in the product are aware of, built around mind-blowing fight scenes, over-the-top dialogue, and terribly conspicuous exposition, Wonder Egg Priority addresses a variety of far-reaching and relatable themes throughout its initial twelve-episode run. As we witness protagonists Ai, Neiru, Rika, and Momoe embark on a journey to discover the individual catalysts for the suicides of a number of teenage girls, writer Shinji Nojima forces us to consider a myriad of the difficulties encountered by young girls in their adolescence. Such themes range from adhering to society’s ever-changing (and ridiculous) beauty standards, to detrimental celebrity obsessions, to self-harm as a result of bullying; Wonder Egg Priority even goes as far as addressing the consequences of molestation and paedophilia – all of which, I think you would agree, is not aimed at children.
Impressively enough, despite its complex premise and comprehensive themes, Wonder Egg Priority avoids entering into ‘uncomfortable’ territory, and instead manages to be a deeply investing anime that is brilliantly written, and features some truly profound storytelling.
And speaking of ‘brilliantly written’ anime, it would be completely remiss of me not to mention one of the greatest anime series ever made: Attack on Titan. The story follows young Eren Jaeger, as he embarks on a mission to lift humanity from the brink of extinction at the hands (or more accurately: mouths!) of an unfathomable race of gigantic, man-eating humanoids known as Titans.
When it comes to storytelling and character development, many would argue there is none better than the genius that is, Hajime Isayama. Isayama’s Attack on Titan has gained worldwide popularity for its incredible attention to detail, impressive character depth, and splendid interconnecting story arcs that are as entertaining as they are thought provoking. Notwithstanding it’s far-reaching appeal, Attack on Titan is easily one of the most intricate anime series available to Western audiences. Although the series is free from ‘fan service’ (scenes which add nothing to the overall plot and exist solely to be "visually pleasing"), and (excessively) inappropriate language, it does feature some eminently gruesome depictions of injury and death, as well as many complex themes far too layered for younger audiences to completely comprehend - just ask that 12-year-old cousin of yours why they're so adamant Attack on Titan is “dead”. Chances are, they didn’t understand it!
Isayama also expertly incorporates references to historical events throughout the series, adding depth and relevance to its many themes, and subsequently heightening the ‘stakes’. In one such instance we are introduced to a community of people that are forced to wear a mandatory armband designed, not only to be a method of identification mandated to segregate said body of people from the wider community, but also to reinforce their status as the inferior race. This is quite clearly symbolic of the treatment members of the Jewish faith received in Nazi-Era Germany during Adolf Hitler’s tyrannical term as the country’s leader, whereby Jews, between 1939 and 1945, were expected to wear a compulsory yellow badge as an identity marker.
And such an example is but one of many employed throughout Isayama’s ingenious work, with other historical references drawn from Qur’anic inspiration or biblical scripture. Not only do the Titan’s themselves appear to be drawn from historical accounts of large, dominant, awe-inspiring nations of the past, but it also appears that Attack on Titan's very first episode reflects religious tradition regarding the terrifying tribes of Gog and Magog, whom once caused chaos and corruption on the Earth before being halted and made to reside behind an enormous barrier, and, per Islamic eschatology, will one day return towards the end of time, having breached the wall, to once again leave destruction and devastation in their wake - at the onset of Attack on Titan the outermost wall has been erect and stable for over one hundred years before the Titan’s breach it. Even if Isayama himself were to deny that he has taken inspiration from the Qur’an or biblical scripture, you would be hard-pressed to find a more reasonable explanation for the similarities found in his body of work.
And so, there you have it, an extremely brief (but I hope insightful) explanation of why anime is not merely for children. Though there is a plethora of additional anime examples I could have very easily mentioned here, I felt it most appropriate to focus on select anime that I believe is either aesthetically ‘misleading’, or greatly popular with large audiences (including children) despite its thematic complexities. I hope you now have a better understanding of what makes anime so appealing to mature audiences, and will, if you haven’t already, finally give anime a chance; just like I did several years ago before my subsequent conversion from staunch anime “hater” to staunch (and maybe even a little obsessed) anime fanatic.
About the author
Spoken word artist, screenwriter, writer, aspiring filmmaker and visionary from south London! Founder of poetry-based company Just Rhyme; list writer for Comic Book Resources on all things anime.