By Adeline Zhao
For some of us, anime seemingly popped up on the screen one day and dragged us into a whole new world where the spectrum of natural hair colours is wider than the rainbow. The Japanese-style cartoon does seem to belong to a niche market, but it is a globally growing industry becoming mainstream. There’s an indulging, healing power in watching anime: It’s different. It’s relaxing. You pick up fun facts from time to time. But when people ask me what the appeal of anime is, I find it hard to produce an answer other than: ‘Because it’s just amazing’.
I started watching anime when my ‘8th-grader syndrome’ began to fade away. You know when early teens believe they had hidden magical knowledge or secret super powers? That is, until being told that we were too old to believe in dragons. Some children grew up and faced reality: I can’t be the greatest wizard, but I can become a marketing manager. Some others looked at the stars and thought: I just want an adventure. Desperate to hide from looming adulthood, I was one of the latter – anime provided a deviation from daily norms.
It’s more than just a genre, though: anime is an art form that integrates various cultural, historical and religious ideas from Japan and other societies. Everyone can find a subgenre in anime that accommodates their fantasies. Action, rom-com, drama, magic, mecha… you name it! You’re allowed to believe in anything when it comes to anime! We can immerse ourselves in a vivid realm of imagination when watching anime, and imagination is beyond all barriers of age, class, language and culture.
I love anime because it’s so much more than just light entertainment. It can take the most whimsical story whilst giving us space to reflect on our complex selves, overwhelmed in this rapidly-changing world. Social media and cancel culture flatten people into grayscale images. It’s no better in mainstream films or series, where characters are constantly caught between a moral dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Sometimes, producers try to round them out by adding a small dose of extra personality. Unfortunately, it’s not very convincing when the villain is an ‘evil person’ who tries to destroy the universe… but loves his son and breakfast pancakes. The audience craves for diversity away from stereotypes, something more complicated, something real.
Luckily for us, there is less of a clear-cut distinction between good and evil in anime. Many are based on serialised, longer manga, which gives space to individuate each character. When a two-dimensional figure is imbued with stories and experience, that endows it with authentic emotions, whether they’re a he, she, they (or Hange Zoë). The anime may not be able to present all the storylines in the manga, or profile each character in great depth, but a comprehensive background gives characters integrity and purpose. After all, a complicated anime character is a realistic one – we empathise with them no matter how fantastical the setting is. Even animated 2D dragon riders and starship drivers can seem more genuine than some big-shot celebrities.
I thought of many possible endings for this article, but I’ve decided to end it with a personal story. I, a twenty-year-old student, shed tears when I rewatched Pokémon – the friendship between Jessie and Blissey is truly touching. Pokémon made me feel like she was a sister to me. Her struggle is so real: she grew up in a poor foster home, rejected by almost every single job she truly liked, left heartbroken by a series of boyfriends. She wanted to connect with people more than anything, but she had to push her long-lost friend Blissey away so Blissey would not be punished for giving food to starving members of Team Rocket.
I cried when Jessie whispered “it will be our secret”, as if I were part of the pact. That scene reminded me of my childhood friends and our promises of forever when we huddled together under a blanket, watching kids TV every other weekend. I haven’t seen many of them since I left for the UK and won’t be able to see them till next summer.
Nonetheless, that day I reunited with Jessie. The episode ignited an ineffable joy in my heart. For those 20 minutes, I felt at home and became a child once more, surrounded by the warming memory of the past. That is the beauty of anime. It is there for everyone, yet it is so personal.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova