To understand anime, it is fairly important to have at least a little understanding of Japanese culture itself. Anime and manga are currently produced for an exclusively Japanese audience--authors are often shocked to hear that they have American or European fans--and are thus based on cultural assumptions and references that Americans find puzzling at best. Some important points:
|---The Japanese view of the universe is that it is inherently amoral, unlike the American view, which is that the universe should be fair (and is, on TV). Therefore, good characters can die pointlessly, and evil can win. Also, people are not divided into good and bad--many anime characters are a complex mix of good and evil.|
|---The feeling of mono no aware--that beauty is increased by transience, and that all deep beauty is therefore also sad--has great importance. Cherry blossoms are the classic example; they are all the more beautiful because they are so short-lived.|
|---Loyalty, altruism, and heroism does not have to have a point; it is valuable in itself. Thus, someone dying for the wrong cause is just as heroic as death for the right cause (think of the Children's Crusade and the Charge of the Light Brigade). Dying a heroic death will also not necessarily guarantee success to the survivors--anime characters routinely sacrifice their lives willingly for a cause that may not succeed. This adds greatly to the realism and suspense of anime, since there is absolutely no guarantee that the good guys and true love will win.|
|---Symbolism is used more in Japan than it is in the West, and the symbols are completely different than Americans are used to. For example, imagine a scene showing a girl walking under blossoming cherry trees. You might notice that it is spring, and if you thought about it, you might decide that the girl is growing up and has a full future ahead of her. This would be only partly correct; the girl will most likely die heroically, and soon. Other symbols are more like shorthand; a boy shown with a nosebleed is understood to be sexually aroused (and if the nosebleed explodes all over his face...well, you can figure it out).|
|---Traditional Shinto and Buddhist stories are often referenced or used in anime storylines. It is extremely difficult for Westerners to understand all the nuances of meaning in many anime series, but luckily, you can muddle along with only a little knowledge.|
|What's with the big eyes?|
Back in the early days, shojo manga (for girls, but written by men) focused almost exclusively on emotion. The characters all had big eyes, the better to communicate with. Now that the lines have blurred, big eyes have become a trademark. They connote sensitivity; the bigger the eyes, the nicer and more sensitive the person. Usually.
Why do obviously Japanese characters look Caucasian, with brown and blond hair (not to mention pink and blue...)?
Again, back in the early days of the 60's and 70's, women artists started to write shojo manga. They wanted their female characters to be strong and do interesting things, but they also had to look traditional and wholesome. So lots of stories were set in a fictional historical West. The characters looked white. Nowadays, the color of hair and eyes has no connection with race; it's just more interesting that way. But characters with black hair are usually good and trustworthy, and blondes are often sneaky or evil--suspect until proven otherwise. In 'Ranma 1/2,' boy-Ranma's black hair is a signal that he is the real Ranma, and that he's really a good person, while girl-Ranma has red hair. Actual Western characters are often denoted by freckles, a big nose, or some other distinctive feature.
What is 'super-deformed' style?
Isn't there an awful lot of sex and violence in anime and manga?
Anime does tend to be more violent and contain more nudity than American TV is willing to show. Keep in mind, however, that most anime is for older people, that what shows up in America tends to be the violent stuff, and that it is not all sex and violence. Notice, also, that violence has consequences--characters die and stay dead, and their friends mourn them. They are often deeply changed by their experiences. It is also worth noting that Japanese society has far less actual violence than the US.