Visual kei

Weeaboo-hoo: The Sad Side of Fandom

If you spend even a little time reading up on anime fandom you'll run into the term "weeaboo" at some point. You might immediately notice that this term has a rather negative connotation, thrown around as an insult aimed at people who are fans of anime and manga. So what is a "weeaboo" and should you care?

Weeaboos

Where the Weeaboos Roam

The word itself seems to come from 4Chan, that anarchistic image forum known for affecting internet culture in a subtle, subversive way. It's the place where memes are born and people go to empty out the darkest parts of their minds anonymously.

"Weeaboo" describes a person who is obnoxiously obsessed with all things Japan. This usually starts with anime and manga, but goes on to encompass anything with a Japanese label. Such a person begins to irrationally think of everything Japanese as being better. They think Japanese culture is objectively better than their own. Often they want to be Japanese or wish they were born Japanese.

The word actually comes from a Perry Bible Fellowship cartoon where the term was used in a different context as a nonsense construction. The moderators took the word and set up a word filter that would replace the term "Waponese" or "White Japanese" with "Weeaboo". As luck would have it, people simply started using weeaboo instead.

The Weeaboo Stereotype

So what is the profile of a stereotypical weeaboo? One common assertion is that these people interject Japanese words into their normal daily speech. To be clear, they do not necessarily speak Japanese. These are phrases like "baka" (fool or idiot) that might be used often in shows. Such people may want to eat only Japanese or Japanese-style food. They alter the way they dress and how they live in general to be more "Japanese", based on a stereotypical and inaccurate view of Japan.

The problem is that the Japan depicted in popular media such as anime and manga doesn't exactly provide any sort of realistic view of Japanese society. Something that goes over the head of a typical weeaboo is that many anime paint a picture of Japan that caters to the fantasies of Japanese people themselves.

While it is true that Japan is an exceptional country on the modern world stage, it's hardly a utopia. It suffers from its own share of economic and social issues. Japanese society itself is a high-pressure conformist, collectivist system which often clashes with individualist ideas from the West. So while it is perfectly understandable to be fascinated by Japan, the idea that everything Japanese is somehow better is an irrational one.

Japanophiles and Otaku

It's important to understand that the term "weeaboo" means something different from "Japanophile" and "Otaku".

A Japanophile is someone with a love for and interest in Japanese culture, language and history. Just as there are Anglophiles (lovers of English culture) in Japan, there are Japanophiles in the rest of the world. A Japanophile doesn't necessarily care about anime or manga, but might love ikebana, Japanese history, literature or any number of things. The point is that they do not have an irrational, stereotypical view of Japan and certainly don't think it is objectively superior to all other cultures.

The word "Otaku" has a pretty negative meaning in Japan, where it describes anyone who has an unhealthy obsession with a particular topic or hobby. Once again, not specifically when it comes to anime or manga. It could be motorcycles, chess, or sock puppets. Western geek culture has, however, adopted the term Otaku and given it a new meaning. Outside of Japan the word now refers to the collective hardcore anime and manga fandom. It may seem strange to Japanese people that someone would want to call themselves an Otaku, but actually I've seen some indications that Japanese otaku are also embracing the label. I don't know if this is because they see Western fans doing it or because Japan is mirroring the mainstreaming of geekdom, but there's more self-reference these days, from what I can tell.

As you can see, there's a big difference between a weeaboo and either a Japanophile or an Otaku. How socially acceptable it is to be either of those is going to depend on your context. In my opinion, both are totally normal interests.

Ai Haneda

How Not to be a Weeaboo

While most people who like and enjoy anime, even hardcore fans, don't share the irrational viewpoint of the stereotypical weeaboo, that doesn't mean one can't fall into the trap such thinking poses.

The best way not to be a weeaboo is to practice a grownup approach to your hobby. The big problem is that some people are defined by their hobbies, which means that any negativity from the outside can break that bubble of undeserved self-confidence.

Even if you love anime and worship the ground upon which your favorite industry figures walk on, one must realize that there is no such thing as perfection. If you really want to appreciate anime as a cultural product and artifact, then take the time to read about the history of Japan and the culture of its people.

Imagine someone whose entire idea of countries like the US and UK was simply based on their pop-culture outputs. It would be a ridiculous caricature of the real living experience within that nation.

This is not the same as saying you shouldn't be yourself and proudly embrace the things you love without shame. The people for whom the term weeaboo is reserved have taken a simple love of something and mutated it into a social problem - something that puts them at odds with the societies they find themselves in. If your love for anime turns into an obsession that sees people shunning you, then perhaps it's time to rethink your life.


dating sims

Japan's Unique Game Genres

Video gaming is a massive business in Japan and it remains a key industry for the nation. The Japanese have had a massive impact and influence on video games almost right from the start. Some of the most famous and culturally impactful video games of all time are Japanese.

Of course, today the video games industry is a multi-billion dollar international juggernaut and there are few countries that don’t have some sort of game development going on. Despite this, Japan still stands out as a distinct and important player in the industry.

Apart from distinct visuals, Japanese game design differs significantly from that of games made in the West. In fact, many beloved genres are either a Japanese invention or have Japanese versions so distinct that they’re a sub-genre by themselves. So let’s look at some game genres that are inextricably linked to Japan.

japanese arcade

JRPGs

I’ve written a separate article dedicated to Japan’s #1 game genre, but it has to be included here for obvious reasons. JRPGs or “Japanese Role Playing Games” are so Japanese they have to let you know in the title.

Games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire, and a bajillion more all exhibit some seriously unique tropes and designs. While WRPGs or “Western Role Playing Games” tend to be much less linear and more focused on creating your own characters and letting you shape stories, JRPGs are grand adventures that more or less run on rails.

That’s not to say that you aren’t going to have lots of exploring to do. They tend to be massive games that take hundreds of hours to finish, if you are a completionist. Outside of Japan the popularity of JRPGs has waned somewhat over the years, but the Western fanbase for these games remains as hardcore as ever.

Fighting Games

Fighting games are basically just what their name implies: characters whomping on each other. Games like Street Fighter II ruled the arcades in the 80s. With the advent of 90s home consoles, 3D fighters such as Tekken and Dead or Alive ruled the roost. Today there’s a whole host of fighting games that are both traditional 2D fighter (despite having 3D graphics) and fully-rotating 3D games.

What do these games have in common? They are almost all made in Japan. With the exception of titles like Mortal Kombat, almost all the big fighting game franchises are Japanese in origin. Perhaps it’s the thriving arcade scene in Japan that helps them fine-tune these games, but people have voted with their feet and it seems games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 remain darlings of the competitive scene.

A more beautiful world

Visual Novels

Visual Novels aren’t really games in the strictest sense; instead they are branching narratives in the same vein as those old Choose Your Own Adventure games. Propped up by anime-styled graphics and sometimes with game mechanics bolted on to them, these game are pretty popular in Japan and some do well in the West after being translated. Popular visual novels often get adapted to anime. Many are adult-themed, but that’s not universal. Even those that do have adult elements offer a smut-free version these days.

Dating Sims

These games often get confused with visual novels and some visual novels are ALSO dating sims. However, this is a distinct genre of game where the object is to woo and then date a virtual girl. There may be a heavy reliance on story, but it might also be largely absent. Games like Love Plus for the Nintendo DS essentially simulate having a girlfriend who needs interaction from you – sort of like a even weirder take on a Tamagotchi.

Whatever variation of dating sim you can think of, the core of the gameplay is to get the digital ladies and (to a much lesser extent) digital dudes.

“Raising” Games

These are also a pretty unique genre of games that are strongly Japanese. Long before games like the Sims there were games like Princess Maker. I have to admit that I’ve spent more hours than can be healthy playing Princess Maker 2, a game released in 1988.

Today I still dabble in playing a new game titled Long Live the Queen, by Hanako games, a studio that is not Japanese but has made a game that’s a tribute to the genre. That is, until I discovered that Princess Maker 2 had been remastered and is now on Steam. Ahem.

In any case, in these raising games you are tasked with guiding the development of a character, usually a child. You have to decide how they spend their time and what skills and personality they develop. This will help (or hinder) them with the various challenges life presents.

There are usually multiple endings that show you how the character turns out. It’s like raising your own children, but you get to hit the reset button if things don’t work out.

princessmaker 2

Bullet Hell Games

“Bullet Hell” games are also known as shoot ‘em ups and shmups. The original shmup from Japan was Space Invaders, which of course is one of the most famous games in all history. Since then Japan has refined these games into the rather ultra-niche bullet hell games Japanese players know and love. The basic premise is quite simple. You have a ship (or a plane, or a dragon, or whatever, really) that can shoot stuff. It moves along the screen vertically or horizontally. Enemies appear in droves and fire hundreds of projectiles at you. The goal is to evade all the enemy fire while also killing everything.

At the highest level of play the screen is more than half full of projectiles at times. It requires extreme hand-eye coordination and supreme memorization abilities. There are plenty of shmups for casual players, but bullet hell games are a breed apart.

Quiz Games

As I mentioned above, arcades are still thriving in Japan and there is an incredible breadth of arcade games that you’ll hardly ever see in the West. Quiz games are one genre that you’d probably expect at the counter of a seedy bar, but not in the middle of shiny family arcade. Yet arcade quiz games are quite popular in Japan and if you aren’t good enough at Street Fighter to hold your own, perhaps a bit of brainpower can get you a high score.

Japanese quiz games usually have quite an elaborate theme. The one title I have personally played is Quiz and Dragons from Capcom, which got a pretty serviceable PSP port. It looks like a nice pixel art RPG at first, but soon you’ll be trying to answer quiz questions to make it through the hazards of the game. It’s more fun than it sounds.

horror game

Survival Horror

There have been plenty of horror-themed games, but the Japanese put their own stamp on horror gaming from the start. Nostromo by Taito employee Akira Takiguchi is the earliest example I could find. The game is, of course, based on the first Alien film and its ship the Nostromo. Unlike action horror games where the player has the power to fight the monsters, in Nostromo you have to survive by evading the alien and you have limited items to help you. The Japanese prefer psychological horror and it shows in their games. Nothing is more terrifying than when your only real defense is to flee a much more powerful enemy.

That being said, it was the Western game Alone in the Dark that laid the template for modern survival horror. It’s just that the Japanese ran with it and gave us games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, Parasite Eve, Fatal Frame, and more. There are also plenty of excellent Western survival horror games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, and Dead Space. However, Japanese survival horror, like Japanese horror film, has a distinctly different flavor.

Gacha Games

I have a personal dislike for the “Gacha” genre, mostly because it feels like gambling, but many people are addicted to these cute collecting games. It started with arcade machines, but now most Gacha games are on mobile devices.

Basically these games are about collecting cards, characters, or some other humongous set of things. You have to play for gacha tokens and then spend them on spinning what amounts to a slot machine. You then win a randomized prize.

We are starting to see more and more of these games in the West. The Gacha component is usually tied to a more traditional game mechanic. For example, Fire Emblem Heroes has a dumbed-down version of the classic SRPG at its core, but you play with characters you get through the Gacha system. The Transformers card came and most other free-to-play card battlers also use this mechanic to give the players cards.

They make money in a very obvious way. It’s much faster to simply buy credits to spin the slot machine than it is to wait for the trickle of free tries.

Ni no kuni

Monster Battlers

Monster battler games are basically like digital dogfights. Players collect creatures in the game and then use them to fight another creature collector. If that sounds like Pokemon to you, then congratulations on being familiar with the most famous example. Pokemon is still a massive global phenomenon worth billions, but that also means others have tried to muscle in on the pocket monster action.

Digimon is the Pepsi to Pokemon’s Coke, and it has plenty of fans too. However, lately there has been a super-popular addition to this genre called Yokai Watch.

I’ve also seen some games integrate elements of monster battle games into their gameplay. The best example of this is definitely the amazing Ni No Kuni on the PS3, where you also collect monsters and can use them as allies. I don’t think this is a genre that will die quickly.

Monster Hunter and its Clones

I’m not really sure what to call this genre of games, but in Japan it is definitely a thing. Strictly-speaking, the Monster Hunter games are action RPGs, but they are so different from ARPGs in general that I think they should have their own genre. So until something better comes along this is what I will go with.

In Monster Hunter you, er, hunt monsters. It’s not as simple as that though. To hunt this prey you must prepare very carefully and the biggest game cannot be taken down alone. This is a game genre that requires strategy, intelligence, and quick reflexes. This game is one of the reasons the Sony PSP sold so many units in Japan. It is almost certainly the reason why the PS Vita is still actively sold in Japan.

Notable games in this genre include Freedom Wars and Soul Sacrifice – both also on the Vita. The latest Monster Hunter games have come out of the Nintendo 3DS, however, so that’s not a good sign for Sony.

Souls-like Games

This is a pretty new genre to be honest, but it’s clear that it’s going to be a thing going forward so it needs to be on your radar. A few years ago a developer called From Software (no really) created a game called Demon’s Souls. In this game you played a typical RPG character who ventures out into a monster-filled world. However, instead of triumphantly mashing your way through mobs of animated skeletons, the first enemy you encounter hands you your ass. Yep, this was not your typical action RPG. Brutal difficulty and seemingly unfair rules appealed to a very particular type of gamer.

Demon’s Souls was a cult hit, but not a mainstream one. The release of Dark Souls changed all of that and now this rock-hard genre of games has four incarnations (including Bloodborne) as well as several clones.

Japan-Only

There are more niche genres that, well, are probably better left to your own curiosity. These listed genres, however, should give you a good overall perspective. They also happen to be the the ones with the broadest appeal.


hayao miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki: The Simple Comparisons

The easiest way to explain Hayao Miyazaki’s role in the anime industry is to compare him to the legendary Walt Disney in the West. I’m far from the first person to do this, but it does give you a general idea of the type of position he holds in the minds of anime fans. I think the comparison does do him a rather large disservice.

War Baby

Miyazaki was born right in the midst of the Second World War on January 5, 1941. His parents were pretty well off, but the early years of his life were characterized by constant evacuation to escape bombings. Although he was young, this clearly had quite an impact on his formative years.

As a child Miyazaki really wanted to be a mangaka, but apparently he sucked at drawing human figures, which is understandable given that figures are the hardest subject. So instead he drew mechanical things like airplanes. There’s a clear line between Miyazaki and the artists that came before. Legends such as Osamu Tezuka were an inspiration to him.

It’s All Politics

Despite his love of art and eventual obsession with animation in particular, Miyazaki completed university with qualifications in politics and economics, setting him squarely on the path to be a salaryman and perhaps successful businessman one day. Still, during this time he never stopped working in art, even joining the university manga club.

castle in the sky

Toei Infinity and Beyond

That was not to be. In 1963 Miyazaki got a job at the legendary Toei Animation – the same studio responsible for Cyborg 009, Mazinger Z, Devilman, Dragon Ball, and much, much more.

He started out as an “in between” artist. This is the person who creates the frames that go in between animation “key” frames to complete the illusion of motion. Eventually he rose to chief animator and he also met Isao Takahata. The two of them would go on to work together for the rest of their careers.

Miyazaki also published some manga under a pen name and started to really hone his craft under his mentor Yasuo Otsuka. He would stay with Toei until 1971. After this, he and Takahata were hired as directors at A-Pro. They worked on the Lupin the Third Part 1 title. After A-Pro, he move to Zuiyo Eizo, which is where he worked on Heidi, Girl of the Alps.

He would spend the next few years moving from studio to studio and project to project. Then in 1985, the magic finally happened.

The Ghibli Years

Miyazaki is best known for the studio that he founded with Takahata and two other colleagues named Tokuma and Suzuki. It was Studio Ghibli that arguably brought the anime industry to true global attention.

Miyazaki's last feature film was released in 2013, after which he announced his retirement. Between those two points he created an incomparable series of films as director and had a hand in countless other classics. Today he’s still working on shorter pieces and manga, his first love and dream.


anime convention

What Happens at an Anime Convention

This is the age of the geek convention. Almost everywhere in the world there are now multiple annual conventions that cater to geeky subculture. Geek media has become so popular that it might be time to stop thinking of it as a "sub" culture and just accept it as mainstream culture.

Within the greater kingdom of geekdom, anime is still a relatively small player. While most general geek conventions will have some stands dedicated to anime merch and perhaps a few more concessions, the dedicated anime convention is still a different beast entirely. If you're thinking about going to one, here's a short guide to what you might expect, regional weirdness notwithstanding!

convention line

Panels

Panels are a staple of all conventions, anime or otherwise. A panel is simply when a group of people who are of interest to the fandom as a whole are invited to speak. There will usually be an interviewer who asks questions of the panelists and who also moderates questions from the audience.

The difference with anime panels is that the people who show up at Western conventions are often people who handle the Western arm of that production. It will be the localizers, local dubbing artists and so on. It's pretty rare to get someone from Japan to fly out and appear at a convention.

Larger cons do manage this because of a larger attendance and higher ticket prices. They also have to hire an interpreter since most Japanese citizens don't really speak English. The good news is that panelists are advertised, so you should know in advance whether its worth going on the strength of panel lineups alone.

Cosplay

Cosplay is the fan activity of dressing up like a favorite character from an anime you like. Cosplay has expanded into non-anime domains and you'll see geek conventions such as Comic Con filled with people dressed like Marvel characters and the like.

At an anime convention it's basically always been like this. Plenty of people will show up in full costume and a lot of people will at least wear some sort of cosplay item, even if it's just an off-the-shelf piece. Cosplay is a fun and accepted pastime at conventions, but there is a serious competitive aspect to it too.

ninja cosplay

Cosplay Competition

While plenty of people cosplay at an anime convention, a small elite among them do so competitively. While anyone can sign up to take part in the costume competitions, the level of artistry has not definitely risen in the professional realm. The best cosplayers could seriously consider a career in stage or film costume design and many of them do! Some costumes are now made by teams of people, and complex mechanical and electronic elements have made their way into the cosplay scene.

Cosplay Photography

You'll also notice a lot of professional photography going on when it comes to cosplay at conventions. Not only the competitions, but also notable costumes by convention attendees tend to get photographed and then published online. There's been a lot of back and forth over the years when it comes to taking photographs of cosplayers, but the golden rule is to get their permission before taking pictures and spreading your snaps around.

Conventions Merchandise

Buying stuff is probably the biggest activity at any convention, and anime conventions are no different. If you want to give in to your avarice, I suggest you go read my article explaining the most important types of merchandise that anime fans buy.

Conventions offer a unique and exciting opportunity for fans that have some money to burn. Plenty of suppliers and exhibitors will bring products to conventions that are either limited to that convention only or have not been sold anywhere else. In other words, you can get your hands on exclusive or rare merchandise only at such conventions.

Plenty of vendors will also take down pre-orders at cons first or sell a limited number of a retail product for a significant discount at the convention. It's also a place where auctions on collector's items happen, although this varies from place to place.

The best part of saving your money for conventions is definitely the fact that you won't see such a diversity and quantity of merchandise in one place anywhere else. The only place you get this much choice is when shopping online, but here you get to physically look at stuff before you buy it. Not to mention that you can take it home with you straight away.

However, conventions are also a place you can get cheated a little. Always be sure to look stuff up online using your phone. You never know when someone is trying to sucker you with a higher price.

Free Stuff

Which brings us to more stuff, but this time without the price tag attached. Conventions are great places to get free promotional materials. Obviously a lot of this stuff is on a first come, first served basis, but if you're lucky and fast you can get a lot of swag at conventions. T-shirts, posters, DVDs, and more are handed out to convention goers. This is one big reason to attend the first day of the convention since everyone still has all their promotional stock.

cosplay pose

Exclusive Previews

Conventions are a great place for creators to showcase the media we love. When a new anime is coming out, convention attendees might be treated to seeing the first episode or screening before anyone else does. Obviously this is a good tactic to build some hype on forums and other social spaces the fandom occupies, but it's kind of neat to be the first person to see a hot new show.

Convention Parties

Conventions are ultimately a social gathering and that means there are plenty of social events linked to them. Depending on the size of the convention there may be a few parties of both the official and unofficial variety. Official parties might be hosted by sponsors and can either be open to all or by invitation only. You might have to pay an additional fee to attend some parties, separate from your ticket price.

Unofficial parties are something you do at your own risk. Some are professional, but not affiliated with the people who organized the convention. Others can be spur of the moment. They can happen in hotel rooms or at the residences of people who live near the convention site. They can be fun, but always be vigilant and drink on moderation if you're surrounded by strangers.

Entertainment

Most conventions will have some sort of main event stage. Some panels might happen on the main stage, but in general this is where competitions, announcements, and other events that are meant for everyone attending the event happen. I've even seen otaku-themed bands perform. It can be really interesting to see the sort of things that convention organizers think will interest anime fans at their cons. It's usually pretty hit or miss, but almost always entertaining.

Activities and Demonstrations

Depending on the size and scope of the convention you might also have the opportunity to take part in various activities. For example, I've seen people present cosplay masterclasses where they teach attendees how to make certain things or how to design costumes. There are also many Japanese-related activities such as interactive martial arts events, calligraphy, and so on.

anime figurines

Displays

Displays make up another major part of a convention floor. There's usually nothing for sale here, but things are showcased for marketing or awareness-raising purposes. If there's a major upcoming game or show, there may be a booth with professional cosplayers, mockups, demos, and more. You can chat with the people involved, possibly get autographs, and see some pretty cool items in person.

Making Friends

Ultimately the best thing about a convention is that it gathers together people who all broadly share the same interests. That makes it a perfect place to meet people and share in your passions. Historically, otaku haven't been the best at social interaction, but my observation is that these days that's no longer an issue.

If you are attending a local convention it means that many of the people there are also local. So now you have a way of discovering who in your hometown might want to spend time with you.

Not Conventional

I have to be honest, I'm past the point where I still want to attend the big, packed conventions. However, I have really grown to love small local anime conventions because it's a great way to relax with people and see the things I want to without being jostled or standing in line for an hour. Sure, you miss out on things like celebrity panels, but you can always catch those on YouTube. In general, conventions aren't for everyone, but if you find one that catches your fancy it might become a regular event.


dragon ball z

Manga and Light Novels: Where Anime Begins

The word “anime” often goes with the word “manga”. Anime is easy enough to parse, since it sounds like “animation”, but what does the word “manga” mean and why should anime fans care?

In Japan, the word “manga” encompasses both the art of cartooning and what Westerners think of as comic books or graphic novels. Most anime are adaptations of best-selling manga titles, and often the animated shows runs concurrently to the manga. It’s common for manga to be serialized as weekly chapters printed in affordable pulp format. After every so many chapters they get collected into a volume, which is then printed on much higher quality paper meant for collection.

Grimgar

Where Does it Come From?

In my article about what anime is, I noted that the Japanese were strongly influenced by American animation from Walt Disney. Early show such as Astro Boy clearly took inspiration from contemporary Disney cartoons. The art style we associate with anime, with its big eyes and simplified linework, still bears those influences today. Likewise, you can’t help but see those influences on manga as well, but both anime and manga continue a tradition of Japanese art and visual communication that go back much further than the 20th century. As far back the the 12th century BCE the Japanese produced scrolls telling stories in picture form. The word manga itself has been traced back to the year 1798. Today’s manga is a mix of both these traditional Japanese arts and the influence of the West.

How Popular is Manga in Japan?

It may surprise a lot of people, but manga is way bigger in Japan than anime. At least, this has been the case historically. EVERYONE reads manga – when they’re on a break, on the train, or wherever. It’s the perfect escape for a people who are constantly getting in each other’s faces. This may change now in a modern age where everyone has portable devices on which they can watch anime with ease, even on the bus. However, tablets and smartphones themselves are heralding the age of digital manga.

In any case, manga spans every conceivable genre and storyline you can think of. There are manga that appeal to housewives, to LGBTQ+ people, to sports fans, and more. Only a small sampling of these will ever be made into anime, which is why many anime fans in the West began to consume fan-translated (“scanlations”) manga in the quest to get more of that quirky Japanese media.

The Relationship Between Manga and Anime

Anime adaptations of manga face many of the same limitations as Western adaptations of books and comics. Storylines have to be simplified, cut down, or rethought in order to make the jump from paper to screen. Sometimes this means that the anime is actually better than the manga, thanks to punchier writing. But at other times it means missing out on a larger, even better incarnation of your favorite show.

The biggest pain in the butt when it comes to anime based on manga is that while the storyline is still going on, the anime producers don’t want to take season breaks. So whenever the show catches up to the anime you have something called “filler”. These are non-canon stories that have no impact on the main plot and are not based on stories written by the manga author.

chaika

Manga and Light Novels

While manga has traditionally been the source of most anime adaptations, there is another popular medium known as the “light novel” that has also become a key source of stories for anime. Light novels are similar to young adult fiction in the West, but are generally the same length as full novels at about 50,000 words. Light novels are not written in isolation from manga and anime. Generally they are illustrated with manga-style character art, and they essentially sell themselves as ready to be adapted to either manga or light novel form.

Personally, I have found that some of the best anime I’ve seen started out as a light novel. For example, both Banner of the Stars and Sword Art Online started as light novels. Like serialized manga, light novels can be published in cheap pulp form one chapter at a time, only to be collected in a volume after so many chapters. If you think about it, that makes things pretty difficult from a writing point of view. If you write a single 50,000 word novel you can make sure it all works out and makes sense. If you've already published some chapters you can’t go back and change them!

In general I find that anime that has been adapted from a light novel tends to be a little more complex and deep than those that come from manga, but both sources of material have delivered great anime!


Mumei

Haruhiko Mikimoto: It’s a Little Personal

While he might now be a little obscure to modern anime fans, I will never forget the name Haruhiko Mikimoto, although his real name is Haruhiko Sato. He was best known during the 80s, but the influence of his works have echoed through the decades and can still be seen today.

Mikimoto is known mainly as a character designer – the person whose job it is to turn the description of a character into a visible form. Mikimoto is also an animator and a mangaka, but most of his best work has been in bringing characters to life on the page.

The Work Speaks for Itself

There really isn’t a lot of public information about his personal life out there. He was born in 1959 in Tokyo. He attended Keio University and joined Studio Artland, which is today known for titles such as Gunslinger Girls and Demon King Daimao. The really great titles produced by Artland are classics such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which I STILL haven’t finished watching. Unfortunately, Artland is in serious financial trouble and there are even rumors that it could be shutting down.

macross

The Big Guns

Mikimoto is attached to a formidable list of characters and series. The best-known is certainly The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The best word to describe his characters is probably “beautiful”, but that doesn’t feel poetic enough. Apart from making wonderful characters for the various Macross titles, he also did the Orguss TV series and movie, Gundam 0080 and Gunbuster. Mikimoto is also an accomplished animation director.

The Smaller Guns

Apart from his many outstanding character designs in the 80s, he’s also released a heap of artbooks and illustrations. You’ll find Macross and Gundam titles under his belt as a mangaka, plus a few original works. Mikimoto is not the most prolific creator in the anime industry and doesn’t have much of a profile these days, but his character designs are absolutely unforgettable. Just type “Haruhiko Mikimoto” into Google and click on “images”. Go ahead, you won’t regret it.


Ghoul

Fansubs and Scanlations Explained

Today anime and manga have entered the global mainstream. You can stream simulcast subtitled shows on multiple streaming services. Cable and satellite channels air anime regularly. When you go to a normal bookshop you'll find volumes of Naruto and Bleach manga lining a shelf. Digital manga is taking off too, thanks to services like Crunchyroll and Amazon Kindle.

Which means that if you've become and anime or manga fan in the last decade or so, you might have no idea what a fansub or scanlation is. That feels incredibly weird to say, because fansubs and scanlations have been a core part of anime fandom for decades - especially when it comes to fansubbing, which stretches back to the 80s and perhaps earlier if you look at single historical examples.

While you'll be perfectly fine if you just stick to the mainstream anime sources, I think it's important for modern anime fans to know how one of the most powerful forces for driving anime fandom functions.

Charlotte Anime

So, What's a "Fansub"?

If you haven't figured it out, "fansub" is short for "fan-subtitled". In other words, it's a subtitle translation of an anime done unofficially. The people who make fansubs do it for the love of it. They take "raw" anime episodes or films and then painstakingly translate and redistribute them. Why would anyone do this? Well, to understand that, you need to know where you've come from.

The Dark Ages of Anime in the West

If you go back to the early 80s you find that anime was basically not a thing at all. In the United States this was actually a willful act by Japanese animation companies. They tried to set up shop in the US in the late 70s, but there just wasn't a viable market yet, apart from a very small hardcore fanbase that traded bootlegs on VHS.

So as we entered the 80s it really was in the hands of fans to get anime from Japan stateside and either learn the language or ask someone who did speak Japanese to translate it. The fanclubs that grew from this core fandom were the incubator for modern fansub groups. What they were doing was technically illegal, but since the Japanese studios had no stake in the US market they basically ignored fansubbers for the most part. Fansubbing was also essentially impossible without the advent of home VCR systems. VHS and Betamax tapes were the first media used for trading fansubs.

The Time of Advocacy

While fansubs themselves were a moral and legal grey area, anime fans campaigned for official licensing in the US almost non-stop. I joined the anime fan-movement in the early 2000s and even then very few anime got licensed in the West with official translations. The stuff we really wanted to see would never be translated at all unless the fandom itself took on the job.

We spent a lot of time writing petition letters to the local cable companies or trying to convince local distributors to license these shows. For the most part this was to no avail, since that critical market mass simply wasn't there. We established anime clubs to raise awareness of the medium. Inevitably what we screened in these clubs were fansubs. If it weren't for fansubs, it's safe to say, the mainstream entertainment of anime in the West as it is today would either have taken much longer to happen or would never have happened at all.

Gangsta

The Impact of Fansubs

Apart from making anime visible and popular, fansubs have had more far-reaching effects on the industry. For one thing, the best fansub groups have set the standard when it comes to translation and subtitle quality.

Back in the early days, official subtitling would be ugly, ham-handed text stuck at the bottom of the frame. Fansubbers turned this into an art. Elaborate karaoke titles for opening and closing themes almost definitely come from fansubbers. Subtitles arranged in various places to denote meaning and color-coding to make it clear who is speaking are other things we saw in fansubs first. Cultural notes? They were definitely in fansubs first, as my disappointing official DVD copies often showed in the early days. I also believe that modern streaming TV and services like Netflix and Hulu were also shaped by fansubbing. We were "binge" watching and getting our entertainment "on demand" when Netflix was still mailing people DVDs.

There are some more lighthearted side effects of fansubbing too. For one thing, few groups could agree on how some names should be translated. So often character names would be inconsistent between different subbing groups. A lot of people stuck to the wrong name if they saw it first!

Fansubs as a Moral Grey Area

The biggest controversy about fansubs is probably when it comes to copyright. If you watch fansubs you'll note they all come with clear warnings that they should never be sold and that you should delete if the show in question is ever licensed in your territory. There has always been a sort of unspoken agreement between the Japanese studios and fans in the West that they'd sort of ignore fansubbing. Indeed, copyright conflicts have been extremely rare in the history of fansubs.

In fact, many former fansubbers have gone on to work for local companies that officially license anime. This doesn't mean that Japanese studios were happy that people were violating their copyright, but without any actual direct losses I doubt it was ever worth pursuing fansub groups.

For what it's worth, I and just about every fan I've known did in fact go out and pay for their favorite shows when licensed. Of course we watched a lot of stuff we didn't feel was worth paying for, but the best studios got their money in the long run. If you look at how much Western fans have expanded the anime industry, it's insane. Today the global anime market is worth almost $18B. The demand for anime is so high that all animation studios are fully booked years into the future.

Fansubs Today

I'm sort of sad to say that the days of fansubs are coming to an end. There are still fansub groups out there, but there's no real incentive anymore to do it. Just about every show airing in Japan is getting professional translation. Selling anime to fans is much easier thanks to streaming services too.

It's gotten to the point where some people have started to complain about the declining quality of anime. Of course, this is not actually true. It's just that even fansubbers only expended energy on the better shows of the day. Now the mediocre and downright bad stuff is made available along with the rest, creating the illusion that there's more bad anime around.

Only the most obscure titles aren't translated anymore. So fansubs are dying simply because it's "mission accomplished". Not a bad thing at all.

Ace Attorney

So What About Scanlations?

The West is a mirror image of Japan when it comes to the relative positions of manga and anime. While manga is more mainstream in Japan, here it's anime that's more widely known. That hasn't stopped a parallel fan translation industry from springing up for manga.

As the name implies, people scan pages of the original Japanese manga and then digitally replace the Japanese writing with an English translation. This is actually quite a bit harder than translating a spoken show, since reading and writing Japanese is a good deal harder than speaking it.

Ironically, now that anime is mainstream and fansubs are winding down, scanlations are getting more popular. There's just too much manga (most of it very niche) to translate, and people now have a greater interest in manga thanks to anime. It's a self-sustaining cycle, it seems.

That being said, mainstream manga are getting officially translated and sold in the West. It's even easier to get electronically. Amazon will sell you manga on Kindle, and Crunchyroll includes a manga app as part of their subscription.

The Fans Made This

New anime and manga fans are certainly very lucky to get into the medium at a time when it's more popular than ever. What was a niche hobby just a decade ago is now, well, just something we watch.

That's exactly what fans over the last four decades wanted to accomplish, and they have! That doesn't mean we should forget what they had to do in order to make it so. There were plenty of times over the years when it was pure fan dedication that kept the Western anime market alive. For that I salute those brave fansubbers from times gone by.


Hideaki Anno

Meet Hideaki Anno, the Giant Battle Director

Hideaki Anno is a giant of the anime world. This director is probably best-known for being behind my favorite anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, Anno has a ton of other amazing creative titles attached to his name and he’s still at work today.

Kare Kano

Baby Boomer

Born in 1960, Anno would have witnessed the post-war economic miracle that Japan went through – something which was coming to an end around the time Evangelion came out. It seems that his interest in art and film was present from an early age. He was making short films in high school already, although I’m not aware of any of that material having survived.

Super Dimensional Job

While at university, Anno got to be a part of one of the most iconic anime of all time, Super Dimension Fortress Macross. He was hired as an animator, bringing the art of the amazing Haruhiko Mikimoto to life. Unfortunately for Anno, he dedicated so much time to being an animator that he got expelled from university and didn’t graduate, although I guess in retrospect this was the right choice.

Seven Degrees of Miyazaki

You’d think having worked on Macross would be enough to get a career rolling, but it took the patronage of the one and only Hayao Miyazaki to raise Anno's name to prominence. He was hired on as an emergency addition to the animation team for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Anno showed up as a young, inexperienced 20-something artist and eventually did some of the most impressive and complex work in the film. Miyazaki, who is notoriously frugal with praise, didn’t make a secret of his admiration for Anno.

The GAINAX Event

In 1984, Anno co-founded the studio that he would be best known for – GAINAX. His first project as animation director was on the marvelous Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. It was a film that was worthy of contending with the likes of Ghibli and Miyazaki. It proved to the world that Anno had what it took to go it alone, without some mentor looking over his shoulder.

He followed this up with the equally notable Gunbuster mecha anime, and ironically produced a film which was based on ideas from Miyazaki: Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water. Apparently he didn’t like how boxed in he was with “Nadia” and went through four years of severe depression, an experience that ultimately fed into his magnum opus: Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Evangelion Ends the World

When “Eva” released in 1995 it started off slow, but soon found a rabid and vocal fanbase. Anno let his creativity loose and threw out the rule books for the many genres Evangelion encroached upon. Unfortunately, budgeting problems meant the last two episodes were never done properly but, soon after, two films were released detailing his original vision for the series ending.

The Anno of Today

To be honest, Anno never really topped “Eva”, but there have been some great shows to come from the man since “Eva” first released. For one thing, we have some great rebuilds of Evangelion films, of which the fourth is still outstanding as Anno works on the new live action Godzilla. Anno still has plenty of life left in him though, so don’t be surprised if one more pivotal title comes from this anime titan.