But Their Mouths Move Funny?!?

Teaching animation department at a California art school is a challenge; the day to day dealing with students who are right brain dominate, but logic impaired. Who consider Monster energy drinks, Doritos a well balanced meal, and who have the attention span of a fox terrier on Prozac.

There is one question I am asked on a regular basis, “Why don’t you like Japanese anime?” This question is second only to “Which end of the pencil does the writing?” and my all-time favorite, “You mean I have to actually draw something?!?” Trust me; I am not making these up.

The reason for the rather odd enquiring into my animated entertainment preference, and its persistently being asked, is four years ago, when asked the question, I stupidly answered, “Not really.” Like Bill Clinton’s infidelities, it has never been forgotten.

Now I understand that I am from a different era, and that what was entertaining for me is different from what the youth of the last 15 years considers entertaining. Being born at the tail end of the Baby Boomers era I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Pink Panther, The Flintstones and even the first three seasons of Scooby Doo, before the formula writing plague hit. Come on, you knew who the ghost was after the first five minutes, you just kept watching because Daphne was hot. I just think that when a character speaks, their mouths should move correctly, don’t you? Come on, even Scooby Doo’s mouth moved properly, and he didn’t even speak English, “Raggy, oh Raggy.

What I am getting at is believability. If you were in Starbucks and ordered your venti Caramel latte, upside down with an extra shot, no whip because it makes you feel bloated; and the barista looked at you, his mouth moving like it was on fast forward and the speech followed after he stopped, you’d be freaked out right? When I was a kid, my brother and I would get up before our parents and watch cartoons with the sound really low. The animation was so good you could almost lip read what they were saying. My ex-brother-in-law actually did this because he was partially deaf as a child and no one knew it. True story. If he’d tried that with an anime cartoon, he would have probably ended up talking like Scooby Doo, “Ray Raggy, where is Fellma?”

Beyond the mouth-moving thing, I think there should be a spark of realism to cartoons so we can relate to it, (But not too much, take the big hoopla in the 1970’s over cartoon violence, but that’s for another time). The point is that there needs to be something familiar so the audience can say, “Hey I can relate to that,” or “I felt just like that!” The situations should look familiar to us so we can laugh at them even after the cartoon has ended. Case in point; the whole jumping up and hanging in space for minutes on end with a 70’s disco light show going on behind the character while he swishes his weapon around like an angry marching band baton twirler. Could you really see this happening? If I was walking down a dark alley and a ninja, (they always hang out in dark alleys, didn’t you know that?); dropped down in front of me. Then before he attacked, jumped up into the air and hung there while a light show from nowhere began. I wouldn’t know whether to applaud, swear off drinking cheap beer from Bev Mo, or just walk away. Granted that when Wile E. Coyote fell off the cliff, his neck stretched out a bit too far, but hey, it was an exaggeration to elicit laughter, not an animator’s acid flashback.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some very good Japanese animation out there, and I have actually been amazed by the craftsmanship of them, even Disney has financed several and the quality is awesome. The stuff on television today is like the McDonalds of cartoons; looks good, but is bad for your brain and your colon. For me, cartoons need to be entertaining and not something that hurts my head to watch it. The classic cartoons of the 1950’s and 1960’s had good writing, cleaver dialogue and even bits of history thrown in, (I learned about gas rationing long before high school history class, take that anti-animation naysayers!), all subtly mixed in. When you turned off the set you felt like you’d just had a good meal but weren’t too full. Anime shows leave you feeling like you had a full meal, and then you’re thrown on a corkscrew rollercoaster, while a psychotic chimp hits you with a salmon. Fasten your seatbelts, keep your arms, legs, lunch inside at all times, and don’t mind the chimp.

Moreover, why are the anime cartoons so serious? You would think that since the Japanese command the majority of all products bought by California teenagers in the San Fernando Valley, they’d be happier. Especially if you consider that the California economy is the size of a small nation. The subject matter is too dark and sinister. What they do think is funny is just unsettling. Have you ever seen that cat-thing in the Poky-Mon show? Burr! I get the whole high-tech thing, it is the reflection of their culture after the Second World War, and since all art is the reflection of a culture, yadda, yadda, ya, but can’t they move on? Even during the same war, our cartoons were still funny!

I admit I liked the Macross series that hit American shores in the mid-eighties; the one where the motorcycles turned into battle-suits. I hear Toyota is actually working with that concept to help with American rush hour traffic. I wonder if it’ll come in a hybrid model.

Well I better get going; a student missed the electric pencil sharpener again and stabbed another student through the chest. Wait a minute; he’s jumping up …now he is hanging in mid-air… hey, where’d that light show come from?

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writing rlhanon
Life, liberty and the search for a good tax write-off!
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Editorial on anime cartoons in general
Published Date
4/13/2011 12:00:00 AM
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