I asked myself this question as I finished the fifth episode of Ouran Host Club. Ouran Host Club is an anime show that lampoons the romance tropes that pervades Japanese anime and manga. It has been about a year since I got my Apple TV box and began watching animation again. In that time I have learned a new lexicon of words such as waifu, otaku, reverse harem, moe and mecha. Having also entered the world of tumblr around the same time I now have ship's, otp's and au's. Of course I was familiar with Anime having been confounded by Akira and Neon Genesis Evangellion much earlier. Thanks to SBS for introducing for introducing me to these shows and to Studio Ghibli and the work of the master Hayo Miyazaki, but even the master Miyazaki is leaving anime. Should I really be embracing this art form?
I used the word Otaku earlier and this is a genre in anime of the young female heroine. Miyazaki made it famous with his heroines, Naussica, Sheeta, Kiki and Chihiro. Using a young teenage girl as your heroine makes for a nice twist for westerners who are used to boys getting the hero role. Though what comes next is when you learn about fan service, ecchi and of course hentai. Remember Japanese is not Australian, English, European and definitely not American. They have different way of telling stories, they also have a different sensibility when it comes to nudity and a humour that is ribald and filled with characters who are flawed though loveable in their own way.
For example, in the show Koutura our heroine has the ability to read peoples minds. Her swain Manabe is like most young males in their teens, horny. The writers revel in having Manabe fantasise about Koutura. Manbe of course gets slapped (and worse) by Koutura because Koutra can read his mind and see his fantasies. It is used as slapstick much in the same way Sidney James and the cast of Carry on, or Benny Hill and the two Ronnies back when English humour had a similar though risky edge. Such shows would be M rated today and unfortunately most anime shows are rated M because of this difference in practice of storytelling. Some shows go further than Koutura as they write their heroines into skimpy outfits that get ripped or torn regularly. This is called Fan Service when the female and male characters are treated like its a Playboy Swimsuit special, for an episode. Or in the case of Bikini Warriors, the whole series. Many a time I have waited for the fan service, and, on some occasions been refreshingly surprised that some have listened to Miyazaki and played down the fan service. Or better, simply denied it any place at all. It is shows like this that I have come to love and most exist in the genre called “Slice of Life”.
Slice of Life is merely that narrative that shows the characters as they live, love and go to school, work or fight aliens cause they live on a spaceship or something like that. They do what Christopher Nolan tried to do with the Batman franchise, but even better, because they keep the fantasy and the wonder, along with the grim and gritty. Shows like Bodacious Space Pirates, The Rolling Girls and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet have kept the mystery, the tension and the fighting but meld them with the joy of life that is clinically absent from the depressing dystopic vision that has infected American comics and animation over the last twenty years. Yes Hugh Jackman! Wolverine is badass. But how long can you be badass moping around pining for Jean all the time. Sorry I still need to slap Hugh over the back of the head for his horrible rendition of Wolverine, who is a Japanese trained warrior, who trains young teenage girls to protect and enable themselves.
Sorry I am ranting here. Where were we? Oh yes slice of life…
So these shows just tell the story of people living their lives, sometimes with amazing things or unexpected situations but they still go on with their lives. There is a hope, not merely in a happy ending but in the life they live with their family and friends around them. These characters grow and change, mostly for the better and it is so refreshing to watch. Most western shows I watch use the conflict to make things worse for their characters. The hero becomes anti-hero and then villain. Where has the hope gone in western storytelling? Because I am surprised it is still in the Japanese, they at lest have a damn good reason to be moping about. A reason that I as a white male Australian do not conceive or understand at all. However I do see a hope that I do not see in my countries storytelling. For that reason I continue to watch Anime because it tells stories of hope and joy in life that I want to read and live. So I suppose I am in Anime Heaven.