Anime viewers love to imagine being the sole friend of a gorgeous, shy intellect who clings onto their every word. Similarly, “golden retriever boy” characters like Jun-ho and Yi-jin give fans tall, broad-shouldered, blank canvases to dump their ideal man fantasies onto. As we all know, real life is never this simple. Romance requires a lot more than good looks and listening to your partner’s whale stories, and real people rarely reciprocate your feelings in exactly the way you want.
You may have first seen Cel Shading in 2013 with the premiere of RWBY, an “American Anime” aimed at both American and Japanese anime fans. Characters are 3D models, like a lot of modern animation, but they look a little different from their Disney-Pixar cousins. In stills, they could fool you into thinking they’re two-dimensional drawings or frames from some traditionally-drawn anime. The character’s skin looks flat and their eyes are large and cartoony. Cel Shading is a technique long used by video games, from the classic Katamari Damacy to the more recent The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but in recent years, animation studios have used it to bring the anime style into the modern era.
For some reason, movie critics like to use the descriptor “the new Miyazaki” to refer to Makoto Shinkai, director of the blockbuster anime hit Your Name (titled Kimi no Na wa in Japanese). All questions of the quality of Shinkai’s movies aside, this is a completely bizarre comparison because there is very little in common between the work of these two men, besides the fact that they both direct animated Japanese films. Shinkai does introspective romantic drama, while Miyazaki (very, very broadly) does fantasy coming-of-age. Regardless, a combination of the enduring comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki and the film’s own runaway success has led the easily-embarrassed Shinkai to say, “I don’t think any more people should see [Your Name],” in a Japan Times article. Perhaps Shinkai was glad that, despite its massive commercial and critical success, Your Name wasn’t nominated for an Oscar after all. The premise of Your Name is a body swap scenario: two teenagers, one a boy, Taki, living in the Tokyo metropolis and the other a girl, Mitsuha, living in the countryside, begin to inhabit each other’s bodies during their dreams, creating plenty of opportunities for romantic and comedic hijinks.
This article was originally going to be about sexism in the comics industry. It’s no secret that the comics scene has done a notoriously poor job recognizing women creators and readers, particularly in America’s superhero-choked testosterone-fest. This was no clearer than at this year’s Angouleme Grand Prix, a sort of Cannes Palme d’Or for the comics world, when none of a whopping 20 creators nominated were women. This resulted in a major fracas among smarter members of the community, resulting in boycotts from attendees and nominees alike and the hashtag #womendoBD (short for bandes desinees, the French word for comics), predating #OscarsSoWhite’s highlighting of award show prejudice by over a month. However, when I described the premise of my article exploring this heady topic to my peers, I generally got the same response: Are there even that many major cartoonists who are women?
I recently watched Only Yesterday at the Cornell Cinema (highly recommend it!) and the show really got me thinking about the role of rural settings in Japanese popular culture. Note that I didn’t just say anime there! I’m broadening my horizons a bit this week. To which end, we’re going to start with some cultural background. Modern Japan has a bit of a problem: during the postwar period, the country urbanized at an unprecedented rate (if I recall correctly, it was the highest rate in history, though I don’t have a source for that).
I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. Since about the middle of RWBY volume 3, in fact. However, I kept putting it off to make sure I addressed the topic appropriately. Well I’m going for it now, so no turning back one way or the other. Oh yeah, and beware of spoilers.