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06/12/2003 Archived Entry: "Japanning for Gold"
Posted by CKL @ 06:42 PM PST

(No, I didn't steal that title from Win Ben Stein's Money. Thanks for asking.)

Back in March, Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I, for one, was very happy about this. After handing the award to Shrek last year-- a good movie, mind you, but hardly better than Monsters, Inc.-- I was ready to be unequivocally outraged when the lame-ass talking-horse flick won in 2003. But justice was done, for once.

I mention this because I've been watching anime this week. Cartoon Network airs "Cowboy Bebop" six nights a week (albeit at 1:30AM), and Warner Brothers just released the Animatrix DVD: a collection of nine short films based in the universe of The Matrix, most created by Japanese animators of the ilk whose work inspired much of the design of The Matrix to begin with.

Granted, these two things might have happened anyway. Certainly the Matrix juggernaut would not have been stopped, and Cartoon Network gets at least a quarter of its schedule from the empire of the sun anyway. But an Academy Award commands respect.

If justice prevails, mainstream Western culture will stop dismissing anime as just kiddie fare like "Pokemon," "Hamtaro," or "Voltron." Those paying attention will get wise to Grave of the Fireflies, a drama which "belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made" (thank you, Roger Ebert). Or Ghost in the Shell and Akira, whose teleologies make the philosophy of The Matrix look like a misspelled fortune cookie.

Sure, most anime is still about giant robots, young schoolgirls in short skirts, and/or furry creatures with huge eyes. And that whole hentai thing is pretty disturbing. But, as I've always said, this is what happens when you drop two atomic bombs on a country: the mutation of a traditional art form into something more. Some expressions will be hideous. Some will be beautiful, perhaps even magnificent. All of them will be transcendent.

Think of it as evolution in action.

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