So what is Anime?

You cannot be told what anime is. You must be shown. Unfortunately that is the way. Therefore I will attempt to point you in the right direction rather than give an in depth explanation

Roots

Anime itself is produced in Japan and is sometimes called "Japanimation". It stems originally from Manga comics, in fact many series are based upon a particular Manga series (or at least part of that series). Unlike western programs generally a studio is pre-commissioned to do say 1 13 episode series and after that no more may ever be done. That is not to say you don't get multiple series - you do - sometimes studios are commissioned to do 3 series totaling 96 episodes. This system is changing but usually someone presents a story idea and then they are commissioned for x episodes/series on that story arc.

Layout

Series usually have 13 or 26 episodes although sometimes "specials" or "movies" may also be created. With popular series the movies will actually be shown in Japanese cinemas.

Characteristics

The most distinctive feature of the majority of anime is the over-sized large eyes (for examples see: AnimeWallpapers.com. Often many animes will have the typical "cute school girl" type - however some do not - and many more modern series do not even have these oversized eyes..

Distinctiveness

The majority of anime can be distinguished from western animation by several things. Firstly the quality of animation is often better being more "glossy" and "bright". Additionally animes generally have a really good story line (which kicks off at about episode 7 or so depending on the length of the series.

The most important thing to understand about anime is that unlike western carkttons, anime Japan is created for ALL age groups. The treatment of anime in Japan is similar to the western treatment of mainstream films
It ranges across all ages and genres (including "adult" anime which is termed "hentai"), however not all series aimed at older people are of an adult nature.
Often series have a broad range of appeal - with different age groups attaching themselves to different aspects of a particular series.

Interpretation

Anime purchased from the US/UK usually has been dubbed - Japanese voice have been replaced with American voice actors. Most anime enthusiasts prefer to watch anime with the original Japanese audio with English subtitles - I certainly do. The main reasons for this are as follows:

  • There is an enormous voice actor market in japan so the voice tend to fit the characters better than the American equivalent. Some of the American voices are *really* awful
  • I like listening to the Japanese language

Acquisition

If you live outside of Japan getting hold of anime can be slightly tricky as it is rarely broadcasted on US/UK TV. If you live in the US then getting hold of anime can be easier however to buy it legally you may have to wait some considerable time. Purchasing from within countries such as the UK is very difficult - the UK particularly is a bit of an anime backwater.

So how do you find out about series you might like to buy then?
Usually people download the off the Internet. Groups called "fansubbers" take the broadcasted episode(s) from Japan, translate them and subtitle them in English. These are then published on the Internet as movies. Sites such as AnimeSuki then publish a list of available episodes. In the case of this site a program called Bit torrent is used to distribute the files - this is similar in nature to things like Kazaa, etc.

YES, technically this redistribution is illegal, however the Japanese firms view it "free publicity", and the fansubbers have rules they always obey:

  • All titles are distributed for FREE (or a media cost)
  • Distribution is stopped once the title has been licensed in your region (more in this in a moment)

Most good series are eventually licensed in the US - a US company buys the rights to release DVDs of the series in the US. When that happens fansubbers make the file unavailable for download. Often the name of a series may change when it is licensed in a new country (for example "Card Captor Sakura" changed to "Card Captors").

If you are in an anime backwater often you must buy a multi-region DVD player and just import stuff from the US, although it is better to buy locally to support than industry in your own country whenever possible.

Advantages to all

The Japanese corporations make more sales by allowing Fan Subbing because otherwise enthusiasts would not know what to buy. Most enthusiasts do buy some anime even if they do not buy everything they have previously downloaded/copied of a friend who previously downloaded it.
Fan subbing works well for the enthusiasts - they see what they would be getting. Additionally fansubbers usually place notes in explaining parts of Japanese culture that would be confusing. For example in one series (Fruits Basket), certain people change into Animals for various reasons. Once character turns into a "sea horse" but a lead character says "its a baby dragon". Why? "sea horse" is a western interpretation - the Japanese view them as "baby dragons".

Disadvantages

Many people don't ever buy anime they download - not even the stuff they really like, and this is generally frowned upon by the community even though it is unrealistic to expect people to buy all the anime they own. Why? Price. A standard DVD usually has 3 or 4 episodes of a series and costs about £16.99 to £19.99 in the UK. So with a 96 episode or so series (or something hideously long like Rounin Kenshin) that would cost (96/4)*16.99=£407.76!!

Piracy is also a problem with pirates ripping off the fan subs and burning them to CD and then selling them on sites such as ebay. Fansubbers try to prevent this by embedding text in such a way such that it cannot be removed by pirates without cutting a critical part of the episode.

Often pirate versions may have been translated by the pirates themselves - and although this is cheaper to buy often the subtitle quality is terrible - with parts missing or terribly inaccurate.

Examples & Imports

Some anime series you will have probably heard of but which are generally considered to be a load of rubbish are:

  • Pokemon
  • Digimon
  • Card Captors
  • Yu-gi-oh

Generally series like this are aimed at a slightly younger audience in the west than in Japan, and often series are "cut" or "edited" as some content considered OK in Japan is unsuitable over here.
For example in Outlaw Star one female character has to interface with a computer by entering a special "tank". When she is in this tank she is covered by her arms and part of the tank itself. You see nothing (not that you'd particularly want to in my opinion). In the version that appeared on the Cartoon Network they had drawn on a sports-bra and underwear. That I find slightly unnecessary in this case however it illustrates the point.