Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why Japanese animation for adults has such a bad reputation in Germany

Okay, so here goes the ranting again, this time about Animée. To those of you unfamiliar with the word, Animée is often used to describe Japanese animation movies or TV-series. I'm an avid fan of both Animée and Manga (that's the word for Japanese comics) and therefore - being, as I already mentioned, 32 already - I'm attracting some rather surprised looks sometimes while browsing through the Manga-section of my favourite bookstore or through the Animée-DVD-section of my favourite entertainment store. But this is not about people thinking a grown-up should not be watching/reading such stuff, I've overcome them a long time ago and did some ranting about them in a German Manga-forum some time ago. It's about what has given Animée such a bad name in Germany: Hentai.

Hentai is, as you might have gathered already, another Japanese word. I do not know its translation (I could find out, but it's not necessary), but what it stands for is the animated equivalent of porn movies. To explain how Hentai came into existence, I have to tell you something about Japanese culture, so here it goes:

Firstly you have to realize that to people in Japan 'animated' or 'drawn' does not necessarily mean 'for children only'. Manga are produced for all social groups in Japan from Kindergarden to old age. They are just some sort of entertainment, like novels or short stories - which they resemble to a certain point. Animée is the animated equivalent of this, so the movies and TV-series range from 'for kids'-stuff to 'for adults only'. It's not wrong to say that you'll find among the Animées everything you'll find in real movies as well. There's comedy, there's action and, yes, there's porn as well.

Unfortunately people in Germany are not really aware of this. Most of them see Animée either as something for kids (very much like the animated series produced by Disney or Cartoon Network) or as smut (that would be Hentai for you). Strangely enough, the TV-stations seem to see it like this as well, among the first animated movies from Japan shown in Germany (usually only on one or two free-TV stations) were a lot of Hentai-movies. Anybody zapping in and only watching them for a couple of minutes, out of interest, would therefore have gotten the image of all 'adult' animation from Japan being smut.

This has been slowly changing recently due to Studio Ghibli. They produced some of the highest quality Animées ever, such as "Princess Mononoke" or "The Last Fireflies" (I'm translating the titles from German here, they may be called differently in English-speaking countries). Even though somebody has recently tried to find sexual contexts in those movies as well (but some people will try to find sexual contexts everywhere), they are on the whole considered to be suitable for most ages (maybe not the smallest children who might find some scenes too scary).

What I find so amusing about this situation is that still most people will make the simple equation of adult Animée=smut. Well, actually I should be angry about this, but I can't bring myself to care. I still buy Manga and Animée (and usually not smut) and I don't care for what other people might think about it. I only find it sad that prejudices are so hard to kill ... and that German TV-stations seem to think the only Animées for grown-ups worth buying are porn.

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