Everything you ever wanted to know about anime! (or at least a few things)

Table of Contents:
I. What is anime?
II. Anime Explained
III. Those horribly annoying FAQ questions
V. Resources and References


I. What is Anime?

a) What is anime? Anime (ah-nee-may) is the Japanese word for animation or cartoon, rumored to be from the French dessins anime. It is often referred to as Japanese animation or Japanimation (although this word is taboo in some circles).

b) What's so great about anime? Anime has more respect in both America and Japan because it has a more developed storyline, better animation quality, and more complex characters than American animation. Yet anime is not all-revered in Japan. While it has more respect as a medium than in America, it is still considered for kids.

c) What is manga? Manga is Japanese comics. In Japan, manga is treated as a respectable form of literature and is read by all age groups. Many manga are made into anime. Manga come in two forms. Most are printed in telephone sized manga books that feature a chapter out of many different series. Usually, the same manga will be compiled and reprinted together in a set. For example, there are 9 volumes of Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita) that roughly correspond to each part of its Viz comic release. Gunnm can be bought as 9 compilations or (if you have truly nothing better to do) the manga can be collected chapter by chapter in a manga book, specifically Business Jump (but they're printed cheaply and usually thrown away).

d) Is anime on TV or movies or video? Actually, all. Anime is commonly on TV and movies. The Japanese also have something called an OAV (Original Animated Video) or OVA. These are productions made for video sale only. They do not get broadcast on TV or in movie theatres. An American equivalent is "The Return of Jafar."

e) What kinds of anime are there? Anime is targeted to many different audiences. Much like movies, there are Sci-Fi, romance, drama, etc. And like movies, these elements are often combined. So, much of anime cannot be easily sorted, but here are a few groups that are represented in anime.

1) Shoujo - Young girls age 10-18. Shoujo anime targets young girls with stories usually about girls with compelling stories or dilemmas. Shoujo includes "Sailor Moon", "Magic Knights Rayearth", "Marmalade Boy", and many others. Something is shoujo if its manga appears in a shoujo manga book. Shoujo anime usually is full of little accessories that girls buy, like all the Sailor Moon stuff.

2)Shounen - Young boys age 10-18. Shounen anime targets young boys the usual way young boys are targeted: guns, girls, and robots. Shounen includes "Mobile Suit Gundam", "Rurouni Kenshin" and others. Shounen anime is full of things that can be made into toys, like robots and cars and planes, etc.

3)Hentai - This is adult anime. Usually, it is VERY graphic.

f) English Language Format????? A colorful way to say dubs. To be precise, the vocal track on the anime is altered and dubbed over with English dialogue. Here are the downsides. The infamous run-on sentences: Japanese say a lot fast, so the English voice actors end up with poorly written dialogue that goes on. Poor quality: in Japan, voice acting is an industry that pays well, while in America, it just pays, so of course, the quality of voice acting is higher in Japan. Personally, I feel that if you're watching Japanese animation, why aren't you listening to it as well? Subtitles are fine.


II Anime Explained!

a) Why do they look funny, like blue hair and BIG eyes? Here are a few explanations. The eyes, according to Frederik Schodt in "Animerica" vol 2 no.3, comes from popular Western illustrations of women in the early 1900's. The other Caucasian features were picked up partly from emulation of the "new" Western style, partly from adopting more Western things, especially after World War II. The hair can be explained by the transition from manga to anime. Manga is in black and white, so to differentiate some characters from others, hair is sometimes left white. When animation came around, the hair was merely colored in. Another explanation is that the wide eyes portray innocence and/or naiveté. So, usually adults get narrower more "realistic" eyes. These explanations has been very unsatisfactory for a lot of people. The most generic explanation is that the people aren't really anything. They're "generic" people that could be Asian, could be Caucasian, could be anything.

b) What are those things on the end of names? Japanese uses suffixes attached to people's names to indicate their relationship and respect. Much like Mr., Dr., Mrs., Miss, and Master, except used much more universally. Here's everything briefly.


Intimate, implies smallness and cuteness. Used for and by children added to given names. Girls change from -chan to -san in high school. Not used with family names.


Used among boys and men, mostly students. High school boys are called -kun. Used by bosses to employees, even women.


General respect. Much like Mr. or Ms. It can be used with either given or family name. It is also used for some professions.


Great respect. Shows a superiority of the person being referred to. A common use in anime is the word "o-kyaku-sama" which literally means Respected Mr. Customer.


Old-fashioned honorific used by a samurai to his feudal lords. An example in anime is that Yuki-no-ojou (Mihoshi's ship) calls her "Mihoshi-dono".


Respectful term for any student 1+ year ahead, or someone with a little more experience in a company. Added to family names or can be used on its own


Literally means teacher. Often used with respectful jobs like physicians, lawyers, teachers, etc


Professor or any doctoral degree recipient. Giant Robo's Go-hakase is a good example. Not used for medical doctors.

c) Why do characters sometimes tell other characters how they should address them? How one addresses another shows the closeness of their relationship. So, a man won't call a woman by just her first name unless they are related or married. An example is when Godai takes care of Sakamoto's cat, named Kyouko. Kyouko-san comes and asks if Godai was calling her, but he says, of course not, he'd never address her such. Many a time in anime, you will see a girl tell a guy that he should address her by her first name + san, rather than her last name + san. When a girl does this, it probably shows her willingness to a relationship. If this happens, the guy will reciprocate if he wants to continue.

d) Why do people call each other brother/sister/other family relation when they're not? Why do the subtitles say someone's name, but they're not saying their name on the soundtrack? In Japan, family terms are often used generically to describe certain age groups, or they can be used to imply a close relationship. Here's a list of ones you'll hear. One of the suffixes follows the term (usually -san). The "o" in front is optional. It is an added term of respect. Often, the terms "oji-san" and "oba-san" are used to describe anyone middle aged. "ojii-san" and "obaa-san" are used similarly for elders.
grandfather - (o)jii grandmother - (o)baa
uncle - (o)ji aunt - (o)ba
father - (o)tou mother - (o)kaa
elder brother - (o)nii elder sister - (o)nee
* elder brother - aniki / aniue * elder sister - aneki / aneue
* antiquaited terms not commonly used

It is a bit of an insult to call a younger woman an oba-san, and many girls dread the day that they will no longer be called nee-san by children, but rather oba-san
Family terms can be used for anyone to show the relationship between their ages, or to imply a closeness. It depends on the usage.

e) Why are the curses never the same? How come some curses are translated the same? That's because when one person is cursing out another, often they are using a form of "you" that is very rough and implies the speaker's superiority. For example, kisama is often translated as "bastard," but literally, it's just "you!" Here are some other you's.
otaku very polite (to the point of insult)
anata polite (common)
kimi informal (common)
omae very informal
anta very informal
temae very rough
kisama very rough

It should be noted that a wife calls her husband "anata" while a husband calls his wife "omae."
All you terms can be made plural by adding "-tachi" to the end. So to refer to a group of people, you can say "kimi-tachi"

f) So... how does one address oneself? There are many forms of "I" or "me" as well. Here are some.
watagushi very polite
watashi polite (common)
atashi feminine informal
boku masculine informal
ore rough

Similarly, "-tachi" can also be added to these terms to mean "we" instead of "I." So, you can say "watashi-tachi" to mean "we."

g) What is that drop of water on character's heads? That is a bead of sweat. It signifies an awkward situation or a character's anxiety.

h) Why are characters small and weird sometimes? that's known as SD, or Super Deformed. It is an ingenious way to turn even the most gruesome monster small and cute. In anime, it is used for very silly situations.

i) Why do characters sneeze in anime? If they're not sick, than it's because someone else is talking about them behind their back.

j) Why does everyone speak Japanese, even if they're not Japanese? Well, American animation is the same way. Just it's not as noticeable when it's your native language.

k) Why do some jokes make absolutely no sense? Well, sometimes, humor can't cross languages. Other times, they're puns. In Japanese, most kanji (Chinese characters) have 2 pronunciations. Also, a lot of words sound the same and are pronounced exactly the same, so it leads to a lot of puns.
For example, Tenchi Muyo means "No Need for Tenchi" or "Tenchi is Useless." However, Tenchi Muyo written on a package means "This Side Up." Also, Tenchi translates to "Heaven and Earth" or "Land and Sky" so Tenchi Muyo can also translate to "Useless on Land and in the Air."
If you're really interested in kanji puns, Urusei Yatsura is one of the best of such things. I have seen essays written on the title "Urusei Yatsura" alone.

l) Why do the subtitles say "mom" or "dad" but the character is saying "mama" or "papa"? It's all English, right? Actually, Japanese use mama and papa mainly as children. Later in life, a child would learn the correct terms for mother and father, okaa-san and otou-san. An anime character calling his or her parents "mama" or "papa" shows they are either really young or really immature.

m) I'm watching OAVs but they still have the commercial breaks! What's up? These are "eyecatches" which tell viewers of TV shows that the show is going to commercial or that it's coming back from commercial. Some American shows have them too. They proved very popular, so some OAVs have them too.


III. Those horribly annoying FAQ questions

a) What does Bubblegum Crisis mean? The best two explanations I've heard are as follows. The first is a situation that might explode at any second (like a bubblegum bubble). The second is that it's a situation like when you've got gum on your face and in your hair and all over the place. It's yucky and messy and incredibly difficult to clean up.

b) What's a UFO catcher? They're those games in arcades where you pick up plush items with the crane. In Japan, many of these items relate to anime.

c) What's an otaku? Am I one? An otaku is a term used in Japan for someone who is obsessed with something. Basically, a nerd. There are car otaku, A/V otaku, etc. The term comes from the word "otaku" which means "you" (see IIe). It is a very respectful way to refer to someone, and as Gilles Poitras points out, for young socially inept boys, such a safe way of speaking to others is not unusual. Anyway, it can be very insulting to call someone an otaku, since it can be derogatory in Japan. In American fandom, it has come to refer only to anime otaku and lacks the negative connotations. Anyway, unless someone is comfortable with the term being applied to themselves, it's not a good idea to use it.

d) Why are there so many racy scenes in anime? Not all anime is for kids. So, some anime has adult situations in them. Even in those that are for kids, the Japanese are loose about some things, so you have things like breasts in Ranma . But sometimes, it's just gratuitous! These are called fan service. The shots themselves are service shots. The point is exactly what you think it is: to appeal to young male hormone-driven minds with pictures of scantily clad anime babes. ^_^ One famous service shot is Minmei's shower scene in "Macross 1984 Movie: Love- Do You Remember?" Another shot is the note from Misato that Shinji has at the very beginning of "Neon Genesis Evangelion" #1. Truly, NGE seems to be chock full of service shots.

e) What is an Anime Convention anyway? It's just what it sounds like. People getting together and sharing, trading, buying, selling, and watching anime and anime related items. In America, some of the big cons are: Anime Expo (S. Cal.), Otakon (Baltimore), and Anime Central (Chicago). As for myself, I have been to Anime Central 98 and 2000, and by the time you read this, will probably have gone to Anime Expo 2000 as well.

f) Who is Carl Macek? He is responsible for many American dubs of anime, such as Robotech. Many people hate him with a passion, but he does not prosecute fan-subbers who subtitle anime he owns, so others like him, since he allows us fans to enjoy anime the way we like it.

g) Why do anime boys get nosebleeds? Well, typically it's because they've been aroused by something, like seeing a scantily clad girl. Although I can't speak for all Asian guys, I know a lot of Koreans at least get frequent nosebleeds (not related to getting aroused, though), so maybe the idea is to show that there's been a sudden rush of blood somewhere.... ^_^

h) Why when someone is studying for a test, you're not supposed to say slip or fall or drop? The Japanese words for slip, fall, and drop are all synonyms for fail (as in failing a test). The Japanese are a somewhat superstitious people (as are most animistic cultures) and the mentioning of these words can affect a student's morale greatly.

i) Why do some characters when they sneak around tie a towel around their heads? The only explanation I have for it is from Tenchi Muyo OAV #4. Apparently, it really is the 'uniform' of perverts. A towel is tied around the hair and top part of the face in order to avoid being recognized, when attempting to steal something, or more commonly in anime, peeping. My guess is that the Japanese consider the hair and upper facial area to be more distinctive, whereas in the U.S., a person would cover their mouth and nose area in order to avoid being recognized.

j) I am on the Internet, but no one will copy stuff for me because of JAILED! What's JAILED??? JAILED stands for Japanese Animation Industry's Legal Enforcement Division. They represent most American distributors of anime to stop boot-legging and piracy. Fan-subs are allowed as long as there are no American licenses on the fan-subbed materials.

k) What is a 'sweeper?' In City Hunter, Ryo Saeba is a sweeper. There is also Ghost Sweeper Mikami. Basically, a sweeper cleans up messes. Think "Dirty Harry." He is called Dirty Harry because he gets all the messy jobs.


IV. I WANT ANIME!!!!!!!!!!!

a) The Video Store: Here is a list of anime that is great to start out on and gives you a good idea of what anime is all about. I've tried to stick with what you'll find in a standard Blockbuster, but I haven't limited myself to it, since non-chain video stores often have more and better anime. It goes without saying that this should ALL be watched subtitled.

  1. Bubblegum Crisis: An anime classic, heavily influenced by the Sci-Fi epic "Blade Runner." This 8 part OAV is an amazing work that seems to redefine "Best!" with every next episode. Don't be fooled if the first few eps don't appeal to you. By the end, you'll be hooked.
  2. Akira: A Katsuhiro Otomo classic that made a strong run as a comic book in America too. The movie is visually splendid, but horribly violent. Not for the faint of heart. A great movie that has influenced a lot of other anime. Indeed, it seems to be the standard for "Destroyed Tokyo" anime! Warning: the dub has changes in the dialogue that make the plot non-existent. The subtitled version must be seen.
  3. Neon Genesis Evangelion: This series is perhaps Gainax's most successful anime ever. The world has been radically changed by an object from space that crashed onto Antarctica in the year 2000 and caused the melting of the polar ice caps and horrible natural disasters. Billions have died. It was called the "2nd Impact" (the 1st Impact being the theoretical meteor that killed off the dinosaurs). 14 years later, an obscure prophecy from the Dead Sea Scrolls is coming true as mysterious space entities called Angels are attacking Tokyo-3. Only one weapon can stop it: the Evangelion, but only a few children that were born after the 2nd Impact can pilot it, and one boy, Shinji Ikari, is the only one that can save humanity from complete destruction. Sometimes, this show is very esoteric, but it can be very funny, very powerful, very sad, and very rousing. It has a little bit of everything.
  4. Grave of the Fireflies: The answer to the question, "What's so great about anime?" This movie is perhaps the most powerful anime I have ever seen and if after watching it, you still don't appreciate anime, then you never will. Made by Isao Takahata (of Studio Ghibli fame), it is the story of two children, forgotten in the midst of WWII Japan. A "Schindler's List" of anime.
  5. Oh! My Goddess!: A very cute anime about a college student who dials the wrong number and gets a goddess! It's a happy story and is a great way to start off anime watching.
  6. Macross Plus: For those of you that remember Robotech, this is more of the same, except much much better. Mac Plus has taken everything that the original Macross had (idol singer, hotshot pilot, cool mecha, great story and music), and put a new twist on it. This must be watched subtitled, if only for the opening song to ep #1, "Voices."
  7. Ranma : The story about a boy named Ranma who's engaged to a girl named Akane, except when Ranma is splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl! Another fun show for beginners, but many otaku prefer Rumiko Takahashi's other shows: Maison Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura.
  8. Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!: A Gainax production that is perhaps the anime cliché to a T. The story of a high school girl who saves humanity from an intergalactic space menace in a giant robot called Gunbuster.
  9. Tenchi Muyo: Although Pioneer's subtitling on this anime is atrocious, it is still one of the best OAVs commercially available in the U.S. Tenchi Muyo is the story of a boy named Tenchi who unseals a demon by mistake, but the demon looks like a cute girl and chases after Tenchi. The OAV is 13 parts and this description is barely the first episode! There's also a few TV series and a few movies which have been released (and the subtitling is much better for those).
  10. El-Hazard: Several high school students and their teacher are pulled in the mysterious world of El-Hazard by a strange woman. When they get there, they find that they each have a special power and one of them, Makoto, happens to look exactly like a princess that was kidnapped (never mind that Makoto is a boy...). A VERY cool 7 part OAV that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Another excellent Pioneer job.
  11. Maison Ikkoku: Most serious otaku argue whether Urusei Yatsura or Maison Ikkoku is the best of Rumiko Takahashi's animated shows, but since UY is incredibly long (somewhere close to 200 episodes, 6 movies, OAVs, etc), and has many references that American fans just wouldn't understand, Maison Ikkoku is a little kinder to the anime newbie. MI is the love story of a ronin (student that failed his entrance exams for college and is trying again) named Yuhsaku Godai who lives at Ikkoku-kan and its new manager (karinin) named Kyoko Otonashi. Incidentally, everyone's name corresponds to their room number in Ikkoku-kan. Ichinose (ichi = 1) is room 1. Yotsuya (yo = 4) is room 4. Godai (go = 5) is room 5. Akemi Roppongi (ro = 6) is Room 6. In the manga, there is a tenant in room 2 as well, and Mitaka (mi = 3) rounds out the set, although he doesn't live in Ikkoku-kan.

b) Fan Subs! Fan subtitled anime. There are fans out there dedicated enough to translate and subtitle anime that is not released in the U.S. Technically, I believe the action of fan-subbing is illegal, but the Japanese industry has chosen for the most part not to prosecute, and fan-subbers are very careful never to sell tapes, since the sale of tapes would be a serious copyright violation. All fan-subs are completely for free. You need only to cover the cost of tapes and shipping. Some fan-subbers have you send them money. Others ask for you to send them 2 tapes and then they copy anime onto them. Either way, they are not making a profit. The first time I wrote this FAQ, all of my suggestions were available as fansubs. However, all of them are now commercially owned in the U.S. If you're interested in fansubs, check out the WWW for resources and information, at sites like www.anipike.com and www.fansubs.net.


V. Resources and References

a) Poitras, Gilles "The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?"
Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA 1998 (www.stonebridge.com)
ISBN 1-880656-32-9
NC 1766 .J3 P65 1998