A NEW SERIES FROM SHINICHIRO WATANABE COULD HELP BRING JAPAN'S ANIMATED TV SHOWS, OFTEN DISMISSED AS LOW-BROW OR KIDDIE ENTERTAINMENT, SOME WELL-DESERVED CRITICAL CONSIDERATION.
from , 3 January 2014
When Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from feature films last September, countless media outlets and fans around the world mourned the loss of a beloved filmmaker--Japan's most famous since Akira Kurosawa--whose movies had brought gravitas to the country's animation industry, long a niche interest in the West. Thanks to thought-provoking films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and of course, Miyazaki's work, American interest in Japanese animation had exploded over the last three decades and made a huge cultural impact.
Critical focus, however, has stayed largely on feature films, while anime--referring specifically to Japanese animated television series--has not earned the same kind of respect. An animator like Daisuke Nishio, for example, who directed the hit Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z series, is not considered an artist like Miyazaki, whose drawings have been displayed in museums in Paris.
image: Cartoon Network
But while anime has always struggled to be taken seriously as an art form, one director might be able to make critics reconsider: Shinichiro Watanabe, director of Cowboy Bebop, whose new series Space Dandy is debuting on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim on January 4.
Japanese filmmakers first began experimenting with animation in the early 1900s, not long after animators in the West like Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), but it was not until the 1960s that the industry began to take shape under Osamu Tezuka, the artist whose large-eyed aesthetic is most associated with anime to this day. In 1963, Tezuka's Astro Boy was the country's first popular televised animated series and was such a hit that it was the first anime broadcast overseas. Demand grew over the years and spread around the world, but despite its by-the-numbers popularity, anime remained a largely subcultural taste, not helped by the social outcast otaku image that persists, even in Japan. In general, animation is still widely considered children's entertainment, which has been difficult to overcome, and anime has added cultural boundaries to conquer.