Anime in the UK

It’s interesting to, in the words of the great English Lit. exam question, “compare and contrast” fandom here and in the States. British fandom is a great deal less organised; it’s far more a loose network of individuals, and generally I think this is no bad thing. If you’ve more than one group covering the same territory, it inevitably leads to clashes and the sort of fan politics that are capable of destroying far more than they create. The benefits are dubious; I can see the point of organization towards a specific goal, like a con, but it’s just too much of a temptation to the megalomaniacs that come out of the woodwork given the opportunity.

One area where we are rapidly catching up with the States is in the quality of anime we get to see. One creature we can declare at least seriously endangered, if not extinct, is the dreaded ‘camera copy’. Back in the days before things like the Panasonic NV-W1 made it easy to convert tapes from NTSC to PAL, the only cheap way it could be done was to point a PAL video camera at your TV screen while playing the cassette on your NTSC machine. The results were invariably quite appalling, but did at least give you the chance to see fans’ front rooms, as they reflected nicely in the TV screen whenever it faded to black. Most people aren’t sad to see the end of this anime version of ‘Through the Keyhole’.

These days, people can be inclined to turn up their noses at anything less in than pristine condition. But in my experience, if someone’s collection is a little short on quality, it’s long in other areas – breadth of coverage, depth of coverage, or just sheer enthusiasm and generosity. I can think of many shows, first picked up in moderate quality, that have gone on to become personal favourites.

Speaking of prejudice leads me to the continual debate on older shows. I’m kinda torn here. It must be admitted that shows like ‘Yamato’ have been incredibly influential. It must, however, also be admitted that some have dated rather badly in certain aspects (we’re talking series where the characters…shudder…wear flares). They can still be enjoyed on other levels, and personally, while most of my favourites are post 1980, I’m not averse to the odd bit of ‘Speed Racer’.

Though my own prejudice has to be taken into opinion, as it could be said to apply more to older shows – I’d better declare it here so you can read these opinions in the light of my bias. Reduced to it’s simplest form and horribly generalised, it may be summed up as:


There, I feel a lot better for that. Now, the qualifications. Robots do not bad anime make, as ‘Robot Carnival’ proves. But in my experience, the more time spent on designing the technical aspects of an anime film, series or OAV, the less is devoted to things like complex characters, interesting storylines, or even half-decent animation (mecha artists don’t have to worry much about lip synching, or the infinite variety of facial expressions and enotions). This is not surprising as many such series are conceived more as a means of flogging toys than as art.

It doesn’t help that giant robots fighting each other does absolutely nothing for me, I find it an astonishingly tedious spectacle, which is a little bit strange as I’m a great fan of mayhem on a more general level. It’s probably because it’s much easier to identify with a human character, even if that human is a green-haired horny alien in a tiger-stripe bikini, than with two hundred feet of nuts ‘n’ bolts.

I can see certain parallels with martial-arts films, which up to the late 70’s were stagnating in an endless series of “You killed my brother and you must pay!” movies. Then, along came Jackie Chan, who single-handedly rejuvenated the genre so that nowadays, the best martial arts films are far more Imaginative, inventive and exciting than anything Hollywood has to offer. Maybe what’s needed is someone to drag mecha into the 1990’s (though the 1980’s would do), or introduce it to the works of Miyazaki!

Now, I say all this in a spirit of encouraging debate. There’s a nasty, growing tendency to personalise things: “I hate series X, so I must hate fans of series X”. I’ve heard reports of brawls breaking out over such matters – and it is, frankly, imbecilic. Though it does work both ways: people should be able to accept criticism of a show they like without taking it personally, as well as being able to criticise a show, without insulting people who like it.

So, if you do like mecha, I’m happy to chat to you. You might know of a good mecha film, and I’d certainly be very interested to hear about it, as I certainly make no claims to have seen all such shows. You might disagree with something else I’ve said above, or maybe you completely agree with everything! But, whatever the case, I’d like to think we can discuss it, come to our own conclusions, and then head off to the bar for a pint or two. After all, we are adults?

One part of the problem is that the word “anime” covers such an enormous range of topics and styles, everything from Cream Lemon to Totoro to Bubblegum Crisis to Lupin. Can anime fandom hold itself together in the face of such diversity? Hopefully so, at least in a loose sense. If fans end up sealing themselves into sub-genre compartments, they will lose out, as undoubtedly great series will be missed, just because they aren’t labelled the right way.

So try everything! At the very worst, all you’ll have lost is 30 minutes of your time, and there’s always the chance of finding that Ultimate Anime show, the perfect 10, the one for which you’ve been seeking all your life. Of course, god knows what you do after you’ve found it – retire to a monastery to contemplate your ‘More Sexy Two’ Dirty Pair book, I guess…

Despite any infighting, a major delight of anime fandom remains its friendliness. Barely a week passes without someone new sending me a list, or even just a letter, and such informality is a real pleasure to someone who’s background is in the world of horror fandom, where people are a good deal less free. with their movies. [Admittedly, I’ve yet to hear of anyone being raided, arrested and convicted for distributing anime, a perpetual perceived threat to horror fans, but that’s another story…] A lot of the credit for this must go to the “pioneers”, who got fandom here off on the right foot to start with, but everyone who responds to another fan deserves praise, whether they do it by post, phone or even just talking to them at this con.

Enough pontification, except for one other point: try to retain a sense of proportion. When I was over at AnimeExpo (place dropper!), I encountered that frightening creature, the Terminally Obsessive Anime Fan, for whom life was anime, and anime was life. They would flick through a stack of laser discs, reach the nekkid Oriental babe ones and exclaim in a tone of disappointment, “Oh – are these just girls then?”. If I ever reach that state, someone please put a shotgun in my mouth and blow me away!!

And with that thought I’ll leave you to the tender mercies of Kei and Yuri, the Born-again Pair…

Here we are, on the other side of paradise, so to speak. The preceding pages raise some interesting questions, most notably, “Does God know what he’s doing, letting Kei and Yuri into heaven?”. While hell may not be the nicest place in the universe, I think it’s probably several notches safer than a heaven which includes the Dirty Pair! Still, goes to prove one of the basic unfair points about Christianity: kill and destroy all you want, and you can still get into heaven if you accept God, etc, etc. Meanwhile the poor harmless anime characters (albeit harmless-to-the-point-of-positively-offensive, in the case of some!) fry for eternity.

Maybe we should go away and seek for hidden religious messages in the texts. Play those Bubblegum Crisis soundtracks backwards [!!SSIRP TUB DOG ON SI EREHT], and venerate the Holy Trinity of Kei, Yuri and Mughi, for their sterling work in bringing millions of unsuspecting citizens a,great deal closer to their Maker…

On the subject of Satan, I was watching Steve Kyte sketching at the UK Comic Art Convention, and I’m now firmly convinced that all artists gained their talents by selling their soul to the devil. There’s no other conceivable way to explain their ability to turn a few pencil strokes into a scantily-clad, heavily-beweaponed thing of beauty, when most of us are incapable of realistically portraying a sugar lump. A definite Black Art if ever I saw it, though of course, this could simply be the mere envy of someone who possesses absolutely no artibtic talent whatsoever. With a bit of space to fill, and a rapidly decreasing amount of time to fill it in, here are a couple of top 10’s.

On the left are the most requested items from Jeff Blend, a leading light in the EDC, an American group (originally devoted to Yamato/Star Blazers), the right is a similar list based on a British sample.

United StatesUnited Kingdom
1Yamato/Star BlazersMy Neighbour Totoro
2Bubblegum Crisis/CrashPandora
3Urusei YatsuraDirty Pair
4MacrossUrusei Yatsura
5Dirty PairSupernatural Beast City
6Hokuto No KenUrutsoki Doji
8Tozer One/ThreeAppleseed
9Gall ForceBubblegum Crash
10NadiaVampire Hunter D

A couple of things to point out. The US list is based on HOURS copied, which virtually bars movies and one-offs, and favours long series too; the British one uses REQUESTS and restricts series to one entry, otherwise both Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura would have multiple entries. Positions will also depend on a) how long a series has been about b) the quality and c) how widely available elsewhere it is. Also, you can’t directly compare US and UK stats as they have differing standards as to what’s legit to copy – half the British top 10 has been or is being officially released in the States, effectively putting it off limits for that list (which makes the strong showing of Bubblegum Crisis, presumably the original Japanese version, that much more impressive). All of this adds up to serious statistical dodginess, but it might give you an idea as to what’s hot.

The end of the page is near, it’s time to die. Have a nice con (subliminal message: spend enormous amounts of money at this table – that way, at least I’ll have a nice con!) and stay weird.

Jim McLennan, October 1992