At a booklovers convention a mother told me she was trying to understand how her teenage daughter could be into animated weekly shows, “anime,” from Japan. She asked me: ‘But aren’t cartoons merely a series of gags for little kids?’
There will be a time (another essay) for suggesting practical titles for a mother to see, but not now: Now’s the time for explaining some of the theory of anime, because the mother’s problem was obvious: years of television brainwashing that cartoons were for children. How to help her break free?
Here’s what I could have said:
Actually, it’s Yankee adult TV shows that are for children. For example, I watched a song and dance show where each dance act was followed by another immediately: coming out of the wings and dancing to stage right, then immediately another out of the wings to stage left, and then another group immediately appearing to do their set at center stage—There was never even one full second of stillness, ever, for me to catch my breath. It’s as if American adults have attention deficit disorder, let alone their children.
Oh, their poor children: If you are in the kitchen washing dishes while the Teletoons channel is on, then all you hear is yak-yak-yak. Even if someone from the Scooby gang pronounces with great awe the mystery is solved… there won’t be a “full second” for the gang to draw a big breath and silently take it in—someone will immediately yak.
But not in anime… not from the land of people contemplating cherry blossoms. For them stillness is OK. And so in Serial Experiments Lain the camera will often hold on a humming telephone pole transformer, or repeat a silent long shot of 13-year-old Lain walking to school past blood red shadows. (See footnote)
A few years back, at an anime convention, I previewed the beginning of an anime with scenes where the camera kept holding still… to show waving grass. There was only a footpath where I presume a wide road used to be. No ray guns, no monsters, and no thought of an audience being on Ritalin. Just a quiet beauty, where a girl goes shopping for supplies in a peaceful world, long after an apocalypse. The anime is finally out on shelves now, according to Wikipedia, translated as Yokohama Shopping Log or Quiet Country Café or Café Alpha. I could recommend it to any mother, even though I barely remember the beginning after all these years. Still, the spell has stayed with me for years, enough to compose a piece this morning at my Friday Freefall class.
(Now I can remember, I just looked it up: Notice how the minute and a half opening (link) does not have the hyperactivity of a Hollywood children’s cartoon)
In a future essay, I will make suggestions for anime for viewing by aging grownups. For now, my Freefall piece suggests how anime is not for small children. (Instructive footnotes will follow)
Freefall prompt: Forget Me Nots
Flowers waved amongst the waving grass from a clean wind in a silent land. Once there were people. Some had said there were too many people, but they aren’t around now to change their minds.
Once people had been of a mind to have progress, progress and more progress. And all the while bees went along their business, aphids crawled up plant stems, and the flowers blew. Now they were blowing still. A lonely bird crossed the sky. Then the sky was empty again. A few clouds, of course, but no condensation trails of jets carrying bubbles of life. Far, far overhead, beyond the atmosphere, a few satellites continued in their decaying orbits, ever closer to death by friction of rushing atmospheric molecules, one last glorious flaming ride for the sake of humans who would not be around to see it happen.
What’s the use of a falling star if no one sees it to make a wish? But I was there. Don’t call me 9819-C; call me Peggy, for I was made to look like a human female. I had braids and a bonnet and a dress to my knees. But I knew little of humans and women. There were books in the library, but I seldom went there. I liked the out of doors. The grass rustled, billowed like the sea where once there had been a road and road shoulders and a road boulevard. All back to the world now. ‘No use crying over spilt milk’ I said. 'It’s a wonderful world of nature’ I said. Having been activated only weeks before The End, I had few memories, and what memories I had were being pushed down into the quantum soup by newer memories. I don’t suppose the humans had thought that forgetting would ever be a problem. I don’t suppose they could conceive of someone living longer than they did.
I am someone. I am Peggy. Not 9819-C. Sometimes I think it would be nice to know more. I once met a fellow named Ralph. He claimed to be human, Ralph did, and maybe he was. He told me no one knew why all the progressive lands were the ones to have cancer, why childhood allergies had appeared and then skyrocketed, why people began living less long, shorter life styles, shorter and fatter. Ralph said they’d rush to the TV every time there was a plane crash, but they never rushed to each other. The flowers blow, saying, “Forget me not.”
If you watch Lain, then be advised it isn’t a franchise where the episodes can be shown in any order, as with American cartoons or the original Star Trek. The best way to watch it is without “giving in” to your logical left brain or your ADD; instead, watch it like you would watch cherry blossoms: Just enjoy each of 13 episodes separately, each on it’s own terms.
Lain was made back in the 20th century, before school kids had any tablets or handheld devices. But in Lain they do: that was science fiction.
Be warned: In America, kids normally like to read stories about kids a year or two older than them. Not for this one: Lain is a thirteen-year-old girl, but the DVD box says, “for ages 16 and up.” And rightly so. I don’t think, as a western mother, I’d watch it with my son, only with my daughter. (Maybe I’m out of touch)
I wrote of Lain in my essay Silence and Three Nerd Heroes, archived May 2013. Here’s a link to the opening song in English: Note how the cartoon music is not frantic; the show is not from Hollywood.