The Big Picture

Not much activity in this little corner of the interweb, but I guess I'll keep trudging on, little by little. I guess I have only myself to blame for letting it moulder for so many years. I remember when people would actually email me about when this URL would become active with actual content, oh so many moons ago.

OK, that ends the shameless self-pity party session of this blog entry. On to the actual subject at hand.

What will be the "Big Picture" for anime in America?

In the past two decades, we have seen the rise of the big budget comic book movie. More and more of the box office pie is being served up by colorful, CGI-laden epics based on genre fiction (I am including written prose, as well as comics), from "Lord of the Rings" to "300" and, more recently, "Transformers".

Manga has taken off for the big time, achieving mass market success. Anime influences abound in Hollywood and has become an integral part of pop culture to some extent. It's come a long, long way since the days of daisy-chained VCR dupes, smelly photocopies and untranslated import laserdiscs that cost $120 a pop or more that I remember when I was a young'un.

Yet, where are the big anime stories fully funded and produced in the US? I mean genre movies, epic tv shows and complex storylines. Where is Evangelion USA? If you know of any, and are reading this, submit a reply. I really want to know! Or even if you have an idea of how something like that may come about.

For my own example, I think the "Matrix" franchise is perhaps the best example, especially with their release of the Animatrix DVD a few years back. But that achievement is fading fast and ended with more of a whimper than a bang, and it doesn't seem to be the same trend as the now regular appearance of comic book based movies.

As for me, I won't pretend to be a prognosticator of what popular trends will produce in the future. I can only submit my hopes, ones that I have held ever since I became of fan of this "movement".

First and foremost, I am also a Science Fiction fan. A fan of what I call the Big Idea SF. It seemed like the Japanese weren't afraid to take on the scope of Big Idea SF. Certainly, anime is guilty of falling into cliche as much as any form of mass entertainment, yet, their creators always seemed to at least plow the fields of the Big Idea even if they may not have always reaped the full rewards (in my opinion, of course) of it.

So what do I mean by the Big Idea. Simply put, the places and concepts that most cinema seems to merely touch at--perhaps for good reason: stories of human evolution, technological change, and mind blowingly grand scale (either in spacial or conceptual terms). It may be that the public is truly not receptive to it, or can only take it in a simplistic level. Star Wars came close in terms of imagery, but failed in terms of plot and conceptualization, turning into a cartoon of itself. Ironic that a fan of "cartoons" could make such a statement?

Spielburg's joint creation with the late Stanley Kubrick, "AI", has mostly been forgotten and not popularly successful, although I think it's a classic and one of the few movies that really explored what it means to be human on a grand scale.

Anime plays with these ideas all the time, from epic struggles across star systems, cyborg humans, humanized robots, flights through time and space, and most importantly the metaphysical and existential questions that arise from these explorations--all the while entertaining you and maybe doing some fan service (Gainax, natch).

Big Idea SF has to be Bold, Big, and Bravura. It can blow your mind and make you go wow or scratch your head and say, "What the heck just happened? Why did he turn into a big freakin' space baby at the end?" It's a little pompous and perhaps a little full of itself, but it still should have a bit of wink over its shoulder so that it knows that you know it's all in good fun. It should set alight attack ships off the shoulder of Orion, but remember to stop and practice the simple art of staring at a floating lantern on a placid lake. It should smirk a little, cry a little, and fill you with a sense of wonder as the windmills churn in the afternoon breeze, there is a smell of rain in the wind and something else you can't quite put a finger on as the setting sun is occluded by the remnants of another age, vast and towering.

It should remind you of that time you were a kid and you pretended to be Huck Finn on his raft down the Mississippi, except the river is the cosmos and your companion an iron giant. It should make you sad at how frightfully stupid human beings can be, yet, ever hopeful of their inherent dignity. It can be as elemental as lusting for the swelling breasts of Artemis to as sacred as Nausicaa's unconditional love and self-sacrifice.

All too much of what we see in on the screen, both big and small, today chooses to retire to the simpler questions, the ones that have been asked and answered so many times before: does the hero(ine) get the girl(guy), does the bad guy get it in the end, does the good guy get away with it, are the brave truly brave, are the cowards truly cowards, who is right and who is wrong? Come on people, you've seen it all before. Try something new fer criminy. Heck, in anime, they can dish that out and still do the Big Idea at least....