What Parents Need to Know about Anime

A Catholic Parent’s Guide to Anime

Not too long ago, I wrote an article on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Today, I will take on the subject of anime at large. Hopefully, this will give you the information you need to decide whether it’s right for your kids.

In my years in the homeschool community, I have observed a diversity of opinions about anime. Some Catholic homeschooling families love anime, while others shun it entirely. Some oppose it without knowing what it is exactly. Others are turned off by the bad example of vulgar anime they may have encountered, thinking this characterizes the entire anime world.

While anime is admittedly not for everyone, before deciding what you think about it, one should first understand what anime is—and what it isn’t.

What are Anime and Manga?

Anime is simply a shorthand word for animation that is produced in Japan, typically according to specific artistic conventions. This is why you can instantly recognize anime from even a single image—it is fundamentally an artistic style of drawing cartoons. Though there are many sub-categories of anime, anime is generally recognizable by how the characters appear. They have large oval eyes, small mouths with reduced movement of lips, strong lines, and very bright colors.

Anime has a print counterpart called manga, which is essentially the same thing but in comic form. Most anime programs began as successful manga series. Manga is extremely popular in the United States. In fact, manga is currently outselling the comics of Marvel and DC combined within the U.S.

Why is Anime Popular?

What accounts for the tremendous popularity of anime? Well, to be honest, anime storytelling is vastly superior to the storytelling in Western programming, at least currently. While film and television producers in the United States seem to have forgotten how to craft a compelling story with engaging characters, anime storytelling tends to be absorbing. Its characters are compelling, and its writers know how to create emotional investment.

Anime thus fills an important niche for meaningful storytelling that Western media has abdicated. Whereas Western entertainment has descended into a death spiral of boring, rote, “safe” content, anime is vibrant, bold, and creative. Anime is not afraid to tackle very complex themes, and it generally does so in an exciting, interesting, and emotionally resonant way. It is generally thoughtful, often ascending to a place of true elegance and beauty.

In other words, anime is better at getting the audience invested overall than Western media. While this admittedly reflects my own opinion, I think this is borne out by the data, as anime currently outperforms Western media in every metric of audience satisfaction.

What Anime is Not

It is common to talk about anime as if it were a genre, the same way one would speak about horror films, romance novels, or young adult fantasy books. People often say, “I don’t like anime,” in the same way one would say, “I don’t like horror movies.” However, it is incorrect to consider anime a genre. It is more of an artistic medium.

Anime is not a genre like horror, romance, or fantasy. Rather, it is an artistic medium utilized across multiple genres—hence, there is anime romance, horror, fantasy, etc. It’s better to think of anime the way we think of watercolor paintings, black and white photography, or vinyl recordings—as a medium distinct from the content transmitted through that medium. Anime, in Japanese, is simply a shortening of the word ‘animation’. It is all-encompassing, not a single genre of animation. It simply is animation in Japan. Likewise, manga is simply comics in Japan.

This helps put into perspective how we should assess anime. There is bad anime, just like there are immoral photographs. It would not make sense to say, “I don’t like photography,” because some people choose to print immoral photos. Similarly, we must recognize that since anime is a medium, it will reflect the entire spectrum of human creativity: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Just like appreciating vinyl recordings entails searching out quality albums, so appreciating anime entails searching out quality programs and films. And just as we would not judge the medium of photography by the existence of bad photos, neither should we judge all anime by the existence of bad anime programs. Essentially, watching anime requires the same discernment you would apply before you watch, listen to, or read anything else.

Where Do I Start?

Because the world of anime is so vast, it can be daunting to get into, like wading into an ocean of unfamiliar content.

The best place to start with anime is undoubtedly Studio Ghibli, the company of director Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli has been producing very high-quality anime for three decades, appealing to viewers of all ages. Ghibli films typically feature coming-of-age themes and wholesome messages told with immersive storylines, brilliantly colorful art, and gorgeous music.

Some good Ghibli films to start with are The Secret World of Arrietty, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, and Porco Rosso. Although to be honest, all their films are worth watching. While most Ghibli films appeal to a broad audience of all ages, some will be more childish (Ponyo, for example). Others are oriented towards teens (like Princess Mononoke), and some are even catered to an adult audience, like The Wind Rises. All of them are beautiful and touching in their own way, but you will want to do some research to find out which ones are best suited to your kids’ ages.

If you like Studio Ghibli, there are various series you should check out. For younger kids, some of the most popular series are in a sub-category of anime known as “fighting anime.” These are programs where characters compete in contests, usually loosely based on martial arts. The well-known Pokémon series is based on this concept: people own little creatures called Pokémon that they train to compete against one another in a series of contests. Each creature has its own distinct powers and characteristics that are memorable. Viewers follow the main character, Ash, as his Pokémon ascend through the contest ranks, growing in strength and building relationships as they go. Pokémon is currently the most profitable entertainment franchise on the planet, more so than Marvel and Star Wars combined. There are other shows in this vein as well, such as Yu Gi Oh! and Beyblade, both of which are delightful.

Alternately, you might want to try Ranking of Kings, a charming anime set in a fictional kingdom where the heir to the throne, Prince Bojji, is afflicted with a mysterious condition that prevents him from speaking or growing any muscle. Together with his friend, a creature named Kage, Bojji must embark on a quest to discover the mystery of his condition and learn to be a ruler despite it. Ranking of Kings does have some intense moments as the story progresses, but my own kids and I have enjoyed it thoroughly.

Ultimately, the best way to find good anime is to simply ask anime fans to recommend something to you. There are plenty of Catholic homeschoolers who watch anime. So, if you’re not sure where to start, ask trusted friends & family, and you will surely get some solid recommendations.

Where Can I Find Anime?

Anime is broadly available on most streaming services, though, as usual, not every program is available on every service. Two particularly good places to find anime are Hulu and Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll is a streaming service dedicated to the distribution of anime in the United States. It is free to use with ads or you can subscribe for ad-free watching. As with any streaming service, be prudent and use discretion in whether and to what degree you let your kids use it unsupervised.

Things to Be Aware Of

In American media, there’s a lot you can tell about a program just by its rating. For example, a film will get an R-rating if there is cursing or graphic scenes. Since anime is foreign, however, it is generally not rated, making it difficult to assess from the surface. Most anime exists on a spectrum of suitability that isn’t easy to categorize. Good and wholesome elements can be juxtaposed with unsuitable elements, even within the same episode. It’s best to read reviews and talk to anime-knowledgeable friends if you’re unsure about a program’s age range. Like any form of media, anime requires some time curating for suitability. Before introducing any anime to my children, I typically watch several episodes of it myself to get a sense of the tone and content of the program.

Second, because it is created in Japan, anime—especially fantasy anime—often draws on stories and creatures from Japanese mythology. I personally don’t find this objectionable. One would expect stories set in different parts of the world to feature themes and beings from each culture’s respective mythos. However, I do want to mention it as some parents are sensitive about this sort of thing.

What do you think of anime? Does your family watch any? If so, what would you recommend for beginners? I invite you to join us in the Catholic Homeschool Connectionc Community and let us know!

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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