As a kid, my favourite format of cartoons was anime (アニメ).

In those days, RTM’s channel 1 (what is now TV1) would start at 3pm on a Saturday with CHiPs (otai aje paham ni – hahaha), then at 4pm they’d show this mecha anime called Blocker Gundan 4 Machine Blaster. We only had a B&W Toshiba in those days and I never failed to follow the exploits of Tenpei Asuka and his team which comprised the usual chara combo of another young chap, a fat guy, a kid and a gorgeous woman (with the largest non-oriental sparkling eyes known to man). I remembered one day being told off by my late mom for watching Doraemon (ni bukan untuk budak lagi, ni TADIKA!). I was twenty. Go figure. Hehe.

Even now I still favour anime if you were to give me a choice. Animation has gone through leaps and bounds with digital technology. Gone are the days of handpainted cels – just take a look at Matt Groening’s Futurama and the new Appleseed 2004. CG animation films of the Pixar persuasion are great but when it comes to cartoons, anime really does it for me. When I was a student at medical school, anime was beginning to be a growing phenomenon in the west unlike Malaysia. Movies/OVAs were then available only at specialty comic shops like Forbidden Planet. I am sure one possible reason for the popularity of anime in those days was the availability of mild hentai titles the likes of Urotsukidoji (mild on the hentai, not so on the violence. hahaha). I had to be content with the poorer quality of VHS in those days and some titles costed a bomb, as they sell them by the episodes (like Bubblegum Crisis which lasted for only 30 minutes per tape). I personally prefer to watch anime in Japanese with subtitles, even if the story was set in the west with western characters. Probably I had been scarred by watching badly dubbed versions on Malaysian telly. Who can’t forget the teeny female voice used to dub the likes of Nobita (the voice was so castrated in quality) and Doraemon (this one is castrated times four). The subbed (as opposed to dubbed) titles available then were actually not many and we weren’t really spoilt for choice.

Manga was also quite popular with titles like Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball Z, but it didn’t really catch on for me. Not really into reading black and white drawings and you have to read it from right to left even though the text has been translated into romaji.

Unlike the stories you see in western animation, Japanese anime has a whole gamut of stories available. Like manga, there is a multitude of anime titles aimed at different age groups (shonen for boys, bishojo for girls, hentai for pervs – the list goes on). Due to different cultural sensibilities, it would be normal to find violence, nudity and mild sexual references in animation aimed for upper primary school children and teens like Naruto as an example. You would find tales revolving around issues seen in day to day life engrained in the story, may it be in mecha-type anime like Macross, sci-fi like Cowboy Bebop or teen action like Bleach (not THAT kind of teen action, dammit). So far in the few anime series I have watched, none were at the level of, say, MTV’s moronic Beavis & Butthead.

With the advent of broadband internet connection in the recent years, current TV anime titles have been available for download via IRC and bittorrent. In a week or so after an episode of a series is being aired on the telly in Japan, you get diehard fans doing the subtitles (fansubs, the anime version of scanlation) and it’d be available for the non-nihon go speaker to download and enjoy. I recently finished watching Samurai 7 which was a delightful and somewhat faithful sci-fi adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai). There were a few changes, obviously to suit the sci-fi nature of the series, but if any of you who had watched the original 1954 classic, many aspects of Kurosawa’s film remained in the anime. I thought seeing Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo as a steam-powered robot was one of the most enjoyable aspect of the story.

I think the somewhat serious aspect of these stories had maintained my interest in watching Japanese animation. Films made by the likes of Mamoru Oshii (Patlabor and Ghost In The Shell) and Hayao Miyazaki (from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away – can’t wait for Howl’s Moving Castle) have so much more depth to them whilst maintaining the enjoyment factor that the audience would expect from a cartoon.