Anime’s rise in popularity immerses students and staff into new culture

Aditya Thiyag | The Chronicle

Despite WandaVision, The Mandalorian, and Cobra Kai all airing new episodes in a single month, none of these western juggernauts could top the anime Attack on Titan as February 2021’s most-watched show in the United States.

Anime is an umbrella term used to describe any piece of animation originating from Japan, including films and television shows, and are often adaptations of Japanese graphic novels (known as Manga). The first anime were propaganda produced by the government after World War II, but the industry developed into a cultural force larger than anyone at the time could have predicted. Just this past summer, the anime film Demon Slayer: Mugen Train made box office history, quickly becoming the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time, with a $6.4 million opening weekend in America alone, a worldwide gross of five hundred and three million dollars, and sold over forty-one million tickets.

One of those forty-one million tickets was purchased by Junior Jedrek Goh. A newer anime fan, Goh loved the film and the Demon Slayer TV show it came from. He cited the in-depth character building of a former side character, Rengoku, as a primary reason for his enjoyment of the film.

“You would think that Rengoku is just going to be a powerful [character] with no personality,” Goh said, “But in reality, fights, they do so much character building on him in just this one movie. There’s a dream scene with his brother, and one with his mother later on, and you get to see another aspect of him that we didn’t originally see at the beginning of the movie.”

The idea of an in-depth study of individual characters culminating in an all-encompassing view of the story heavily appealed to Annamaneni. He explained that this level of detail paid to side characters didn’t only enhance his entertainment, but also helped him realize that every person has more to them than meets the eye.

“Everyone is three-dimensional. You might only see one dimension of them, but there’s always a deeper personality to them. [Someone] could be a lot more outgoing at home than they are at school, and Anime has shown me that a lot of people put on faces to get through the day instead of showing who they are. Each person has their own perspective and each person is the main character of their own story. There’s no person that’s just a side character or one-dimensional.”

The overall style of anime is significantly different from that of western animation. The heavy subject matter and the emphasis on life lessons defined the anime films crafted by critically acclaimed anime film company Studio Ghibli. These films, especially one titled Spirited Away, were what initially drew Geometry Teacher Aaron McAlpine into anime as a high schooler since the western cartoons he watched never “tackled heavy themes” or had “a lot of gory imagery”. McAlpine was profoundly affected by the films and believed that they taught him skills that he uses even as an adult.

“When I saw [Spirited Away] on Cartoon Network for the first time, I was kind of blown away,” McAlpine said. “I got extremely attached to the characters because I related to them on some level, whatever their struggle may be. It also taught me ways to go about problems even in real life, teaching me how to be empathetic to other people.”

A 2013 Mason High School graduate, McAlpine witnessed the evolution of anime and its growing popularity over the last decade, and he felt that the success of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train in the United States, among other anime, was a cultural milestone.

“[America] always gets animated movies from Disney or Pixar,” McAlpine said. “Very rarely do you ever see anime or Japanese animated movies in American theaters, and it’s mind-blowing that they’re starting to bring anime over here.”

The increased number of distributors and variety of anime in 2021 has opened the anime industry up to a global audience, something Annamaneni thought that people should take advantage of.

“Everyone has like a little kid inside of them,” Annamaneni said. “Anime brings that[little kid] out of us. It allows us to dream of when we were young, to have those dreams of being a superhero or fantasy character again. Even if it’s for just 23 minutes, it lets us imagine what could be, and it’s magical.”

Illustration by Allison Droege