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It is an art form that is almost a hundred years old and an established part of Japanese culture, but it was not until the 21st century that anime turned mainstream in India. Avinash Thirtharajan, a 23-year-old engineering graduate, believes that moving on to anime is a natural progression from watching toons as a kid. "We grew up watching cartoons, " says the entrepreneur who runs his own soft skills training firm. "From something like Dragonball Z, we moved on to Naruto, to Bleach and Death Note and others. The plots are more complex. The characterisation is better. And most cartoon shows these days are pretty bad. "
Anime is the name given to Japanese animation, but outside Japan it means a very distinctive style of animation and involves a specific set of tropes. Anime became popular in the West in the 1970s on college campuses and found mainstream acceptance in the 80s and 90s. According to animeanime. biz, the market for Japanese animation in 2010 was 229 billion yen (US $ 2. 78 billion). Anime is usually based on manga, the Japanese print comics and cartoons, the market for which makes up a significant portion of the Japanese publishing industry, estimated at 420 billion yen (around $ 5. 5 billion in 2009). Manga combines Japanese cultural traditions with imports like Western comics and Disney cartoons, brought over during the American occupation of Japan. Anime and manga cover a variety of genres - basic action adventure, supernatural and horror dramas, romance, psychological thrillers, fantasy and science fiction. Several themes recur - aliens, robots, vampires, samurais and martial arts to name a few. Other anime and manga themes include : Shinigami, Death Gods who serve as the Japanese equivalents of psychopomps or the Grim Reaper;Shonen, dealing with teenage and young adult male protagonists;Mecha, featuring robots and Yaoi and Yuri, dealing with homosexual or homoerotic themes.
Anime and manga are read across all ages, and stories can range from a family friendly "Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari" (part prequel, part retelling of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women ) or a Doraemon, featuring a cat from the future and an Aesop at the end of each episode, to Angel Sanctuary that deals with sibling incest or Lolicon manga or anime which may flirt, or go all the way, with pedophilia.
But by and large, the most popular genre is the action adventure, directed towards teens and young adults. In India, the journey into anime starts with Cartoon Network. Shows like Pokemon or Dragonball Z serve as a stepping stone to Naruto, Code Geass, Neon Genesis Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop.
Santosh Pal, a student was introduced to anime by his seniors. "I was instantly hooked. Most other animated TV shows don't have much of a story. Each episode is usually just a standalone. So it's not as interesting to watch as anime, which always has a compelling narrative, " he says.
Akshay Shetty, his friend, chips in, "Because people think cartoons are for kids, they think anime is also for kids. But most anime is made for teens and adults. Plus anime girls look better than girls in regular cartoons. " He grins. The two rattle off names of their favourite shows. "Hellsing, Another and Berserk. I'm a big time gore fan. Bleach. One Piece - because its hilarious. Haruhi Suzumiya, " says Santosh. "There's Yu-gi-oh. Gundam. D. Gray Man and Darker than Black. Dragonball Z and Cardcaptors - I've been watching those since I was a kid, " says Akshay.
Sukesh Patro, a 40-year-old professor and a product of IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta, is a fan. "There isn't a single subject they haven't dealt with, in utterly fulfilling depth, " he rhapsodises. "From cooking to microbreweries, vampires and werewolves to coming of age. . . It's just cool, " he says. "Cool like post-economic, post-political, post-racial, post-social, post-cinematic and most of the time, post-apocalyptic. There is a high level of depth of characterisation is in any anime. As is plot complexity. Death Note is another one for plot complexity. It gives most murder mysteries a run for their money. The Matrix was totally ripped off from Ghost in the Shell. "
Anime purists abhor dubbed stuff. "Any serious anime watcher will tell you that watching dubs is absolutely unacceptable. For us, subs (subtitles) only. Or learn Japanese, " says Patro. He started off with subs, but "picked up some Japanese on the way. "
Anime and manga have been embraced by comic and science fiction communities the world over. Lone Wolf and Cub, created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima has won an Eisner award. Novelist Max Alan Collins, author of the graphic novel The Road to Perdition - later made into an Oscar winning movie - called it "an unabashed homage to Lone Wolf and Cub". Frank Miller has also cited the influence of Lone Wolf and Cub on his Sin City and Ronin.
"We have some great topics for anime, " says Patro. "Cricket would be great. Or our creation myths. And the Mahabharata? That would make for a kick-ass manga/anime. "
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