Anime FAQ Reference Materials
Self-serve answers to the questions people new to anime keep asking us.
If you have a question (about anime, that is) that isn't answered here, feel free to ask, and we'll try to answer it (and maybe post the answer here if you're not the only one who asks).
Q: What is Anime?
A: Anime is an English name for the style of art and animation developed by (but no longer exclusively produced by) the Japanese. The word "anime" is just the Japanese word for animation (of any kind), and it is pronounced "Annie-May" (both like the English names). Other occasionally used words are Japanimation, Japanime, and manga (which is the Japanese word for comic books and animation in general).
Q: All right, that's what the word means, so what is Anime?
A: The anime style was pioneered by Osamu Tezuka, in particular with his seminal series Astroboy, a franchise that continues to be popular over a half-century later. He established an art style and was among the first to feature strong characterization, more emotional content, and a tendency toward fantastic settings.
That style expanded into an ever-broader range of genres, and around the '70s movies and series targeted at adults proliferated. The range of visual styles, stories, and creative visions has continued to increase since then. Anime today is no longer a genre so much as a broad artistic movement; within it you can find a representation of nearly any sort of story imaginable. There are sci-fi stories, comedies (both of the silly and more adult type), action flicks of every flavor (much anime, but by no means all of it, fits here), romance stories (from adolescent girl stuff all the way to adult romantic drama), dramas (some of very high quality), and even literary adaptations. Anime is also no longer exclusively Japanese, though the bulk of it is still created in that country.
While today animation targeted at adults is relatively common--including non-anime adult-targeted animation like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The Venture Brothers--it was not so long ago in the US that animation was relegated almost entirely to children's fare. There were a handful of American animated movies targeted at adults--mostly the work of Ralph Bakshi, ranging from the animated Lord of the Rings to the infamous Fritz the Cat--but the increasing popularity of anime was significant in changing the landscape of US-produced animation. Anime--both imports and the occasional non-Japanese production--is now everywhere.
If you're still one of the few who thinks of animation as something that can't be of interest to adults, you might be surprised by anime--it's not all Pokemon and giant robots, just as not every live-action movie is a sci-fi blockbuster. Though anime isn't for everybody, there is at least something within the art movement that will interest almost everybody. This website might even help you find something you'll like.
Q: Is this stuff OK for my kids to watch?
A: It depends. Some movies, yes (for example Ponyo). Others, definitely not. Check out the content notes of the reviews here to get detailed information about what to expect, and the box will usually have a mention of the content in the small print on the back somewhere, as well as an age recommendation. In any case, always keep an eye on what your kids watch, especially when it comes to anime.
Q: Is this series/show/movie OK for somebody who doesn't like strong language/violence/nudity/etc.?
A: Again, if the movie or series you're wondering about has a review on this site, check the content notes; those should cover pretty well what kind of objectionable material is in the series (please let us know if you don't think it does!). If it's not reviewed here, or you need more details, you can always ask us directly, or ask in the forums.
Q: Why is there so much nudity even in kids shows?
A: First of all, Japanese attitudes about nudity are far less strict than those in the US (and many other countries), and it is even legal to show some nudity on TV in Japan (actually, it is in the US now, too, but it has been there for quite a while, and it's not such a big deal). Since attitudes toward nudity are less strict in Japan, it's also not entirely uncommon to see nudity in anime, including shows targeted at children, though the context is rarely erotic in those situations. For example, there have been brief spots of nudity in the Dragonball TV series and the Sailor Moon series (edited out, unsurprisingly, for broadcast elsewhere) that may have caught the eye of older viewers, but were not considered inappropriate for younger ones.
Second (as mentioned above) animation in Japan can be targeted at any age group from young children up through adults, and the themes depicted match. You wouldn't be surprised to see some nudity in a live-action R-rated movie, so it shouldn't be surprising to see nudity in a Japanese movie targeted at adults, even if it happens to be animated. This doesn't mean you should keep your kids away from all anime--just realize that, as with live action movies, you should be careful of what they're watching; there are some movies for kids, and some that aren't. If you're a parent, make sure you know which is which.
There is also, of course, a significant market for anime specifically targeted at teenage or young-adult males, which feature everything from a great deal of skin to outright pornography. Don't take the existence (or popularity) of this sort of anime to mean that everything with some adult themes is low-brow--you'd be missing some very impressive cinema.
Q: What's with the huge eyes?
A: No, it's not some kind of Asian inferiority complex, and actually, not quite all Anime has the big eye style. But, most of it does, and the fact of the matter is that no one is 100% sure why. However, the first person to use that style is usually credited as Osamu Tezuka, the creator of the old Astro Boy TV series among various other very popular TV shows that became the foundation for Japan's entire animation and comic industry. As to where Tezuka got the idea, Fred Ladd, who worked with him, has said (in Akadot interview no longer available online) that he said he was emulating Betty Boop, who was popular in Japan at the time. Other early US-produced animated characters that predate the anime style also have very large eyes (if you look, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse have huge eyes).
The eyes also no doubt relate to the simple fact that humans find big eyes cute (small children have proportionally bigger eyes, compared to adults). In any case, the animated TV series created by Tezuka were very popular, and the style stuck. It has been altered and adapted over the ages, but the eyes have remained roughly the same. I've also heard another reason for the size of the eyes summed up by the old expression "eyes are windows to the soul." The Japanese (and by extrapolation Japanese animation) are very interested in emotion, and what better way to express emotion than through... well, really huge eyes.
Q: Who created anime, and when?
A: The art form we now call "anime" doesn't have a specific birthdate, and it wasn't exactly created by anyone. But, partly as a result of being either the first or among the first to use the big-eyed style, Tezuka Osamu is generally considered the "father" of anime. He started creating comics in 1947, which were extremely popular, and at the beginning of 1963 Tetsuwan Atomu (known outside Japan as Astro Boy) began airing. That is generally considered the first anime-style animated production. Animation had been produced in Japan as early as 1917, but the style was generally different from what is now considered anime.
Q: How, exactly, do you pronounce "anime"?
A: The easiest way to figure it out is to say two English names together: "Annie" and "May", but if you really want to pronounce it well, you can either read through lesson one in our Japanese lessons, or try this: Each of the three syllables has an equal length, and is pronounced with a relatively clipped vowel at the end. "A-ni-me" has an "a" which is pronounced like the a in "father" (sort of "ahh"; not as nasal as a normal American English "a" but also not like "on"), "ni" which is like "knee" (but with a shorter "ee" on the end), and "me" which sounds like the beginning of "met" (with no "t" of course). Stick all three syllables together without pauses, and you have anime. Writing it with an French-style accent on the "e" is also occasionally done, and although this makes the correct pronunciation of the final "e" more clear, it isn't really correct since the word is technically Romanized Japanese, which has no accent marks.
Q: What's up with all the weird English in the titles?
A: Many young people in Japan are really into English--much like some young Americans seem to think Japanese writing is cool. (You could also think of it as similar to the way some Americans think French is cool, but with a more modern image.) English phrases (some fine, some rather nonsensical) are common in advertising, and many popular songs have titles and a few lyrics in English. Likewise, many anime titles end up in English; some of them make sense (Vampire Hunter), and others (Plastic Little) are only used because they sounded cool to the creator.
Q: How come they keep saying English words in the Japanese songs?
A: As mentioned above, English in Japan is cool, particularly with the youngsters. As a result, it has become very common to see few words or phrases of English in a Japanese song, particularly in the refrain. I would go so far as to say that almost all pop songs have at least a few words of English in them. There are a lot of English words borrowed into Japanese as well, so in some cases it's just because a common word or phrase with an English root.
Q: You keep using weird acronyms or words in your reviews. What do they mean?
A: The most common question is about OAV/OVA, both of which refer to a straight to video miniseries, usually with between 4 and 6 parts. For more detailed definitions of that and a lot of other useful terms, try our anime glossary.
Q: I saw AKIRA/Ninja Scroll/Vampire Hunter D, and I loved it. What other anime would be good to see?
A: Unfortunately, as with everything that relates to taste, it's hard to tell what you'll like. A good place to start would be the Top 10s, which has a few relatively safe recommendations in several different categories. You can also look at the "If you liked..." section of any review, to get a few suggestions of similar anime. Lastly, if you're stumped, you can always poke through the reviews at this site looking for something that sounds like it will appeal to you. One more thing: AKIRA and Ninja Scroll are special cases, on account of being more or less the pinnacle of their respective genres. The reviews of each suggest several similar movies in the "If you liked..." section, but don't expect any similar movie to live up to their standards.
Q: What does [Japanese word] mean? I keep seeing anime fans use it.
A: Again, check our anime glossary or our Japanese dictionary. Lots of good definitions are there, and if you don't find it, you can always ask us.
Q: What do -Chan, -San, and all those words stuck onto Japanese names mean?
A: Where in English we have a basic set of prefixes (Mr., Mrs., Ms.), Japanese titles are suffixes (they come after the name), there are more of them, and they are more strictly based on the speaker's rank in society relative to the person they're talking to. They are also not usually gender specific. Ones you will hear most commonly in anime are:
- The basic "Mr."/"Ms." suffix; not gender specific. Used by adults (or sometimes younger people) to refer to roughly social equals, or as an all-purpose polite suffix.
- The standard "cute" suffix. Generally used with the names of small children or younger girls; also used affectionately by boyfriends/girlfriends to refer to each other. In some cases used with close friends of either gender, particularly by girls, in place of or in combination with a nickname.
- Very honorific suffix. Used when being extremely polite, or more commonly toward people far socially superior (kings, lords, gods). Not common in everyday modern use outside discussions of the Imperial family, but frequently heard in anime.
- Generally used to refer to social equals or slight inferiors, particularly younger males.
- Rarely used, old fashioned honorific; similar to -sama.
- Can be used as a suffix or as a standalone "title" (not attached to a name, that is). Usually used to refer to people in the same group as you, but somewhat higher (for example, students in a higher grade).
- The opposite of "sempai"; used to refer to social inferiors.
- Roughly "Teacher," also used as both a suffix and term of reference. Can also be used for respected people in educated positions, such as doctors. This is the once case where there is a rough English equivalent; one can say, for example, "Professor Smith," or merely call him/her "Professor" (the word "sensei," however, includes other English titles, like "Doctor" or "Teacher" as well).