I can list a whole range of eastern-born cartoons that I think look absolutely gorgeous, and whose visual style I wish very much that I could emulate.
Only a handful of those, however, can I refer to as being "good". Or even "tolerable".
Having watched them for most of my life, going back to things like Mysterious Cities of Gold and the original Astro Boy, I can say with a certain degree of authority that: Japanese storytelling is a bit wank. Daring and dynamic visuals, sure. Crap narrative.
And it can't ALL be blamed on "bad translation".
There's a wide range of gripes to be had, but chief among them these days is that the major characters, those who one would assume you're to root for, across however many episodes the series consists of, are generally complete and utter dicks.
I'm currently wading through Gurren Lagann, a series which people have raved about for a while but which I'd not had the chance to watch until now (spoiler approaching, should you be in the same boat). There's a character in this called Kamina. He's an arrogant, aggressive, idiotic thug that, when not beating up his weedy little friend, instead throws him into harms way, and drops the line "Who the hell do you think I am" at least four times an episode. Which isn't annoying at all.
He's a douche, basically.
Thankfully, he dies. Inexplicably, all of his companions are broken up about this (which I assume means the audience is expected to be also). What the hell? This guy was a twat! Don't weep by his grave! DANCE on it! He's gone. You'll all live longer!
The more contemporary anime I watch right now, the higher the pr*ck count seems to be, and they're all primary, if not central, characters. This probably explains why I keep going back to my older DVD box-sets rather than purchasing new ones. I just can't watch a series where the character that gets the most screen time is such a dislikeable prat.
I've been digging around in my retro games mag collection, and found an old copy of Amiga Power. In it, they listed a few of the key tropes that will always be found in an anime. In 20 years, nothing's changed:
[excerpt from Amiga Power, Issue 50, June 1995]
Essential Anime Scene 1: A vocal conflict.
The thing that separates Anime shouting from shouting per se is the highly stylised and distinct Japanese way it always gets done. Take, just by way of example, a testosterone and amphetamine charged showdown between the evil Antagonist and green-haired, large-eyed Protagonist. The shouting must take the almost haiku-like form of:
Repeat at least 15 times.
Essential Anime Scene 2: Something is surprising.
96% of Anime plots make no sense, jumping from a poignant confession of undying love one moment to a hell-spawned demon biting off a motorcyclist's head the next. If the viewers, the writers and the animators don't understand them, why should the voice-over artists that dub them? To cover up any embarrassing pauses that are caused by a particularly indecipherable sequence, all characters go "huh?" to show that even THEY haven't got the foggiest idea of what's occurring. It's become an expected convention.
Essential Anime Scene 3: She's asking for it.
The Otaku WireHeads who create Anime films love women. They think they are soft and warm and yummy. Unfortunately, they don't meet women, and even if they did, wouldn't possess the social skills to talk to one, and here's the rub. Their somewhat mixed-up feelings invariably find their way into their films. To full recreate this, scantily clad buxom babes ripping at each other's clothing is good, but women being bashed around by nine foot tall blokes is better. Strangely, this too has become the standard in anime and manga.
Essential Anime Scene 4: A meaningful debate.
Of course, it's not just terrorising innocent women, you know. What do you think these people are? Monsters? To enrich the viewer's lives, or in an attempt to even out the gratuitous violence and misogynistic attacks (one or the other), Anime films MUST contain scenes provoking thought. Read the assorted works of the world's spiritual leaders (God, Allah, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, etc) and simply plunder random passages from each. Stick a few characters in a cell or on a mountain for a scene and have the spout some of these musings. Perfecto.
Essential Anime Scene 5: The allegedly humorous incident.
Despite all you hear about Benny Hill being sold successfully to European TV stations, humour doesn't travel that well – look no further than Blossom of Hanging with Mr Cooper for proof of this. Anime humour comes in two basic forms – 'Giggle, that's a nude girly' gags and slapstick. Slapstick a la Sam Peckinpah/Quentin Tarantino, that is. People sprinting into unseen plate-glass windows, smashing their teeth on table edges or getting their hands torn off is funny. Apparently. Something to do with the East/West cultural differences, we think.
Essential Anime Scene 6: Air is moving rapidly.
Be it the front of an approaching storm, the fearsome updraught of a cataclysmic conflagration or merely the shockwave of a small, tactical, thermo-nuclear device, numerous scenes in any Anime film MUST be windy. Ideally, the character must be standing on some lofty peak, fiercely backlit, maximizing the potential for flapping capes and those light flares that happen accidentally in movies but are carefully recreated in animated form. Skyscrapers are good, as are mountains. Or how about the wing of a 747, the hero stoically leaning into 500mph head winds?
Listening to: Booming orchestral scores
Reading: a book
Watching: Craptacular anime