Anime (Japanese animation), in the U.S. at least, has always been a niche format. I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for American audiences to embrace it, but it’s probably because a) the style is reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons (ie-“crappy”) and b) years of ridiculous dubbing have made it a running joke (“NO! NNNNNNN… IDON’TWANTOTOGOWITHYOUWAITWHATAREYOUDOINGNNNNNYAAAAH!”)
Over the last few years, Disney’s been trying to bridge the cultural divide with their U.S. releases of Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki films Spirited “I won an Oscar” Away, Princess Mononoke and Howls’ Moving Castle. The anime– a shorthand animation technique that differs from American animation style in that it uses less frames for movement and its trademark minimalist facial animation– is obviously still there , but the dubbing has been painstakingly created to feel both natural and actually sync with what’s being seen on screen. The results are fantastic, and if you can “get past the style”, these films offer up heart, incredible visuals and detailed transport into fresh, “weird” and charmingly fantastical worlds.
The latest Ghibli/Disney stateside release is Ponyo (originally released in 2008 in Japan as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea). Due in U.S. theaters in August, Ponyo is Hayao Miyazaki’s take on The Little Mermaid, which you’d never know by watching the trailer below. The U.S. release also includes a heft dollop of real voice talent, including Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Cat Blanchett.
Anime may not be for everyone, but if there’s any anime to test the waters with, it’s Studio Ghibli’s stuff fresh-faced takes on avoiding the often loud and busy narrative style of their American animation counterparts.