Some thoughts on the Miyazaki interview

Credit to linked pixiv user

A couple of weeks ago, an interview with renowned anime director Hayao Miyazaki was released through the Japanese web site Golden Times. Although it’s fairly well known that despite directing animated films, Miyazaki dislikes the Japanese anime industry, some of his particular responses in the interview got the anime fan community perturbed to say the least. While I didn’t get angry about it like a lot of other people did, it was an interesting thing and today I feel like offering my two cents…

The news blog RocketNews 24 translated the portion of the interview that caused such an upset, so credit goes to their post here for the following translations:

::As Miyazaki sketches a drawing of a girl:: “You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life. If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it.

I can understand what he means as far as his style of character design and depiction versus just about every anime TV series. Anyone who’s seen a few Ghibli films knows that the design of their characters as far as faces and facial expressions is extremely distinctive and looks unlike the anime TV series we watch, to the point where many fans put Ghilbi films outside the general “anime” category. The way I interpret Miyazaki’s words here, he believes that it’s better to make your characters look, act, emote, move, etc., like real people rather than just “characters,” and the only way to do that is to spend a lot of time observing real people and pick up on the various unique traits in how they move, make facial expressions, react to things, etc,.

I can agree that when I watch his movies, his characters strike a good balance between feeling real in terms of movement and expressions while still looking like animated characters. But I believe that could also be due to the high-budget animation that Ghibli films have; with more quality put into each frame, it’s natural for the flow of characters’ actions and every other movement to seem more real compared to the average budget of a TV series. I feel the same when I watch other high-budget anime movies from Satoshi’s Kon’s films to the Haruhi movie, so I can’t say Ghibli has a monopoly on making characters move and emote realistically. But again, perhaps he specifically means making the characters look and feel more real outside of things like better flowing animation due to a high movie budget. For example, the average Ghibli female lead doesn’t have the abnormally large eyes you see in most anime female characters nor do characters in Ghibli films randomly break out into cartoonish hyperbolics to provide sudden comic relief. Humor, character emotions, and most everything else in Miyazaki’s works is more subdued and ground in reality while still being whimsical and fantastical, and I agree that that’s a charm that has made his films so beloved in Japan and beyond.

So there’s nothing outrageous with him implying that it’s better to base your characters on observations of real people, but what he says next in the interview is what really set people off:

Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!

There’s some extreme claims here, but strangely, I think I understand what he means. I think he means that most animated works in Japan have simply become too overrun with cliches tailored to make otaku spend their money more than artistic merits like telling truly sincere stories with believable characters. Anime character archetypes like moe girls, tsunderes, yanderes, bishonen and the like are what have come to define anime as “anime” in the past decades, but Miyazaki feels that they’re poor interpretations of how real people look and act because the people who create these anime series and characters don’t base them on observations of real people, but perhaps on selfish things (hence why he would accuse them of being only interested in themselves) like making characters match certain stereotypes because that’s what sells to otaku. I feel like Miyazaki sees the anime industry as nothing more than “otaku making anime for otaku.”

Again, I can understand this gripe he has. Anyone who’s watched enough anime can easily identify the tropes and character archetypes that run rampant in just about every series. Really think about your average anime tsundere or shonen hero, or even any main character from the anime series you’re currently watching. Think about how they look, talk, act, emote, respond to things, etc,. Could a person like that character actually exist in real life? (disregarding any fantasy background they may have, like being a god or demon or something) Then try the same thing with a character from a Ghibli film. For me at least, it’s much easier to imagine someone like Chihiro (Spirited Away) or Lady Eboshi (Princess Mononoke) being a real person than Rikka and Dekomori from Chuunibyou or Raku and Chitoge from Nisekoi.

But is it really a terrible thing for your characters to always seem fictional rather than just animated versions of real people? The way I see it, there are two purposes behind all art: for the creator to express themselves and/or for the enjoyment of the recipients of the art, like wish-fulfillment or escapism. Miyazaki has his way of expressing the kinds of stories and characters he likes in his art, and seeing how respected he is, his style brings enjoyment to a wide variety of people. As for other anime, sure, many low-brow series are made strictly with commercialism in mind rather than artistic desire, but I can’t imagine the original creators of most anime, from Code Geass and Lucky Star to Toradora! and Gurren Lagann, not having that desire to express a world and characters for the sake of at least some artistic value. Perhaps they purposely do some things to make it more marketable to otaku, and even if the characters act more like characters than real people, these stories are still imbued with universal themes about life and human nature and emotion even if it’s on a more stylized scale than your average Ghibli flick. Many people watch anime precisely because of escapism and wish-fulfillment – they don’t want to see a world that mirrors real life, but something more exciting and fantastical, with characters who act in exaggerated ways for the sake of appeasing that wish-fulfillment. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone looking for pure entertainment or escapism in what they watch over something that’s strictly about art and realism.

Even if it’s true that the creators of these anime “don’t like looking at other humans” (though making a statement like that without actually knowing these people is pretty extreme already), then fine, that’s the emotion they’re trying to express in their anime; what is it that turns them off about reality and makes them want to create characters that act in a way that’s more appealing to them (more appealing to otaku). Yes, the downside to all this is that it saturates the anime industry and makes it hard for a non-otaku to get into the medium. But truly good anime are still being made, and for them, even otaku cliches here and there won’t deter a well written story and characters from appealing to even non-otaku. If it did, only the stereotypical antisocial otaku that Miyazaki describes would ever like anime, and we all know that’s far from the case.

To summarize, I think it’s fair enough for Miyazaki to claim that it’s a good thing to use observations of real people to help with drawing characters, but I don’t agree that this is the only artistic way to depict your works, nor that all the modern anime creators out there “don’t like looking at other humans.” But if you consider his age and background, it’s not surprising that a 73-year old anime director would feel like the modern anime industry is in a bad way and be fed up about how different most anime is compared to his works. It’s just one of those things I guess.

16 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Muse says:

    I agree, and I wasn’t really botheredby the article either. Miyazaki has been and always will be a grumpy old man. :) I think a lot of the confusion and backlash came from the fact that he used the word “otaku,” and that doesn’t have as negative a definition in the English fandom as it does it Japan, so people thought that he was hating on fans. I saw post on Tumblr that compared what he said to saying that the video game industry is full of neckbeards, and I think that’s a good analogy. The entire fanbase and industry isn’t that way, but becoming increasingly inward looking can’t be good in the long run. I don’t think that’s happening on as large a scale as Miyazaki claims (if anything, I think the fanbase has become more accepting of things that break the “anime” mold in the last few years), but again, he’s always been a grumpy old man.

    • Yumeka says:

      I totally agree with you. People know that Miyazaki is grumpy about things in the modern anime industry, but the fact that he seemed to put blame on the actual fans (otaku) in his statements is what got people upset this time. In the end, it’s not a big deal and he is entitled to his opinion of course. But since he didn’t present any evidence to back up his claim, like cite actual anime creators who are otaku and don’t like looking at real people, etc., I couldn’t take him more seriously than just an old guy’s griping XD

      • seasons says:

        He probably doesn’t want to name names because why should he make enemies? He’s “grumpy” if he doesn’t call actual people in the industry “otaku,” but he’d be thoughtful and nice if he actually went ahead and did that?

        It’s up to the press and to critics to call out lazy creators but that’s never going to happen in such a niche market. I’m speaking of the anime press in the English-speaking world but I don’t imagine it’s very different in Japan (I’d like to find out if it was, though). The anime blogosphere is never going to reward realism or risk taking and actually celebrates the opposite. Very little in televised anime feels “real,” aside from the bloodshed, misery and suffering in everyone’s favorite action series.

        I don’t think there are many anime fans on either side of the pond who take the medium seriously MORE than they enjoy it as a form of escapism. Not saying that you can’t enjoy it both ways as a viewer but it’s astounding to see how many anime fans are taking his comments really personally and seem desperate to parry them rather than consider the possibility that he might have a point. But this is typical of most young people on the Internet today when it comes to most social issues, and not just the subculture of anime. This isn’t an indictment against young people specifically, but since there just aren’t as many middle-aged people getting down to Fairy Tail or Naruto, that’s what it unfortunately looks like.

        • Yumeka says:

          You’re right that it wouldn’t have been good for him to name specific names, but still, for such a claim, I’d say illustrating further with some examples or even just describing what he means in more detail would have made people less likely to misinterpret his words or jump to extreme conclusions.

          As I said in the post, I get what he means and I think his claims have merit. I just don’t fully agree.

  2. Kinza Datteri says:

    I agree with him completely. As I’ve read his words, the actual art was the last thing that came to my mind. The drawings, the animation – it’s all only just a depiction, a simple result of our vision of human characters. When we base the whole picture more on our imagination rather than actual observation, the whole character becomes just that: a depiction of fantasy rather than true character, some imaginary wish fulfillment and very often a convenient plot device put in the story because its traits “fit” it and make it easy to write next chapters.

    It all came to the sad point when whenever an anime has some character behave realistically, the whole fandom gasps in amazement that someone finally nailed it. In contrary, I don’t remember seeing anyone even having a shadow of such thought while watching any Miyazaki movie, as they just took it for granted while watching them. It wouldn’t really matter what medium he uses. He could as well write books, direct movies, focus on manga only and even without Ghibli animation his character portrays would still be high above all the sad crap Japanese anime industry makes these days.

    • Yumeka says:

      As I said, I do agree with Miyazaki (and you) that a lot of modern anime is based more on imagination than observation, with characters and scenarios geared towards the wish fulfillment of their audience. But again, I don’t think this is as terrible a thing as Miyazaki seems to believe; anime is made to entertain, and certain character and story cliches, even if they’re on the unrealistic side, appeal to anime consumers, and they shouldn’t feel guilty because they would rather watch new twists on their favorite anime tropes than something completely innovative and ground in realism. Some people are looking for the kind of creative realism Miyazaki conveys in his works, while others are looking for escapism in anime and don’t mind seeing the same tropes again and again. It just depends on what you want in your anime.

      Even if they can’t be on the same level as Miyazaki’s works, there’s still plenty of great anime that come out every year that do portray believable characters and well written stories, regardless of whether some otaku cliches sneak in here and there. Yes, usually such series amaze people, but that’s mostly because there’s so much anime being made every year than there was 15-20 years ago, that it’s harder to find the gems among all the mediocre stuff. But they’re still there.

  3. chikorita157 says:

    With this outrage over the Otaku thing, I feel like writing thoughts about the thing in the near future. But I do agree that most of the Anime these days are too geared to Otaku for the fact that most of the characters are not relatable, which is why one can say that it’s not so accessible to non-anime fans compared to a more realistic approach.

    To me, there is probably a few shows from recent years which I can relate to such as some of Mari Okada’s shows. On the other hand, the reason studios are making shows geared to an Otaku audience is a simple one, capitalism. Sure, I would like to see some shows that isn’t too geared to the Otaku so that more people can possibly enjoy and of course, add more to the variety. The only problem to this is that these shows don’t necessarily sell that well unless the work or a particular creator is popular.

    As a whole, I think people need to take his opinions with a grain of salt considering his age and background.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yes, it is kind of a vicious cycle – anime creators make anime with otaku cliches because they know they’ll sell well. They could try to make something different and more realistic, and many studios do from time to time, but they won’t make as much of a profit off of them Anime is as much a business as an art form, and unfortunately if they want to stay in business they need to make profit. However, that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t make an otaku aimed show that’s good, with creative stories and developed characters, that can be enjoyed by those beyond the target audience. That’s where anime like Madoka Magica and Attack on Titan come in =)

  4. Kal says:

    Hum, I had not read that article. I agree with you as well. There is a big difference between offering some helpful tips, and some pretty harsh criticism. Anime is a type of art, and there are no real rules written when you want to express an idea through art.

    Anime is more commercial now, so many of it will tend to pander to certain type of audience. It’s the same with movies, games, TV series, etc. That does not mean that all anime will be this more “commercial” type. There is still lots of good anime coming out that does not fall into that commercial streak. Pretty much what Chikorita157 said above.

    It just seems a bit like the rants of an older person remembering the “good old days”, and looking at the genre through rose tinted glasses. It has happened to me, so I can relate, but it does seem a bit subjective :)

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, that’s why I can understand Miyazaki’s gripe even though I don’t fully agree with it. For someone of his age and background, I can’t blame him for thinking “the good old days” were better and the anime industry now is worse off. But as you said, there’s commercialism, and thus tropes and cliches, in all works of media and art, Ghibli not exempt of course, though they don’t have as many as you typical TV anime. But again, that doesn’t mean a work with tropes and a specific target audience in mind can’t be good. Not every anime creator can have the same style and artistic goals as Miyazaki, but that doesn’t mean their work can’t have artistic value to people beyond the stereotypical otaku Miyazaki mentions.

  5. Mikoto says:

    Yeah, this seemed to set a lot of people off. While I do agree with most of your interpretation, I do think what he said about the state of the industry in terms of otaku holds some social truth to it. It’s crossing to line to generalize that all geekdom are socially withdrawn, but just in general, being a social recluse -is- a big problem in current Japanese society and it’s not crazy to say that it bleeds into the anime industry somewhat. Particularly, there are those that can’t stand relationships with actual people and prefer to replace those with fictional characters, and then we have guys like in this picture ( illustrating the point even more that the industry is now geared towards selling their stuff to these particular types of folks, and probably being ran by them as well, and making the problem worse.

    While I do still enjoy the modern anime industry and think that Mr. Miyazaki is overscaling things more than just a tad, I can’t exactly turn a blind eye and say that anime has the same “genuine soul” as it did in the days of old. It’s been increasingly inward as of late, and I thank the gods that there’s still anime/manga/VNs with genuine soul put into them even despite that, as niche as they might be.

    • Yumeka says:

      I totally agree with you that the level of anti-social behavior displayed by otaku like that is not a good thing, and the morality of continually making products fostering that, like dakimakuras, is questionable. But the way I see it, going overboard with anything in any walk of life is bad, whether it’s one’s obsession with animated shows or anything else. Too much of anything isn’t good, but there are still plenty of people who can love fictional characters and collect lots of character goods yet still be perfectly sociable people. I think the problem with the kinds of otaku Miyazaki is referring to lies on a deeper level than just modern anime having too many tropes, like a cultural or societal reason why people feel such a need to indulge in fiction so much that they lose such major touch with reality.

  6. Overlord-G says:

    No offense to Miyazaki as a director because his movies are really good (most of them) but he reached Cranky Kong level of ranting in the interview. Anime can still use tropes and stereotypes while STILL telling a good story or and emitting profound or basic morals, values and themes. It’s been done several times over the years. Non Non Biyori taught the value of life in its own way while having cuteness as one its selling points.

  7. gcc says:

    I think the fame and renown that Miyazaki has enjoyed has gotten to his head a bit. Miyazaki has become rather pretentious, snobby, and close minded. I believe that is the lowest an artist can possibly fall. Also, not only do cliches and tropes allow for escapism and wish fulfillment, but they also allow anime to parody itself (if done right, this is great).

    • gcc says:

      Nonetheless, I still enjoyed Princess Mononoke and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Also, I’m a big fan of Joe Hisaishi’s music. What I respect about Miyazaki’s work is that he can put a really romantic emotion into what he produces; that’s what I always liked about him. However, I have to say that kind of romanticism is also wish fulfillment (just less blatant), and Miyazaki is in fact also doing exactly what he criticizes. My favorite manga by the way is Welcome to the NHK! by Tatsuhiko Takimoto. Takimoto is a true literary genius.

    • kal says:

      @gcc Lol what does being a fan of Joe Hisashi has to do with this? Does it mean you have ‘taste’ then? Yeah however it is you describe Miyazaki (pretentious, snobby, etc), it doesn’t take away that he has a point.
      “It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans”. That’s very powerful. I know there are still brilliant and decent anime getting produced but look at the big picture of what he’s saying. There’s a decline of society reflected in what’s popular may it be music, anime or movies. This criticism is needed to improve the over all quality of anime.

Leave a Comment