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.