Irrational devotion to Justin Bieber. Savant-like abilities with technology. Teen jargon. Parents of adolescents often shrug off such signs of a generation gap, confident they can bridge the divide. But parents of teen anime fans face more of a chasm than a gap.
While some parents secretly marvel at their teen's mastery of video-game button-pushing, parents of anime fans might struggle to understand terminology that sounds foreign for a good reason: It's Japanese.
They also might wonder, "Who is Vic Mignogna and why does my daughter expect me to drive 300 miles for him?"
Welcome to the world of anime. It's a big world, but luckily, one parents can enjoy, too.
What is it?
Anime is Japanese animation. You've probably already seen it on Saturday morning TV programming, dubbed into English by American voice actors. Pokémon and
Yu-Gi-Oh! are both examples of anime.
But to think of anime as a simple kids' cartoon is a mistake. Anime style is used in several mediums, including Japanese video games, graphic novels and comics (manga), while Japanese animation covers all demographics and genres. Anime story lines for teens and adults are commonly nuanced and sophisticated.
Where do you find it?
In this digital, online age, fans can easily find anime. Therefore, parents should educate themselves to prevent children from stumbling upon anime content intended for adults. The Japanese rating system is not the equivalent of that used in the U.S., though some distributors have become savvy about applying American-style ratings to products.
The best teen and tween anime products feature fully developed teen characters, complex story lines and honest dialog. Even half-hour shows may feel cinematic in their editing and music, increasing appeal.
Anime routinely depicts strong, complex female characters, often in leading roles, according to Marc Russo, assistant professor at N.C. State University's College of Design.
"They're a little bit like Disney princesses," Russo says, "but are independent and can take care of themselves. And they can take care of others, too. They're great role models." Russo has taught animation courses at both UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State.
The "Fullmetal Alchemist" franchise, for example, offers strong characters - both male and female - and an emotionally complex story. It follows title character Edward Elric and his brother, Alphonse. Tweens and teens easily relate to the Elrics because of their ages and portrayal of typical teenage tensions, where flashes of adult-like competence and childish incompetence uneasily coexist.
Award-winning voice actor Vic Mignogna, who plays the English-speaking version of Edward Elric and regularly appears at anime conventions to meet with fans, understands these difficulties.
"It's really priceless to me and very important to take the opportunity to possibly speak a word of encouragement or (support) a positive direction," he says. "They're at a number of crossroads in their lives."
Congregating at conventions
Besides traveling to conventions to meet anime stars, fans attend to be around one another. Many dress as their favorite anime characters - a practice called cosplay - which serves as an icebreaker.
"Cons are like giant anime club meetings with organized events and cosplay and famous people," says 18-year-old Katelyn Mitchell from Cary, who attended Ichibancon in Charlotte in January. "The sense of community, of fitting in and being exactly where you belong - I don't get that anywhere else."
The experience is so positive that anime fans often become anime convention fans. Charlotte parent Andre Davis says, "This is their Super Bowl."
Davis's observation is borne out by Mitchell. "My friends and I talk about anime the way sports fans talk about their favorite teams," she says. "A natural extension of being a sports fan is going to games," and, to Mitchell, the conventions are her games.
At Ichibancon, females edged out males and the majority were teens. Still, all types of people attend anime conventions, and event organizers offer diverse activities in response. Ichibancon, for instance, featured both a formal ball and raves. Some events had mature themes that required an ID.
Parents who are considering letting their teens travel unchaperoned to a convention should learn about that convention's security practices and the tone of advertised events.
A dark side
Some anime content is sexually explicit, violent or both. The shock of discovering animated pornography might tempt parents to reject anime altogether, but that would be like rejecting all American movies because some are rated X.
"Parents really should be researching specific content," says 19-year-old anime fan Jake Younts. "(They) need to establish boundaries, not outright barricades." A chemistry major at UNC-Chapel Hill, Younts has been an anime fan since middle school.
Russo recommends that parents experience quality anime for themselves so they can set appropriate limits for their teens. He recommends starting with films by the internationally acclaimed and influential Hayao Miyazaki. Popular titles include Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki's work has influenced animation at Disney and Pixar for decades.
American parents might be turned off by some anime covers that show females with exaggerated proportions or in cleavage-revealing outfits, expecting content that marginalizes or degrades women. Yet parents who explore the title might decide content outweighs concerns over skewed body image.
"Even when the girls are drawn in a stereotypical way, they are still characters that are the leaders and the heroes," Russo says. "They do not play second to anyone in the story. The journey and struggle is theirs. I think that we need to look beyond the physical form and see the grit of the women that these animators are trying to depict."
Parents who decide otherwise can find a wealth of anime titles that do not emphasize the female body.
Another dark side
Given sexual material, foreign roots and cosplay featuring characters strange to many Americans, pushback against anime and its fans exists. Some consider it a shadowy influence lurking on the edges of society, possibly corrupting youth.
Mignogna faced such judgments when he began accepting anime roles. At the time, he led worship and was the music director at a Baptist church in Texas. Some members began voicing concerns.
"There were several older people at the church who didn't know anything about anime, and they were not supportive of it at all," he says. "In fact, the very little bit that they knew about (anime) was just enough to make them think that it was some kind of deviant, anti-culture, weird thing, and they were very troubled that someone who led music in the church and was in a position of leadership would have anything to do with such an industry."
Instead of such blanket condemnations, Younts challenges parents to recognize the benefits of anime, including its social rewards. Additionally, both parents and fans report that anime can create new areas of interest like art, sewing, learning Japanese, exploring world cultures and more.
Sonia Johnson is a Raleigh-based freelancer whose daughter Toni, armed with a Netflix subscription, converted her into a willing anime admirer.
Anime translated: What you need to know
Anime: Japanese animation; an artistic style used in Japanese animation, video games, comic books and graphic novels.
Cosplay: The practice of dressing in costumes inspired by a favorite show or character.
Hentai: Sexually explicit anime.
Manga Studio: A program for manga and comic book illustration:http://manga.smithmicro.com.
Otaku: Anime fan.
OVA: Original Video Animation. It means a title was released straight to video.
Sh?jo or shoujo anime: Anime targeting tween and teen girls.
Sh?nen or shounen anime: Anime targeting tween and teen males.
Vocaloid: A voice synthesis program from Yamaha. Anime characters sing user-created songs. Vocaloid is available for the iPad and iPhone. Related software includes NetVocaloid and MMDAgent, which allows interaction with Vocaloid characters.
Where to find Anime
- Duke University's Lilly Library, Durham. The library's anime collection is open to the public. Watch DVDs at viewing stations with a picture ID.
- Cameron Village Library's Anime Club for sixth through 12th grade, Raleigh. Members discuss, screen and review anime. Call 919-856-6723 to register.
- Animazement, Downtown Raleigh. May 25-27, http://animazement.org/about.
- Triad Anime Convention, Winston-Salem. April 6-8, http://triadanimecon.com.
- Ichibancon, Charlotte. Held in January, http:// ichibancon.com.
- Anime News Network: www.animenewsnetwork.com. The site contains a searchable encyclopedia, allowing parents to investigate anime releases.
- The Librarian's Guide to Anime and Manga: www.koyagi.com/Libguide.html. Provides informational links, including those for terminology and recommendations.
- Crunchyroll: www.crunchyroll.com/anime
- FUNimation: www.funimation.com
- Niconico Anime Channel: www.niconico.com/anime
The art in this article features flag, a Shonen samurai-themed design with a supernatural edge. It was provided courtesy of Boomslank in Raleigh, Boomslank.com.