Anime and Manga
The people have huge, saucer-like eyes that never seem to blink but cry the oddest looking arcs of water. Their noses are impossibly small and pointy and seem to bleed for the strangest reasons. They have tiny mouths which sometimes morph to take up half their faces while speaking. Their hair is any shade of the rainbow, sometimes more than one, but they never get a second glance. It sticks up from their hair at gravity-defying heights. These aren't real people, though. They're from an art form known as Japanese animation, Japanimation, and anime; three different terms used to describe the same thing.
Anime, contrary to popular belief, is not a word the Japanese invented to describe their animation. They actually borrowed this word. The word anime derives from French, and is used to describe media, not just animation, but television and other life-action shows as well.
Anime is not full of sex and violence, as some people believe. In fact, anime can be anything; romantic comedies, powerful dramas, involved fantasies, religious controversy, gender-bender humor, child-aimed, etc. It can be aimed at girls, which is referred to as shoujo, or aimed at boys, which is referred to as shonen. Some of the more graphic shonen are called seinen. There doesn't have to be a specific gender-group. Anime can be a life action production, such as the ranger-type series, which are called sentai. One of the more popular themes is the magical-girl story, which features, you guessed it, a girl with magical powers.
Examples of the "gender-bender" stories would be series like Ranma 1/2, which features a boy named Ranma cursed to change from a boy to a girl and back depending on the temperature of the water splashed on him. The most popular magical-girl story, and probably the most popular animated show on Earth, is Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, or Pretty Soldier Sailormoon. The heroine and her allies transform into powerful warriors to defend the Earth from evil. One of the more popular romantic comedies is Aa! Megami-sama! or Oh My Goddess! Science fiction and fantasy stories include Ghost In The Shell, Gunnm (called Battle Angel Alita in English publications), and the immensely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion, which also contains religious themes.
The style used for animated forms of anime is also used for manga, which are comic books. Manga started before anime. They are sometimes published in magazines, and later collected into volumes called tankouban. They are released rather often, many weekly, so the stories have a faster pace than American comics and the number of panels per page is often less. Color is too expensive, so gray tones, usually applied with Zippatone (plastic sheets with black dots), are used instead.
In anime and manga, a very distinctive art style is used. Some character movements may seem obscure to Western viewers, especially those of cultural significance.
One thing that seems baffling to new viewers/readers is the large eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and in theory, the larger they are, the more expressive they can be. You might have noticed that the colder, more reserved characters tend to have smaller eyes. This trait probably started with Dr. Osamu Tezuka's Disney animation-influenced manga.
Tears are unusual in many cases. They can be large arcs, sparkly, wavy streams, you name it. The arcs of water pouring from someone's eyes are an equivalent of the old Warner Brothers' gag of crying a river. Sparkly tears shimmer like glitter, and are typically only seen on girls. Sometimes "tears" appear as wavy lines down someone's face. This usually occurs in a moment of embarrassment or exasperation, not actual crying.
So what's with people wandering around with bright green hair standing straight up and not getting a second glance? In anime, unusual hair colors are pretty much used just to help distinguish between different characters, since character designs are often very similar. You might notice that in some manga turned anime, such as Urusei Yatsura, the hair colors in the manga are simply colored black (with the exception of the alien Lum) but are brown, red, magenta, etc. in the anime. Unusual hair styles is another story, however. About 10 years ago, it was popular for an anime character to have hair covering one eye, but now it's the "I-used-a-whole-bottle-of-hair-gel-to-get-this-look" look. Hair doesn't react to the laws of physics. One style seen on girls a lot is having two long tendrils of hair on either side of the face, sort of like very long sideburns. In Japan, women take pride in their hair, and it is considered amazing to have these.
Actions can be just as unusual as the appearance. Some of the stranger actions in anime and manga are fangs, nosebleeds, "peace-signs", pulling the bottom eyelid down, giving someone "the finger", and of course, the sweatdrop. Fangs are seen when a character is very angry, annoyed, or plotting something. Nosebleeds are seen when a character is thinking naughty thoughts. A "peace-sign" is usually just a cutesy thing, like when taking a picture, or just to mean the equivalent of "it's alright". Pulling the bottom eyelid down is considered rude, and is seen as an insult. Raising your middle finger to someone in Japan is not considered as rude as it is in America, but is still considered insulting. The sweatdrop, one of the most commonly seen "odd actions," often appears as a large water drop hanging behind someone's head when they are embarrassed, confused, or in a sort of "uh, whatever" moment.
Other actions include a trobbing cross on the hand or temple, bandaids, rainbow shaped eyes, and falling over. A character will have what looks like a raised cross when irritated, symbolizing a pulsing vein. Bandaids pop up on a character when they've been injured, and can be on the skin, hair, clothing, etc., and often disappear by the next scene. Rainbow shaped eyes usually appear when a character is being mischievous. Characters fall over with their legs up in the air when someone else has made a comment that seems idiotic, obvious, etc.
There are many visual things in anime and manga, not really actions, but still deserve some attention. These would be enormous explosions, fashion shots, and the difference in style between the character and their background. Explosions are not a common thing in Japan, in fact, crime is virtually unknown. When an explosion does occur in anime or manga, it's huge. A fashion shot is used in manga, and this term refers to having a character placed on the side of the page, away or overlapping other panels, to show off their clothing. Many manga will have cartoony characters set on very realistic background. Characters have to be drawn fast to meet deadlines, and mangaka (one who draws manga) often have assistants with more time on their hands draw the backgrounds. Photos are sometimes used for things like buildings.
Anime and manga series are often the most popular animated shows and comics in the world. They are becoming a very popular mediums for translation in America. There is a great deal out there that isn't available in America yet, and many series are subtitled in English by fans so others can have access to them. By gaining a greater knowledge of the visuals and character styles used in anime and manga, other people who would have never watched it can start to enjoy it as well.
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