Anime Isn't Weird, You Guys Are Just Mean (Due to Pop Culture's Perpetuation of Harmful Stereotypes)

Picture this: you’re 7 years old and you have the TV to yourself on a Saturday night. You have a bowl full of Doritos and your TV is set to Cartoon Network and you’re enjoying a hilarious episode of Ed, Edd and Eddy. Then, at 8pm, your stream of regular cartoons is interrupted. You hear a deep voice coming from a weird looking robot named Tom on a spaceship. He introduces the next show that’s about to come on, and you are greeted with a giant muscular man with tall blonde hair fighting a giant purple and white alien.  

Welcome. This is Toonami, and up next you’re watching Dragon Ball Z.  

Anime hit western shores long before the existence of Toonami. But with popular shows like Pokemon reaching a massive demographic, it was put into the spotlight. I, like many others in the late 90s and early 2000s, got my first introduction to anime through Pokemon. What was weird, however, is the fact that I continued watching it way after most others my age had. I also obsessively looked for shows that had the same aesthetic appeal it did, settling on other kids shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Digimon.  

But this block of programming was different. Toonami was nothing less than a siren call to introduce audiences, young and old, to entirely eastern properties like Gundam Wing, Sailor Moon, and of course, Dragon Ball Z. Up until now, the only way to view anime was to trade VHS tapes or bad fan dubs buried deep on the early stages of the internet. It was a small niche community that seemed inaccessible unless you were already an established member.  

Toonami was unique in that was designed to bring an awareness and respectability to an art form that was somewhat overlooked by the majority of American audiences. Now, anime had been airing on Western television long before Toonami. People were aware and familiar with properties such as Tetsuwan Atom and Mach Go Go Go, but due to heavy changes made to the show itself to “appeal” to a more Western audience, they weren’t aware of their foreign origins. Instead, they knew them as Astro Boy and Speed Racer.  

But Toonami did something different. They were able to bring anime into the mainstream with its cultural identity intact. It wasn’t just the shows either; it was the curation, the aesthetic of the actual block of programming, and the respectful treatment of the shows themselves. It felt like it was being introduced with passion, and when that delivery is given with care, it can become infectious. Toonami understood its audience, and talked directly to kids rather than down to them. Events like The Month of Miyazaki and Giant Robot Week helped kids distinguish the difference between a type of animation style, and a whole genre.  

And that’s what most people don’t understand; anime is not a genre. This was something very important to articulate in the early years of Toonami. They needed to make it clear that if you weren’t the biggest fan of two massive guys punching each other in the face for a whole episode, it wasn’t indicative of the entire block. The programming was fluid so there was always something for everyone.  

Anime can be small and intimate and personal. There’s an animation studio, my personal favorite, called Kyoto Animation. They specialize in this genre of anime, charmingly called “slice of life.” Kyo-Ani takes the everyday lives of high school girls and makes a marvel out of their seemingly meaningless trials and tribulations when compared to other shonen anime. Some people say the entire genre is just “cute girls doing cute things,” which is right, but also the point. Its calming and serene, but also gives an audience time to connect with characters on a personal level in small encounters and interactions, rather than in life or death situations. We care about who gets to be class president or who gets the big trumpet solo for the band as much as we care about who saves the world in the big action anime.  

But there's also nothing wrong with big action anime either! Shows like Dragon Ball Z put physical attributes and struggles at the forefront of the programming to represent the internal challenges and struggles that the characters are facing. Each villain represents a theory and idea that the main cast of characters have to struggle with and overcome for the greater good. And its also just really cool to watch the growth and development of a character that was once just a little, goofy kid, into a god-like hero who can blow mountains away with a single punch.  

The rules are different here. Anything is possible, even if it’s outside of your societal norms. And there's something for everyone from every walk of life to enjoy. Anime today is less concerned with the culture that it represents and more with a positive message to its audience; you are welcome and your differences make you part of a larger group that is ready to accept you and talk about your favorite characters with weird hair.