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edited January 2007 in Anime
This post is regarding Sanctuary, and the recent podcast about it. To avoid hijacking the current thread with an essay, I'll post separately. To begin:

The reason Sanctuary is as good as it is can be boiled down to a single word.
Verisimilitude: the quality of that which exhibits the appearance of truth or reality. It is exactly what juvenile entertainment (manga or otherwise) lacks, and what more grown-up entertainment offers.

Verisimilitude, as distinct from "realism", is a quality possessed by a story which, despite any number of necessary fictitious elements, such as being set in a different time or dimension, or otherwise altering the rules of reality as we know them, seems "real", given the constraints of the world. By way of example, verisimilitude is what Battlestar Galactica has, and what Star Trek lacks. Or, obviously, what Sanctuary has, in droves, and what, for instance, Dragon Ball lacks.

As a general rule, verisimilitude is an unimportant quality in children's entertainment, and it becomes more important as the audience ages. This follows the obvious truth that childrens' sense of the world is not complete, given their lack of experience, whereas an adult has more discerning eye for character traits, plot hooks, and other dramatic elements that strain credibility. However, this may be, at least in part, a misinterpretation of the facts. Children's "warped" sense of reality may be due more to their exposure to entertainment designed for said children than their lack of exposure to more "real-world" concerns. Clearly, very young children do not possess a complete world view, though the popularity of more adult content (as much anime was originally considered) among teenagers and even younger children may indicate more of a preference for verisimilitude than mainstream media might assume.

It is also a notable trend that the standard of verisimilitude has increased greatly in the entertainment world over time, with a sharp upturn in the last 10 or more years. Anime appealed to many of us in our childhood because it had a much higher degree of verisimilitude than cartoons, yet still was able to explore the more fantastic corners of drama the way it seems only animation can in America. Through, in large part, anime, the modern American's strong, unfulfilled desire for fantasy (in the broad sense) has been brought to the forefront, leading the sluggish media finally to productions like Lord of the Rings. Fantasy used to be the realm of cheesy, low-budget productions whose flaws can be summed up simply in one word: a lack of verisimilitude.

Apart from beating that one word to death, I point out a couple other qualities that Sanctuary seems to have going for it, which enable it to appeal to an older audience (i.e. 20-something American males with a penchant for geekery).

*It's about work.*
Only adults (and possibly some very overachieving teens) can appreciate one of the most important truths of life: that it is about work. Of course, there is leisure, and love, and extreme sports...but once you leave the home and have to take care of yourself, you realize that work is the human condition. That being said, we Americans (and Japanese), far from reviling it, are fascinated with it. We all do it, and many of us pursue leisure activities that more resemble work than relaxation. Thus, it should come as no surprise that we are interested in the work of our protagonists.
Goku, to beat a dead horse, has no job. He just runs around beating people up. The same is true of Ash Katchum or Mihamo Chiyo. The protagonists of Sanctuary do. Their jobs are hardly mundane, but the problems they face in their work have parallels to our own, thus the interest.
I might also have said *it isn't about fucking high school, for god's sake*.

*They're badasses because they choose to be.*
Inside every young man is the belief, however small, that, under the right circumstances, he could be the most bad-ass motherfucker on the planet. This is just part of the male condition. The protagonists of Sanctuary espouse this concept, actively choosing to achieve those circumstances. Like Tyler Durden, and unlike either Goku or Spider-man, their awesomeness comes not from an ineffable power source, or even an unrealistic ability to bend fate through sheer enthusiasm, but rather a conscious committment to achieve the maximum of human potential. (Refer back to verisimilitude.)

*They're going to change the world.*
Our generation (I refer here not to any particular age group, but rather anyone of an intellectual, politically-aware, moderately-libertarian viewpoint, a la Jon Stewart, Penn Jillette, etc) is acutely aware of the situation of our world. Those of us in our 20s or younger were almost universally taught about global warming, STD's, and war in the middle east, to name a few things. Many of us reach adulthood knowing that, on some level, through some unknown means, we'd like to save the world. Our methods might vary, even drastically, but we can definitely dig the concept of living life to make your mark on the world. Ergo, we'll naturally root for anyone who shares this belief, especially if they have a serious committment to make it happen.

I will freely admit that American publishers of anime and manga have historically lagged well behind Japanese trends, too often denying us fans what we desire. They are partially at fault for the widespread sharing of digital files to circumvent their gatekeeping role; I, at least, was familiar with downloading and mailing for anime long before I'd heard of anyone doing it for American TV or movies. Thus, I have few qualms about blaming American importers for not bringing more of this kind of manga (or anime) to our shores.

That being said, much of the blame lies on us, the fans. There's a lot to be said for anime and manga--that it can appeal to Americans far older than its intended Japanese audience--but there seems to be a cutoff near the end of childhood. The incredible abundance of anime and manga meant for children (as plainly evident by the number of high-school dramas) makes the entire genre seem like childrens' entertainment. The American importers, not to mention censors, certainly thought so.

If anime was so great in our childhood compared to the dreck we were served on American TV, what might adult-oriented (NON-hentai) anime be like? We need to demand more anime and mange like Sanctuary, from the Japanese producers and the American importers, not to mention anyone worldwide willing to market to us.

Otherwise, I'll just have to retain fond memories of anime and manga, and gain few new ones.

[edited for grammatical and typographical errors]


  • That's a very useful word. ^_~ I often have trouble explaining to someone that a fantasy story, for example, is "realistic."
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