December 16, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
An attempt to survey anime's influence on Western entertainment, airing December 17 at 9 PM on Starz.
Iím still waiting for a decent documentary about anime. ďDecentĒ in the sense that it doesnít tell us anything we donít already know, and isnít simply a superficial skate over the surface of something this big. Anime: Drawing a Revolution, a 1-hour TV special set to premiere on Starz on December 17, tries to do something a little differentóinstead of just survey the whole of the subject, it attempts to show how Western entertainment is now being broadly influenced by anime as a whole. Itís an interesting attempt, although thereís only so much that can be covered coherently in an hourís time, and it shows.
A big part of the running time involves taking a number of properties that American audiences are familiar with, such as Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and show how they were anime-influenced. Some of this stuff is fascinating, but familiar, like when we see how Gatchaman was refashioned into Battle of the Planets to capitalize on American audiences freshly bowled over by Star Wars. Some of it is more recent and that much more interesting, as with a discussion of how Afro Samurai melded Eastern and Western influences. Unfortunately, the show has a nasty tendency to switch away and start following another train of thought just when the current one is getting more interesting. That kind of nervously-edited, haphazard atmosphere makes it all play more like an extended promo reel than a thoughtful documentary.
Still, this isnít to say thereís not a lot of material in the show thatís worthy of attention; in fact, thereís a bunch of individual pieces that will make any audience sit up and take notice. Right from the beginning they delve into Osamu Tezuka, his inestimable impact on manga and anime as a whole, and how Japanese citizens embraced fantasy as a way away from the grimness of the post-WWII atmosphere. Thereís also some work done to support the intimation that the decision-makers in Hollywood are now people who grew up with this stuff as their creative bread and butter, something thatís become critically important as of late. And hints about what Hollywood might be looking at next for a live-action adaptation are also tantalizing: how about live-action versions of Robotech, Cowboy Bebop? (Or the long-heralded but never-actually-greenlighted Evangelion movie?)
Maybe part of the problem with ÖRevolution is the target audience. The show seems to have been aimed not really at existing fans but at mainstream audiences whose main exposure to anime is most likely whatever bit of Adult Swim theyíve glimpsed over their kidís shoulders during prime time. One can only imagine what someone like Ken Burns might do with a subject like this, but Iím guessing a treatment that serious, encompassing and thoughtful is still at least a decade away. Drawing a Revolution is worth a look, even if only because it hints at how a far better documentary about this subject cries out to be created.