I quite enjoyed this critical look at UK electronic act The Prodigy. Their 1992 album Experience was the first CD I owned, and when they came back in 2004 after a seven-year hiatus I played Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned until my ears bled.
My interest in the band has cooled since, but I like how the above-linked essay breaks down the visual component of The Prodigy’s attempts at subversion, particularly in the Always Outnumbered era. I find the “Girls” music video exemplary in that regard, as are the album covers from the same period.
So of course that segues perfectly into anime….
“I always want to describe sex as personal. I want to show the feelings of the characters. For this I use my imagination: what does this feel like? This way or this way? It’s just a hunch, sometimes, but instead of doing a regular love scene I want to make it as personal as possible.”
This interview cements it: in a post-Satoshi Kon world, you can’t do much better than to pin your anime hopes on Masaaki Yuasa. Look, no one should waste their time discussing the topic of what is art and whether anime can be art, and I’m not interested in broaching that here either. Instead I want to laud an animator approaching their subject this personally to create something interesting and memorable, without the stylistic predictability of people like Makoto Shinkai.
I’m not going to go as far as Bill Plympton and suggest Yuasa somehow transcends the label of anime. “Anime” is simply a word to refer to animation from Japan, and Yuasa’s work irrefutably originates from within Japan’s borders.
Maybe what Plympton was trying to get at is this: these days, making anime that neither caters to otaku nor children makes your anime more important. Maybe it is automatically countercultural. Yuasa’s work certainly fits that sort of bill. The maturity with which he tackles the subject of sex is proof enough. In fact his thoughts above only appear impressive to me because I’ve seen sex depicted in so many childish, embarrassing, unaesthetic and un-entertaining ways in anime, which I suppose is the inevitable outcome of a medium largely catering to adult virgins.
His work contrasts sharply from commercial norms. It’s adult animation set against an enormous body of well-packaged collectible wish-fulfillment commodities. Even if it doesn’t argue for itself in that way, even if it doesn’t embody that precept as visibly does the work of Satoshi Kon, who more doggedly struggled with the themes of societal inter-connectedness in the face of modernity and otaku-dom.
Maybe Masaaki’s charm is that he doesn’t agonize over it. If anything there’s a persistent theme of playfulness in his anime, both by way of its subject matter and his animation technique. He’s not sticking his middle finger up to anything, he isn’t calling us to question our preconceptions about the medium, he’s subverting our expectations simply by making creative cartoons totally not in line with the (rightly earned) everyday negative conception people have about anime and its fans.
And perhaps in his field that’s most daring of all: to just go and do your own thing.