Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Drawn To It

For these club members, animé is NOT cartoonish.

By Alysson Cook

NOVEMBER 29, 1999:  With Pokemon mega-hype infiltrating American culture, Japanese animation is hotter than ever. For the Memphis Animé Club, Pokemon is old news, and the love of animation is fascination rather than fad.

Every Wednesday, from 6 until about 10 p.m. at Cafe Apocalypse near the U of M, Animé members meet to watch and discuss their favorite works and hang out with other fans of the Japanese art. Animé, the Japanese word for animation (pronounced AH-NEE-may), includes such classics as Speed Racer and Voltron to the more recent Sailor Moon, Evangelian, Akira, and Vision of Escaflowne.

Don’t make the mistake of bringing up Pokemon at a meeting. In a roundtable discussion with club members — among them Kyle “Maz” Ingrelli, Frank Stone, Carlos Anderson, Jennifer Truxillo, Elliot Riddle, Nolan Akin, Marla Miner, and T.W. Williams — thumbs were way down and boos could be heard in the parking lot.

“A lot of us have bad feelings for Pokemon, although it’s a good thing for animé right now,” says Ingrelli, founder of the Memphis Animé Club.

“It is possibly the most disgusting, overly cute marketing I’ve seen,” one member adds.

“With Pokemon, animé is hard to take seriously because it’s either super kid or super adult,” says another member. “They don’t see the stuff in between.”

“Japanese animation is more than Pokemon,” someone in the back adds.

Viewers could mistake Japanese animation for cartoons, but club members beg people not to associate the two. In the U.S., animation is produced mainly for children. In Japan, animation is for all ages with diverse genres such as science fiction, fantasy, romance, action-adventure, comedy, and horror.

“A lot of people are used to childish American animation and it’s dumbed-down,” Ingrelli says. “Animé makes you think. It’s so different from what we’ve grown up with.”

According to the fans, animé is a fine art form that involves deep characterization and intense storylines. Club members shouted out several key components of Japanese animation that have them hooked such as incredible action scenes, complex of plots, beautiful animation, multi-dimensional evolving characters, and better-than-reality story lines.

“I love it because it’s over-the-top and deals with real issues,” says one member. “Animé is really charming because it’s so different.”

“I appreciate the art because the Japanese devote their lives to it,” adds another member. “It’s a labor of love rather than slapping it on paper like cartoons.”

“I think the action is the best because there’s no way any live action film could portray it as well,” comments another.

One member appreciates that viewers have to use their imagination to figure out how a film ends. He says often there are threads left hanging at the end rather than the Hollywood happy ending that prevails in moviemaking.

Another member adds,“In animé, heroes will die and everything has a reason and a place. There is so much time spent developing characters that you feel an emotional attachment to them. People have cried when certain characters die.”

Japanese animation is almost a $2-billion-a-year industry in the U.S., according to club member T.W. Williams. Laser discs cost $60 each to import, not to mention the added costs of a translator and adding subtitles or dubbing American voices. The most hard-core fans might spend thousands of dollars, so it’s not a cheap interest.

Williams and Ingrelli explain there are three types of fans: the casual watcher of television animé programs; the occasional fan who knows more than casual fans and may watch subtitled or dubbed films; and the die-hard fanatic who knows everything about animé and may even participate in animé conventions, where they might dress up in elaborate costumes as their favorite character in what is known as Cosplay. A mecca for any die-hard fan is a trip to Japan.

“We’re all about spreading the word and introducing others to animé,” Ingrelli says. “It’s not just for kids and if you haven’t experienced it, come along. It’s free.”

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