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Animated Rush: Japanese anime now surpasses the old-fashioned cartoon look of Disney.

Anime Ascent

Japanese style conquers the pop-culture world at FanimeCon in San Jose

By Richard von Busack

THE LAST 10 years have seen not just the widespread acceptance of anime but also its conquest of pop culture. Pokémon hit America's youth like the measles. Hayao Miyazaki of Spirited Away surpassed anything his distributor Disney offered. Japan came up with Tokyo Godfathers; we came up with Brother Bear. The best part of the first Kill Bill movie was the anime sequence.

Even today's Western superheroes have a distinct anime look. The Adventures of Batman and Robin evolved from the Fleischer Brothers style to a look that wasn't far from Japanese animation. And the further adventures of Robin the Boy Wonder in the new Teen Titans series is so close to anime that it would fit, episode by episode, next to any import. It's clear that anime is the wave of the future. Anime's stylized simplicity and dynamism appeal to children, but the genre also lends itself to complex speculative and science fiction storytelling.

The 10th annual FanimeCon takes place in San Jose over Memorial Day weekend, and some 5,000 fans are expected to descend on the Convention Center. Events includes musical tie-ins, a silent art auction as a benefit for Habitat for Humanity San Jose and tables for 40 artists to exhibit and to meet and greet.

As ugly is to an ape, so is cute to anime. Because of dangerously soaring insulin levels among anime fans, organizers held a 200-word essay competition asking which anime character most deserved to be clubbed to pieces for the high crime of supercuteness. At the convention, the winning creature will be presented in piñata form for summary destruction. (pick Ed from Cowboy Bebop!)

The piñata-bursting ceremony will be just one small part of the usual riot and detritus associated with the really huge comic conventions. But the guests are a serious mix of Japanese creators and American interpreters and actors. From Japan comes You Higuri, artist of Seimaden, Ludwig II, Cutlass, Zeus and Gorgeous Carat. Hiroyuki Yamaga will be flying in. He's the director and producer of 1987's Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, the painstakingly animated film that has been called "one of anime's greatest successes and greatest failures."

Guest Frederick L. Schodt is to Japanese manga what Donald Ritchie is to Japanese film—an expert whose knowledge and taste leave him almost isolated in the field. Schodt's study of the genre—Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, reprinted in 1998 by Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press—is still the best place for the beginner to discover the broad yet dense appeal of comics in Japan. The book includes a sampling of the range of some of the classic styles, including Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix, Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen, an eyewitness account of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and Riyoko Ikeda's story of gender-bending intrigue at the French court, The Rose of Versailles. The last was a series popular enough in Japan to end up adapted into one of Jacques Demy's least-known movies, Lady Oscar. Schodt's latest translations include everything from the entire run of manga-king Tezuka's seminal flying-robot comic Astro Boy to the newly reprinted The Four Immigrants Manga. Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama's 1927 comic-book account of city and country life in California for four immigrant pals is very likely the first autobiographical graphic novel.

Other guests include Gilles Poitras, who is working on his second volume of The Anime Companion. Allen Hastings is creator of LightWave3D, a digital animation program that's turned up in films such as The World Is Not Enough, X-Men and Hellboy.

The convention takes place simultaneously with the rerelease of the original Godzilla. Gojira ought to be the convention's mascot. Like the King of Monsters, anime was, at first, misunderstood, carelessly dubbed by idiots and disrespected by critics. And like Gojira, it's seemingly invincible.

FanimeCon takes place May 28-31 at the McEnery Convention Center and the San Jose Civic Auditorium. The MusicFest takes place May 30 at 6pm at the Civic Auditorium and costs $20. (www.fanime.com; full disclosure, Metro is the media sponsor for the convention.)

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From the May 26-June 1, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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