In the absence of an appropriate image, I present an image of
the search for one.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin.
I was intrigued to hear that BBC Radio 4 would be touching on anime briefly this Sunday evening, although I was rather less intrigued by the fact that the coverage would be on Radio 4′s concession to children’s programming, Go4It. As you can probably tell from the way the title is spelt, Go4It is trapped by two incompatible facts: to attract its target audience it needs to be cool, but it’s on Radio 4, which is not cool.
(A courtesy for international readers.) Radio 4 is the BBC’s flagship radio station, and it’s mostly for members of the concerned middle class. It’s under an obligation to be Worthy, and its content is sometimes mistaken for high-brow radio. (The really high-brow stuff airs in Radio 3′s spoken word slots, because Radio 3 has such a small listenership that its controllers can put on whatever they feel like and no one will notice.) It also has a certain left-leaning slant to its comedy programming, because it’s very hard to find enough good right-wing comedians to fill a panel. (And you can’t mix the two: that would mean a fight, and while it might be interesting to hear Andy Zalzman holding someone down while Mark Thomas moved in with a chair, it wouldn’t be very funny.) But this is by-the-by.
Anyway, I never listen to Go4It for a number of reasons: I’m not a child, it’s rarely very interesting even for children and it airs directly after The Archers. Beyond those marks against the program, the air of concerned Worthiness that hangs about Radio 4 is so strong that even if I was a child I’d probably avoid Go4It like I’d avoid Char Aznable.
An artist’s impression of my reaction when The Archers theme plays on the radio. It’s not exactly a program for kidz who are hip and with-it.
But still, I thought it might be interesting to hear exactly what Radio 4 wanted to tell whoever does listen to Go4It about anime, so I tuned in. Turns out the entire program was devoted to Nipponophilia, with the anime item coming about a quarter of the way through. Impressively, the producers had Helen McCarthy on for an interview. McCarthy is very knowledgeable and – more important for this interview, perhaps – she’s able to adjust her diction over a very wide range, from her Barbican lectures to (as in this case) talking to children.
What was actually discussed? The children on the program mentioned Pokemon (one remarked that she enjoyed it ‘when I was little’), Yu-Gi-Oh! and Hamtaro as anime that they enjoyed. McCarthy mostly talked about three Miyazaki works (My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away). Normally I’d feel a little put-out if someone only talked about Miyazaki, good as he is, but it struck me that anime for children that’s available over here essentially breaks down into ‘stuff like Pokemon‘ and ‘(some of) the works of Hayao Miyazaki’. If forced to choose, I suppose the latter is to be preferred, and I do wonder if the Miyazaki focus indicates a touch of Reithianism [Cultural Note: in brief, the principle that radio should give listeners what's good for them rather than what they want, named for Lord Reith, first Director-General of the BBC.]
Still, it’s a lot better than the blood’n'tentacles aura surrounding anime in Britain during the ’90s. I also noticed that McCarthy managed to succinctly distinguish between ‘anime’ and ‘manga’, which are sometimes conflated (posibly because of Manga Entertainment‘s influence). And in the program’s opening quiz, one of the scores was just a little above nine thousand. Coincidence? I wonder.