Auntie Beeb on Anime

Hunting BBC-tan
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.

Clear Instructions
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.

30 responses to “Auntie Beeb on Anime

  1. If ever there were a -tan for the BBC, I’d like to think it would be a giant Optimus Prime-styled truck. Nothing says cultural zeitgeist like big fuck-off automobiles.

    But I’m not surprised Radio 4 didn’t offer much beyond the standard ruminations. They are the radio equivalent of the colour beige, after all.

  2. Hrm…I remember there was a Meriken in afu-tan, but no England that I remember. Someone should get about correcting that!

  3. Not licensing Binchou-tan is a crime against children.

  4. We actually don’t have anime experts here in the Philippines, let alone people who speak about it with some authority. Anime appreciation is often limited only to Bleach and Naruto.

    At least people there speak about it. Anime here doesn’t even get to be discussed. Thinking about anime is a no-no; a lot of people would rather have ‘who is more powerful, Naruto or Sasuke?’

    This is from what I know. If someone can correct me, please do.

  5. I don’t know about authority, but three of my four filipino friends (who I didn’t meet through anime-related stuff) are at least half as knowledgeable about anime as I am – and though it’s mostly modern stuff I’ve watched easily over 30 series, so I think that gives them a bit more credibility than Naruto + Bleach.

    I’d be surprised if the English anime scene was any better proportionally than yours actually – I’m actually quite surprised to hear iKnight came across a non-blood & tentacles understanding of it in mainstream media, as I don’t think a single adult I know has even heard of it and even back in school (thinking 5 years ago here) the only things any of my age-group had heard of were Akira and DBZ.

  6. They talked about anime and they didn’t use that floppy haired sell-out known as Johnathan Ross!?

    Also: Ana-chan = Ingerland-Tan

  7. I don’t really think anime as a whole is at all credible in Britain, Miyazaki definitely is – but in a “world cinema” kind of way. The imagined divide seems to be between films (with Studio Ghibli the only serious player) and popular TV (kids’ stuff), like you said, with creepy stuff for creepy young men (everything else) on the side.

    Still, I think that the widespread recognition of Miyazaki is a good thing. I guess the next stage is to try and popularise a high quality series. But I can’t immediately see how that can be done without an equivalent to the Oscar Spirited Away got to raise general interest. It’s not like TV awards shows carry the same respectability.

  8. Ha. I forgot Ana-chan. Not sure how much she counts given that she’s more Japanese, but the “desu wa” and attitude kind of fit.

    Coburn: what kind of show would you actually rely on to do that, now that I think of it? No matter how deep or well-written it is I think we can immediately throw out all mecha and a good amount of other sci-fi stuff. My first guess would be GITS SAC, especially with this Dreamworks stuff coming up (particularly if it’s well-executed) – it’s cerebral and mature enough not to be written off instantly, the premise isn’t that far out, and I don’t think we give a damn whether Americans are portrayed to be idiots as long as we’re not (there is that one episode where we’re all stuffy and make things difficult for Aramaki, but that’s not quite the same thing as being the big bad of the 2nd series.)

    Are there any other actual contenders? A good deal of the stuff anime-watching adults enjoy -is- kid’s stuff with appeal to mature audiences (example off the top of my head: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? Not really what I want, but it’ll do) In that regard it’s comparable to something like Shrek, but the scale is totally different, and a lot of it is blocked by cultural rifts anyway.

  9. Wait, wait, I have a better idea.


    He’s English and everything…

  10. The problem I find with shows talking with people like Helen McCarthy is that the guests are often old or in the industry; they’re never knowledgeable fans so we’re never really allowed a defense for some of the negative thoughts toward anime and manga. These guests may help to strengthen society’s view on anime, but we rarely get a say. Or it’s just that society doesn’t care. =(

  11. @ Hige: Beige is rather appropriate – maybe a beige-haired truck mecha musume? Trouble is, it’s hard to address a big truck as ‘-tan’.

    @ Author: Maybe charcoal doesn’t have the cultural force in ‘the West’ that it does in Japan.

    @ Michael: I imagine [i]Naruto[/i] is a big topic of conversation among UK anime fans too, but I’m guessing Radio 4 didn’t consider it Worthy enough. It’s a shame if there’s no equivalent of McCarthy for the Philippines, though.

    @ Shiri: Chiming in with Coburn below, I think in recent years (post-Spirited Away) there’s been an influx of interest from the World Cinema crowd. Radio 4 would be unlikely to mention tentacles (not so sure about blood) in any case.

    @ Teeif: I’m not actually very familiar with Ross – though I’ve heard the name – I should get a TV sometime, or just Wiki him, I suppose.

    @ coburn & Shiri: World Cinema (those oh-so-forbidding capitals) was my entry into anime, certainly: tiring (temporarily) of Kurosawa, I looked on the shelf below and discovered the Cowboy Bebop movie, which took me to the (superior) Bebop series. Which perhaps counts as a high-quality TV series, but is rather past-it now.

    GitS: SAC is a good contender. Actually, SZS strikes me as having a rather British approach to humour, but as you say, cultural rifts . . .

    @ Shiri (again) and Teeif: Strangely, doing said search produces no objectionable images on the first page.

    @ IcyStorm: In fairness to McCarthy in particular, she’s definitely a fan (of UC Gundam and LoGH, no less) and she wouldn’t have been able to mount a defence against the blood’n’tentacles aura on a children’s show.

    It’s true that society’s more interested in its perceptions than in truth – aren’t we all? – but then again there are bigger things for society to worry about (in the UK, right now, an impending Labour rebellion over the abolition of the 10p band of income tax . . . gripping stuff).

  12. I think you’d have to go for buri-chan to get the non-safesearch results…which I’m not willing to try!

    And yeah, I deliberately excluded Cowboy Bebop for being too old. The animation looks old, like a cartoon from a decade ago (which it is.) SAC is recent enough, on a good enough budget, and with competent enough animators that it looks classy and not off-putting in addition to all the other qualities I mentioned.

    I suppose I’d never thought of SZS as being British in style. My experience with British comedy comes mainly from Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, and Yes, Minister (though I also used to watch Have I Got News For You when Angus Deaton was still in the middle chair.) It strikes me as being a little fanservicey and generally aimed at young teenagers with a nod to adults (I can also detect a good amount of pop culture in there but not really understand it.) Maybe I’m stuck in the wrong paradigm here, but in what way would you say it’s comparable?

  13. Eh!? It’s gone!

    Now I know what it’s really like to feel Chinese… :(

    I clicked on the history for that search in firefox and it won’t reproduce the image. You’ll just have to stretch your imagination; it was a shota in nun garb, like a double-trap version of bridget from Guilty gear.

    Try a search for “brit” instead. – this is why we can’t have a serious discussion about animé without it turning into a smeer campaign.

    Also the 10p Tax Rate really does matter! I am looking for a new job that pays over £18,500 specifically so I won’t be affected by tax hikes. That, or I’ll go adopt my Loli cousin so I can get tax back, it’s not like they’ll notice she’s not mine XD.

  14. Sorry – I mean search for “buri”.
    Blimey, just four letters and a world of trouble if you do it at work!

  15. See and I only get to listen to the BBC World Service, which is basically how sucky is Africa right now and some stuff about the UK and occasionally some interesting stuff about America. Actually it was really fun to listen to.

    But I’m getting sidetracked. I tend to think England is kind of where the US was at about fifteen years ago now. And really they have to target college kids for the most part. Do you guys have anime clubs out there? Would you even have time to go to them? I’m not sure how college is out there. I always imagine it’s kind of like college out here. Really great for the first month and then good for the second month and then really lousy for the next two months.

    (Granted, I’m the only anime fan in the world who doesn’t like Miyazaki.)

  16. Assuming you mean where you were 15 years ago in terms of anime, not in general:
    I’ve never heard of an anime club in my life. We do have a few cons (none of which I’ve ever been to), though I don’t think there’s anything enormous like in America. We would have time to go them if they existed (which they may, I’m in a middle-sized town) though, university isn’t that soul-crushing. Particularly for those of us on online university courses…muahahaha.

  17. On the subject of World CInema, or, really, just cinema in general, it strikes me as absolutely hilarious that, while I get all excited and “filmographic” about anime, shove me in front of a “classic” or “respected” Japanese live-action movie and I’ll inevitably be bored to tears. Granted, the only two I’ve seen have been Tokyo Monogatari and Mibu Gishi Den (When The Last Sword is Drawn) which are Important Films or something (well, the former is, the latter might be too recent), but like any Important Film I find nothing to grasp me as a viewer and make me interested in the proceedings, and as I only derive pleasure from analyzing a work I already enjoy, the undoubtedly Brilliant Direction is therefore lost on me. Same with literature; Brilliant Writing means nothing if I don’t like the work.

    Of course, this also holds true for anime such as Kaiba, so it’s not exclusively in the domain of non-anime entertainment.

  18. @ Shiri: I think SNS was an instinctive example for me because I was thinking along the traditional ‘US comedy vs. British comedy’ distinction, which is (apparently) that (with honourable exceptions) US comedy is heartwarming and positive and a bit like a fable, and British comedy is darker. Like how in Yes Minister most episodes end with someone’s ideals being trampled on, and with democracy being circumvented – and even in Dad’s Army, which is very fluffy, there’s a dark note because a lot of the humour comes from how ill-suited to warfare the Home Guard was, and how desperate the setting is.

    I’m not very well-qualified to talk about SZS, but its reputation for comedic suicide and the use of the non sequitur struck me as being rather British.

    @ Teeif: Cannot unimagine.

    And you’re right, the 10p rate does matter – I was commenting on how unexciting it sounds, rather than on its actual importance. The whole tax system’s certainly an incentive for me to stay in higher education for as long as possible. But there you go, I guess Yes Minister was fairly accurate.

    And your ‘adopt a loli for tax-breaks’ plan sounds like a pretty good spin on the traditional ‘found a loli’ set-up for a certain kind of manga (hell, ‘found a loli’ is arguably a plot device in Crossbone Gundam).

    @ iniksbane: If you have a burning desire to listen to domestic BBC radio, you should be able to access a streamed archive covering the past seven days on their website.

    On the subject of anime in the UK, and picking up on what Shiri said, I think it’s a little different to the US a decade-plus ago because of the aforementioned World Cinema thing and because of Manga Entertainment’s blood’n’tentacles history in the ’90s (Legend of the Overfiend was Big in Britain, apparently).

    My university has an anime club, though I don’t go because (a) it clashes with something else on my timetable and (b) (I think) they show fansubs of anime that’s legally available here. But I’m in London, and London’s a little different to the rest of the UK: however specialised your interest is, there’ll be a shop in London catering to it. And we do have a few cons, though I’ve never been to any.

    University here is like university elsewhere, I suppose. From talking to two of my flatmates who are American associate students, the main thing that distinguishes higher education in the US from that in the UK is that here our courses tend (though not always) to be much more focused. I remember reading Steven Den Beste describing how science students had to do a certain amount of ‘liberal arts’ (whatever those are) courses, and being horrified and amused and intrigued by the idea. I haven’t had anything to do with education in mathematics or the sciences since I was sixteen, and I have a friend who’s studying chemistry and has similarly avoided anything but the sciences since he was sixteen.

    @ OGT: I suppose that’s where I bring in my old distinction between liking something and knowing it’s good. Though I haven’t seen either of the live-action films you mention. But you should give Seven Samurai, ‘cos it’s a badass action movie – hampered a little by the limited resources of the era it was made in (no Bullet Time) but I found it pretty fun.

  19. I suppose it’s pretty British when you compare it to American humour, yeah. (Though for me the distinction tends to be between high-brow and low-brow…even Dead Ringers and to some extent Little Britain compare favourably with the stuff that comes out of the U.S in that regard.)

    OGT: I’m completely unfamiliar with world cinema, but as anime I enjoyed Mononoke Hime which you didn’t mention for some reason. Not to say that I know you’ll appreciate it, but it seems to be held in pretty high regard among anime circles as well as World Cinema circles, so eh.

  20. Guh, sorry, I didn’t read your post properly (still waking up here, OU lets me have a weird 2-4 schedule.)

    Kaiba confused the hell out of me though. Don’t think I’ll be continuing with that one…

  21. There is a distinction between liking something and knowing it’s good, but, for the most part, in my case, I like things because they’re good. I certainly have my exceptions (I’ve read Honor Harrington in the past, and no one is going to call that high literature anytime soon), but, especially in anime, and doubly so in the case of the series I talk about on my blog, I both like and find objectively good the material.

    I’m making a crazy assumption here (and feel free to point out just how wrong I am, because I probably am) but you’ve struck me kind of as someone who likes anime, but, with a reasonable number of exceptions, doesn’t find it good, which is the entirely opposite of how I think.

    I hear Seven Samurai is good, but I also hear it’s on the order of three hours long, and I’m not one for samurai or action flicks in general. Or something. I’ve never really felt the urge to see it, really.

  22. @ Shiri: Kaiba‘s too intriguing and confusing (intrusing? configuing?) for me to skip.

    @ OGT: I suppose you’re fairly accurate. I’d say I don’t have very good taste, so I like a lot of anime, but I don’t think very much of what I like is good. As for the medium as a whole, I don’t think it’s got a distinctly higher proportion of noise (bad anime) to signal (good anime) than, for example, the novel.

    But I’m not very confident of my ability to tell what is objectively good in the first place; it’s not something they teach anymore.

    As for Seven Samurai, I suppose I was doing my usual thing of forgetting that not everyone is an action junkie.

  23. Anime’s noise-to-signal ratio is the same as any other medium, although in my case most everything else has a lot of noise and little signal, and anime carries a lot of signal, but that’s subjective to me.

    As for telling what’s objectively good, I argue that most anime that people end up watching and enjoying is “objectively good”. This doesn’t mean that the work can’t have flaws, and that those flaws can’t be glaring in the eyes of others; but most anime that ends up getting subbed has at least some value, or accomplishes something of note. So, in the general case, if it’s getting subbed or, really, any kind of positive attention, it’s doing something right, which you may or may not like, depending on personal taste.

  24. iKnight: Fair enough, and I was considering it, but while I’m just fine with confusing things – I loved Ghost Hound, although the ending felt rushed, meh – I am not so much into confusing things where the dialogue is all awkward like in Kaiba. It reminded me a lot of the difference between Mushishi and Kino no Tabi – the conversations in the former were lovely and felt fairly natural, but in the latter they felt like someone trying to tell an Aesop’s Fable in dialogue all the time.

  25. @ OGT: I think anime which is watched and enjoyed is evidently successful; I’m less certain that that’s necessarily good, but it’s probably a good place to start. It’s entertainment, and anime which is failing to be that is unlikely to achieve much else. Still, people – quite a lot of them – watched and enjoyed SEED Destiny.

    @ Shiri: That’s a nice distinction (from what I’ve read, Kino no Tabi definitely sounds fabular – but since it’s legally available here and I’ve no money, I’m unlikely to find out any time soon!) – perhaps the world Kaiba is set in produces people who are incapable of having natural sounding conversations because they live unnatural lives? But – coming back to entertainment as I was saying above – I suppose if it isn’t fun there’s arguably little point in watching it.

  26. I said “most”.

    “Most” is not “all”.

    In Destiny’s defense, it only really collapsed at the end. But once it collapsed, the weakness of the series as a whole became plainly evident.

  27. Yeah. The collapse at the end was like taking a key brick out near the bottom of a Jenga tower – just one block of wood, but suddenly the whole damn plot starts to fall around your ears.

    (And even when Destiny was muddling along, it was still playing things fairly safe – ‘lol, plotarmour’. Granted, that worked for SEED, I suppose.)

  28. I can’t belive I missed that, it sounds very interesting. It seems anime and manga are becoming more popular over here, this summer I’m even going to a manga convention! (which is a rare thing seeing so I’m nowhere near London which is probably the only place where anime and manga are readily available). To be honest, they could have had a wider coverage of anime as it’s quite sad but the only anime really well known over here is pokemon and Miyazaki- but atelast they steered clear of the classic naruto and bleach . :D

  29. Increasing popularity . . . I can see that, yes. A few months ago there was a discussion on Radio 5 about comics and the academic comics expert they had on said that manga was essentially the coming thing in the UK. He pointed out as well that a lot of British artists are now drawing in styles influenced, to varying degrees, by the manga they read. The anime industry’s apparently a bit shakier, financially, though.

    I suppose the producers of Go4It thought Naruto and Bleach were probably aimed at slightly older children than their core audience – but whatever the reason, it was nice they steered clear of ’em, yes. Though Bateszi likes Naruto (I think) so it must have some redeeming qualities.


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