Updated: May 29, 2016
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Why Do Many Japanese People Prefer Anime To Films?

Of course they are different. But why is there this kind of preference? If you have ever listened to people discussing Japanese anime, you have probably also watched them defending their preference to people who don't understand why they think anime are more interesting to watch than films.

#1 Character development and character-driven plots

Because anime series tell a continuous story, or a series of stories (arcs) over a longer period of screen time than can be achieved in a film, they have more time to develop their characters. And unlike in films, where character introduction and development typically have to take place in a short amount of time in order to make the action and plot more interesting, in anime, getting to know characters – and what you get to know about characters – is a lot more natural, like meeting a person in real life. It may be for precisely this reason that many fans even develop crushes on some characters! But character-driven stories, even in action or horror genres, tend to be more common in anime than event-driven stories.For many anime lovers, the truth is in the details.
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#2 Drawing style and expressionism

Because anime is a drawn artform, settings and characters can express the writers' and artists' vision far more fully and subtly than even the best set design or casting can. For instance, if the anime is in a historical style, not only can the settings and costumes be drawn with an intention of accuracy, but the settings and background styles can also draw from the rich history of Japanese artwork from the past. It is not uncommon to find stylistic references or homages to famous artists like Hiroshige or Yoshida (Beloved Japanese print makers), or even Kurosawa (a great and artistic Japanese film-maker) in anime. Unlike Western ideas of cartoons being light entertainment for children, many Japanese acknowledge manga and anime as a continuation of traditional Japanese art style, brought to life in a modern culture for modern people. Perhaps because of this fuller appreciation of anime and manga as living Japanese art forms, the animation style can be matched to the story's feeling and tone a lot more fully and expressively, too. Furthermore, because the characters are works of art, there is no interference between the full realization of the character and the physical or personal characteristics or fame of live actors. A living actor must always struggle to represent the feelings of the person he is acting in a story, whether he has any real personal identification with the role or not. He is limited by the physical quality of his body, face, and movement abilities, and he may be limited in his effectiveness to convey a certain type of character if he is famous, and associated with other kinds of roles in the minds of his audience. Besides this, it is always more difficult for an actor to convey very subtle changes in feature, because these may not be picked up by the camera at all. Although anime still involves voice acting, it is far more difficult for an actor on film to portray a character fully, with no falsehood, than it is for a voice actor who is supported by the subtly realized “performance” of an animated character.
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#3 Twists – tragedy and deaths

Believe it or not, a big draw for many anime fans is the portrayal of devastating tragedy and shocking reversals. Main characters die unexpectedly, plots don't always play out the way you want them to, or the way the characters intend them to, and even a happy ending may still be tinged with unresolved sadness and loss. Anime plots – even happy ones -- can surprise you suddenly and make you cry more than you thought you ever would. Philosophy and criticism in the west has proclaimed, since Nietzsche, that tragedy died with the ancient Greek dramatists, because although sad and tragic things still happen in modern drama and film, the overwhelming tragedy that produces catharsis (the grateful release of built-up emotional tension which transcends the story) is lacking. This kind of emotional realism sets anime apart from most films because unlike in the West, where films are looked at chiefly as entertainment, anime and manga are tasked with an artistic duty to help people learn how to emotionally deal with serious real-life situations in a culturally-conscious way. Few people may realize it, but even though anime are very entertaining, they're also there to help and to teach!

#4 Relatable settings and events

Part of getting an audience to feel emotionally involved with an anime's story or characters can be achieved by depicting common problems, feelings, and experiences in a new or unusual way. Many people have wondered why so many anime are set in schools – the answer is only partly because the main audience still attends school themselves. Even older fans can still relate to school-based anime, because they were schoolchildren themselves, once. Even anime with fantastic settings, however, will almost always “ground” their storytelling with events and character developments to which people watching can always relate. While this is true of many films also, the way in which we come to relate to characters in anime is still more complete and organic than can be achieved within the timeframe and style of an average film, and because art style, character development, setting, and storytelling are consciously taken as a whole in order to express a theme in manga and anime, the result is extremely unified and effective.
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#5 Humour

Let's face it, Japanese humour is really funny. Because Japanese people are normally very polite and reserved, Japanese humour holds nothing back! Everything that makes us quirky and human is fair game, and possibly more than any other people, Japanese always know that when we laugh at someone else, we are also laughing at ourselves. Even anime characters who are intended to provide comic relief are usually always shown – or revealed – to have personal qualities to which we can, ourselves, relate. Although funny situations, reactions and events can be over-the-top, the intimate relationship between ourselves and the object of our laughter always leaves room for a humour that has great depth and subtlety, too. Even when really ridiculous things happen, it is almost never with a mean spirit, because this would not feel right to Japanese people.

#6 Fantasy

No amount of special effects in a live-action film can ever compare with the imagination of an anime or manga artist. This is because there is a fundamental difference between the intention behind drawing and special effects. Special effects, in order to really impress us, must be as realistic as possible in order to fool our judgement into thinking it could be real. This is a continuous problem for film-makers as they strive to create technology that can seamlessly represent the impossible or fantastic in a live-action setting. If it doesn't achieve its goal perfectly, we have an adverse reaction which the story must then work hard to overcome. Because anime is intended to be expressive, however, it is more free to depict the impossible and fantastic without creating a jarring effect in our minds – as long as the fantasy still fits in stylistically with the anime as a whole, we accept it without judgement, and get drawn into the story without any distraction. There is no limit, apart from the limits of human artistic imagination, to what we can find in anime. Japanese people often feel encouraged by this, because it reminds us that we can always strive to achieve whatever our minds can dream.
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Hopefully now that you have learned a little bit about a few of the things that make anime fans so ardent in their admiration, you can start watching and enjoying this unique Japanese artform and cultural phenomenon for yourself!
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