Andrew Osmond wants to see Japanese cartoons really grow up.
Xam’d Lost Memories is a young person’s story. Typically for anime, its leads are a teenage boy and girl, at first school friends, who are forced to face their deeper feelings when their world goes mad. But one of the most heartening things about this standout BONES series is that it gives plum roles to characters no longer in their teens or twenties. Xam’d’s cast includes a female sky-captain, Ishuu, whose expression of disdainful nonchalance is more memorable than a hundred simpering schoolgirls. We see her as a soldier, but also glimpse the other roles she’s taken: an adoptive mother, a woman who has loved and lived through loss. The most sympathetic characters in Xam’d are arguably the boy hero’s separated parents – no cartoon hate-hate couple, but people with as much pent-up passion as their offspring, with more style and dignity. There’s at least one moment in the second Xam’d box-set that may make younger viewers go “Eew!” but seasoned anime fans should be cheering.
Let’s admit the obvious: anime has far too many youngster heroes, now more than ever. Vast though the anime medium is, it often seems imprisoned by high-school desks, chiming school bells, and shy teen boys and girls melting into goo. This is often put down to the audience – many of these shows are aimed at kids or teenagers, or at the notorious “moe” geek audience in ever-arrested development.
But surely anime can do better? Pixar’s CGI cartoons draw huge audience, children included, with what are essentially adult characters (including a flying pensioner in Up). Wallace and Gromit aren’t cute kids; the star of The Simpsons is Homer, not Bart. And anime of yesteryear had grown-up stars: the master thief Lupin III, the muscleman Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star, Osamu Tezuka’s maverick surgeon Black Jack. Other heroes were boyish but hardly schoolboys: Joe Yabuki (the boxing champ of Tomorrow’s Joe), Amuro Ray (Gundam), and Hikaru Ichijo (Macross, aka Robotech’s Rick Hunter). Where have they all gone?
Well, they’re still around, of course, but you have to look hard. The most iconic is probably Motoko Kusanagi, cyborg heroine of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and that’s been going for the best part of twenty years. You can add Hayao Miyazaki’s pig-faced pilot Porco Rosso, who’s rumoured to be returning in the director’s next film; swordsmen like Ninja Scroll’s Jubei (and his doomed love, Kagero); bounty hunter Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop; medieval vagabond Ginko in Mushishi; the titular superheroes of Tiger and Bunny; the questing Doctor Tenma in Monster; the wonderful middle-aged transvestite Hana in Tokyo Godfathers; and Daikichi Kawachi, unprepared father of a little girl in Usagi Drop. But these characters – and of course there are many others – still feel like exceptions.
Today the most vivid adults in anime are often supporting players in adolescent dramas, like the parents in Xam’d. Van Hohenheim, the mysterious Elric patriarch in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is an example, as are many of that show’s other characters. You could add the indomitable great-granny Jinnouchi in Summer Wars; racing manager Don Wei in the French-Japanese Oban Star Racers (who’s blissfully unaware that his truculent new recruit is actually his own daughter); and old flames Misato and Ryoji in Evangelion (but we ask - will they get it on in the films like they did in the series?)
But come on Japan, let’s see more of them. Heck, let’s have an anime Desperate Housewives; let’s see a Japanese programming block like Noitamina (Fuji TV’s late-night anime slot, aimed at truly mature viewers) take on more manga like Kenshi Hirokane’s Shooting Stars in the Twilight, which is about passionate widowers and pensioners. Don’t worry about the “Eew!” reaction from the otaku. Anime is hyped to the West as adult animation, as clinching proof that cartoons aren’t for kids. So let’s see it grow up!
Xam’d Lost Memories 2 is out on 5th September on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.