I love anime! There, I’ve said it!
If I were given a choice between a stack of random fantasy manga (Japanese comics) and a stack of the Harry Potter series, I would choose the manga. Why? I don’t hate Harry. I am a visional learner; I understand things better with visual aid.
Liking anime is not a subject I’d widely admit to most people. Mainly because I feel that most people will associate cartoons as entertainment for children and with me being an adult will seem childish for reveling in worlds with super-human warriors and giant robots. I know that the realism is not likely. In fact, the hairstyles on most of the anime characters alone can defy laws of physics. However, there is just something about the unrealism and imagination that is put into these animated worlds that is so appealing to me and the advancing story of struggle and growth hits home for some reason.
The plots can be more than just ‘good guy’ vs ‘bad guy’, they delve into the grey area in between. Most anime plots are silly and made to make you laugh, but they can also contain real-world elements like bullies, same-sex relationships, single parents, racial discrimination, pollution, poverty and other real-life elements viewers can identify with.
With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, for example, is a drama manga about an ordinary Japanese family raising their son who has autism. No swords, no robots, just a simple family dealing with familiar problems and miracles that come with autism.
Along with Japanese branded comics, I also read freelanced branded webcomics as well. Just like in manga, webcomics also deliver story with unique characters and a compelling offbeat story. The difference in the two mediums is that the story is delivered in smaller increments and the story can have fewer content restrictions. The artist has the freedom to be as originally imaginative, wacky, mature, and/or symbolic as they please without adhering to corporate supply and demand. The content of these novels can also touch on real-world subjects viewers can relate to.
Recently I have come across several independent studies that suggest there might be a connection between autism and anime. After some reading, I can see some merit to this study. Besides being an anime fan myself, I have met a family that has three autistic children and they all love anime as well, to the point that going to anime conventions are commonplace.
The observations made by Robert Rozema in his article, Manga and the Autistic Mind was the most illuminating. Now I am well aware that not members of autism are inherently anime fans. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” (Dr. Stephen Shore). In fact, have met some individuals on the spectrum and they prefer real-world dramas over animation. All the same, I do believe that this is a revenue worth exploring.
Some of the keynotes of the anime/autism studies by Mr. Rozema’s and various online forums include:
1) Anime focuses less on verbal narratives and more on picture-specific storytelling, which appeals to visual thinkers.
2) Broken down to their base elements anime characters are physically drawn the same. Besides the outrageous hairdos, the authors add small and distinct facial details to separate one character from another. Being able to pick up on these subtle differences can teach autistic individuals how to discriminate between faces.
3) Anime character emotions are easy to read unlike a real person. When an anime person is being expressive, they will display their emotions through exaggerated facial ques and/or emotional symbols (sweat drop for worry, popping vein for anger, etc).
4) Anime does not have a lot of background clutter (unneeded distractions, background noise, unimportant extra characters)
5) Manga use geometric panels to organize the books content. Block panels for backgrounds, circle panels for dialogs, and other shaped panels for emotional effect. This setup appeals to pattern thinkers.
6) Anime can provide social ammunition for fans to get together and socialize.
7) Escaping reality. Much like pacing (autistic fantasy), anime can be used as a way to escape reality and decompress from the real-world.
8) Using manga to teach readers about Japanese culture. In turn, this can have the autistic reader curious enough to voluntary venture outside their comfort zone to explore the real world.
Whether or not these findings are completely reliable may be up for debate for years to come. Regardless, I do believe people with or without autism need various ways to escape reality to cope with the harshness of the real-world from time to time. Coloring books shouldn’t be just for kids, video game aren’t just for teens, and building models shouldn’t be just for the retired. Even adults should be allowed some time to have some fun. Maybe some adults would be less grumpy if they allowed their inner child to run around every once in a while.
Rozema, R. (2015). Manga and the Autistic Mind. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/EJ/1051-sep2015/EJ1051Manga.pdf