As I was sitting at my desk yesterday evening, working on No More Dreams in between bouts of feeling blue about my latest romantic misadventure, my friend C tagged me in a Facebook comment enthusing about the anime she was watching. From the description, it sounded like a Wicked City kind of fiasco, into which I imagined rape scenes, spider women and vagina dentata.
This evolved into a “has anyone seen any good anime lately” discussion, into which our friend F injected the criteria “as good as Hayao Miyazaki.”
My assessment of most anime is that it’s formulaic, repetitive, and lacks insight into the human condition. Beyond that, I often feel like it wastes my time–since a lot of it adapts manga, I could get through the story quickly, and more directly, by reading the original. Most anime, simply, I don’t consider worth my time.
Walking back to the office from lunch this afternoon, along a street lined by trees which are now shedding their yellow leaves in the autumn, I wondered if this comparison of Miyazaki with C’s latest anime discovery was fair.
See, Hayao Miyazaki’s work isn’t just great anime: it’s great art. Whisper of the Heart and My Neighbor Totoro are some of the few works (including novels) that know I can turn to for consolation when I’m feeling down.
Ponyo evokes the spirit of water in as iconic a way as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. If you want to understand the spirit of animistic religions such as Shintoism, Totoro and Princess Mononoke will do it for you in a matter of hours. The art is alternately soothing and inspiring. And there is that fortunate pairing with composer Joe Hisaishi, whose soundtracks and piano collections are always on my iTunes playlists designed for concentrated creative work and for relaxation (along with artists like Nomak, DJ Okawari, Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield).
Daring to skirt the fine distinction between sweet and saccharin in their sentimentality, they cause me to remember the innocent and inquisitive spirit of childhood and adolescence rather than merely being nostalgic for it, and restore my faith in life. His female heroines, at once determined, independent, tender, and struggling for authenticity and wisdom, remind me of what I should be looking for in a woman when my latest passion inclines me to forget it.
There is really no appropriate comparison for Miyazaki. Much as I might wish for more work like his, as I wish for another Ursula Le Guin, another Kenzaburo Oe or Wong Kar Wai, artists such as these are irreplaceable. There are others as good but different–and in the field of manga and anime, Naoki Urasawa of Monster and 20th Century Boys is the first I think of. But Miyazaki stands alone, as do all titans, gods and geniuses.