I’m going to call some people out here, but I feel something needs to be said. I often hear from educators that they need to “stop their kids from drawing anime characters,” or to “fix the manga problem.” I have to question that decision. Stop duplicating licensed characters? Sure. I definitely don’t need to see another Dragon Ball Z character in all their hair-glowing glory in my classroom ever again. But to take away anime? That seems harsh. These kids love anime. It’s part of their culture, it’s part of their visual language, and by extension, it’s part of them. So let’s rethink this.
First and foremost, we should recognize that there are many fine artists who appropriate anime language in their own practice. One such artist is Takashi Murakami. He’s critically acclaimed and widely successful. In fact, he spoke at the Dallas Museum of Art where they screened his recent movie. Then there is Hayao Miyazaki, who has won more awards than I would be capable of listing here. Recently, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth held a month-long series on the films of the Japanese manga master. If major museums are recognizing these artists, can you really say this style is not art?
Now to the real issue—these students love this stuff. They will work harder than you can possibly imagine if you say this one simple sentence: “I can help you be better at doing this.” Show them the visionaries of anime. Ask them what they are into. Show them the tradition of Japanese printmaking that influenced their heroes. Help them improve their proportions. Show them strong line usage, color theory, composition, texture, foreshortening, and teach them to use these skills to tell their own story. But don’t reject their anime. You’ll be telling them that something they love isn’t valid. How would you feel if someone told you your favorite thing was invalid? I’ll let you take a moment and imagine that.
Now, I’m sure there is a naysayer or two out there who is shaking his or her head saying something along the lines of, “Well, that’s all well and good, but this kind of art can’t succeed in the AP classroom.” Balderdash, I say to you! I had a student a few years back who made some of the most beautiful art about some very personal family issues that brings tears to my eyes every time I talk about it. It was all anime inspired. She used anime’s visual language to help her tell her own story and create her own voice. She made so much art that she submitted two AP portfolios: one for drawing and one for 2-D design. She scored a 5 on both. She won every competition she entered, and then she received a $100,000 scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design where she is now studying animation. How’s that for success?
Some of my hardest working, best AP scoring, most innovative students work in a style strongly influenced by anime. Their love of anime drives them. It is in my best interest to steer them slightly instead of exerting all the force required to turn them around. Let’s make our mission be to help these students become the artists they want to be, not the artists some stuffy old teacher once told us we should be.