Sunday, February 12, 2012

Animated Reviews: Crispin Freeman's "Anime Mythology"

So there I was, braving the cold Michigan winter weather (with a transmission that was having problems), on my way to Ann Arbor where Crispin Freeman was presenting a lecture on anime at the University of Michigan Anime Club's annual 'Con Ja Nai' meeting. For those of you who don't watch much anime, Crispin Freeman is an American voice actor best known for playing Section 9's non-cyberized detective "Togusa" in the anime series 'Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex' as well as the constantly beleaguered "Kyon" from 'the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya'.

While I freely admit that one of the reasons I was driving to Ann Arbor was to have Mr. Freeman autograph a poster from Sony's North American DVD release of 'Ghost in the Shell: Innocence', I was very interested in hearing him discuss his theories on anime story/genre development through his Anime Mythology series. In this case it was his presentation: "Giant Robots and Superheroes." Basically, Mr. Freeman's presentation detailed his theories of why the American and Japanese mythos have developed on parallel yet radically different paths--his theory being that the core religious beliefs of the region have shaped the cultural outlook reflected in their media. For example:

Region: United States of America
Major Religions: Christianity/Judiaism/Islam
Mindset: Good vs. Evil
Result: Superheroes

Region: Japan
Major Religions: Shinto/Buddhism
Mindset: Restoring Balance to the world
Result: Robotic Avatars

After presenting the premise, he then delved into the core beliefs that mark each religion, followed by examples from each region's media which illustrate how the core beliefs have shaped and influenced the development of storytelling within said media.

Rather than try to paraphrase Mr. Freeman's lecture further and risk misstating his ideas, I present the following video which explains Mr. Freeman's background and expounds upon his lecture series and the ideas within.

This was one of those presentations where you feel like you're a very thirsty man drinking from a firehose--there was so much information being presented it was hard to take it all in. On the one hand, you're dealing with the disconnect of seeing a person whose voice you have associated with another face(s). On the other hand, you're sitting through a lecture that fascinates you and is presented by someone who not only knows his material backwards and forwards but also is a polished speaker. I've never been able to copy notes and pay attention to a speaker. Maybe it's because dyslexia runs in my family, maybe I just never learned the skill. Fortunately, I had an acquaintance with me who is very skilled in note-taking which allowed me to focus all of my attention on Mr. Freeman's lecture and still have the benefit of material to review later on while I'm waiting for him to finish writing and publishing the book he is currently composing on this subject.

There are currently five lectures in his Anime Mythology series. If you're at all interested in anime, and more importantly the multi-faceted thought processes and cultural idiosyncrasies that compose their engaging stories, then I highly recommend taking an afternoon out of your schedule to listen to Crispin Freeman. After hearing the first lecture in his series, I'm already keeping an eye out for his next local appearance so I can hear the rest.