Learning Anime’s Visual Language

As I mentioned in my Wednesday post concerning how grateful I am for Adam & Noah’s influence on me I have begun working my way through the Naruto anime series (this is Noah’s influence).

I haven’t been a huge anime fan in the past though I have watched a few series (for example Noah and I both have enjoyed the Attack on Titan series), I have recently, however, really enjoyed Naruto. One of the things that I have must enjoyed is the different visual language employed in anime.

The spaghetti western stare.

All media employ various visual languages that quickly convey lots of meaning within the context of the media. Certain images and themes help the view to perceive deeper meaning within the genre of media in which they are used. If you are watching a sports movie there is probably going to be a workout montage and you understand that this represents vigorous effort during a passage of time. If you are watching a RomCom you know the subjects are going to breakup and there is going to be some cute action that brings them back together again, you know that this new event will renew and transform their past experience with each other. If you watch a spaghetti western you know there are going to be several long stares before the inevitable gunfight and you understand that this is both opponents struggling with how to respond to the moment. If you are a fan of any of these genres you know what these images and actions are meant to convey, and that understanding improves your experience with the media. Anime comes from an Eastern cultural backdrop and therefore some of visual language is very different than what I am used to experiencing. It took me a little while to get used to and understand why this elements occurred but now I get them a little more.

Here’s an article discussing some of the more common elements of the anime visual language. Some of the ones that stand out to me in Naruto are:

Not Naruto but this is an example of a vein pop.
  • Characters sneezing when someone talks about them in another scene – think of our “were your ears burning”.
  • Veins popping on or near character’s foreheads when they are frustrated or really exerting themselves.
  • Abnormally large sweat or tear drops on or near a character’s head to various emotional elements.
  • Bloody noses to convey excitement (usually sexual excitement – nothing highly inappropriate more like “Hey there is a person I am attracted too” and then a bloody nose appears on the character).
Jiriaya (aka pervy sage) has lots of nose bleeds

Without this understanding certain elements of media can seem very strange, not very enjoyable, and possible absurd. “Why do those big random tear drops keep appearing around the characters?” “Why do those random red hashtag looking things keep on appearing on character’s foreheads?” It can seem strange and meaningless, until you begin to understand them as the emotional shorthand they are meant to be. Then they become quick cues to the inner life of the cartoon character. It has taken me awhile but I cam finally beginning to get them and appreciate them.

Really nothing new here because all our interactions have context within which we understand them. For example, I am presently reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Christ the Center” and last night I was struck by this passage (hold with me on this, I know it may be hard):

This is the ultimate deceit and the ultimate power of this Logos. This is what Hegel did in his philosophy. This reaction of the Logos under the attack of the Anti-Logos is no narrow-minded repudiation of the other Logos, as in the Enlightenment, but the great insight into its power of self-negation. Self-negation, however, means self-affirmation. By limiting itself, the Logos reinstates itself in power. Nevertheless, the Logos recognizes the claim of the Anti-Logos. Thus the attempt to attack its ultimate presupposition seems seems to have failed. The Logos has assimilated the Anti-Logos into itself.

But what if the Anti-Logos raises his claim in a completely new form? If he is no longer an idea, but a Word, which challenges the supremacy of the Logos? If he appears at some time and in some place in history as a person? If he declares himself to be a judgement on the human Logos and points to himself: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I am the death of the human Logos; man with his Logos must dies, he falls into my hands; I am the first and the last?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, pp. 29-30

When the reader has an understanding of Logos in Greek philosophy and Hegelian dialectic the above two paragraphs are profound (To the point that I got really excited while reading them last night and had a hard time falling asleep while thinking about this section of the book). Without such an understanding those two paragraphs make no sense whatsoever. But within the context Logos appears as a cue to a much longer discussion concerning the center of life and works as shorthand to enable that discussion to fit within these two paragraphs.

Anime’s visual language is doing the same thing for the emotions of its characters and right now I find the different visual cues of anime very interesting.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.