Why do supposedly Japanese characters look distinctly non-Japanese?
According to one source, this is a carryover from the earliest days of Japanese comic strips, whose characters were modeled after those in their Western counterparts. Early American animation also doubtless had an impact on this. Another reason could be the same as mentioned in the Conventions list for differing hair styles and colors: to make the characters look more distinctive from one another. Japan has one of the most homogenous populations on Earth, after all, and the ways to make two Japanese characters of the roughly the same height and age look distinctively different are rather limited.
Why do so many characters shout out the name of their attack type in action scenes?
There are various theories on this. The one that seems most plausible to me is that it harkens back to old martial arts traditions, where it was customary for samurai to declare their names and school or sword technique at the beginning of duels. Attack name declarations could also be seen as a dramatic device to highlight a crucial action and/or explain what the character is doing; a close parallel to this can be seen in American super-hero comic books. It’s also really not so different from the kind of trash-talking that might happen on a basketball court, where one player tells a defender how he’s going to put a move on him and then does it.
Why do Japanese students in anime always wear uniforms?
It’s the norm in Japan. So is taking the train to school, rooftop access at schools, and boxed lunches (called bento). Assigning students cleaning duties at school is also, apparently, common, and single-gender schools are much more common than they are in the States.
What are cram schools?
In Japan, students are required to pass rigorous tests to proceed from grade school to secondary school and from secondary school to college. Scores at these tests go a long way towards determining a student’s fate, including what schools or colleges they can attend. Students unable to pass the tests to get into colleges on the first try, and those just wishing to be better-prepared for entrance exams, often attend a “cram school” to help them prepare for their tests. The closest American comparison would probably be SAT/ACT prep tutoring at tutoring centers, but it’s not the same thing. The stress over these tests is often mentioned as one of the main contributing factors to the considerably higher rate of depression and suicide among teens in Japan. It’s also one of the reasons why Japanese students don’t socialize as much with members of the opposite gender while in secondary school as do their American counterparts.
Why is the name of an anime title sometimes changed dramatically for its English release? And why are the names of some anime titles translated while others aren’t?
Whether to change or translate an anime’s name or not usually comes down to marketing issues. Titles whose names don’t translate well but would be difficult for an American to pronounce in their original form are frequently given new names entirely unrelated to the original. Name changes are also sometimes done in cases where a title is re-released after the original release had poor sales; Pretty Sammy vs. the newer Magical Project S is a particular recent example of this. There’s also the issue, too, of appealing to the target audience. For instance, most Americans wouldn’t have the first clue what shinsekei means (it translates as “new world” or “new beginning”) but putting “Neon Genesis” ahead of “Evangelion” instead would be much more likely to catch their attention. Some cases also arise where the translated name would be inappropriate in English or create copyright issues. In the worst cases, the name is changed because the substance of the title is significantly altered in its transition to American release; the infamous Robotech situation is the biggest such case but hardly the only one. (Remember Gatchaman aka G-Force aka Battle of the Planets?)
As an additional note on this subject, there has been an apparent recent effort made by some American production companies to preserve the original names of anime titles and thus a greater degree of the title’s original artistic integrity. Rurouni Kenshin, Ai Yori Aoshi, and Kare Kano are examples of this trend.
What’s with all the bows and ribbons?
In Japan, cute rules. I assume that’s all part of the cuteness factor.
What, exactly, is an idol singer? I’ve seen that come up in various anime and manga.
Imagine if Brittany Spears had played for cuteness instead of sex appeal and you have a Japanese idol singer, more or less.
What’s the deal with the emphasis on women’s undergarments and getting a peek at them?
Part of this is just is just general fan service, but as I understand it, male fetishes concerning women’s undergarments are far more common in Japan than they are in the States, and I have been told that the way Japanese teen girls dress doesn’t do much to discourages this. Japan is supposedly notorious for problems with thefts of women’s undergarments and there are even places in Japan where used panties can be sold and purchased. Since anime is very much a reflection of Japanese cultural trends, it’s only natural that you would see an emphasis on getting peeks at undergarments (whether on a female character or off) in anime.
Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion! The What? Why? And How? of Japanese Animation. StoneBridge Press, 2003.