Until recently, my entire education in the anime department was restricted to having watched Akira, Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the Shell, Ponyo on the Cliff, Spirited Away and The Animatrix over the last 15 years. Netflix seems to be out to change that. Enter the Anime. I mean that quite literally. Not only is that the name of the new Netflix documentary by Alex Burunova, but it’s also what Netflix is trying to do to our watch-lists. Making anime enter. Making that happen on my watchlist, doesn’t look like a long shot, simply because based on the amount of time someone like me spends on Netflix, the odd anime being watched by me now and then is probably inevitable.
Should you watch this documentary or not?
Probably not. If you, like me or for that matter the director Alex, are a total newbie to anime then it’s a short watch with numerous fascinating introductions to anime directors, crew and creators – who are not all Japanese by the way which is kind of odd. But that’s all it is. If you’ve ever wondered who comes up with ultra-violent, ultra-sexual and ultra-weird storylines that dominate adult anime, then Enter The Anime gives you a glimpse into that world. Mind you it really is only a glimpse. This documentary is just under an hour long and to expect it to cover every single deranged mind in the anime world is a bit ambitious if not pure silly. For someone like me, going back and watching 10 years worth of anime simply isn’t a viable option. I know that like me there are thousands of you out there who have absolutely zero inclination to watch 8000 hours of the most celebrated anime no matter how good they are. Netflix seems to be aiming at exactly that market. The ones who are curious but far too dis-inclined(read: lazy) to delve into the back catalog, but may well be willing to start with what comes out now and what is made available to stream conveniently i.e on Netflix.
If you are serious anime junkie who has watched everything out there twice over and are expecting this documentary to be in-depth enough to satisfy every animated thought in your mind, then prepare to be disappointed. It simply isn’t that the title is wildly misleading. Anime came about purely for children to begin with. The attention given to that aspect of the genre is so minuscule, that the title is a grave betrayal of the substance of this documentary.
Is Netflix using Enter the Anime as a marketing ploy?
Netflix has undoubtedly commissioned this documentary as a marketing ploy. Their foray into tapping the gigantic and growing anime market needs tonnes of effort and a huge boost before it can compete with the established Japanese streamers and creators. It is commissioning more and more anime as you may have noticed if you scroll through their selection and with the likes of Ultraman and Castlevania having been deemed successes(by its own parameters, not yours), Enter the Anime is designed to make you curious about the shows and movies you can watch on Netflix. Every single anime that is talked about in any detail in ‘Enter the Anime’, can be streamed on Netflix and if this doesn’t make you sit up and wonder if you’re being force-fed the idea of ‘Netflix is the place to watch anime’, then maybe this documentary is exactly what you need. You will be introduced to the likes of Castlevania creator Adi Shankar (and his dog btw) who claims he is a time traveler and isn’t actually from this time, which to me is completely counterproductive because Castlevania literally has nothing to do with Japan or Japanese anime. It is quite a straightforward Netflix animated production (regardless of how many anime series’ inspired the creators). LeSean Thomas is also spoken with and certainly comes across as far less pompous. His adaptation of a comic series called Canon Busters comes out soon on… you guessed it – Netflix. So yes this documentary is undoubtedly and obviously a marketing ploy, but that’s really not it’s problem.
What’s wrong with it?
There is no other way of saying this – it’s badly directed, badly edited, badly written and badly produced. In its effort to market itself as a documentary about anime rather than a documentary about anime on Netflix, the storytelling falls short. Burunova interviews people on the street where nothing substantial is asked and nothing substantial is said which makes you wonder why the hell people of the street were included at all. The writing, thanks to it being forced to revolve around Netflix productions and upcoming commissions, is a total mess. I’d like to make the assumption that this was purely a function of Netflix being hell-bent on this being solely about anime on Netflix. That’s also why it fails as a production. It’s badly directed in my opinion because it doesn’t really flesh out any one single thought. Enter the Anime could easily have been a comprehensive and detailed documentary about anime as a whole considering the resources available to Netflix. Instead, it’s an insipid look at at a fascinating genre, created solely to get people to consume anime on Netflix.
I’d like to argue that it would have worked for Netflix too, had this documentary been more comprehensive and at least two and a half times the length (if not a full-blown mini-series) and actually taken into account the prolific work by the likes of Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mamoru Oshii and far more about Toei Animation, Kyoto Animation, Studio Bones and others. There is simply no reason to assume that talking about the greats of the genre which are not available to stream on Netflix, would have led viewers away from the platform. If there is one thing Netflix should have learned by now, it is that if the content is strong, people will watch it. Focusing on the strength of their anime productions rather than using a marketing ploy like ‘Enter the Anime’, may well be what they need to stick to doing.