With the massive growth in both the anime and manga industries, many fans are curious about the process required to create some of their favorite series. However, a search for anime documentaries, particularly in the west, yields few results.
Documentaries have become increasingly popular and accessible through different streaming and even social media platforms, which, theoretically, provides the perfect opportunity to shine a brighter spotlight on this unique medium that only continues to grow. While there are a few anime documentaries available, probing into the gap reveals some platforms provide a better understanding by pulling back the curtain than others.
For starters, anime is deeply rooted in Japan. As such, it has been relatively exclusive to the country (or at least, rarely exported) and considered a niche among international audiences for a long time. Compared to the medium's long history, it's still only recently that anime and manga have been able to reach far wider audiences quickly and across a range of plaforms. Additionally, anime documentaries for fans outside of Japan would need extra work put into them to ensure things don't get lost in translation.
In 2019, Netflix released a documentary titled, Enter the Anime, but it received fairly negative reviews. The director and narrator, Alex Burunova, admits to knowing nothing about anime and presents an odd and somewhat disrespectful commentary on the medium and Japanese culture. The documentary does interview the creators of Castlevania, 7 Seeds, Ultraman and more, but only briefly and provides little to no context for a film marketed for newer anime fans.
Enter the Anime also fails to provide a deep dive into anime history, how it's created, Netflix's involvement or anything of the sort. Furthermore, the only anime mentioned are Netflix originals. Only in the last 10 minutes are we shown Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki, two successful anime directors, and their career timelines. While labeled as a documentary, Enter the Anime feels more like an advertisement for Netflix than anything else.
That said, there are other options. Satoshi Kon, The Illusionist is a documentary created by Pascal Alex-Vincent. It details the life of one of anime's greatest contributors, Satoshi Kon, and will premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Despite being released in Japan several years ago, earlier this year, HBO Max added two anime documentaries to its platform. Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki explores the life of Hayao Miyazaki while The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness focuses more on Studio Ghibli and the filmmaking process for The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki films in general, have, of course, been internationally recognized in the global film industry since Spirited Away's Oscar win in 2001, which is likely why there's a greater focus and demand for behind-the-scenes access to the studio and its legendary co-founder's work.
Probably the best insight we have for a broader look at the anime industry, however, comes from social media and independent content creators. The Anime Man and Gigguk are two well-known anime YouTubers residing in Japan. In December 2020, The Anime Man created a video titled "I Spent a Day Inside a Japanese Anime Studio". He visits CloverWorks studios, responsible for works like Darling in the Franxx, Wonder Egg Priority etc., where the CEO, Akira Shimizu, gives him a succinct look into the extensive process of creating anime at this particular studio. The Anime Man has also interviewed many famous people within the industry, including the co-founder of TRIGGER studios, Kazuya Masumoto, and Konosuba creator Akatsuki Natsume.
Last month, Gigguk released a video titled "I went to a Real Anime Studio in Japan" where he visits J.C. Staff and looks at the production of Combatants Will Be Dispatched!. He also interviews the anime's producer, Atsushi Fujishiro, and director Hiroaki Akagi, asking thought-provoking questions to give fans a better perspective on their influence in the anime as well as the production itself. Gigguk also interviews the creator of Domestic Girlfriend, Kei Sasuga in another video.
The Anime Man and Gigguk together also host the Trash Taste podcast with CDawgVA, another anime YouTuber. On one episode, titled "Talking to a REAL JoJo Animator," they feature Ken Arto, a Japanese animator who has worked on series like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, and more. Arto gives his perspective on the industry from the role of a talented and hardworking animator. While not full-length documentaries, these videos provide intriguing information on the anime and manga industries directly from their source on an accessible platform and are definitely worth checking out.
Though anime documentaries have been limited, the growing interest in anime and manga likely increases our chances of getting more lengthy and well-produced projects eventually. And more documentaries will, in turn, generate a greater appreciation for the prolonged and strenuous process behind the anime and manga we consume.