Originally I wrote this post in response to a question I’d been asked regarding kids’ anime. I was asked of my top picks for the season which anime I’d recommend for kids, which kind of stumped me because to be perfectly frank I wouldn’t recommend any of the anime I watch these days for kids.
(Keep in mind, this post is not becoming a tirade against people who think anime is for kids or an extended rant– I’m simply explaining why I found it hard to answer this question.)
That isn’t to say there aren’t great kids anime out there, but I’m not a child and I don’t watch things that are particularly kid friendly. The other reason I wouldn’t make a recommendation for a child is I don’t actually know what the parent of said child deems appropriate for their child.
For instance, are they okay with stylised violence or do they want something that resolves issues through discussion? Is it okay if girls have visible curvature or do you consider that unnecessary in a children’s show? What about themes? Drugs, mind control, hypnosis, death, life, relationships, good, evil, magic? Which do you find appropriate? And how would I know?
I can’t answer those questions for someone else. And I am not a good judge of what is and isn’t appropriate for the simple reason that my own viewing as a child was never particularly censored by my parents. That isn’t to say they ignored what I watched, but it is more that they would tell me what was in something and warn me if they thought it would scare me, but they allowed me to decide what I would watch.
Of course, they certainly steered me around things that would probably have crossed too many lines, but from a reasonably young age I became a massive fantasy and B-Grade horror fan.
Magic and spells and characters who faced death and monsters and incredibly fake blood filled the screen and I learned to love predictable and dependable narratives where good would ultimately triumph and villains would lose for the simple reason that they were villains. The fact that sometimes losing meant being thrown from a cliff and bursting into little pieces (Tremors) or getting struck by lightning and being completely destroyed (Willow) didn’t really concern me as a child and still doesn’t today because of course that’s what happens in stories.
And that was the clear line. What happens in movies and television was not reflective of reality. “It isn’t scary, it’s just TV.” “It’s a movie, so everything will be fine.” That was the message I got over and over again. A lot of what I watched wasn’t exactly kid friendly but nor was it particularly scarring (with the possible exception of ‘It’ – the original).
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So when faced with the what anime is appropriate for kids to watch question, I kind of shrug. It entirely depends on the parent and how they frame the viewing experience and what the child has been exposed to previously.
My stance on censorship is entirely prosaic. All media should be clearly labelled with what it is and what it isn’t. Ratings aren’t overly helpful. Did that get a high rating because of foul language or because someone is going to get torn in half and blood is going to drip across the screen? There’s a real difference in which one I’ll sit through.
I have the DVD of Jormungand and it is restricted MA15+ in Australia with the helpful note that it contains strong animated violence. Yet I would argue that it is totally appropriate for teenagers because while it has strong violence the themes and questions it raises about arms dealers and child soldiers are an excellent discussion point. I’m certain others disagree with that view and that’s fine. That’s why labels are helpful.
What even makes something kids anime to begin with?
I’ve mentioned before that my earliest anime included Astro Boy and Sailor Moon, both seen as reasonably acceptable kids viewing. However, looking back, Sailor Moon gets pretty dark. She kills her enemies. Reduces them to dust. The scouts and Sailor Moon are in constant peril. Serena’s boyfriend is kidnapped, brainwashed and set against her. Ultimately she is forced to all but kill him (which effectively wipes out any memories he has of her) in order to save him. That’s a harsh line up covered in pastel colours and pretty sparkly moon wands.
Then there are parents who protest their kids engaging with Harry Potter because of the magic theme. How many anime, particularly kid friendly anime, involves magic as a central plot point? Card Captor Sakura and Shugo Chara, both anime I would probably recommend for younger audiences, are heavily steeped in magic.
And Shonen anime is full of violence. Stylised and sanitized at times, but extreme violence nonetheless. Yet people would argue that a lot of those stories are kids anime. Most of it makes Wile E Coyote’s antics in Road Runner look pretty tame and let’s be honest, anything involving dynamite is pretty dangerous.
For parents with kids watching anime, the best thing you can do is look the anime up yourself and view the online images. Is that appropriate for your child to be watching? And that is a decision only you can make because you know what you want your child to view and what you would prefer they didn’t.
Now, censorship is always a prickly issue so I’m certain there are some big opinions out there. Please have at it below but remember to respect the views of others.
Also, list the anime you think should be labelled as kids anime and why because I’m sure plenty of people out there would love the recommendation.
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