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Enter The Anime (2019) [Documentary]

The world of Japanese animation is a complex and fascinating one, that would be a perfect subject for an in-depth documentary, or even a full-blown documentary series. Enter The Anime, the new documentary special from Netflix is not that.

Enter The Anime is the first original production from NX, a brand from the streamer that up until now has existed only to promote the service's genre content on social media. It's directed and presented by documentary filmmaker Alex Burunova.

The special doesn't present itself as a thorough examination of the medium, but rather as an introduction. It does this through the eyes of "anime newbie" Burunova, as she seeks answers to the question "what is anime?" The first problem is that the documentary seems to be made by people who don't actually know the answer to that question.

"It all started with Castlevania", Burunova says. Castlevania may be based on a Japanese video game series, but it's an entirely western production. Our first interview with an "anime" creator is Adi Shankar, American producer of Castlevania. Shankar spends part of his interview talking about his dog, and most of the rest talking about himself. Our second interviewee is Cannon Busters creator LeSean Thomas. Another American. A very talented, inspirational guy, and he's at least working with a Japanese studio, but at over 12 minutes into this 58 minute documentary on anime and it hasn't even suggested that some might actually be created by Japanese people. It's no wonder newbies might be confused as to exactly what it is.

After that, we do finally get some interviews with some actual anime creators, with some impressive figures like Kenji Kamiyama, Shinji Aramaki, and Kôzô Morishita. The interviews themselves have the occasional interesting titbit, but for the most part are pretty shallow, uninsightful and the way they are shot is gimmicky. It tries really hard to convince us these creators are mavericks and rebels, which it does by dressing them in leather jackets or shooting them in moody style . Frankly, it's all a bit embarrassing.

You can tick off pretty much every cliche about Japan you've ever seen here. From karaoke bars, to people reading manga on busy trains, cosplayers and  arcades to temples. "Japan is a nation of contradictions"- well isn't that also true of every other nation too?

The whole thing feels distinctly old-fashioned and retrograde, like something that Manga Video would have made in the 1990s when they were in their post Akira pomp. Or like something you'd get on a free DVD on front of Newtype USA in the mid 2000s.

The choice of creators and shows featured points to the true purpose of the documentary. Every series featured is either co-produced or licensed by Netflix. The only real acknowledgment of anything created before 2017 is a segment on music featuring the singer of the themesong of Evangelion (which is of course also now on Netflix). This is ultimately nothing more than an advert for Netflix's own shows. Even given this limitation, they don't really take full advantage. There's no Hideaki Anno, no Studio Trigger, no Shinichiro Watanabe...

There's not much here for established fans, who are unlikely to learn anything much new. It's also, frankly not much cop as a primer for newbies, who will probably leave none-the-wiser than when they came in. It's not even much good as a showcase for the series- simple trailers do a much better job at that.

On the plus side, it's slickly made and well produced, as you would expect from Netflix. And Burunova herself is an engaging enough presence, who works well enough as our guide.

Ultimately though, Enter The Anime is nothing but a shiny, shallow puff piece that never answers the question it sets out to answer. Save yourself the trouble by Googling "what is anime?" instead.


IN A NUTSHELL: An advert disguised as a documentary that fails to do its subject justice.