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REVIEW: Netflix's Enter the Anime Is the Cringiest Anime Doc in Ages

enter the anime

Remember all of the ill-informed "Look How HARDCORE and CRAZY This Japanimation Is!" newspaper articles and documentaries that sprung up on the regular in the 1990s and '00s? They were the Orientalist cousins of the "BIFF! BAM! POW! Comics Aren't For Kids Anymore!" headlines, and at least as embarrassing. If you found yourself nostalgic for that brand of cringe, Netflix has a new documentary for you: Enter the Anime.

Theoretically, the aim of a documentary is to educate, so things are already questionable when Enter the Anime's host and director Alex Burunova (whose voice is dubbed over by Tania Nolan) admits at the beginning she knows nothing about anime. You know this comes from a place of extreme ignorance when she and the film act as if it's a shock to find out some anime is not appropriate for kids, even though "messed-up adult cartoons" has been one of the common stereotypes of the medium in the West ever since Akira.

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Alex's supposed mission for the documentary is to teach herself about anime, and to understand how such a "polite" and "traditional" culture as Japan's can create such "crazy" cartoons. That might not come off as so mind-numbing if Alex actually learned anything and the documentary actually conducted in-depth analysis about the ways Japanese culture has informed the anime industry.

Instead, we get a series of disconnected and horrendously edited interviews with staff members behind Netflix-licensed anime series, strung together not by any educational content, but by Alex acting more and more confused. At a certain point it almost comes off as a pride in ignorance (she even asks a person on the street a question in Japanese so nonsensical that it seems as if she or someone behind the scenes were trying to mess up).

The mission to understand anime as a Japanese phenomenon is already off to a terrible start when the first interview is with Adi Shankar about Castlevania, which isn't anime but an American cartoon influenced by anime. It would be one thing if the interview with Shankar were focused on Castlevania's anime influences, but in the final scene, wherein Alex has her "revelation" about the "power of anime," the movie cuts back to Shankar talking about ... X-Men comics. If the supposed thesis of your anime documentary rests on comments about X-Men comics, your thesis is probably incoherent.

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Also incoherent is which audience this documentary is targeting. On one level, the framing seems to imply this is meant as an introduction to anime. The actual interviews, however, go into specific details that anime newbies are unlikely to understand. Just who is this viewer who needs it explained to them in a title card that "manga" means "Japanese comics" but also knows enough about Saint Seiya to understand what "COSMO" refers to?

Part of what makes this such a lacking introduction to anime is that it's only concerned with Netflix-licensed works. Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Manga" who's essential to any Anime 101 discussion, isn't even mentioned. Staples like Studio Ghibli and Akira are completely ignored. Dragon Ball gets a single mention in a segment on Toei Animation, focusing on Netflix's new Saint Seiya series, and Ghost in the Shell only comes up because Netflix is doing a new version next year. The only anime from before 2018 to show any clips is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which of course was recently licensed by Netflix.

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As an extended infomercial for Netflix's anime selection, the staff interviews are occasionally interesting. Highlights include an advanced look at LeSean Thomas' Cannon Busters, character designer Yeti showing off early art for Aggretsuko and "Cruel Angel's Thesis" singer Yoko Takahashi defending the controversial final episode of Evangelion. These interviews, however, are hurt by Alex Burunova's overly aggressive directing. As if to make every shot the most "extreme," the documentary is edited with nonsensical close-ups and ridiculous split-screen. At one point, there's a split-screen of two people talking in the same room right next to each other!

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The transitions between scenes are also filled with nonsense. Some narration about understanding anime through the lens of Japanese food just leads to a food montage, followed by introducing LeSean Thomas as a "foodie." No actual discussion of the culinary arts in connection with anime occurs. The interview with the Rilakkuma and Kaoru team ends up being completely out of place in a documentary otherwise focused on the "edgy" side of anime. A line about Japan loving "automation in animation" leads to a discussion of CGI work, which despite being done on computers is almost entirely controlled by artists and hardly "automated." That "automation" line brings to mind a scene from a much better anime documentary, Never-Ending Man, in which Hayao Miyazaki sees a test of a fully-automated, procedurally generated animation and declares it "an insult to life itself."

It seemed as if this style of documentary had mercifully died in part thanks to streaming services like Netflix mainstreaming the appeal of anime internationally. It's ironic that Netflix is the one to bring this genre of garbage back. The individual artist interviews might be worth fast-forwarding to, but as a whole, Enter the Anime is not recommended for beginners, otaku, or anyone except those with a taste for cringe.

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