At the moment I’m full on in my immersion. It works and I’m glad to be making big progress.
But now there are people around me who say that the Japanese in movies and manga isn’t the Japanese which is spoken in real life.
Does this mean that I’m learning Japanese that isn’t real?
I don’t believe that. But I’d like to pose the question to people who are in Japan and know better. Please help me!
How real is anime Japanese?
Short answer: Real enough.
Long answer: That is a very good question.
Some anime are more naturalistic (dialogwise) than others.
Just like how in American cartoons, “Ben 10” 1 is much more naturalistic in its dialogue than, say, “Looney Tunes” or “Swat Kats”.
Yes, I am a grown man and I watch cartoons with a fearsome intensity.
Another American example: “Phineas and Ferb”. The dialogue may not be real real real, but the wit definitely is. The fourth wall-breaking, self-deprecating, stream-of-consciousness humor of Dr. Doofenshmirtz is very current, very natural and very adult. Very post-modern, if you will.
Arguably, there are billions of different kinds of Japanese: different dialects, different sociolects, different idiolects, different situation-lects, with each individual person possessing their own…set of subsets of these.
So you can’t point to one thing and say “this is ‘The One True Japanese to Rule Them All'”.
There’s telephone Japanese, convenience store Japanese, hanging out with guys Japanese, old friends Japanese, friends’ parents Japanese, strangers Japanese, baby and pet Japanese, news Japanese, politician Japanese, TV discussion show Japanese, comedy Japanese, documentary Japanese. All have their specific “things”.
What can be said about textbook Japanese is that it’s unnaturally normative, pedantic, boring and…unreal as a tournament.
Anime Japanese definitely has its “flavor”.
But then there are many different kinds of anime.
“Shonen Jump” anime Japanese is one thing…
“Samurai Champloo” another,
“Ergo Proxy” another altogether.
Again, anime has its flavor. But it’s a native flavor. A real flavor. A Japanese flavor.
Will you talk slightly funny if all you watch is anime?
BUT it’ll be a native-like, Japanese funny, not a gaijin funny.
You’ll be like a guy who watched too much “Full House” and talks like Bob Saget or Uncle Joey. I’m not saying that that’s John Kabira‘s story, but…yeah. Haha.
I had a phase where I wrote and spoke like shonen anime character (thankfully not “Naruto” 2). All my sentences ended in “ぜ”. I also had a phase where I talked like a kid from “Gokusen”. All my sentences ended in “じゃねーぞ”. But I outgrew those phases. And it only took a couple of weeks, literally, two weeks of living in Japan for real, to correct the last of my “imbalances” 3.
So, yeah, there is “anime” Japanese just like there is “Star Trek” English.
But guess what?
“Star Trek English” is more than 90% the same as “regular” English, even with all the jargon.
If anything, what truly separates anime Japanese from “normal” Japanese is not that it’s anime, but that it’s scripted and rehearsed. As are the news, TV dramas, movies, audiobooks…All are good, linguistically at least. All are worth your time if they’re fun for you. But all are scripted and rehearsed.
Real speech is, of course, ad-libbed. (There are some awesome shows that feature ad-libbed Japanese, like Peeping Life). And that is the real difference.
Here it is in a nutshell; if you like, you can call it the Two Laws of Media (anime included):
- Any Japanese that’s made by and for Japanese people is closer to real Japanese than anything made “for learners”.
- Any scripted Japanese is closer to other scripted Japanese than it is to real Japanese.
Let me “draw” that for you as an “ASCII Venn Diagram”:
(Anime/Movies/News/TV) – (“Real Japanese”)
As you can see, JSL (“Japanese as a Second[ary?] Language” = fake, sanitized, whitewashed, “for learners”, “for foreigners” Japanese) is separated from real Japanese by a great horizontal and vertical distance. Anime, on the other hand, actually overlaps and intersects with real Japanese. A real Venn diagram woulda been betta, but…you have no idea how little I can be bothered. If you only knew the depths of laziness we’re dealing with here, you wouldn’t even entertain that thought 😀 .
Ultimately, anime is worth your time.
Anime will not “hurt” your Japanese; it will strengthen it. Yes, it will certainly “color” and “flavor” it to some extent in the process, but not in a way that cannot be balanced out by other “colors” and “flavors”.
Take-home points in support, defense and praise of anime as a learning tool and more:
- It’s a real and pervasive part of contemporary Japanese culture
- There are only two types of culture: Living culture and dead culture. Pop culture is living culture. High culture is dead culture. (Twain: a classic is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads). Anime is alive; anime is here and now. Anything considered respectable is high culture: the rotting, badly preserved corpse of once-living pop culture. Remember that Shakespeare used to be pop; kimonos used to be dirty.
- It’s fun, engaging and addictive
- It’s close enough to real
- Occasionally (as in the case of “Peeping Life“) it’s basically 100% real — and exact-L2-subbed, to boot!
- Schools and jerk-off teachers hate it, which is a good sign that it’s awesome; those people hate smiles, smartphones, pretty girls and comfortable clothes, too, so…yeah.
- Frankly, the whole anti-anime stance is nothing but a proxy war against fun itself. Nobody gets their knickers in a twist over TV news or the effing tea ceremony or handwritten letters made from cherry blossom paper. Just anime and other fun things.
- Most anime these days implement some form of “Tarzan”-style media mix 4, so you can enjoy and learn from the manga, the radio play (“Drama CD”), the comic book, the video game, the novelization and the anime reboot of the same basic work.
- We don’t all want to live in Japan. For some of us, anime itself is the main reason to learn Japanese. It was certainly a big reason for me. So being able to learn the language through the very thing you want to learn the language for is, how you say, a good get.
And that’s all from me, folks.
Sorry for the lack of elegance in the argument…I have much room for development in that regard.
Anyway, the point is not to be convinced by me.
Don’t agree or disagree, just go out there and have fun and be a baller 🙂 .
- especially the character “Kevin Levin” ↩
- After every mean-spirited joke that’s been on this website, you’re going to be butthurt about this? ↩
- When I first came to Japan, outputwise my two registers were über-polite and gangster. I had no stable “middle ground”. It didn’t take but a mo’ to get one, no conscious practice required. Getting over my tendency to fall back on technical language when cornered (lol) took somewhat longer, but that’s a different issue, more of an engineer/geek thing… ↩
- (yeah, “Star Wars” came later) ↩