Alright, I know I’m askin’ for it with this article, but we have to tackle this controversial quote.
First, we’re going to look at if it was said, then try to understand the context, and then we’ll look at if we agree (regardless of if it was said).
I guess we should be straightforward up front.
Did Miyazaki say “Anime was a mistake?” Was he right?
Miyazaki did not say, “Anime was a mistake.” He was quite critical of modern otaku culture, but he never made that statement. It was a fake quote made up to troll people. And even if he did say it, I certainly don’t think it was a mistake.
Why do people think Miyazaki said “Anime was a mistake”?
This all started as a bit of a trolling on Tumblr.
A user by the name of old-japanese-men took a clip from an interview that was done with Miyazaki for a Japanese publication called Golden Times, published online on the 27th of January in 2014.
In that interview, Miyazaki indeed expresses his frustrations with the animation scene in Japan these days. But nowhere does he outright say that “anime was a mistake.”
The Tumblr user took a couple of seconds from that interview and replaced the subtitles with English ones reading, “Those who identify as ‘otaku’, they sicken me deeply,” and “Anime was a mistake. It’s nothing but trash,” and turned them into gifs.
From Tumblr, the gifs made their way to the image sharing site Imgur where it continued to gain popularity. From that point its spread is hard to track.
So, what did Miyazaki say?
He didn’t say “Anime was a mistake” specifically, but don’t get too comfortable. He certainly has his criticisms for the community—especially its creators—at large.
I’m going to put down here a transcription of the original Japanese as well as an English translation, so you can compare them for yourself and get a sense for what he was trying to say.
In the next section we’ll offer a bit of extra context and evaluate his claims themselves.
First, the Japanese:
Originally, I was going to just copy over the translation that was originally given in the English news about this, but I felt that their translations were way too liberal with the meanings. So, here’s my translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s words:
So, is Miyazaki right?
Well, you’re going to find an extremely wide range of debate on this topic. Since that’s the case, I’ll just add a bit of context and then my own opinion.
First, Miyazaki, in this particular instance, without the context of the rest of the video, it’s hard to see if Miyazaki is being critical of the industry as a whole.
Just looking at what he says here, we can say that he’s just making a point about animation in Japan moving away from art that’s based in images from real life.
And, frankly, he’s largely right. If you compare Miyazaki’s vivid creations, that brim with a sort of life energy, to more recent, mass produced, fantastical animations coming out of Japan, then it’s fair to say that reality based animation is not the gold standard.
It’s a whole ‘nother debate whether realistic anime was ever the gold standard, and whether Miyazaki was always a standout in the industry.
Let’s not go there right now.
It’s fair enough to say that among all of anime’s history, Miyazaki has always created works that stand apart from the rest of what the industry has had to offer.
But is this a critical statement? That’s the next big question.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t able to track down the full clip to learn the complete context.
However, I’m passingly familiar with Miyazaki’s feelings about the industry throughout his career. His feelings? Decidedly critical.
For Miyazaki, animation is a high art form, requiring dedication, imagination, and spirit. And, as far as I can tell, he’s always felt that much of anime has lacked that je ne sais quois.
My opinion on the subject
Miyazaki is right, but what more can we expect? The amount of dedication to the craft that’s required of Japanese animators is insane.
Only someone with a preternatural adoration of the medium would put in the work.
And, along with that adoration and incredible work ethic comes a lack of time. Time necessary to observe people to deal with people.
If you devote yourself a hundred percent to drawing and animation, then you’ll care less and less about the 3-D world and more and more about the 2-D one.
Is that good, or bad? I don’t know. I’d wager it’s neither. Anime will change, for sure, but change is often good. The meta nature of anime will possibly develop new, wilder, more creative products for us all to enjoy.
The real world is, to an extent, static. But the world of imagination is boundless in every direction, outwards and inwards.
New ideas can be found by building outwards from the stories we already have, or by digging deeper into the themes and settings.
None of that is possible without a singular dedication on the part of the creators to their creations and the creations of others.
So, maybe we won’t get any more lifelike representations of children, but that’s fine.
We’ve got Ponyo and Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, and so much of the Studio Ghibli oeuvre to enjoy that style.
The otaku have taken over and are taking us in a new direction. I say let them steer.
“I’ve lived in Japan on-and-off for the last five years, travelling to (almost) every corner of the Land of the Rising sun. I’ve deepened my love of the language with big hauls from Sapporo book stores, by chatting in Shinjuku coffee shops, drinking in Osaka “snack bars,” exploring distant Okinawan islands, and hitching rides with monks in Aomori. Japanese is a wide and deep language, and I’m always eager to dive in deeper.”