guidelines for kid-friendly anime

The basic requirements for kid-friendly anime are pretty commonsensical:

1. No fan service.

This doesn’t mean that the characters have to be in burkas all the time, but it does require a sense of innocence. For example, in Sugar: Snow Fairy we do routinely see characters in the bath, and in Haibane Renmei we see the girls in various states of undress, but the context of these scenes is so totally inoocent that you’d have to be a real kimura to find any “service” in them. From Steven’s description, it seems that the fan service in World of Narue would not be too objectionable, but I’d have to review some examples of the more egregious examples to get a sense for whether it would be suitable or not.

2. Young characters.

But not too young; ideally the main character should be a few years older minimum than the child who will be watching, and if possible the same gender. The reason is simple – kids emulate older kids, and boss around younger ones. A child won’t relate to characters that are too young, and won’t identify a character that is too old as a peer.

For my daughter, who just turned four, characters in the age range of 5-11 are pretty much ideal. It is worth noting that when she first saw S:SF, she was three and a half, and found the character of Cannon pretty uninteresting. However she absolutely idolized Yume from Someday’s Dreamers.

For little girls especially, the entire genre of mahou shoujo (magical girl) is pretty much a guaranteed hit (as long as it is in compliance with the other guidelines, of course).

and finally, most importantly,

3a. A moral lesson or example of personal growth,

and/or

3b. A sense of wonder.

The first option is self-explanatory – essentially the same driving force (other than merchandising) underlying all children’s programming. Ultimately any time spent in front of television is time that is not spent outdoors, on the internet, at school, or with family. Therefore, that TV time has to maintain a minimum level of educational value. In anime, however, even in the simplest children-oriented anime that I have seen thus far, the characters have a depth that is totally absent in regular child’s fare like PBS Kids or Disney Playhouse – there’s a maturity that isn’t neccessarily adult. The potential to educate a child by example, and role model, is vast – and after parental example it is unfortunately what kids see on television that shapes their values. Even the best of parents need to rely on the TV to help out once in a while; the TV can never replace a parent but it can relieve a parent from time to time.

The second option however is more vague. By sense of wonder, I mean an inspiration for creativity, a culturing of the innate curiosity that children have and which adults often must struggle to rediscover. The classic example in my mind of this is My Neighbor Totoro, which is perhaps the most Ghibli of the Ghibli films. There really isn’t a lot of plot, and the story also seems to end abrupt;y, but the plot isn’t really the point. It’s about the intersection of the real world and the fantasy world, and how children are uniquely positioned at that nexus. Seeing the universe through a child’s eyes is a liberating experience – your own perceptions melt away and you see things again, as if new. And you see new things as well. As far as anime is a form of art, this is the ideal to which it must strive, especially if the target audience is a child.

Recommendations and lists below the fold…

Recommendations

The list of anime that I can recommend for kids is quite short, only because we haven’t seen that much anime 🙂 But the titles that we have seen that worked well were:

My Neighbor Totoro
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Sugar: A Little Snow Fairy
Bottle Fairy
Someday’s Dreamers

Titles that are definitely on the to-get list:

Kamichu
Binchou-tan

Titles that I need to evaluate as to whether suitable for my daughter:

World of Narue
Honey and Clover
Howl’s Moving Castle
Angelic Layer
Cardcaptor Sakura
Galaxy Angel

Titles that my daughter did not enjoy:

Spirited Away
Princess Mononoke

UPDATE 9/15/06: Don has a lengthy list sorted by age group.

9 thoughts on “guidelines for kid-friendly anime”

  1. I’m not surprised that she didn’t like Spirited Away or . The former will be frightening to anyone much younger than Chihiro, and the latter is not a kid’s movie at all.

    I’ve only seen the first episode of Narue — I got sidetracked by Kamichu! — but on the basis of that episode I would say that it’s probably too scary for the very young. There was a (slight) nosebleed, too, which is not a good sign. I’ll write about it after I watch some more.

    Honey and Clover (so far) is completely unobjectionable and probably mostly uninteresting for kids (and many adults), unless they’re into interior monologues. (The comic relief here really is relief.)

    Angelic Layer is a good choice for grade-schoolers; for pre-schoolers, I don’t know. Cardcaptor Sakura is even better, but it’s only available subtitled (well, there is a dub of sorts, but by all accounts Nelvana utterly trashed the story in the process of adapting it).

    Howl I have a hard time objectively evaluating. The book is a favorite of mine, and the movie is just so wrong it’s painful. I’d suggest watching Kiki and Totoro again instead, and get her the book when she’s older.

    Galaxy Angel I’ll have to check out sometime. From comments elsewhere, I gather that most of it is suitable for youngsters, but some of it is definitely not.

  2. On Narue, Disc 1:

    * A scene where all of the 14-year old girls are in the locker room, having a conversation in their underwear.

    * The main character brings Narue home to see his room, but he hasn’t cleaned it so the place is a mess. Hentai magazines are all over the floor. (We don’tsee the bad pictures) His computer has a cheesecake desktop image.

    * The above-mentioned nosebleed

    * Narue’s skirt is nearly weightless, and floats up at the slightest provocation. The main character sees this and he becomes flushed. I think this change in context is the crucial difference. We may see the girls’ underwear in Totoro, but we see it as adults. It is harmless. In Narue, she’s just a _little_ older. More importantly, we see her through the eyes of the main character, who is excited or embarassed by seeing her underwear. Either way, the innocence is gone, and that changes a lot.

  3. I just posted my review of World of Narue, and I did include some screen caps of the most extreme fan service. By the standards of anime in general its pretty mild, but you might consider it a bit too much for a 4 year old. Or maybe not; it might be that at that age she wouldn’t even notice.

  4. With Galaxy Angel, there’s an episode which is a flashback to when one of the Angels (Forte) was working as an army sniper under the command of the officer who later came to head the Angel Brigade.

    They’re up against some rogue, heavily-stealthed combat robots, which look like giant preying mantises and are spooky as hell. It’s quite dark and violent, and the violence is realistic, not cartoonish.

    But a more typical episode would involve (to pick a couple of examples at random) the team airhead (Milfeuille) mishandling alien technology so that the rest of the team end up invisible or blown up to giant size.

    There are lots of good, kid-friendly episodes, but there are a handful that will give them nightmares, so you definitely need to screen it first.

  5. Whether or not children are disturbed by something is pretty much a gamble. My brother was about 5 when he first saw Spirited Away, and didn’t bat an eyelid (so to speak). He especially liked Kaonashi (who is probably the most purposefully disturbing character) and for days afterwards he would go around the house with a blanket over his head and one hand outstretched, saying “Ah… Ah… Ah…”. But there are friends of his around the same age and younger that have been scared or disturbed by it. He also happily watches Dr. Who, which I would not have been able to do so at his age and even older. But the strange thing is that he finds Ah! My Goddess (the last OVA and the movie) absolutely terrifying. His current obsession is Cardcaptor Sakura, which proves it isn’t pink and girly things which he’s scared of and also that one doesn’t always have to share a characters gender for them to be a role-model (he does claim, in his own words, to be a ‘tom-girl’ but I think he’s more masculine that I’ve ever been).

    I’d say Cardcaptor Sakura is a must, but even if you’d prefer it dubbed just stay away from Cardcaptors! It can be a bit pedolicious at times but not nearly as much as Bottle Fairy. I bought Angelic Layer for him to try out and he claims to like it just as much as Cardcaptor Sakura, but it’s a bit more violent and male-orientated (despite a female protagonist and almost completely female cast, I think it may have been made for a shônen magazine) and the ages of the characters are also a step up, so I’d say this is one to cross off the list. The same would go for Howl’s Moving Castle, as although it’s very colourful and fantastic and the ecchiness is only unusual by Ghibli standards it’s one of their most adult-orientated films in terms of story and subject. Pom Poko is very much in the same vein as Spirited Away, but two Ghibli films you failed to mention which are perfectly in tune with what your girl seems to like are Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns. See them in that order, as they’re related to each other (The Cat Returns is a story which was supposedly written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart during the course of that film).

  6. whisper and the cat returns are age-appropriate for your daughter.
    Howl and Naussicaa are not.
    I haven’t read the books, and don’t plan to, because i love the animes best of all.
    Howl is the first grrl-gets-boy Miyasaki, a cinderella story really.
    and Naussicaa is really complex and deep, one of my all time favorites, inspite of Steven’s dismissive and depressing review of it on chizu. Naussicaa is not for kids.
    or, apparently, for Steven.

  7. Well, if she’s wondering about Cardcaptor Sakura or Angelic Layer, i would say they are both child-friendly. In AL, there is a little violence. but no blood. it’s a great shoujo manga, and i recomend it. The fact that it has 6 books is nice, becuase it won’t take up your time like Naruto or Bleach (hate em). Cardcaptors is a cute anime that is romantic (in a child sense), cute, funny, and exciting all in one. It has about 70 episodes, and once you finish it, you’ll long for more. It’s magical, cute and totally tear-jerking sometimes. There is no sexual content whatsoever, and i like that. 😉 you’ll love it.

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