I love anime. I love anime so much that I sit down with one of my friends twice a month to record a podcast on it. But beyond my love, the Japanese animation I saw growing up shaped my ideas of storytelling as much as any Western animation style. A product of Toonami, I’m a weeb like many of the millennials who grew up with Cartoon Network.
Plus, with so many conventions across the United States built around anime and the use of it in popular culture, from movies to musical lyrics, you would think that we were done with viewing it as something “crazy” or something for “misfits.” You would think, that when analyzing anime in Japan as a piece of Japanese popular culture the topic would be treated with respect and like it’s a normal part of life and media consumption. But then Alex Burunova decided to pick up a camera and do none of that in the Netflix original documentary Enter the Anime.
While I am all for the uninitiated learning about anime and coming into the anime fan fold, Enter the Anime is orientalist at worst and reductionist at best. Burnuova’s narration is condescending to fans of anime and the Japanese creators behind the animation. In addition, while I applaud her for embracing her lack of knowledge, it’s done to the point that she shapes the entirety of anime culture as something to be frowned on, using the word “crazy” to describe anime and its fans multiple times throughout the hour-long documentary.
Instead of chronicling the long history of what Anime is, she rushes to hit every genre Netflix has a show for, reducing what could have been a documentary to get people involved in the culture to nothing more than a 60-minute ad-roll for Netflix animation. And sadly, when it isn’t an ad for Aggretsuko – a section that grossly misunderstands “kawaii culture” – or 7 Seeds it’s nothing but narration that focuses on the eccentricities of anime culture and others it, the same way the middle school mean girl did when I showed up in a Dragon Ball Z tee-shirt on free-dress day.
Even when focussing on the true standout of Netflix animation, Castlevania, Enter the Anime is a cringeworthy look into its creator, Adi Shankar, and ultimately feels shot to mock him. Now, Shankar is eccentric, to say the least, but the way Burnuova frames the questions and shots, does more to put his anime fandom on display as something childlike and wrong, instead of leading to what is one of the best Western anime to come out. Even when recording “otaku,” die-hard anime fans and the creators of the anime they love, Burnuova treats them like animals in a zoo and it is frustrating, especially given the long history of orientalist studies on Japanese pop culture.
From calling manga tonkōban “comic books,” to making comments about Japan’s “stoic” nature, and seeing anime itself as one of “Japan’s contradictions,” it’s clear that Burnuova is making this documentary as a paycheck and not out of curiosity. This is even more evident given that the only anime mentioned are Netflix properties and are all recent releases – with the exception of anime classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, but that only exists because of Netflix’s re-dubbing and ownership on the US distribution rights.
The glimpse of hope in Enter the Anime comes when creators talk about their work and we don’t hear Burnuova’s attempt at irreverent humor. But sadly, even a dive into the history of Toei Animation, Burnuova is frustratingly condescending. While there is some good info here, overall the moment she begins her narration and analysis it is unsalvageable.
In fact, Burnuova has the opportunity to interview the voice of one of the best anime openings in existence: Yoko Takahashi, singer of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis.” Instead of focussing on the fandom or emotion of the performer, it’s all about the show, the spectacle. And instead of seeing Takahashi perform a large concert, and seeing people across Japan sing to anime openings, and drawing the conclusion that anime is a normal part of Japanese pop culture, Burnuova continues to other it.
While Netflix anime isn’t bad, in Enter the Anime it’s treated as a larger-than-life phenomenon, when within anime circles it really isn’t. While many love it, platforms like Funimation and Crunchyroll remain king of anime distribution. Honestly, had this documentary focused on exploring the world of anime just on Netflix, it could have worked. Instead, it claimed to present a high knowledge of anime as a whole.
Enter the Anime is one of the worst films I have ever seen on anime culture, in fact, it’s one of the worst analyses of it and overall should have never happened. Burnuova was out of her depth, and her irreverent humor, while it works from people within the culture, it’s less about laughing with us and more about laughing at anime fans.
Enter the Anime
Enter the Anime is one of the worst films I have ever seen on anime culture, in fact, it’s one of the worst analysis of it and overall should have never happened. Burnuova was out her depth, and her irreverent humor, while it works from people within the culture, it’s less about laughing with us and more about laughing at anime fans.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.