WHETHER it's the post-apocalyptic thrills of Akira, the cuteness of Pokémon or the breathless innovation of Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning Spirited Away, anime – the catch-all term for Japanese animation – has been an ever-evolving fixture on the UK film scene for more than 20 years now.
What better time then for Scotland to become a hub for enthusiasts and newcomers alike? That may well be about to happen thanks to Scotland Loves Anime, a new animation festival combining screenings of new and classic anime with special guests, exhibitions and workshops.
Kicking off next weekend at the Glasgow Film Theatre, before concluding the following weekend at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, it's the brainchild of festival director Andrew Partridge, a Scottish-based animation fan who has worked on the distribution and acquisitions side of the anime industry in Europe for the past five years.
"We really just wanted to create an animation festival in Scotland and because my background is in Japanese animation, that's why it has ended up an anime festival," he says.
The aim, though, is to both satisfy aficionados and reach out to people who are either curious about anime or, as Partridge puts it, "have been on the fringes of it without realising it".
Indeed the proliferation of anime is so great – around 22 hours of it is produced every week in Japan – that even leaving aside anime-influenced movies such as The Matrix, Kill Bill and 300, the chances are, even if you think you're not familiar with anime, you probably are, especially if you grew up in the 70s or 80s and watched cartoons such as Battle Of The Planets, Dogtanian or The Mysterious Cities Of Gold.
"That's what I call the 'hidden import period,'" explains Jonathan Clements, anime expert and author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures In The Anime And Manga Trade.
"A number of Japanese works were released on the English language market both here and in America that weren't listed as Japanese because broadcasters tended to do everything they could to hide their origins. Akira was the moment that all changed. Suddenly people were like, 'Wow, this what the Japanese are doing? What else have they got?' It was the moment that the concept of anime being something special that people should seek out really began."
Clements, who is one of the festival's special guests and will be on hand to introduce the films as well as run a number of workshops and panel discussions, reckons Scotland Loves Anime will help showcase its ongoing innovation. To this end, of the films in the line-up, both he and Partridge are unequivocal in their praise of Summer Wars, a kind of sci-fi flavoured family drama. "If you're not yet a fan of anime but want to see what it can do, then that's the film to see," says Clements. Partridge's personal favourite is Redline, a crazy, fast-paced sci-fi adventure about an illegal car race on a planet ruled by an evil dictator. "It's very much Wacky Races meets Anime," laughs Partridge, though Clements reckons the high concept pitch is more "Cannonball Run in space".
For younger audiences there's the Scottish premiere of Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva, which is based on a series of successful video games, and for hardcore anime fans, there's another chance to see Evangelion 2.0, which had its UK premiere at the Glasgow Youth Film Festival earlier this year. That's the one film Clements reckons casual viewers should keep away from because it is based on a very dense TV show. "It's very popular with the fans, but I think it's great to be able to tell newbies it will be hard to follow. Anime loses a lot of potential fans because they blunder into something they don't understand – and that's not their fault."
Still, the earlier success of that film's Glasgow premiere, along with Akira's strong showing at the Glasgow Film Festival in February (it will be Scotland Loves Anime's closing night film) suggests that Partridge has chosen the moniker for his festival wisely. "We tested the market there and the screenings were exceptionally well received with over 1,000 people turning up. That's why we decided to call it Scotland Loves Anime."
"That's also down to Andrew's sheer bloody-mindedness," adds London-based Clements. "The way he sees it, Scotland has two major cities within a short train ride of each other, so why does everything have to happen in London? Why don't we make Scotland the centre for premiering this kind of thing?
All you want at a premiere is a happy audience that's pleased to be there. We got that when we screened Evangelion 2.0 at the Glasgow Film Theatre earlier this year and a guy came all the way from Oxford to see it.
If it's a big enough event for them, people will travel. Scots are expected to travel to London to see things all the time. Why shouldn't the Scots expect southerners to do the same?" v
Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday until 10 October, and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 15-17 October www.lovesanimation.com
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 3 October, 2010