This is going to be a very weird post. Very very weird post.
The other day I was singing We Don’t Talk About Bruno, just like everyone else was in February/March of this year. And I thought to myself wow Encanto has some really good songs. And this made me tumble down a wishing well if you will, of Disney songs. And I realized, huh, all Disney movies are musicals. Like actual musicals where the characters sing in the middle of scenes and the songs have something to do with the plot.
Since I was still humming, I figured I would continue down this yellow brick road and thought that although Pixar movies aren’t exactly musicals they usually have very important scores and at least a few songs written by big musical stars in them. Shrek which is neither Pixar nor Disney also has fun little dance numbers and so many people instantly think of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah when you mention the movie. Good song!
My point is that American animated movies are overwhelmingly musical, if not downright musicalS. At some point, we just decided that animation goes hand in hand with musical numbers and we just went with that for decades. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is.
But I can’t name a single song from an anime movie. I’m sure there is an anime musical movie, probably a bunch of them, but I have never seen one. And although I have watched more anime movies than Western animation movies at this point, I can’t really name a song from any of them. I could probably name a dozen from western movies off the top of my head. Heck, I could name at least half a dozen from movies I haven’t even seen.
And I find this weird… I don’t actually know why there’s such a different use of music in animated movies. I mean it could just be that animes are different. They’re different about a whole bunch of things, why not that. But once the thought wormed its way into my brain, I just kept on thinking about it. And now I’m telling you about it.
I did attempt to find some sort of “explanation”.
I thought well maybe Japan doesn’t have a history of musical theatre so it’s not something they would naturally incorporate into anime. But then both Kabuki and Noh are filled with music. They have very rich traditions of storytelling through sound. Maybe more than most Western cultures. So that’s just not it.
Ok, I thought. Just because Japanese audiences historically enjoyed forms of musical theatre, doesn’t mean it’s popular now. And maybe they just don’t like it in animation. But then again, Disney is super popular in Japan. It’s the most popular studio by far and it beats out Anime movies pretty much every time.
So we know that Japanese audiences like animated musicals. And yet…
I remember watching Words Bubble Up like Soda Pop. That was a cute little romantic comedy that centred around finding an old album. It was all about music and was the perfect movie to turn into a musical. But no… I guess there was a traditional Japanese dance during the O-bon festival scene but that’s really not the same thing.
Actually wait, I do recall two Anime movies with musical numbers. One is Perfect Blue but that seems like cheating. The main character starts off as part of an idol group and we see her perform at her job. That’s it though. In fact, there are surprisingly few numbers. I figure the Love Live movie has a few numbers as well. Still, that’s quite a niche. The other one is Lu Over The Wall that movie had a couple of musical numbers and even a dance scene and it was not only for practical purposes. It seems like the closest to a traditional musical. But I’ve only been able to find one movie that fits the bill. And a big fat zero explanations.
Maybe it’s coming. I’ll be kicking myself if all anime movies are musicals in a few years.
By the way, I’m not saying I want anime musicals. I don’t think one style is better than the other. I just noticed that despite the huge amount of international cross-influence, this musical thing still seems very regionally prevalent. We’re seeing superhero anime that could slot into marvel movies, we’re watching anime tropes worm their way into sitcoms without the need for explanation. Slowly there are more fusion titles. Still no anime musicals.
Somewhere deep inside me, I like to think that it’s an unwritten and unexpressed rule that the Japanese people have decided on. They will embrace new ideas and western influences but they draw the line at turning their animated movies into musicals. There have to be limits!
I warned you. Don’t say I didn’t. I told you all right from the start that this was going to be a weird post. And it was! At least I kept my word!