Whimsical pictures: ISML 2010 has just begun!

by Grungi

Do you know what “ISML” stands for ? If you do, then this post won’t teach you anything new, but if you’re like I was some months ago, you absolutely don’t have a clue. And if I tell you that it means “International Sai Moe League“, that doesn’t really help.

Well, the ISML can be described as a sort of popularity contest pitting female anime characters that appearead on shows that aired last year against each other. And all around the so-called “anime blogosphere”, or “otakusphere”, you can see bloggers campaigning for their girl(s) of choice.

So what’s the big deal ? Isn’t the ISML like any number of tournaments that can be found on the internet ? Well, yes and no. While it’s maybe a little less in the international version of the Sai Moe tournament (the Japanese one being even more extreme), this is a tournament that really seems to light up the flame of passion hidden inside many anime fans.

Some of the “official” coverage places become the center of heated debate on why did X lose against Y, or how come Z passed this round. Factions form, betrayal happen.

But what got me interested in Sai Moe is the way so many people seem to be passionate about their favourite characters. Sure, you may find the whole affair pointless and/or childish, but to me it goes to show something that sets anime apart from many entertainment media.

Anime characters have a way to be “alive” within you mind in a very peculiar way. Let me explain myself a little bit better by looking at other media.

Books : Book characters are very much “alive” in your mind because when you read a book, you have to use your imagination to make up your own image of everything that’s happening in the story. But, unlike anime, this is a vision that cannot be shared. That’s a problem with book adaptations : often, you find the way a character is portrayed on-screen doesn’t fit with your representation of said character, and that leaves you disappointed/angry at the filmmaker. So in the end, the character himself isn’t “alive”, it’s your personal representation of him that is.

Movies : Here, it’s quite simple. Movies are short, thus the characters need to be as “to-the-point” as possible, and so usually end up being not as develloped as in a several hours-long show, that’s almost a necessity. So yeah, some movie characters are indeed deep (just as many anime characters are shallow), but in general less time is spent examining who they are. Or in the case they are very well fleshed-out, they at best are alive only in the limited events of the movie.

Live-action series : Here, it depends. But, most of the time, characters develop along the story, whose length is decided by how well the series is doing. And sometimes the characters change drastically over the entire course of the show, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how it’s handled. But in the end, you’re often left with characters so defined that they don’t have any “blanks” for your mind to fill. So while the characters are vividly “alive” (ER is a prime example of shows that managed to make their characters feel like real people), they are so realistic that you don’t “internalize” them at all; they live outside of you.

Video games : There, the characters are either underdeveloped, or in games where they tend to be the focus of the game (mainly in RPGs), you control them anyway. Game characters are supposed to be avatars for the player that let them enter the game world. But can something that you control really feel “alive” ?

In contrast of all of the above, (good) anime characters strike a middle ground. You get to make up a personal representation of them as they’re only drawings, yet in well-written shows the time you spend following their antics give you an opportunity to learn how they function. When combined with the themes often at the center of anime plots, it helps creating characters that feel truly alive.

Well, at least that’s my personal opinion…

Now, back on track, I suppose it’s my duty to get you to vote a little bit, isn’t it ? Right now the preliminaries of ISML 2010 have started, so go on the ISML website and get voting 😉 And you know who you should vote for ? Easy enough : Isurugi Noe (True Tears), Miyamura Miyako (ef), and Senjougahara Hitagi (Bakemonogatari). Help me get them to pass this first round !