An Aria About Anime

anime aria

Can you name the show?  Hint: there is more Jazz than classical music here

spring15-samsI have two main interests in my life that on the surface are on the complete opposite ends of the culture spectrum.  That is because I can espouse my love for Anime and Opera in the same breath.  However, after being both an Anime fan for a number of years and becoming more and more of an Opera buff over the past few years, I have noticed that many of things I love about anime can in fact be found in many great Operas.  That is why I am writing this, in hopes to explain why Opera and Anime have such a similar appeal.

#1: Production Values out the Wazoo

Any visual medium will strive to create things that boggle the mind.  Maybe it is a giant robot with impeccable design, maybe it is a mythical creature that seems to have come from an ancient text.  In anime, we get these things all of the time since the only limit on what we see is the artists drawing ability.  In opera however, the limitations of having to put something on a stage and make it something that an actual human can interact with all the more impressive in many ways.

Such a shame that he’s going to kill such a beautiful creature. 

For instance, in the Opera Siegfried, part 3 of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, the character Siegfried has to go kill a dragon.  So opera companies the world over have built dragons to be used in their plays.  My favorite example of this is when an actual train was used in opera, with steam and everything.  This was back in the 1800s, so sorry, but no pictures.

Just imagine Ryuko and Satsuki singing here and the background not changing as much

Of course, their are other things like costume work, props, and other things that Operas do to make the stage feel like another world.  But compare the stage you see and the anime on the screen, are they not both fictional worlds brought to life before your eyes?

#2: Love Dodecahedron

Stop me if you have heard this one before.  A young man is in love with a woman, but the woman he loves, loves someone else (who may or may not be the young man’s sworn enemy).  And the young man’s childhood friend is secretly in love with him, but she has never had the chance to tell him how she feels.  You know that story, it is the story of countless Shoujo anime… and the plot of Carmen.

It is sadly never that simple.

Of course, Operas being a single event kind of thing, you don’t get the will-they-won’t-they, so common in anime.  Other than that though, you get so many similar love stories in anime and manga.  The artist whose love dies of an illness: Your Lie in April and La Boheme.  A playboy who the ladies can’t help love: [Insert Harem show here] and Rigoletto.  The point is: if you watch anime for the romance angle, you can be easily served by going to an opera.

#3: The Power of Emotions

Kekkai Sensen2015-05-22-22h39m21s513

Pavarotti, is that you?

But maybe you the reader are a soulless monster who doesn’t know this hu-man emotion we call love.  Well don’t worry, because if Operas have one other thing well represented it is hyper-exaggerated emotions.  Just like your Shonen protagonist who fights against the odds and wins just because he has that burning heart.  Done.  Maybe you like your angst-y protagonists with a chip on their shoulder and a grudge against the world?  Done.  Do you have a burning rage in you, one so strong the very tattered vest you wear bursts off you in a torrent of flames?  Done.  And if you like energetic characters that seem like they could never be put down by the world?  Done and Done.

Now maybe this is just me, but the extreme emotions that characters express are one of the funnest things about anime for me.  Whether it is the screaming mecha pilot or the manly tears of Kenshiro, it is these over stated emotions in ridiculous scenarios that make anime special.  And while the “what” that characters are passionate about is different in opera, the “how” passionate they are is actually very similar.

#4: These Creators are Crazy

Now I’ll admit that this one applies to almost every medium full of creative people and artists.  For instance, legendary grumpy person Yoshiyuki Tomino admits Gundam Recongista in G is a bad show because it is just too logical.  Also, his greatest regret is that the Japanese government isn’t going to watch his show.  Mamoru Oshii doesn’t understand friendship and doesn’t like talking to people either.  And Hayao Miyazaki pretty much hates all otaku, kinda like Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster.

  Crazy Person

On the opera side of things, let’s look at one of histories biggest megalomaniacs: Richard Wagner.  Example 1: Wagner’s biggest patron was the famous king Ludwig II, who is famous for trying to live life like a character from Game of Thrones.  Example 2: he had an affair with a woman named Cosima, who just happened to be the wife of Franz Liszt (as in one of the most famous pianists of the 19th century.  He was one of Chopin’s contemporaries).  Example 3: He created a theater in a small town called Bayreuth that only plays his operas.  And the only reason anyone ever goes to Bayreuth in modern times is for his operas.

Crazy Person

Again, the joy of investigating crazy people isn’t limited to just anime or opera.  We all know that Edgar Allen Poe was weird, that Tim Burton loves ruining childhoods, and that Vanilla Ice is a stark raving lunatic (and the stand user is strange too).

#5 It’s all about the Music, MAN

Now I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t talk about the musical aspects of operas and anime.  The difference musically between these two is that in Opera the music is the main point of what you are watching, while anime music is often in the background.  Look at how in a show like Kekkai Sensen (read my posts!) they play all sorts of music.  When there is a chase scene there is a catchy tune playing to get you pumped up, at a moment of victory Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is played, and if you are going to destroy a monster truck that has been rampaging in New York City of course you play Jazz.  The point I’m making is that all of these different musical pieces are done to enhance what you are seeing on the screen.  Now I am not saying that the plot and action of the opera is meaningless, but I have always seen those things as an excuse for great music.  For instance, let’s look at an aria from the opera Faust by Gounod called the Golden Calf (that is a biblical reference I’m not getting into).  The actual song is sung by a the Devil Mephistopheles about how mankind is greedy and falls to the will of the devils.  That is fine and all, but I mainly listen to this because I love the performance.  In the end, to me I go to the opera for music then action, and with anime it is reversed.

  He sure looks the part


But Samsura I hear you say: I don’t understand what the people on stage are saying.  Well, I don’t understand Japanese, and that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying anime; plus most theaters have some form of subtitles.  But Samsura: I don’t want to sit in one place for multiple hours watching the same thing.  Then I guess you can never binge watch a show again or see a Peter Jackson movie.  But Samsura: I don’t like classical music.  So for this one, I have to be a little self righteous.  Compare two famous arias (a solo): Nessum Dorma and La Donna e Mobile both sung by Opera star Pavarotti.  You can’t say after hearing these songs that they sound similar, and their actual meanings are completely different too.  It’s a lot like how hearing say “Do You Remember Love” (Macross) or the Totoro theme are enough to make me cry, it is the delivery before the context that really speaks to me about this music.

So overall, what I’m trying to say is that if you like anime (and those who bother to read this probably like anime) maybe, just maybe, there is an opera for you.  Oh yeah, and if you are into tentacles, then have I got something for you:  The Octopuses Aria Un di Ero Piccina

One of (I was a child), At the temple I saw a monk In a screen all done in symbols, Rattling off the veil of mystery … It was a plague On a large dead sea Color Bronze; And there was a sky Red as blood, On a red bruise; And a large beach, A large beach dead Gray and white … A girl sits giaceavi, Skinny limbs, Scattered hair And in the mouth of a rice Who was a spasm … On the Dead Sea Meanwhile, a large octopus The head stood … And the girl with the big Falcato guatava eye out; This, to put down the look of terror, All affisava! On the Dead Sea The slimy tentacles He moved the monster, and his legs, Pei kidney and shoulder, Then by the hair And the forehead and eyes And the slender chest heaving, And for arms Clasps and ties! Clasps and ties in the face! She smiles every hour! She smiles and dies With an extreme agony Which seems a rice … it smiles He dies, and dies! And the monk in a loud voice: “That octopus and Pleasure … The octopus and Death! “


As someone of questionable tastes and even more questionable ethics; if we laugh at the same things you are one of two things: A person of discerning taste or a weirdo. Guess where I fall.
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10 Responses to “An Aria About Anime”

  1. Di Gi Kazune says:

    Macross. SDF, 7, Plus, Frontier.

    Literally. One. Space. Opera. Admittedly, also cheesy.

  2. BlackBriar says:

    Good informative post, Sam. Personally I’ve never been to an opera (there’s none in the general area I live in even if I wanted to go to one) but I admire the use of classical music to enhance scenes that are tailored for action or drama in anime, movies, etc… I remember the first season of Psycho-Pass using mostly when Shougo Makishima is around. The level of epicness suddenly rises. It’s enough of an impact with the scene alone but once the music starts, you’re pulled in that much more.

    Dies Irae just works too well!

  3. BlackBriar says:

    Just like your Shonen protagonist who fights against the odds and wins just because he has that burning heart. Done. Maybe you like your angst-y protagonists with a chip on their shoulder and a grudge against the world? Done. Do you have a burning rage in you, one so strong the very tattered vest you wear bursts off you in a torrent of flames? Done. And if you like energetic characters that seem like they could never be put down by the world? Done and Done.

    The first two work, the third is a little exaggerated but no comment on the fourth.

    It’s all good as long the protagonist isn’t infuriatingly over-idealistic and knows his ideals are full of holes (Shirou Emiya), isn’t pathetic (Haruto Tokishima or anyone similar) or doesn’t act like such a Deus Ex Machina without faults that he doesn’t seem human (Tatsuya Shiba).

  4. skylion says:

    Well, what’s important about opera, despite it’s drift from the popular entertainment of the day to so-called “intellectual” airs, or stuffiness, etc, is that the structure is still very much followed to this day. Same holds true for plays, but we’ll stick with opera. Thematic structure is the same, as you point out. Any walk-on portly fool can be traced right up to Peter Griffen after all.

  5. IreneSharda says:

    Great talk Sam. I never thought to link opera and anime before, though anime does have some of the same tics and characteristics that opera does, and vice versa. I’ve seen quite a few operas and I enjoy them very much, my city thankfully having its own opera house. Of all the cultural arts that I attend, I enjoy opera a little more than a classical concert, but a little less than a theater play. I enjoy the opera style, but I prefer the slightly more confined essence of a good musical, to the epic vastness of an opera. There are different feelings for both, but I also enjoy both for what they are.

    I really want to see some of Wagner’s works sometime, I don’t know when my opera house will decide to work their way back to him again though. I know a lot of people are put off by opera because they are either afraid of all the singing, all the foreign languages, or that they all end in tragedy/death.

    For the first, I say try it, if you still can’t stand all the singing, then I assure you opera isn’t for you. You might as well stop now. For the second, most operas have subtitles set up for you, and even without them, you pretty much can understand through the actions what’s going on. For the last excuse, I can’t stand stories that end in tragedy either. The only tragic opera I’ve ever seen is Macbeth, and that was because I already knew how it was going to end. Other than that, I stick exclusively to romantic, fantasy, and comedic operas. There are quite a few out there, there’s a big chance that you might find one that you love.

    • Samsura says:

      There is no better way to say it then this; Wagner is for the hardcore fans. Maybe you could see the Flying Dutchman or the Ban on Love but all the works that made him famous like the Ring Cycle or Parsifal are only for those with a close familiarity with opera. Not to mention his works are not easy to put on, so they don’t come around that much. I live near Hellsalem’s Lot NYC, so I have easy access to Wagner’s works.

      Personally, I prefer Italian to German Opera anyhow.

      • IreneSharda says:

        My opera house seems to have a pretty interesting season coming up, including ones that I always wanted to see but keep missing like the Cinderella, Marriage of Figaro and the Merry Widow. Also they are doing this fascinating one involving terrorists and a hostage situation called Bel Canto. I didn’t get a chance to go last season, but I’ll probably go a little more this coming season.

  6. Highway says:

    I just cannot find much of an interest in opera, largely due to the scale and the style of singing. I do like musicals, and I do like quite a bit of classical music, but put them together and sing in a style I find to be overaffected and lacking in definition (not helped by the language barrier), and it just doesn’t hold my attention.

  7. Overcooled says:

    I’ve never seen an opera and I’ve never thought of comparing it to anime…Thanks for bringing the two together here! I’m not sure if I should also thank you for that special octopus tentacle song you put at the end but thanks I guess? Very enlightening in a different way…

    • Samsura says:

      Tentacles are the universal language after all
      But seriously, the act of watching anime and opera are totally different, but the core ingredients are actually quite similar.

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