Netflix has acquired a 12-episode anime series from Production I.G., the Japanese studio that distributed two anime series with stunning international appeal: the Ghost in the Shell franchise and Attack on Titan. The new series, Perfect Bones, will be the first original anime series to debut all of its episodes simultaneously worldwide — in 190 countries. The last time a Japanese animator released a series in Japan and the United States simultaneously, it bonded anime fans around the world, for a brief and fantastic moment. (That was Space Dandy, from the creator of Cowboy Bebop, and you should watch both short series if you haven’t already.)
So why is Netflix betting on an international release of an anime series? Well, first of all, the Japanese have been absolutely crushing the competition with serialized, animated sci-fi shows for decades. American television critics are calling the CW innovative for filling its schedule with hard-edged shows about teenagers fighting in a group against a monstrous threat, but shows like The 100 wouldn’t exist without Attack on Titan. As a lifelong sci-fi fan, I was absolutely stunned to finally discover the series in my adulthood. It’s on Netflix in its entirety, and its basic premise — children living in a city attacked by giant, emotionless, human-eating creatures use 3D-maneuvering technology and serrated swords to take them down — is so simple and immediately engaging.
The scene in which one of the main teenage characters loses his mother — no spoilers, as this occurs in the first episode — is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a show meant for young viewers. There’s something about the juxtaposition of the Japanese voice acting, the grinning, animated thing biting into a woman, and the soaring orchestral soundtrack, that feels entirely unique and timeless.
Second, there are certain moods that anime does very well, arguably with more finesse than westernized animation. Consider, for instance, the animated segment of Kill Bill: Volume 1, in which we get O-Ren’s backstory. The production company behind the segment is the same one Netflix has hired for Perfect Bones, so it stands to reason that the series will use Kill Bill’s graceful violence.
Third, anime has always been ahead of Western animation, and American creators like Pendleton Ward and Rebecca Sugar are just now catching up. Years ago, Ghost in the Shell was the spiritual successor to Blade Runner that everyone wanted, and though it earned a large American audience, it’s still not often included by critics surveying contemporary science fiction. If the world were fair, Americans would point to Ghost in the Shell as often as they do to Blade Runner when discussing the origins of the cyberpunk aesthetic.
Remember how in the early 2000s it felt like every horror film that hit American theaters was a translated remake of a Japanese or Korean film? Anime’s magic means altering its style doesn’t work. Americanized versions of anime series always end up losing vital aspects of the medium’s visual rhetoric. That is, even with westernized viewers who aren’t familiar with anime, the medium teaches its audience how to watch it. There’s a cathartic joy for me, as an American white girl whose only experience with Japanese fiction as a kid was Sailor Moon (English dubbed), in picking up on social cues and unspoken tools of Japanese animation while watching it as it was intended to be seen.
Netflix’s commitment to making Perfect Bones available across the world, all at once, is a bold statement on anime as an individual art form. If the company can catch the attention of Western viewers who love Miyazaki, for instance, but have watched only the versions of his films that cast Christian Bale or Stanley Tucci, it may succeed in a very important cultural endeavor.