The Teacher's Companion to the Anime Companion

By Gilles Poitras



Anime and Manga Terminology.

What is Different About Anime and Manga?

Suggested Cultural Aspects for Discussion.

Problematic Content in Anime and Manga

Pirated Anime & Manga Related Goods.

Recommended Anime and Manga

Links to select Internet resources


This small guide is written to assist in the use of Japanese animation (anime) or comics (manga) in teaching about Japanese culture. It is intended to supplement the more detailed information included in my Anime Companion books; The Anime Companion, Anime Companion Volume 2 and The Anime Companion Supplement on the web.

Why use anime or manga in the classroom? Several reasons, one is that because of its cultural origins many aspects of Japanese society turn up in the stories. Another is that the sophistication and large variety genres of the tales ranges widely and so it is easy to find appropriate material for a wide variety of age groups or subject specific classes.

The advantage of using anime is that it is entertaining as well as often showing many aspects of Japanese life. Classroom use of anime could range from the study of everyday Japanese life to more complex studies of the structure of animated works to literary analysis of narrative structure.

Re-Dubbed vs. Subtitled Anime

One consideration is whether to show anime that is subtitled or re-dubbed into English. The age and reading speed of your students will be a major consideration here. But be aware that re-dubbed anime often has had dialog changes which can significantly alter some meanings in the story, this is usually not the case with subtitled anime. If your students are of High School or college age subtitled probably would be your choice, after all you would be unlikely to show a film by Akira Kurosawa that has been re-dubbed into English.

It is a good idea to consider re-dubbed when the audience will be younger children. However I have seen grade school kids do quite well keeping up with subtitled anime but they were already fans by that point.

Note: Anime series are almost always a serialization of a story, unless you are highlighting a particular episode tapes should be shown in sequence as missing an episode is like missing a chapter in a book.

What is Different About Anime and Manga?:

Once I spoke with my young nephews about anime and one of the things they like about anime, in comparison with American animation, is that it has a consistent story and you can never be sure what the ending will be. It is not unusual for a major character in an anime or manga to die, to lose the one they love to another, or fail at what they are trying to do. Even in works aimed at little children these things happen, which is a little hard for Americans who are familiar with stories that consistently have a happy ending to deal with. Another thing my nephews liked was that the characters are more complex, villains can be understandable and even change their ways, heroes can show bad traits and even commit horrid acts.

Some Americans have trouble with what I call the "Shakespearean quality" of anime and manga stories. It is common in a serious anime for comedic moments to occur, or tragic moments in normally humorous anime and manga. For most people the comparison with the similar use of humor and seriousness in the works of Shakespeare makes this mix more understandable

Suggested Cultural Aspects for Discussion.:

Paying attention when watching anime can be a productive way of noticing many cultural details. Here are some examples of details seen in anime. The Anime Companion Supplement - Topical / Subject Index will help you locate information on these and other items.

There is much in anime that could result in interesting discussions on a variety of topics such as the motivations of characters which often plays a major role in the story or why characters had a particular reaction in a certain scene or the way editing accents the story.

Obvious aspects:


With traditional Japanese homes being rather bare by Western standards and people sitting on the floor there are many possible topics of discussion here. Some items to look for include doors, windows, decorations, and the at times blending between outdoors and indoors. Even modern homes and apartments incorporate many traditional features as part of their design.

School customs.

The fact that students stay in the same classroom for almost all classes and have responsibility to keep the room clean are only two details found in observing school behavior. Other items include class officers, book bags and the manner in which teachers and students interact.


Possibilities here include traditional clothing, school uniforms, gym clothes, and even modern clothing used in ways slightly different than in the West.


Many references to legends and folks tales appear in anime. Sometimes what seems as just one line of dialog can be a reference to a tale that clues the knowledgeable viewer into the story.


Shintō, Buddhism, Christianity, religious practices and festivals are often seen in anime that deal with everyday life. Common are shrine and temple architecture, statuary, and the veneration of ancestors.


One cannot appreciate a culture without knowledge of its foods and the Japanese love eating a variety of foods, many hard to find in the West.

How food is eaten, utensils etc.

Some foods are eaten with chopsticks, some with European style utensils, some with Chinese utensils, some are served in different kinds of tableware. These all reflect the origins of the foods.


Etiquette has a long and complex history in Japan. Proper eating and the large variety of ways to interact with others in different circumstances are but two areas.


Locations and their historical significance could be a useful topic.


Many stories take place in Tokyo but with some careful choices it is possible to find anime that are located in other metropolitan areas including some with many ancient buildings as well as modern landmarks.


Many seasonal clues are given in sounds, also many activities and items are heard but not seen. Can the students identify these? Can you?
Examples: Tofu or ramen seller horns, trains, insects.

Seasonal clues.

Not only sounds but flowers, foods, holidays, the school year are all clues as to what time of year it is. Seasonal clues in literature go back to some of the earliest writings in Japan.

The more subtle aspects:


When it comes to feelings the Japanese sometimes consider Westerners overly rationalizing about emotions and themselves as being more in tune with the unspoken feelings of those around them. This is reflected in many anime where a character's emotions can be very significant but often expressed in a reserved manner.


A major virtue in many tales, characters may have to go through major efforts to attain their goals. In real life children and adults in Japan are encouraged to exaggerated in their efforts and this also happens in anime, at times in exagerated form.

Cinematic effects.

It has been said that many who work in the anime industry would rather be doing live action movies. This shows in the wide use of cinematic effects in anime. Much of the action is framed as if filmed with actual cameras. This is one of the visual qualities that make anime so different from American animation which is far more limited in its use of imagery and editing.

Social problems.

Bullies, juvenile delinquents, crime, poverty, homelessness all have been dealt with in many anime, often in titles aimed at children. Often these are portrayed as a part of a character's environment or as something experienced as part of an otherwise safer life.

Pirated Anime & Manga Related Goods.

Anime and manga enjoy a wide popularity outside of Japan. This has resulted in a certain amount of shoddy pirated goods being available on the market. Most commonly what one will see are cheaply made posters and music CDs. Any goods made in Japan or from U. S. companies are likely to be legitimate. For more information on spotting pirated goods see the Pirate Anime FAQ .

Recommended Anime and Manga.

Not all titles are equally rich in cultural details but with some effort and careful selection titles which are useful can be found. The titles I list often have a particularly high density of easily spotted cultural details. There are many other excellent titles not on this list, many of which are some of the finest example of anime as an art form. Each entry has a section entitled 'Cultural Details' which has some items I consider useful.

Recommended Anime and Manga page

Links to select Internet resources :

Anime (and Manga) for Parents (and Other Grownups)
A page I created to help explain anime and manga to parents and adults in general.

Anime Companion Supplement.)
A supplement to The Anime Companion, the purpose of the supplement is to keep the material contained in the book up to date by adding new material, links to related Internet resources and additions to material covered in the book.

Anime & Manga Resource Links
My own list of web sites I find useful.

Books and periodicals about anime and manga
I have included here a complete list of what is currently in print in English

You can also search my entire site:

Custom Search

 Page Created March 30, 1999 | Updated April 20, 2010

Questions, comments, raves, flames etc. to: Gilles Poitras

Privacy Notice - Back to Gilles's home page