An Interview with Triple O.G.

Triple OG

Triple O.G. is the brainchild of John Harris and Jake Kent. It’s a not-for-profit shop and gallery holed up on the first floor of Backlit Gallery in Nottingham. Any money made is poured back into the project to support the realisation of new publications and artworks made by their ever growing roster of international contributors. Their new show opened on November 21st and runs until December 6th and features new prints from Jonny Negron and Kyle Platts.


Contra Internet- Kylie Platts

Contra Internet- Kylie Platts

What would you say is your favourite print, publication or zine you guys have commissioned?


Well we’ve only commissioned one publication and one print and they’re both great (James E Smith’s Stephanie and Kyle Platts’ Contra Internet print). We seem to work more on projects commissioned to us by others, our favourite is a tossup between Make it easy on yourself which was commissioned by Nottingham Castle for the Hayward touring show Jeremy Deller: All That’s Solid Melts Into Air and a screen-printed poster/ guest list for I DUNNO SHIT curated by Cactus Gallery at Rogue Projects in Manchester.

For Make it easy on yourself we commissioned two pieces of new writing from Jennifer Reid and Rosza Farkas, presented alongside new illustrations from Kyle Platts and Tara Hill and a pull-out A3 risoprint from Scott King. This was distributed as a free twenty page traditional lithograph A5 zine.

I DUNNO SHITwas funny because Jake cycled to Manchester with the posters and the exhibition was basically just a big party.


How do you pick and select new stock? Are there any themes that often emerge? Jonny Negron and Kyle Platts both draw sexualised and grotesque figures which reminded me of a modern day Viz, but your publications for sale covered a whole range of topics and didn’t seem so easy to categorise.


Never really made a connection between Jonny and Kyle’s work and Viz Magazine, perhaps that’s due to myself and Jake not growing up on Viz, or just an application of an abstract or nostalgic cultural reference?

In terms of the stock, we just choose stuff that we like and stock products from publishers and artists we know. We owe a lot to Matt and Jess at Good Press and Charlie at Beach for helping us out and supplying us with such great stuff (Thanks!). A few other publishers and artists we really like are: Patrick Kyle, Little Brown Mushroom, Arcadia Missa, Bronze Age and Elvis Press. We also get requests from artists and publishers and are always happy to stock new stuff. We like having varied products.

Stephanie- James E. Smith

What are the successes and what are the difficulties in using the sort of model you guys have built, balancing the shop and sales, exhibitions, publications and commissioning the type of work you feel is important and needs to be seen?


When we started out we had a 3m x 3m room in One Thoresby Street (another Nottingham gallery). This was a really good place to “learn on the job”. So we learnt by making mistakes and just doing it, all the products and artwork were in close proximity to each other which was important because we didn’t want it to be an art gallery or a shop. Making a good combo was a challenge which we overcame by changing and rearranging the shop fittings each exhibition. We do this for fun, that’s probably the most important for us. We show work we enjoy and hope that everyone else enjoys it too. Triple O.G. is not funded and by being not funded gives us freedom to do whatever we want, everything is funded out of our own pocket money.


Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Backlit Gallery and the re-launch in their new space?


Well I work there (John works as Assistant Curator), so there was a bigger space available than our previous space, also we thought it would make a nice opening for the newly refurbished space at Backlit.


You work with international and globally recognised illustrators and writers but you both live and work in Nottingham. Why is Nottingham important to you? Why should others take notice?


People should only take notice if they’re interested. Nottingham is cool because it’s a small provincial city but has a big art scene. It’s relatively easy to start a project like this here because of a large support group consisting of places like Nottingham Trent University, Primary, One Thoresby Street, TG gallery, Nottingham Castle and Backlit of course. These things make it a really good city to live in and were happy to be contributing to that.


Interview with David John Scarborough.


Visit Triple O.G. at Backlit Gallery, Alfred House, Ashley Street, Nottingham.

Open Thurs – Sun, 12-5pm

The functional and the functionless

An exploration of the relationship between science and art.

The compatibility between art and science is complex, while they often seek each other to develop ideas through using the others knowledge or skills, it can be unclear how the comparatively useless can benefit the useful.

Art has a long history of questioning and challenging the function of everyday objects. Pioneered by Duchamp through his concept of the “readymade’ in the 20th century, depriving objects of function has become a common way to define art. As explains the difference between the tables used by Martin Creed in Work No. 928 – stacked in a pyramid in the gallery – to the one I am using to write this article. While work that explores these ideas act as a visual trigger for philosophising notions of art, its significance pales in comparison to landing a probe on a comet or developing cures for diseases.

However, some works/projects have more practical aims. Grizedale Arts, the rural contemporary arts organisation in the Lake District for example, aims to ‘promote the functions of art and artists in practical and effective roles, as a central tenet of a wider culture and society.’ They aim to give artists a strong use and purpose in the rural environment, developing artists as practical contributors to the working farm and community where they are based.

When art explores elements of science the uselessness can appear more evident through directly comparing its value with a practice that is more conventionally useful. However, art can do a lot to raise awareness of certain issues and areas of research. By looking closely at specific projects rather than art/science, generally the mutual benefits and functions of both become clear.

Bio-Artist Eduardo Kac’s project GFP Bunny uses genetic engineering in an unusual and a seemingly scientifically useless way to highlight the topic and possibility of genetic engineering. GFP Bunny focuses around an albino rabbit that appears like any other, until she is illuminated with blue light showing her ability to give off a bright green glow. Alba, the rabbit, was engineered using an enhanced version of genes found in the bioluminescent crystal jellyfish. On the website, dedicated to documenting every facet of this project, Kac explains that this transgenic work is made up of the rabbit, the public dialogue it generates and the social integration of the rabbit. This project creates a complex social event that functions in numerous ways and particularly raises questions of the cultural and ethical implications of genetic engineering.

While discussion is an important aspect in making scientific advancements, particularly with something as controversial as genetic engineering, art can also be used to deal with issues in a more hands on way.

ONCA, One Network for Conservation and the Arts, is a Brighton based gallery which focuses on providing exhibitions and events that harness art to explore issues of conservation. With group shows that have explored extinct species, climate change and biodiversity, ONCA aims – not only to raise awareness of environmental and conservation issues through the arts – but also to promote educational initiatives for both art and conservation, and to raise funds to support conservation projects. While projects from ONCA do raise awareness for the need for conservation and may rouse viewers to take up the mantle themselves, they are also using their position and funds to support projects like 100: A Making of Trees. An on-going project inspiring the community to think about trees in new ways which plans to plant 100 new trees in Brighton over the next year.

Given the myriad of both scientific and artistic practices, it is impossible to create a general assessment of how one uses the other. However, it is clear that art is a platform that can be harnessed for a range of subjects and issues, and despite its history of creating functionless objects; the relationship between art and science is more about how these different subjects can benefit each other. Using the different functions and possibilities they each present.


Mimetica Alphabetica – Muggeridge At The Whitechapel Gallery


The Whitechapel Gallery, located in vibrant East London is known for it’s contemporary and experimental art shows. The gallery opened in 1901, and has a long history of education and outreach projects. Currently hosting ‘Mimeographica Alphabetica’ a typographical print display created by artist Fraser Muggeridge in collaboration with students from Welling School. The collaboration with this South East London School is an exemplification of such outreach projects and this impressive display emphasises the importance of such collaborations and their creative capacity. The show is a unique display which expands the way in which we think about letters, letter formations, and typeface -symbols which we are bombarded with daily in our everyday lives but do not consider further as they have become common place in our lives. This display opens up our minds to consider such typography prints and the way in which we view our alphabet further and evokes an interaction with them – the prints are produced to great effect.


Muggeridge (1973) is a graphic designer currently based in London. He studied Typography and Graphic communication in Reading, and now teaches at the university as a visiting lecturer. The exhibition was created by the artist and students through experimentation with a mimeographic-printing machine.  Mimeographic printing involves stencil duplication which forces ink through a stencil onto paper. Muggeridge encouraged the students to make their own hand made stencils to make up the prints for the exhibition. This hand made process is a slowly dying style of printmaking, whereby most mimeographic machines were replaced with photocopiers in the 1960’s as an attempt to rectify the imperfections that can be made by mimeographic printing. Where photocopying can produce prints which are exactly the same, mimeographic prints may differ dependant on the press of the ink when printed. The use of the mimeograph here, however, adds to the pieces and the creative process behind them and is evidence of the artists self-proclaimed interest in the ‘obsolete technologies and what you can create on them’. The prints may not be exactly the same as would be with photocopier printing, but these slight differences Muggeridge shows, give them a more unique form.


The exhibition space is light and spacious, the prints are repeated as if to almost wallpaper the display. There is an interaction between the typography on the walls and the viewer in this gallery in an extremely powerful way. The typographical symbols do not necessarily make up letters that are familiar to the western alphabet, but this is not the point, as one considers the shapes and tries to translate them into a meaningful symbol one is forced to think beyond traditional letter formations thus expanding the boundaries of typography.


Typography and letter formations are not something that usually find place in the art gallery, however ‘Mimetica Alphabetica’ is given home in this gallery and the space it really deserves. This is a rich and unique display in which one can view the experimental collaborative process of a highly skilled graphic designer and his students, which is produced to exceptional effect. The process of print making itself is given as much importance in this exhibition as the finished artefacts. This owes itself to the artist’s teaching process where the students were urged to learn through experimentation. The students may print upside down, but as Muggeridge himself suggests this is all part of the process.  This exhibition is not great simply through its presentation of print making, but rather it allows us to re-consider something as fundamental to us as letters. This is also an extremely unique exhibition as it allows use to see the art in letters and gives typography the opportunity to appear in the art gallery. Taken more broadly this display allows us to re-consider the categories more generally which make up our everyday lives.


Mimetica Alphabetica is on display at The Whitechapel Gallery, East London Until 30th November 2014 For further information please see the gallery website:



Interstellar Review

In many ways, Interstellar feels like the film Christopher Nolan was born to make. I’m not sure if he’d agree with that assessment himself, but everything about the film screams a labour of love. It’s a space odyssey, it’s a human drama, it’s all the pathos and love and hope and glory of humanity squeezed into just short of three hours. It’s laden with intense introspection and sci-fi spectacle tempered by a focus on the humanity at the heart of it all. It defies expectation and breaks convention at every turn and takes cues from the sci-fi greats like Kubrick’s 2001, Zemeckis’ Contact, and even the recent and incredible Gravity by Cuaron.



Interstellar stars the always affable Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former NASA test pilot and engineer turned farmer. The film is set on an earth a few generations from now where dust storms ravage most of the planet and food struggles to grow, save for masses of corn. Cooper stumbles upon a secret mission to send humanity to other planets through a wormhole supposedly left just outside Jupiter’s orbit by a benefactor extra-terrestrial species to save humanity. While most of humanity seems content to remain on earth and toil in the dying soil, Cooper seems to know that we are meant for more.

The science all checks out, supervised by super genius physicist Kip Thorne. The wormhole that leads to another galaxy, and the monstrous black hole of Gargantua with its endless abyss of crushing gravity, it’s all possible. Though when you watch it unfold on the big screen, the experience of the stars bending around the black hole and the spherical wormhole tearing the fabric of reality asunder are sights to behold that will nullify all questions of science in an instant and make you feel very, very small.

In hands less able than Nolan’s, there would be a danger of spectacle overshadowing humanity, of the void of space snuffing the spark of exploration and survival that keeps us all moving forward, but the film is perfectly paced. There are moments that will reduce you to floods of tears, especially if you’re a parent. McConaughey carries the humanity of Interstellar on his weary shoulders and has excellent chemistry with scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) and thankfully they don’t take the easy route with this relationship. The two are constantly at odds with one another, and tough decisions of survival, of the selfish against the selfless, rise again and again.

When Interstellar began life back in 2006, Spielberg was at the helm, and his hand is felt keenly throughout. Cooper leaves his children behind for the mission with a promise that turns into a lie, and if you’re unfamiliar with relativity you might be too busy scratching your head to receive the appropriate level of heart string tugging, but Cooper’s relationship with his 10 year old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is in many ways the beating heart behind all the science. Murph’s hurt at being left behind by her father is bitter and palpable, and Spielberg’s motif of the lost and abandoned child repeats here. Murph’s stubbornness matches her father’s, and it provides a moment midway in the film that will make you weep bitter tears.


The science is explained well through narrative handholding that manages to avoid veering too far into exposition, though a segment explaining the folding of space by folding a piece of paper feels like a cliché that’s been done to death. One of the surprising achievements of Nolan’s space epic is that you leave the film with a real desire to learn more about the science behind it all. It’ll make you want to swallow everything you can find about black holes, relativity, time and space, and the vast sea of stars all around our tiny planet. The humanity in the film anchors it, stopping the spectacles feeling just like that and nothing more. You’ll want to weep at the beautiful brutality of the planets through the wormhole, but Cooper’s relationship with Murph and the denouement of the film will make the tears flow freely.

It seems strange that Nolan’s name has become synonymous with realism, but his two big hitters besides The Dark Knight trilogy have been Inception and Interstellar, two films that somehow feel like flights of fancy, two films that are layered like onions and need (and deserve) to be digested slowly. While Inception deals with dreams and the impossible, Interstellar is very much concerned with the real, with the possible future of humanity, and if nothing else, it’s worth seeing for that alone. It’s worth seeing to try and recapture that thirst for adventure and exploration, that desire for humanity to survive and grow. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) the genius behind the whole mission comments at one point that every bolt on the spaceship could have been a bullet instead. Maybe it’s worth us considering the opposite.

The Imitation Game – Film Review


The Imitation Game is theatrical and dramatic – it’s the kind of heart-wrenching cinema that we expect when we enter that dark and sheltered world, ready to dive into the dreams of yet another visionary filmmaker. There’s something to be said for a film that simultaneously condemns the incontrovertibly horrific methods of a bygone era, and celebrates that country’s achievements (or, one man’s achievements – indeed, The Imitation Game has been criticized that it makes the cracking of the German codes into something of a one-man show, despite the thousands of men and women involved). But this time we get a slice of life that’s a little too real, and it almost blasts us out of those comfy velvet seats. The morality of the human race is put under interrogation inside a case study of the Second World War. Somehow, at the time, we humans always think our moral compasses are swivelled in the right direction.

The imitation game

Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Alan Turing, the renowned inventor of the enigma machine) is enigmatic and transfixing as always – his unyielding grasp on the role – which is certainly one of his finest yet – encourages the widely-believed notion that he is one of Britain’s greatest classical actors across multiple genres, able to blend comedy darkly with drama and tragedy – as displayed with the BBC’s much-loved Sherlock.

In early scenes especially, when Turing attempts to convince his superiors (including an electric scene with Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston) that he is the only man clever enough to solve the war, as it were, there is more than a hint of the arrogant detective about him. It’s in The Imitation Game, though, that he truly cements his abilities  – in fact he suffuses the role with such a potent, dangerous charm that I was constantly on the edge of my seat, feeling as though I was about to fall off a cliff into cavernous mist.


As is the case with almost all screen biopics, some scenes were invented for dramatics and pacing. I don’t necessarily resent this, but there does seem to be a misleading thread in the film, one that interweaves Turing’s homosexuality with his genius. In the face of historical fact, there should not be a proposed link between these ‘characteristics’ – yes, Turing was both, but he was by nature and chance (if the two can be said to work together). The film appears to delight in pairing the Turing’s genius with his sexuality, as though a diamond with not just one rare quality, but two, had been discovered in the rough. There has also been disappointment in reaction to the non-existent scenes between Turing and a romantic male partner – however, Cumberbatch has already commented quite succinctly on the subject: if the audience should need more than an ‘exquisite’ scene in which Turing describes a young man’s touch, then ‘all is lost for subtle storytelling.’

The imitation game

The cinematography and visual design do absolute wonders as narrative undertow. While the best screen design is only registered subconsciously by the viewer, somehow, here, it is possible to both acknowledge it yet remain fully inside this wartime world. The sets have an aura of grim practicality – of course they do, it’s the 1940s – yet at the same time, make for a rich, enchanting backdrop that surround the action. The most compelling scenes are ones spent inside a warehouse with Turing, where we hope for more and more glimpses of the mysterious, ingenious work – full knowledge of which, I’m sure, many still covet today. It is not a beautiful place – as far as set design goes, it has the same eerie allure of Terence Marsh’s prison in The Green Mile, but we are as captivated by the atmosphere as Turing is by his puzzle. It’s almost enough to forget the horror of the narrative – almost. And we can expect an Oscar nod for Faura’s cinematography, I think.


There was, though, one other dark horse that rounded this film off to become one of the year’s most ambitious and wholesome cinematic ventures: the music. There were no swelling chord progressions, as in the many blockbusters du jour (see Hans Zimmer’s bold and entirely appropriate soundtrack to Interstellar); instead Alexandre Desplat’s score was an undercurrent of vigilance and potential… it had a low, throbbing ebb – a dark heart to the film that succeeded magnificently in causing a tug of war between the thrilling victories of the titular character, and the imminent tragedy awaiting him. We can expect nothing else from the master of tinkering melodies that remind us simultaneously of hopeful innocence and impending disaster. More than this, the wonderful lure of The Imitation Game is a notion we all so want to believe – that the underdog, a clever, confident, problem solving genius can bring an end to terror with intellect and perseverance.

Art, meet Science.  

Leaving the cinema after viewing Christopher Nolan’s latest offering, ‘Interstellar’, I found myself rendered uncharacteristically speechless by the spectacle I had witnessed. Regardless of the many opinions the film has evoked, most agree that it successfully engenders a sense of wonder and, at least in my case, ignites a desire to know more. More of what we are such an insignificant part of; the universe and all its mysteries, many that we have not yet even begun to consider. The difficulty arises as attempts to ‘wrap ones head around’ many of the theories surrounding the complexity of the universe, often leads to confusion and therefore, frustration. Whilst visiting NASA I saw a film, which presented Hubble Space Telescope’s (HST) images, intended to offer a glimpse into what travelling through the universe would physically look like. I was mesmerised; sitting there in complete and utter awe, desperate for the opportunity to actually experience these wonders with my own eyes and to understand what I had previously ignored due to its complexity. Thus began the investigation which inspired and informed my artistic practice; the question, “I wonder if space really looks like that?’ was simple; the answer; “No, it does not”, was more complex.

Black Hole Interstellar

We have come to define the contemporary astronomical image with highly saturated, bright colours, established by the HST, as reality, but this perception of the cosmos is flawed. Though driven by science and technology, the finished images are hugely influenced by aesthetics. The Hubble images depend heavily upon intervention and bias to produce a stylistic image; these images therefore provide a bridge to connect the relations between art and science. If you were to go into space, what you would mostly see is nothing; our perception is limited to what we call the ‘visible spectrum’, and much of the cosmos extends outside this. In order to see what else is out there, to gain an understanding, we must rely on multiwavelength observation; recording radiation from a broad spectrum of wavelengths. This understanding allows innumerable potential images of the cosmos, as in order to translate the invisible elements to the visible spectrum, our interference results in false colourisation; and whilst these colours function as scientific encryption, colours have also been selected artistically. This generates a falsified image of reality, which aligns aesthetics with scientific data to reach out to the wider public.


Only in the recent past has the cosmos specifically been aligned with art; Kessler[1] specifically discusses this in relation to the HST. Space imagery, delivered by the HST, permits a cosmological adventure, a frontier into the unknown that humans could never otherwise experience, hence our reliance and the importance placed upon images; they provide a window into the universe. It is often argued that we need visionaries able to combine scientific knowledge and understanding, with artistic intuition in order for space to be more widely accessible; this perfectly encapsulates the Hubble image. However, for most of us, particularly those involved in the arts, our perception of science is that it’s ‘too difficult’, something reserved for scientists to explore; why is this? Artists have always explored and actively represented the natural world; historically, art and science were not separate, however, the Renaissance gave birth to specialism, and in doing so, art and science’s distinctions[2]. Today that divergence is still being felt, but the opportunities to unite are opening up. CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) evidences that scientists are willing to collaborate with artists; however artists’ reaction has been described as slow due to science’s ‘arduous’ connotations[3].

Star birth in the extreme

Why should we let it daunt us? Space is so incredibly relevant that it would be imprudent for the arts to disregard it. Erickson[4] states ‘scientists and artists are the best examples we have of human-beings actively seeking and aiming to articulate the intangible’, a notion I would concur with. Nolan and Kip Thorne, the astrophysicist who co-wrote ‘Interstellar’, wanted to create a realistic black hole to include in the film, but where does one even begin when no one knows what one really looks like? Amazingly, rendering one for the film using simulations and calculations, they actually made the scientific discovery. Nolan got a beautiful piece of artistry, whilst Thorne produced new, accurate science according to the laws of mathematics and physics[5].

There is something about space that captures our imagination; it is the perfect canvas for thought, and for artists to explore. We may not understand much of it, but this should not deter us from venturing down that route in order to learn, and bring our own perspective. I implore you not to be daunted, do not turn away from the unknown; be inspired and let your imagination run. Embrace the exciting new learning experiences and concepts science offers, or face being left behind.


  1. Kessler, E., 2012. Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Space Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press
  2. Wilson, S., 2002. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
  3. Wilson, S., 2012. Art + Science Now: How Scientific Research and Technological Innovation Are Becoming Key to 21st Century Aesthetics. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  4. Erickson, M., 2012. The Beautiful Universe: A Convergence of Art and Science.
  5. Rogers, A., 2014. Wrinkles in Spacetime: The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar.








Diary of a Soul Boy

Diary of a Soul Boy (Northern Soul the Film.)  On a rainy autumnal night in Wolverhampton surrounded by fellow soulies, at long last I was seeing Northern Soul the Film. The atmosphere was tangible and I hoped I wasn’t the only one who felt like they could get up and dance.

Northern Soul

Only two years earlier my friends and I had been dancing in dimly lit hall in Blackburn shooting this film directed by Elaine Constantine, trying to recreate Wigan Casino in all its 70s grandeur. Hair and makeup had cut off my precious quiff and slapped my hair into a middle parting and in my high waisted Oxford bags I felt like the dogs bollocks.

Set in 1974 Matt and John discover Black American Soul music and throw themselves in the hedonistic lifestyle that is Northern Soul, all-­‐nighters, drugs, music, dancing, friendships and then the comedown of heading back to reality when it is all over. You must have a frozen heart not to have found something to relate to in this film. As it happens I have gone to the cinema to watch it at least four times. It is wonderfully shot and portrays the Soul scene in a gritty and realistic way. Having danced for 10 hours to shoot the Wigan Casino scenes I was keen to spot myself in the crowd bobbing along to the music. What I took away from filming and watching the film was so much more than that.

Shooting the dance scenes enabled me to establish some solid friendships with like-­‐minded soulies. Before I had only ever seen some ancient folks bobbing along on the dance floor and made a fool of myself trying to copy them, but now I was face to face with young people who were clearly empowered by what they were listening and dancing to. I felt something innate inside me telling me that I had finally found my kind of people. Three years on I am out most weekends, spinning, back dropping, shuffling and generally thriving in a sweaty soul filled state of mind. There are so may records out there which no matter how I am feeling will always make me dance, Yvonne Fair, ‘Walk out the door if you wanna,’ Lenny Welch, ‘100 Pounds of Pain’ and Ike and Tina Turner, ‘Baby what  you want me to do’, to name but a few. My wallet may not agree as record collecting is an expensive business but it is very empowering to know that as a bloke I can get up and dance without anyone taking the piss.

Diary of a Soul Boy

Northern Soul has not only boosted my social calendar as I get to hang out with some of the most fantastic and passionate people out there. But is has also provided me and my mates with some extraordinary experiences. Leaving the    film shoot for instance was gut wrenching as I had lived and breathed the 1970s for two days, I think fondly of Keith the coach driver (Keefy baby) parking the  colossus coach in a terraced street in Blackburn for 20 or so of us dancers to invade a tiny off licence on the street and ransack its stock of booze for the after party. Dancing For Lisa Stansifeld in her music video and on her tour was a highlight, as well as dancing on the One Show and donning our costumes and  doing our thang for a press screening of the film are experiences you cannot buy.

It is the little things that make me want to stay in this crazy scene forever, that instinctive feeling to dance just because you have to or watching Bob effortlessly spins to a high octane tune with perfection, that spine tingling excitement when your favourite records plays and you hit the right beat with a move. I just hope I don’t come crashing down to reality too soon.

Why Watch Anime or Is Kindness Good Enough?

From Up On Poppy Hill, Ghibli Studios, 2011

I have recently visited my brother abroad, in a beautiful country renowned for its strong flavorsome beers, cozy pubs and vivid nightlife. During my week or so of my stay we travelled around the countryside and had a great time together, however, we did not go out a single night. What other, pray tell, did we do instead in this beer-blessed land? Well, we stayed at home and watched anime in front of the fireplace, each with a wine glass in hand. We both work full-time and tired after our long work-hours this was the perfect holiday relaxation. Geeks, I hear? Now, now, let’s think about that.

Why Watch Anime or Is Kindness Good Enough

Whether you are new to anime or a keen fan, you probably have some idea of what this Japanese cult is, but let me remind you anyway to make things straightforward. Anime is often a very stylized type of Japanese animation – think cartoon characters with huge eyes and vivid mimicry in an unusually bright coloured environment. Anime, as we know it today, originates in the early 20th century together with early origin of filmmaking. Its paper predecessor, manga, has been with us since long before with the oldest ‘manga scrolls’ dating back to as far as 12th century. The scale of genres that anime covers is countless, embracing everything from cartoons aimed at toddler audience through the darkest dramas and mysteries to hardcore fetish porn (yes, when I said all genres, I meant all of them).

There is a common shared idea amongst those not particularly intrigued by anime that it is a very self-contained culture accessible only to hardcore geeks. On first sight this seems rather understandable: anime can be, briefly said, a bit weird, which makes it slightly daunting to approach. The sole fact that we are talking about unnaturally-large-eyed animation easily branches it out and places it into a separate rainbow coloured box labeled ‘immature, for children.’ This labelling, although not entirely true, admittedly has some colourful relevance to it, but there are reasons why it does not quite exactly tick the box.

I am sure that by a hardcore anime otaku (Japanese term for an obsessive anime fan) I would be, at best, described as an amateur, occasional and unfaithful genre switching anime traitor. Truth be told, I do not watch anime very often nor am I uncritically devouring every new anime piece. Yet some of my all-time favourite television shows and films fall amongst anime ranks. Naturally, not all animes are good and many of them are utterly rubbish. Following my previous statement that some of the best films I have seen are animes, some of the worst ones I had the dubious pleasure of watching are from the very same category.

I have several reasons why I tend to take refuge in watching anime. As I already mentioned above, the variety of genres, topics and different, mostly breathtaking graphics and illustration styles is limitless. No matter what age group you belong to or what mood you are in, there is something different to choose from. Being a keen and passionate reader, I have always had high demands of book adaptations taken to film screen. Real acted films somehow nearly never reach the qualities of the original pure story, however skilled the film crew and the director are. There are exceptions, indeed, but personally I could count these on one paw of a three-fingered sloth. Anime can consider itself lucky in this sense as it does not have to concern itself with being entirely truthful to the manga or novel it adapts. One of the main characteristics of anime is its rich imaginative world filled with fantastic ideas and this being a generally understood consensus, gives a lot of space for improvisation and for diversion from traditional story-telling paths.

Why Watch Anime or Is Kindness Good Enough

Anime is entitled to be strange yet I am always taken aback at the level of creativity and of breathtaking crazy whims that jump out at you from behind every corner and out of each rabbit hole. Some animes are just plain weird – they are so weird you will actually start to question your own sanity or become nostalgic for both your own and the rest of the world’s (that is, outside anime’s deranged world) limited imagination.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ghibli Studios, 1989

What actually induced me to write this article was a relatively old anime film by Ghibli studio that I watched a couple of days back, Kiki’s Delivery Service. It was far from being one of the ‘good days’ for me and I was convinced nothing could possibly improve that. Well, it did. Kiki’s Deliver Service is an utterly nice film. Here nice is not being the word that is in excess applied to anything and everyone plus magnified by hundred, but nice springing out of the heart and soul that have been put into this film. It touched me with its simplicity, beautiful animation and atmosphere breathing out sea breeze mixed with magic. This film made me smile, with its adorable main character, Kiki the little witch who is trying to kick off her flying delivery service, and with its uncomplicated yet absorbing narrative set in a world where people help each other and – yes, even smile at one another.

Too often today we forget to smile for simple things: because it can be hard to smile. Smiling at someone or something unnecessarily has become a luxury that strains muscles and wastes one’s time. When was the last time you smiled at a stranger in the street or on the underground? This leads me to my last and also the simplest reason for my watching anime. I seek kindness. Because I miss it around me – and also inside me and inside other people. I miss empathy, selflessness, curiosity, spontaneity. I miss compassion and understanding. I miss all this, which seemed to be everywhere when I looked at the world through children’s eyes decades ago and then it somehow evaporated as I got to so-call understand the world better.

Imitating the real world, film and television seem to have taken a long vacation away from simple kind notes. In order to amuse ourselves today we need drama, murder, abuse and real-life stories to feel a bit better about our own lives; to see that, yes, some people are still worse off than we are. – Rejoice humanity! The facts stand that kindness is not enoughtoday. Kindness is weak, it’s inefficient and it does not pay off the business. Kind equals stupid. John Steinbeck hit the nail on the head in his short story Cannery Row (which, anime aside, is another great story to reach for):

‘’It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.‘‘

If this was an ultimate truth about our reality, it would be a sad, twisted world we would have the pleasure of living in. Yes, Steinbeck is right in how diligent and effective we are when it comes to submitting our moral standards and values to the money-driven survival game most of us are forced to play. And yes, we have been happily pacing towards our own heartless doom, but things are not lost yet. There are many small ways to work on our lives to incorporate kindness* into them and, yes, to even throw the occasional purposeless smile here and there.


*I would gladly give you, the reader, my Top Ten Advice On Introducing Kindness Into Your Life but, alas, I do not feel quite entitled to do so. Try your own way.


In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki is not always a happy little witch. Through most of the story she struggles, makes mistakes. She even gets grumpy and depressed, which results in her losing some of her magic abilities.Yet despite this, all the time Kiki has good intentions on her mind and kind attitude towards other people. She helps selflessly, accompanied by her talking cat and flying broom.

Imaginative stories of anime films, bearing strong resemblance to traditional fairy tales, gently point out some basic ethical values that we so much lack in the real life. Such stories have power over us that we do not realize: to teach, to move, to inspire, to make us laugh and to show kindness to each other. Indeed, even in anime, kindness often does not pay off and not everyone is kind. But there is an ever-present element of the fantastic: that of pure free imagination and child-like carefreeness. Hard work and ideals are not laughed upon and magic is possible; evil will be punished, and kindness rewarded. You can live a happy life and not be ashamed of yourself. You can be kind and not regret it. I could go on and on.

And so what, if this gives us a wrong, false image of the oh-so-real world where you, a hotel owner, throw your guest in the streets when they do not pay in time and where business wins over your principles and money over your heart. Is it not more important to show our children that kindness is something possible in the first place and to remind ourselves of it over and over again, as it is not children who are most prone to forgetting it?

In itself, anime of course does not present any tangible solution to the current state of our accustomed-to-be-coldhearted society. But, together with fairytales, myths and fables and all other stories brimming with imagination, it can serve as a reminder of what we can loose and how much we can still gain. Even if kindness is not a good enough reason for you to watch anime, you can still consider giving it a chance next time you have a day off for all the other reasons that make it an incredible genre: its diversity, lucid imagination, beautiful artistry of illustration and well developed stories.

Alice Maselnikova