A huge upside of studying Japanese is that there is a wealth of high-quality content you can use to study, like music or TikTok. A lot of this content comes from the world of Japanese animation, which only grows more popular with each passing year.

There’s likely already an anime to suit your interests: high school rom-coms, heroic adventures in fantasy worlds, historical mysteries, supernatural horror, sports and pretty much anything else you can think of (and a lot that you can’t).

The downside, however, is that there are a lot of obstacles that come along with using アニメ (anime) to study. まず、多くのアニメは日本語初心者にとって難しすぎる (Mazu, ōku no anime wa Nihongo shoshinsha ni totte muzukashisugiru, Firstly, many anime are too difficult for beginners at Japanese). That’s not to discount the benefits of passively absorbing Japanese, but this can be a major obstacle. また、アニメの日本語は全然現実的ではない (Mata, anime no Nihongo wa zenzen genjitsuteki dewa nai, Also, the Japanese in anime is not at all realistic).

Why not? Even if a show takes place in a fantasy or unrealistic setting, they should still at least be speaking plain Japanese, right?

Well, think about using “Game of Thrones” to learn English — it’s not exactly helpful to study from a fantasy show in which the characters speak like medieval lords. Or imagine using a show like “Gossip Girl”: while it takes place in real life, the characters are all from a very specific, hyper-exclusive cultural background in Manhattan. 出てくる言葉は普通の人が使う言葉とは限らない (Detekuru kotoba wa futsū no hito ga tsukau kotoba to wa kagiranai, The language that appears isn’t necessarily the language that normal people use).

With アニメ, the way this gap generally shakes out is that the Japanese is much more 粗末 (somatsu, crude) than what is used in everyday life. This makes sense, since popular anime tend to feature brash teenagers and skull-cracking thugs. Japanese learners can see this in action whenever commands are given in the grammatical imperative form, or 命令形 (meireikei). The 命令形 works by changing the last kana of a 動詞 (dōshi, verb) to end with the え (e) vowel: “Sit” in 命令形 turns 座る (suwaru) into 座れ (suware), “wait” turns 待つ (matsu) into 待て (mate) and so on.

Anime characters frequently use the 命令形, but it can sound rude if you use it with a neighbor: ちゃんとゴミの日に出せ! (Chanto gomi no hi ni dase!, Take out your garbage on the right day!) Normal people use the て (te) form for simple commands, often accompanied by ください (kudasai, please) for additional politeness. A simple 座って (suwatte, sit) will do when talking to friends, and on garbage day it’s better to tell a neighbor: ゴミの日にゴミを出してください”(Gomi no hi ni gomi o dashite kudasai, Please throw out the trash on garbage day).

アニメの粗末な日本語 (Anime no somatsuna Nihongo, Anime’s crude Japanese) also pops up in the way the characters will say “you.” In conversational Japanese, people almost always refer to each other by their last name, affixed with an honorific (typically さん, san). But in anime, they’ll use “you” — あなた (anata), お前 (omae), てめえ (temē) and 貴様 (kisama) — an unrealistic amount. Those four words all mean “you,” and are roughly ordered here from most to least polite.

However, there are almost no instances in which a Japanese learner should even use あなた, the most neutral of the bunch. The others range from obnoxious to blatantly insulting, with てめえ and 貴様 essentially translating to “you bastard.” 簡単に言うと、使ってはいけません (Kantan ni iu to, tsukatte wa ikemasen, To put it simply, don’t use them).

Another way that Japanese in anime can lead learners in the wrong direction is with polite and impolite grammatical 動詞 forms. Similar to how characters in anime use 命令形, whereas people in real life use the て-command, characters in anime will often use casual verb forms when 敬語 (keigo, formal Japanese) would be required in real life, or vice versa. This means using the dictionary verb form — 食べる (taberu, to eat), 座る (suwaru) or 待つ (matsu) — instead of the です (desu) or ます (masu) forms — 食べます (tabemasu), 座ります (suwarimasu) or 待ちます (machimasu).

When the person you are speaking with is a stranger, elder or superior, 敬語 is used, but that’s not always the case in anime. On the flip side, sometimes anime characters will use 敬語 unnecessarily. This incorrect usage is what makes anime characters entertaining and unique, but it can be your linguistic downfall in real life.

A general wariness of copying anime further holds with 終助詞 (shūjoshi), or sentence-ending particles like よ (yo), ね (ne) and so on. Allow me to correct myself: よ, an emphatic particle, and ね, a confirmation particle meaning “right?”, are completely imitable from anime. These two 終助詞 are the commonly used in casual and formal situations alike; お腹すいた (onaka suita, I’m hungry) is not as assertive as お腹すいたよ (onaka suita yo, I’m so hungry) while お腹すいたね (onaka suita ne, you’re hungry, right?) is a fine way to confirm things with others. But there are other 終助詞 that anime characters use that normal people shouldn’t.

These include わ (wa, a feminine particle), ぜ (ze, a masculine particle) and ぞ (zo, used by older men), all frequently used by feminine women, brash men and old geezers alike — but rarely in real life. Other common ending particles in anime, like using のだ (noda) to end sentences instead of simply だ, or adding か (ka, an interrogative particle for questions) to questions in casual speech, are unnatural and unadvisable for speaking conversational Japanese.

It is worth noting that there is plenty of Japanese you can learn from anime. One good example is anime characters’ use of honorifics, like さん, くん (kun, usually for male friends or colleagues), 先生 (sensei, for teachers or doctors) and 先輩 (senpai, for older colleagues at work or school). Another is language from real-life settings like stores or restaurants: いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase, roughly “welcome”), かしこまりました (kashikomarimashita, a polite word of affirmation) and いただきます (itadakimasu, an expression said before eating), are all omnipresent expressions found in Japanese society.

You can also pick up expressions of exclamation from anime in droves: 何!? (nani!?, what!?) or 信じられない (shinjirarenai, unbelievable) for shock; すごい (sugoi, wow) for amazement. But still, 使ってはいけないアニメの日本語の方が、日常で使える日本語より多い (tsukatte wa ikenai anime no Nihongo no hō ga, nichijō de tsukaeru Nihongo yori ōi, there’s more Japanese from anime that you can’t use than Japanese you can).

だから注意しろ (Dakara chūi shiro) … ahem, sorry, I mean 注意してください (chūi shite kudasai, please be careful).

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