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Click J-Pop singers, Yuimino, for more 2008 NYAF pictures.

I geeked out last weekend and took the boys to the 2008 New York Anime Festival at the Javits Center. The challenge of conventions like this is determining the “age appropriateness” of its events. By “age appropriateness,” I  don’t mean the form enhancing costumes that some of the women (and some of the men) don or the gore of the others. My reasoning is much more basic. “Age appropriate” to me is which stories send the right message (though the gore factor and “conditions of intimacy” are also a consideration).

I am one of those parents who bought his eldest Legos and not the Duplos when he was three when the box explicitly said six because I saw him genuinely interested in manipulating the little pieces to create cars, spaceships, robots, and eventually like houses. He gravitated towards the smaller Legos and ignored the Duplos, which lacked the variety of shapes and sizes of the former. As my wife and I do with all his play materials, rules were explained and a rationale given. We monitored him until we were comfortable that he was aware enough to know not to stick the pieces where they didn’t belong.

When he was two, he was introduced to old episodes of Spider-man and His Amazing Friends on the Disney Channel. Until then it was primarily “educational programming” on PBS. I put “educational programming” in quotes because like “age appropriateness” it is another parental/educator’s term that sounds important but bears no real meaning. They are “paper tiger” phrases that so-called experts spout to demonstrate their “expertness.” However, the terms are not superfluous. They do serve as conversation markers, topics that can seed important parental decisions.

Our kids are not allowed Power Rangers or Pokemon. However, our ban hasn’t stopped either Power Rangers or Pokemon from entering our lives. Their classmates are fans. My wife and my ban on those and similar shows is purely personal. We don’t find them “meaningful” or “appropriate” so we don’t let our boys watch them. In our definition of “age appropriate,” Power Rangers and Pokemon are best expressed as apertifs. Nice pre-dinner treats that they are much too young for.

While will let our kids watch Naruto, Bleach, and Code Geass, they are not interested. In most cases, they watch because I’m watching. They like most Hayao Miyazaki movies though. Our eldest says his favorite is “the bloody movie.” That’s how he refers to Princess Mononoke. Our youngest likes Pom Poko or in youngest speak, “the racoon movie.” My wife and I find these shows “meaningful” because the dialogue works in conjunction with the action. The moral message is also a little more complex.

An ongoing theme that my eldest is working out is the notion that sometimes “good people” make “bad choices”or do “bad things” thinking they are doing “good things.” An inner glow surged through me recently when my eldest and I were talking about a child in his class who sort of bullies him. I asked him why he didn’t tell the teacher and he said he didn’t want to do it because he’s seen this bully “be nice” and didn’t want to get him into trouble. He said, “I think he is a good person that doesn’t know how other kids feel so he does things that hurts their feelings.” I told him he must tell the bully to stop and, if it does not work, he must tell the teacher.

In Power Rangers and Pokemon the dialogue seems disposable. It is only a vehicle to get to the fights. In a Miyazaki movie or an episode of Naruto, the dialogue works in conjunction with the action to give a fight sequence “symbolic resonance.” I don’t know what else to call it and totally admit it is purely subjective on our part.

[Simultaneously posted on Rice Daddies.]

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