Anime is hand-drawn and computer animation originating from Japan.
Officially recognised as an art form by the Japanese Ministry of Education, anime is considered one of the most important forms of artistic expression in modern Japanese culture.
An essential part of the publishing market in Japan, anime been adapted in several formats such as animation series, movies, and even video games.
With a distinct look-and-feel, not just to the artwork but also to the storytelling, themes, and concepts, for decades anime was a local product produced by and for Japan.
Over the last forty years however, anime has become an international phenomenon, being translated into many languages and attracting millions of fans worldwide.
A whole generation of viewers across the globe have grown up with it and are now passing it on to their own children.
Greek Australian Stella Arhontoulis is a school-girl with remarkable talent.
At just 14 years old, Stella has already received international recognition as an award-winning manga artist, illustrator and animator, winning first place in an Australian and Japan wide anime competition two years consecutively.
Stella has been drawing since age 3 like most children, and has also composing songs, music, stories, scripts, and albums of lyrics.
As a child of two musician parents it may come as no surprise that Stella has perfect pitch and is an excellent singer.
But by far her most prolific work is in drawing and animation, a talent that Stella’s mum Sofie Arhontoulis firmly believes that Stella inherited her talent from her father (Sofie’s late husband), Ilias Arhontoulis who sadly passed away suddenly in 2007, leaving behind his devastated wife Sofie and their young family – Eleni aged 5, Yiannis 3, Stella 1 and Iliesa, still in utero.
Ilias was also an artist as well as a designer, architect and musician.
Of her late husband, Sofie says, “He was simply the best human I ever met. I had 13 blissfully happy years with him.”
“Ilias was multi-talented. He was an award winning architect (HIA Designer of the Year 2004 AND 2005), musician (drums, guitar, vocals, lead singer of his Greek band Exodus), composer, arranger, and conductor of Greek Concerts in Adelaide.
“He was also an artist in the medium of painting, he had sold a few of his ‘Woman Dancing’ prints, of an artwork he painted when he was “falling in love with my Sofia” his words, not mine,” tells Sofie.
“Ilias passed suddenly after a heart attack while on stage singing at a wedding. His brother was bass player, and I was on keyboards – we were, all 3, in the band.”
In 2018 Ilias’s cousins, who are animators and designers for Rockstar Games in New York, recognised potential in Stella and gifted her a drawing pad.
It changed everything for Stella, and her creativity ramped up to a new high level.
Stella’s cousin Adam introduced her to anime at the age of 12, and although initially sceptical, after watching one single episode of “One Punch Man” she was hooked.
“Anime is truly beautiful in how it is stylised. It tells a story in such a creative way, not like the cliches I see in western film, and overall it is aesthetically pleasing,” says Stella by way of explanation.
In 2019, at age 13, Stella won first place in an Australia and Japan-wide all ages cartoon anime competition, at the AnimeGO Pop Festival, hosted by the Japan Australia Friendship Association (JAFA).
Stella had simply seen the poster advertising the competition in the hallway of her Glenunga International High School and decided to enter.
‘Different Yet The Same” was the theme set by the JAFA, based around the story of Hachiko, a true Japanese story about a dog who waited at a train station for their owner to come back.
Stella says her artwork was inspired by, “the feeling of loneliness, and yet finding something that makes you feel as though you are not alone.”
The modest artist did not even know at the time she had won her first poster competition as she was not at the expo where it was announced.
It wasn’t until a week later that she found out that she had been announced as the winner, when friend told her at school.
“I felt so incredibly surprised, happy, I was jumping for joy,” Stella remembers.
Shortly afterwards, Stella began working as an intern with Browntable, a one-man animation company in the US, as lead animator on a YouTube series due to for release in early 2022, called Interstellar Ranger Commence.
In 2020, a year after her first win at age 14, Stella entered a short animation film in the same AnimeGO competition. She also voiced, composed and recorded the music for her film.
Again she won first place.
This time Stella was present at the event to hear the announcement that she had won the competition, saying, “I had a moment of shock, and then I skipped so fast to the stage like a madman to collect my certificate.”
The theme for 2020 was ‘Ganbaru’ which means to do one’s best in any given situation, an ideology from Japan that the JAFA wanted to spread to help strengthen the hearts of people, given the year of global hardship that the world had experienced.
In Stella’s animation, which bears the same name as the theme for the year ‘Ganbaru’, Una, a 20-year-old girl lives with a girl named Sakura in an apartment in Tokyo. Sakura is an 18-year-old student who was originally travelling all around Japan in order to experience the culture and write all about it. The two met in the most unlikely of events, and now they’re attempting to make manga entries together. However, they never really understood the concept of working your hardest in any situation, as they work the hardest almost all the time. So in this short film, they both express how they feel, and realise that working hard has its pros in the end.
Of the mature themes and concepts underlying her work, Stella says “Emotion is one of the main things that should be focused on, and my work is trying to validate those emotions of loneliness, solemness but also happiness, to show that they are legitimate and that there is always a reason behind them”
Through her art Stella hopes that she can, “try to prove to myself and to others that even at a young age, I can still make big leaps to get where I want to be,” and to also inspire others to do the same.
Until just this month, Stella had been using a small slow school computer, and all her award winning work was completed on this tiny laptop.
Recently, with her winnings, Stella upgraded her laptop and is now working toward getting a better external monitor more suitable for her work.
Does Stella aspire to work in animation when she leaves school? “Yes 1000 times, yes!” comes her emphatic answer. “This is what I want to do full time – 2D or 3D animation.”