The history of the world almost always lends a certain pity to Japan for the horror it went through during the second world war. While at the same time, others do point out how ferocious the Japanese were in the war, with certain newly emerging viewpoints even indicating that perhaps the Nuclear bombing even stopped what would have otherwise been a never-ending war.
Such a war may have claimed far more lives than the Nuclear massacre ever did. The reason we bring up this point is to establish a certain connection between Japan and the West.
- Firstly, we want to point out that while it seems the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, to primarily be of a violent history of bombing, it isn’t actually the case. If anything, one could attest that the bombing, paradoxically (and ironically, if we may add) was one of the non-intended causes that pushed the Japanese to be one of the largest economies of the modern world today.
- And in another assessment, we bring to you the funny news of how it was the West that actually started Anime in Japan.
All of this combines to ask some big questions. Such as, what exactly is Anime? And if there is a definitive such thing, how much influence does the West have in making it distinct from animations of other countries?
The birth of Weebs and Otakus
Through our reaching out to a few Japanese people, they told us that the common consensus about Anime in Japan is actually that of Animation. But come to India, the Philippines, the U.S., U.K. (as a few examples) and you will find a large gathering of people who will hit you in the eye for calling Anime mere animation.
These fans have an identity. They call themselves weebs or otaku. Although it is funny that native Japanese do not associate these terms as something to be proud of.
It was actually the internet dominating in the West, primarily sourcing from 4chan forums, which started using the term weeb as something to be proud of. White Japanophiles were often called “Wapanese” and 4-chan would use a script to change that word to Weaboo. Thus giving birth to the Western iteration of weeb.
A series of dedicated questions investigating West’s influence in making Anime a global phenomenon
To this group of fans, who sometimes call themselves weebs and other times Otaku, Weebows, Weeboos, etc, Anime is more than just ‘animation’. Anime is a genre, a category of animated works, whether movie or series, which often have a comic source, the Japanese language as its base, and certain distinct features such as very widely drawn eyes, certain comical ‘ecchi’ or perverted demeanour, and other non-common-sensical gestures (such as characters always closing their eyes when smiling).
A certain lingering sense of inclusion is felt worldwide by groups of people who associate themselves as Anime-watchers. Although such group identity seems to be true for any set of people, whether it be K-POP idol-worshipping fans or religious fanatics (as an extreme example).
It seems to us that while group bindings like religion or nationalism (such as we are American, or we are Indian, etc) have a definition of their core subject, the group binding of Anime, on the other hand, is lacking such an aspect.
What we mean is a series of questions – what exactly is Anime? Who defines it? What defines it? And such is the purpose of this investigative piece.
Was it the West that began Anime in Japan?
The word “anime” is an abbreviation of “animation,” pronounced in Japanese as “aa-ni-me-shon.” It is common knowledge that any kind of animation of Japanese origin is known as “anime.”
But for Japanese people, any kind of animation, regardless of where it originated from, qualifies as anime. As such, the categorization of which kinds of animated works, fall into the category of anime is a subject of endless debate.
From a technical standpoint, however, there are certain specific features that set “anime” apart from the works of Disney, and Pixar.
The point about Disney and Animation studios
- Ironically, it is none other than Disney which inspired and popularised animation in Japan in the 1920s, with the first animated Japanese film, The Dull Sword, appearing in 1917.
- With World War II dominating the country’s focus and resources, animation was mostly used for making propaganda films during the 1930s and 1940s.
- Anime finally began resembling its signature style during the 1950s, especially after the creation of Toei Animation studio in 1956, previously founded by animators Kenzo Masaoka and Zenjiro Yamamoto in 1948 as “Japan Animated Films.”
With the rising popularity of animation in the country, anime and manga both flourished and aided the rise of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of masterpieces like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Princess Knight, and Dororo, and hailed as “the Godfather of Manga.”
Tezuka also established Mushi Production studio in 1961, which along with Toei, became pioneers of serialised anime broadcasted on Japanese TV networks.
Who defines Anime? (The bodies that categorize)
Is Netflix using “Anime” too liberally?
- Netflix has made a deliberate effort to categorize anime as a distinct style or brand, rather than merely treating it as a borrowed word. And their approach to defining anime is relatively broad compared to traditional definitions.
- The platform tends to classify animated content that features stylistic elements reminiscent of anime, regardless of its country of origin. To simplify it more, they use the term to cover all adult-oriented cartoons, as the word “cartoon” in the US context often carries a connotation of being childlike.
So, any animated content that is intended for mature audiences and carries a serious tone would be classified as Anime. This approach has led to the inclusion of non-Japanese animated series like “Castlevania” within Netflix’s anime category.
Is Castlevania really an Anime?
Netflix in particular would do that for Castlevania being an “Anime-styled or Anime-influenced animation” which then makes anime itself a broad parent category to them. Since “anime” by definition is a style and therefore it can be enough determinant, regardless of the origin. Interestingly, Anime News Network specifically classifies Castlevania (and others like it) as “U.S. ONA”.
MyAnimeList – Community-Driven Anime Recognition
- While MAL (MyAnimeList) does not stream anime directly, it plays a significant role in defining anime through its comprehensive categorization system. Their comprehensive definition is that it should include the Japanese term which refers to anything animated.
- As a result, even works like Tom & Jerry can be considered among the top “anime” on a Japanese equivalent platform similar to MAL.
MyAnimeList has its own “Anime Database Guidelines” and unlike every other body/organization, they take it pretty seriously. Sites such as AniDB, Anime-Planet, Anime News Network, and Kitsuio do have a similar structure, but they don’t take it that seriously and just try to keep it as an exercise left for the viewer.
Notably, MyAnimeList is the first body which garnered so much credibility just out of the sheer number of community base that supports it. Unlike Crunchyroll or Netflix which are economically and “license” -wise involved in Anime categorization, MAL is purely audience and fans driven.
Amazon Prime and Hulu
Amazon Prime and Hulu already have a very limited catalogues. However, many on Reddit have been asking about the presence of Dong Hua on these platforms, and this is where we come to know that they do not have many options to ponder with.
- However, upon further research into Reddit, we discovered that there is a movie called THE KING’S AVATAR: FOR THE GLORY available on Prime.
- Although, these two sites do not have a wide range of Japanese animations, let alone other countries, having this movie is a bit unexpected as it is considered as a Dong hua.
However, this is true that although Amazon and Hulu have a reasonable anime catalogue, the pattern of their anime propagation is ideally inclined towards Japanese animation/manga, instead of Chinese or Korean versions, or any other country. According to Redditors, the best place to watch Dong hua, or non-Japanese shows is either Bilibili, Tencent, or iQiyi. Hence, it is safe to assume that these aforementioned platforms consider Japanese animations as “anime.”
While most of Crunchyroll’s streaming library is dominated by Japanese anime, it also offers a decent selection of other East-Asian animated content, including Chinese and Korean Animations. Alongside them, certain Western shows like RWBY are also available.
- The availability of this content does seem to fluctuate depending on the series, but overall, popularity and demand seem to be the primary criteria.
- Licensing agreements and streaming rights across different regions also affect the availability of these series to a greater extent when compared to Japanese shows.
Crunchyroll doesn’t provide tags or classifications to separate these shows based on country of origin though, instead opting to label them all together based on genres. This could be a hassle for fans who’d like to discover other East-Asian content through genre browsing among the oceanic amount of Japanese content.
Overall, for the purpose of adding to its library, Crunchyroll seems to define “Anime” as East-Asian animated shows, at times expanding towards popular Western shows inspired by or imitating Anime. While Japanese shows get added quite easily, other East-Asian animations are often expected to garner a certain level of popularity and following.
What do Piracy Websites have to say about What is Anime?
Anime piracy sites have undeniably played a significant role in the growing popularity of the anime genre. By providing easy access to a wide range of anime series, these platforms have allowed fans from around the world to discover and enjoy anime content that might otherwise have been inaccessible.
During an interview with a staff member from a well-known anime piracy site, he explained,
“We include content that viewers are interested in. If a show is currently popular and shares similar themes, storytelling, production quality, and production process as accepted anime, we consider it an anime and add it to our site. This inclusion of anime then influences how we classify other shows as either anime or non-anime. Generally, we tend to only include Western animations that specifically target an adult audience, unlike shows produced in Japan. That’s why you’ll find shows like Perman on our site but not Teen Titans, for example.”
The operating costs of these piracy sites are primarily covered by the viewers they serve. As a result, they have a lenient approach to defining anime, aiming to include as many shows that align with the essence of anime on their platform.
During the interview, the staff member also expressed,
“It’s nearly impossible to establish a concrete definition of what constitutes an anime. Each person may have their own interpretation of what truly qualifies as anime, based on the shows they have watched and considered as such. However, it is not our role to determine that classification. If a significant number of people perceive a show as anime, we strive to incorporate it into our website.”
This incorporation and accessibility have led to an exponential increase in the fan base, contributing to the overall visibility and recognition of anime as a distinctive and vibrant art form. However, it is important to acknowledge the drawbacks associated with anime piracy sites.
The drawbacks and harms
- These sites operate outside the boundaries of legal distribution channels, disregarding copyright laws and depriving creators and studios of their rightful profits.
- This undermines the financial sustainability of the anime industry and hinders its growth and development. Additionally, the lack of quality control on piracy sites can result in subpar viewing experiences, as the video and audio quality may be compromised or unreliable.
- Furthermore, the loose definition of anime adopted by these sites can lead to confusion and debates among fans and creators alike. Without a clear consensus on what qualifies as anime, the inclusion of certain shows that deviate significantly from traditional anime characteristics can dilute the essence of the genre and blur its boundaries.
An investigation into Nyaa’s classification – a popular anime site for Anime torrents
Nyaa is a renowned online platform primarily known for its vast collection of anime torrents and downloads. They specifically include Chinese/Korean/Japanese entries, and only take it in its traditional, purist sense as being made in Japan, compulsorily. Clearly showing it’s the more reputable site.
Chinese and Korean animation is a particularly interesting subcase, as some people also consider them Anime. It technically overlaps with the term “anime-influenced animation”, though that one is usually reserved for European or American animation
What Defines Anime (The Technical Aspect)
- Anime itself is a genre of animation on a global scale, since according to Japanese, all animation is anime. But in the West, animated series/films created in Japan or by a Japanese studio specifically, are “anime.”
- Unlike Western animated works, Japanese anime isn’t always geared towards children. While Pokemon, Crayon Shin-chan, Doraemon, etc are definitely meant for children, anime can often portray serious/violent/grotesque subject matter, which are catered towards adult viewers.
- Yes, adults watch animated Disney movies too, but in the end, the messages contained within the films are specifically designed to be inspiring for young children.
Exaggerated character designs (briefly trace the evolution of design from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s to show a movement from big eyes, long legs, and unrealistic figures to almost hyper-realistic character designs, but maintains some key features like big eyes.) [evidence of Japanese insecurities?]
Of course, there are outliers to such trends, and animation styles vary depending on individual manga creators’ art styles, and animation studios.
Below we have compiled a few major categories under which people define Anime as Anime. Primarily, it is source material, language and art = the holy trinity.
1. Source material
Anime is often adapted from serialised manga series, light novels, and sometimes, webcomics. But they might be original screenplay and story too, eg. many Ghibli films. In fact, in some cases, mangas are adapted from anime if the show turns out to be very very popular.
Tezuka created the precedent for basing animated works off of the serialised manga, while Toei found success in the annual releases of their colourized full-length feature films.
Do Korean and Chinese source materials count?
However, many celebrated creators like Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Satoshi Kon, and more recently, Makoto Shinkai, are known for taking inspiration from a number of Eastern and Western sources to create original storyboards for their animated films.
- Several recent anime, like Kurokami, Tower of God, Noblesse, God of High School, and Lookism, and the upcoming Solo Leveling to name a few, have been adapted from Korean manhwas.
- Chinese anime, or “donghua” has found its place in Japanese media as well, with popular series like Quanzhi Fashi, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, Heaven Official’s Blessing, Link Click, and The King’s Avatar all being dubbed in Japanese.
The mention of Chinese anime being dubbed in Japanese brings us to the linguistic aspect of the anime genre, which also aligns perfectly with the global specification that anime originates in Japanese.
Also, although many websites classify series made in most Southeast Asian languages (the holy trinity of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese-mandarin) as anime, Korean and Chinese “anime” have their own names for referring to animated works.
Anime is almost exclusively dubbed initially in Japanese, although the increasing demand for the genre throughout the world has inspired popular anime films and TV series to be dubbed in other languages as well.
The specific style in which anime dialogues are narrated in Japanese is also very unique, being significantly more expressive and exaggerated than how the average Japanese in real life.
The language aspect of anime is also deeply intertwined with the target demographic that the genre appeals to, in terms of major themes and storylines defining the show.
The four most well-established audience-based subgenres in anime include shonen, shojo, seinen, and josei, although subgenres can also be categorised based on elements like mecha, isekai, slice-of-life, supernatural, horror, harem, ecchi, comedy, shounen-ai, shoujo-ai, and even explicit subgenres like yaoi, yuri, and hentai.
Most action and adventure series like Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, Bleach, or One Piece, featuring a teenage protagonist fall within the shonen category, while shojo anime conventionally focus on romances in high-school or modern-era settings, sometimes with magical elements, with Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, Ouran High School Host Club, Fruits Basket, and Maid Sama! being popular examples.
Seinen anime often resemble shonen shows but discuss darker themes and might feature more graphic violence similar to how it is portrayed in Attack on Titan, while josei anime, like Wotakoi and Nana, often maintain the romantic angles of a shojo anime but while approaching it from a more realistic angle.
3. Art and Design
Firstly. we try to trace the difference between different Anime art styles in both Anime and its source materials, namely Manga. We then try to trace the difference and the evolution of art style from the 1950s to the present age, evident in the video above.
We have the issue of character designs being a major defining characteristic in anime. Anime began developing a distinctive style in the 1960s and 70s after Tezuka’s Astro Boy gained popularity.
- Anime characters often feature colourful hair in unnatural shades, similarly colourful and unnaturally large eyes, and exaggerated body shapes.
- While the predominant style varied in every decade, especially with more and more studios being established and developing their own signature styles, some of the basic aspects remained the same, even with hyperrealistic animation and the use of CGI.
Needless to say, animation has gone through a similar evolution, especially after Toei developed the concept of the “money shot,” an especially well-animated scene emphasising its significance in the show.
This also gave rise to the concept of sakuga, which draws viewers to intricate fight choreographies and vibrant, dynamic animation in shows like Space Dandy, Demon Slayer, and Mob Psycho 100.
Japanese animation has a certain whimsical quality despite showing great attention to detail, resulting from animations hand-drawing every frame, although many new anime have begun using digital mediums along with traditional animation techniques to speed up the process.
How other countries have tried making Animation: Is that considered Anime?
The growing market and influence of anime have compelled different countries to make anime more accessible, take inspiration from it or create a variation of it. But this is not a phenomenon of the present, this anime revolution has been around for more than 4 decades. Here’s an account of the countries that are trying to collaborate or compete with Japan by attempting to make ‘Anime’.
For better precision, we have divided our research into five primary nations. We trace the history of Animation and see what could be called ‘Anime’ within that scope. However do note, that the segment below is only a fragment of the actual research. Each country has a dedicated full-fledged article with in-depth research, which you may venture into only if you wish.
The history of Chinese animation dates back to the early 20th century, with pioneers like Wan Chaochen, Wan Laiming, and Wan Dihuan shaping the industry. It has primarily two schools of thought – fantasy, and realism.
After the Classical Revolution, the release of ‘Nezha Conquers the Dragon King’ became a classic. While most Chinese animation is 3D, generating 82 % of total revenue, it is important to note how the industry faces challenges when it comes to ideological lineations and Western cinematic influence.
South Korea has a rich cultural basis of anime dating back to the 1950s. It started with animated commercials and with the Motion Picture Law of 1962, children’s movies like Space Monster Wangmagwi and Yonggary were released in theatres.
The first full-length animation film was Hong Gil-dong. K-animation experienced a significant outpour in 1981 and mass production surged in 2004 after the new programming rule, as the industry continues to grow in the 21st century owing to a creative workforce.
When we talk about India, we have to realize that anime was dismissed earlier as mere cartoons and it led to the eventual downfall of Animax. But, with the recent discourse created by the #IndiaWantsAnime movement, we have a surge in popularity and demand, with studios like Studio Durga emerging as visionaries and incorporating an Indianness to the existing ideas through ‘Indian anime’ like Karamchakra.
This marks a potential growth for the industry in India and for anime to emerge as a new cultural hybrid.
Anime in the USA gained popular appeal in the 1980s under the tag ‘Japanimation’. But the replacement process began when FUNimation and Bandai started licensing anime, and on the other hand, the influence of this cultural influx was reflected in shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans. Other attempts at trying to replicate anime were also followed by series like RWBY and Megas XLR.
France, as the biggest manga importer in Europe, has a long-standing history with anime including shows like Goldorak and Club Dorothee. The industry caters to all age groups and is concerned with social and political issues. France and Japan undertake collaborative projects, which include Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysses 31, and the adaptation of the French manga Radiant by Studio Lerche in 2018.
Finally, Spain’s affairs with anime began in the 1970s with series like Mazinger Z and Heidi. Spain’s perceptions were shaped by Euro-Japanese co-productions. During the 2000s, Spanish directors started incorporating elements such as Gisaku in their works. Recent developments are reflected in works like Movistar+’s Virtual Hero and Netflix’s The Idhun Chronicles, which have shaped Spain’s anime consumption.
All the above recreational feats and ventures stand as testaments to the enjoyment of anime as a medium of entertainment on a global scale. However, this rises one question. What qualifies as an anime? How far are we from blurring the lines between anime of different origins? Streaming networks like Netflix and Crunchyroll have their own criteria to categorize animations as anime. Community platforms like My Anime List have their own set of tenets to categorize anime. How do these differ from each other?
- To conclude properly, what is Anime exactly? It seems that it is undoubtedly the distinct style in which Japan animates its native content, has a Manga as its source material, has the Japanese Language as its basis, employs the often-used gestures (such as wide eyes and eyes closed when smiling), and enjoys a fanbase which calls itself Weebs or Otaku.
- Overall, it does seem that for most fans, it is clear what is Anime. List any series out of the thousand available, and instantly anyone would say which series is Anime.
- And it is more than definite that many countries, including the west, had an equally paramount role to play in the growth of Anime as a culture. For if it had pertained itself only to Japan, it may have forever remained just ‘animation’. And not garnered the the clout that it did, distinguishing it from other animation, and establishing the ‘anime fanbase’ per se.
However, every now and then, specifics like Solo Leveling Anime (upcoming series, animated by Japanese animators but is based on Korean Manhwa), may pop off. Then, while many free-handy’s would admit that it’s an anime, some research scholars may argue that it isn’t.
Ultimately, unlike the political sphere, Anime is actually a cultural phenomenon. And the conclusion of our research is such that with cultural phenomena, the definitions are usually quite distinct and clear, but only because the population and the audience express it as so. If tomorrow, Chinese material is called Anime, then so it will be. It’s the masses that define what is what and what isn’t what is not.