Anime is a distinctive style of animation that originates in Japan. The term is also used as a catch all phrase to describe any Japanese animation. This includes some productions that are definitely not made in the anime style. The term can also refer to animation with distinctively Japanese characteristics such as oddly shaped eyes and cute looking characters. In Britain, the term anime is now used for any animation viewed as adult entertainment.
In the last twenty years some American and other animation has adopted some of the styles used in anime. To make matters worse, American observers are often quite ignorant about animation and cartoons and will often label material anime when it definitely is not.
The major difference between Japanese and American animation is that in Japan, cartoons are regarded as main stream entertainment for all ages. In the United States, cartoons are regarded as a humor device or as children’s programming. One interesting point here is that American cartoons are often much better drawn than Japanese cartoons.
Part of anime’s appeal is its flexibility as a storytelling medium. Japanese animation like American animation started out as short subjects in movies. What is now considered anime comes from Japanese television where long with elaborate story lines similar to those on American soap operas developed.
The most famous anime series are science fiction and fantasy stories similar to those found in American comic books but with strong Japanese cultural influences. Adult content in terms of sex is sometimes found in these. Interestingly enough when these kinds of shows are broadcast on American TV they are often censored or cleaned up for American audiences.
In addition to the common science fiction there are soap operatic series and teen love stories to name just a few. Huge numbers of these stories have been created for Japanese TV and are now available all over the world via DVD. The audience for them outside Japan is large but often limited.
Some Differences between Anime and American Animation
There are some big stylistic differences between American and Japanese Animation. Both of which can trace their routes to comic books and comic strips. Historically, American and British cartoonists have favored a realistic style of drawing for non-humor work. This is often reflected in the action cartoons sometimes seen on American television. Japanese favor a more cartoonish style that some Westerners find appealing and others cannot stand.
Another difference is that American and British comic creators and animtors often inject a lot of social and political commentary into their work. This can be seen in TV series like South Park and The Simpsons as well as in comic books like those written by Allen Moore. The anime distributed outside Japan appears to be decidedly apolitical. Or the social commentary is lost on non-Japanese observers.
One popular tradition in American animation is to insert celebrities into cartoons and make fun of them. Another is to parody popular movies, TV shows and political figures. It isn’t uncommon to find direct attacks on major political figures or their policies in American and British animated productions. Another tradition in recent years is for American cartoons to make fun of manga and anime.
Anime in America
Another problem is that the market for non humor cartoons in the English peaking world is limited. Even though many excellent, well-written, well drawn and highly entertaining action series (many derived from manga or anime) have been created for American audiences few of them have found a mass audience. Some of these are aimed at particular groups such as fans of American comic books.
The idea of animation being used to create serious entertainment for adults is simply alien to Americans. Even though there is apparently a huge audience for such products in the US. The huge market for superhero movies is definitely a sign of this. In recent a large audience for animated DVDs has developed. This includes quite a few direct to video productions.
There have also been attempts to put material that is well known to British or American audiences such as super hero comic books into animated form. Whether this will actually lead to a large adult audience for such animation is hard to say. Either way the appetite for anime on this side of the Pacific does seem to be huge.