Anime, which is short for Japanese animation, is an element in Japanese pop culture that is acclaimed for its global impact. With origins from the manga or Japanese art of comics and cartoon pictures and now significantly contributing to film and games production; it is not only bringing in market influences but is also contributing significantly to Western culture. In this essay, I would like to share some ideas about the roles of anime, a supposedly Japanese artifact in the transformation of a seemingly distant Western society. A few assumptions have to be established prior to elaborate discussions on the matter.
First, anime must be viewed as a result of Japan’s endeavor to offer a different way of telling stories that allowed the artists to enjoy creativity in character building and imagination in choosing location. Second, initially created for their locales, it reflects both social limitations of and desires of its people in relation to history. Hence, anime is telling more about their past and its present implications. Third, with globalization’s power to cross borders, through open market and information and communications technology, anime’s popularity in Europe is a manifestation of transculturalism.
Fourth, there is growing debate about the source of this anime popularity among Westerners and even postmodernists too started deconstructing this Japanese Art and relate its subjects and characters to critical socio-political and economic themes such as gender and identity. Anime also enabled outsiders’ exploration of Japan culture and history by seeing through their stories. Fifth, anime may have missed essential elements due to translations in language to cater to its foreign audience.
Yet again, the effort to do so shows the interest in knowing foreign interpretation of life, and perhaps if it is attractive to the audience, then the latter must have agreed to the elucidation made thereof. These assumptions help us in generating our thesis statement, which is that anime, has its local purpose whose inherent characteristics although might have been owed to the creator are nonetheless historically and socially bound. Capitalism and the interest in profit might have encouraged countries across the globe to invest in it such that the classic in anime becomes a distinctive option for Westerners.
Its popularity nonetheless is predicted to be influencing most especially the youth in terms of lifestyles, views and behaviors. This forecast makes scholars analyze anime’s content and opine about its transformative power in other nation’s culture while some even went to reading its gender issues, power relations, and philosophical renditions. For me, it is the diversity of analytical interests that emerged from ANIME that truly increased its transformative role in Western societies. Because anime’s Western adaptation became successful (e. g. Astro Boy, Pokemon, etc), it was thought to be potentially profitable.
Westerners have always been curious about the Asian country that used to challenge superpowers- Japan. Anime to them was exposing a lot about Japan culture. Japan’s homogenous society and constancy in traditions either is remarkable for Westerners or naive-either way, it has stirred human interest and curiosity. If anime is an imported product, it will be bought because it is from JAPAN- the meaning is both socio-cultural and economic. The will to understand anime beyond the visual images led them to study Japanese language. In pop culture, growing imitation is a measure of success.
In the United States and Europe, animators have emulated the methods, styles and gags in anime. This certainly required expertise from the artists that are never better without collaboration with the Japanese animators and filmmakers. Not only are the anime drawings the source of inspiration but also the taglines and cliches in anime that were borrowed in animated TV series in the US. The growing number of anime fanatics triggered the foundation of conventions where Japanese writers, directors and artists are invited to speak or lecture. They enjoy dressing up like the anime characters and attend in the so-called cosplay.
In schools and universities, anime clubs gain prominence and so are seminars engaging understanding of Japan. Anime also provided options for the youth in Western societies who became tired of their own culture. Japan’s image became a perception of the future, the untold and the daring as exemplified in Akira by Otomo Katsushira that was shown in US and Europe in 1990. The Western youth have always desisted cultural resistance and are easily disillusioned by politics but anime gave them a fresh image of robotic, merciless youth in the postmodern era.
Anime then has transformed Western culture in a phenomenon referred to as the transmission of thoughts, culture and politics from East to West. An essential component of one’s belief system is ideology or at least a set of ideas. Behaviors are affected by the specific belief system. Should there be a specific group’s belief system, it forms part of a given culture. The belief system of the Japanese youth was described in the “Kawaii style” in the mid 1970s or the Japanese cute. Kawaii means “cute” in English, which portrays a childlike character having the innocence, simplicity, gentleness, and amiability of a child.
It is represented by pink romanticism to a funny genderless style. It became a means for the youth to express in an ambiguous manner, how adulthood means having the authority, knowledge, skills and experience to be able to cooperate in the society and fulfill responsibilities and obligations, but fails enormously. Childhood is seen as a place of individual freedom, which is unreachable nonetheless while condemning the adulthood. Kawaii fashion and lifestyle was used as a form of rebellion from the Japanese youth.
This style was mimicked by the Western youth who apparently was able to confirm their views on realities of life through the Japanese genre. European women started creating the “Riot girls” style wearing baby-doll attires with boots and other masculine accessories. From America to United Kingdom, bands with members exemplifying Japanese cute became popular. Hence, the impact of Japan’s culture has created lifestyles in Western society that mirrors common sense of individualism, of the dynamism of youth and capacity for change.
Anime that concentrates on visual images drawn manually yet skillfully in frames is characteristic of simplicity and magic. Of particular importance are the works of Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of Princess Monanake, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service among others. The success of these anime around the world made this old man, indeed a legend and a master of anime. The characters in Miyazaki’s anime are mostly change enthusiasts, dynamic and hopeful too- quite ironic in a system where change is resisted and tradition is extolled.
The traditional dichotomies between the protagonist and antagonist are caricatured in a different way. Thus, Miyazaki’s anime has been treated as an escape valve from the rigidity of Japanese culture, insisting change and while the general appearance of the film is Japanese in culture and history, it tries to suggest how a country of such former colonial powers could embrace modernity with discretion as to properly choosing allies or that it is possible to be both traditional and modern.
His anime presents a lot of contradictions that are not usually discussed in reality but is highly characteristic of life. Thus, its appeal to Western audience is never distracted by cultural difference instead builds a common ground between two different worlds. For instance, the prostitutes and lepers that she takes care of despite her destructive activities in the forest that threaten animal life respect Princess Monanake’s Lady Eboshi. The heroine in the Spirited Away was described by Miyazaki as successful not because she was able to defeat evil but because she was able to survive.
True enough, this lack of explicit clarity in Miyazaki’s works in defining good and evil was explained by his pessimism in a world that will soon be lifeless because of man’s own doing but the children deserves a positive world view nonetheless. So, he didn’t want to use traditional stereotypes even in children’s stories at this time when tradition itself needs reexamination. Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro are both devoid of villains but are more reflective of traditional animism and Japanese culture.
The challenge in life may not necessarily point to cultural differences but to the stereotypes and dichotomies that are embedded in each culture, be it Western or Japanese. This sounds Marxist but this is not surprising for someone who has been inspired by Marxism. He used to see things according to class like in Castle in the Sky, which portrays the laborers in a good light. However there are common themes that all cultures could relate to like the issue on the environment.
This is why Miyazaki’s anime emphasize on environmentalism. Worshipping a tree (My Neighbor Totoro), fascination in forests, wolves, flowers and trees (Princess Monanake), and cleansing a river with spirit (Spirited Away)- these are products of Miyazaki’s childhood experience where in his hometown, the environment has been used to further economic progress despite degradation. He then configures this idea in Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of Valley of the Wind. It projects conflict between military and nature.
The former destroys culture and natural resources that endangered the inhabitants of the community. But his anime films favor anti-war principles. War is featured as destructive, merciless and futile. Another recurrent theme is his anime is feminism especially since most of his protagonists are strong-willed and independent women. Likewise, childhood is one issue that is given emphasis by Miyazaki. According to him, he worries about modern children at the same time he is concerned with how they should understand the world by keeping in contact with nature.
The technologies of video games have isolated them to the real world that is why his anime centers on children’s hopeful efforts at identifying truth by wisdom. Other Japanese animation have presented varied themes but nevertheless consistent in inviting change and flexibility. Ranma ? for instance is a story about a young boy who changes into being a girl when in contact with water. Sailor Moon also has characters that are mostly bisexuals. Gender critiques and conservatives attacked this quite bold interpretation of human sexuality and gender at the same time.
To some, it is proving the existence of dichotomies and differences between male and female- the fact that Ranma ? was laughed at and received funny comments about his eccentricities. However there are some who interpreted it in a humanist sense such that the anime reveals that in each person there is always the presence of feminine and masculine sides. Whichever analysis prevails, it certainly gives us the idea that Japanese anime touched the consciousness of Western society to a great extent. The influence is both in structure and in value.
Filmmakers have been inspired to use themes in anime that used to be neglected in a world that was so driven by capitalistic profit and traditional conventions. This time, transformations in the light of globalization meant also giving importance to life and nature in form and substance- that despite inherent differences, unity and reconciliation is preferred. In a book entitled, Japanamerica: How Japanese Culture Has Invaded the US, Ronald Kelts explained how the 9/11 tragedy led Americans to embrace Japanese anime during a time when the government failed to represent its people resulting to death and destruction.
An article by Sharon Kinsella entitled, The Japanization of European Youth tells how anime serves as a source of wisdom for the youth in Western countries while they are confused about how strong individuals must be characterized. Some may comment that Japanese anime is nothing but entertainment to Japanese who are living proofs of “all work, no play” personalities- a sort of escapism. But taken in a context where the audience is known for maturity and liberal etiquette, the impacts of Japanese anime is more than leisure related. Anime reminds people of world divinity that is difficult to remember.
Thoughts on teamwork, individualism, courage, sensitivity to nature and justice are good to advocate don’t you think? For as long as Japanese anime contributes to the well being of every person in whatever nation it deserves the recognition. It might have transformed the culture in Western societies yet meaningful transformation could only take place when the audience captures the nobility that anime has been created for. For one, it is noble to transcend childish cartoon characters and give children new characters in anime that are mature and responsible.
In Western society, children have been encouraged to enjoy their youth so cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Superman, etc are either made to make children laugh not to think, and whose main characters are adults trying to save children. Let us not forget that Anime is Japanese Art. Different cultures have varied forms of art but there is simply more inspiring and epic arts than others- this depends on current trends, issues and prospects. If nowadays, the whole world is affected by issues on war and terrorism, sustainability of environment, racial and gender discrimination, economic crisis- then Japanese Animation truly deserves its stance.
References Gauntlett, David. Media, Gender and Identity. UK: Routledge, 2002. Izawa, Eri. “The Romantic, Passionate Japanese in Anime: A Look at the Hidden Japanese Soul”. Japan Pop! Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture. New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. Kelts, Ronald. Japanamerica: How Japanese Culture Has Invaded the US. USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Kinsella, Sharon. The Japanization of European Youth. 1997. Hayao Miyazaki. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Hayao_Miyazaki