The debate between the differences and similarities of American and Japanese cartoons continous to divide the world while trying to answer which one is the best. American cartoon supporters claim that American cartoons are better than its Japanese counterpart because of its content and brand of comedy. On the other hand, Japanese cartoons or anime fans would argue Japanese anime is better than American cartoons not just because of its more diverse storylines, but also because of its embodiment of Japanese society and realism in its entirety. This paper will discuss the differences and similarities of American and Japanese anime and its impacts to its fans, including the hardcore fans or the otakus.
Otaku and the Fine Line Between American and Japanese Cartoons
Japan is known to many people for many things: from their unique food creations, colorful culture to their involvement in shaping world history. For the younger generation, however, Japan is known for two other things and they are the rise of Japanese anime and the otaku culture. Although America has their own brand of cartoons that can rival Japanese anime, the growth of Japanese anime has divided fans around the globe as to which they preferred. However, questions with regards to the exact difference of both animation styles often comes into mind and which version makes a more definitive impact to fans is always raised in these discussions and further fuels the debate. While American cartoons liven up audiences with its humor and stress critical values adhering to their culture and religion, Japanese anime is more diverse when it comes to reaching out to all types of audiences with storylines highlighting Japanese culture and perspective, which may influence how fans – especially otakus – on how to view life and the world around them.
Nowadays, animation – otherwise known as cartoons in the West or anime in the East- is one of the most popular forms of entertainment around the globe. In the realm of American cartoons, Kissell (2015) recently reported that cartoon related channels in the US such as Cartoon Network are raking a viewer count of almost 2 million viewers in the usual viewing time of 6 to 8 pm. Other cartoon channels in the country such as Disney and Nickelodeon have raked 1.33 million and 1.27 million respectively . Japanese animation or anime, on the other hand, has a huge following around the globe especially after the introduction of Mobile Suit Gundam. While there is no clear estimate as to the total number of anime fans there is in Japan or around the globe, the Anime News Network (2011) reported that the industry makes around 17.12 billion yen or $218.3 million on Blu-ray disc sales alone and an additional 19.66 billion yen or $250.6 million on DVD copies in Japan alone .
With the immense number of fans for either versions of animation, a fierce debate as to which one is the best and what makes either one different has always been popular in forums and discussions. Michelsen (2009) stressed that one of the earliest creation of American-made animations was James Stuart Blackton, creator of the short animation skit “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” in 1906 and founder of Vitagraph Company. Other artists have also followed Blackton’s example in using comic strips and sketches, including Walter Disney of the Walt Disney Productions. Although the first American cartoon character was Gertie the Dinosaur, the most popular cartoon that emerged in the 1920s was Mickey Mouse in his first appearance in Steamboat Willie in 1928. Disney slowly became an industry in the field of animation in the country as they released a variety of full length animated movies throughout the years. Other known studios rivalling Disney were Fleishcer Studios (creators of Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor) , Warner Brothers (creators of the Looney Toons) and Hanna-Barbera (creators of The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo) .
Although there are indeed differences between the two types of animations Japan and America offer with the anime and cartoon respectively, there are some According to Gillespie (1998), American cartoons were mostly aimed directly to the younger market and highlight values that is in lieu with Judeo-Christian values. Although the first brand of American animation was directed for all audiences and showcased comedy and humor to forget the current state of the country for just a while, American conservatives were against the fact these animations held “human characteristics” and censored many sciences such as in the 1950 classic Cinderella. Reviewers stressed that the animated film should not have included realism which should not be a part of animation. Eventually, the next few titles were releasing titles that only showed child-friendly stories and for adults, these cartoons became their escape from reality as they now showed “ideal” fantasies. As most of these cartoons were directed to the younger audiences, American cartoons became a sales tool for the American animation industry. Each episode of cartoons in the period had advertisements of a specific character merchandise and the cartoon series became a scenario for children to play with their official merchandise.
Another characteristic of American cartoons which makes it different from Japanese anime is its prominent religious or American themes. It is typical in many American animation series such as X-Men and Spiderman to see a “good guy” and a “bad guy” and what makes these two stand out from one another. In each series, it is clear that the rivalry between these two sides cannot easily be broken. Once these two rivalling factions meet, it is for certain that they would achieve what they believe is the “Truth .” Coleman, Ganong, and Warzinik (2007) added that American animators also use cartoons to exemplify religious celebrations and blend them with American themes. Christmas movies and animations often involved themes such us the story of the Nativity and the sentiments of love and sharing. Consumerism remains a key theme as well despite these themes with Santa Claus serving as the perfect sales person for the industry. Some of the most notable cartoons exemplifying both Christmas and American value are “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman the Series” .
Finally, American cartoons are notorious for their brand of comedy or that fits to every type of audience. Berger (2011) stated that the idea of cartoons has always been to induce laughter to any audience and each dialogue will always have a gagline in it to fit the character saying the line. The series “The Far Side” by Gary Larson utilizes both character art and gaglines to push the scene to audiences. Some of the characters are also drawn oddly with disproportionate body parts or crazy faces to add to the humor of the scene. In another example, cartoonists would also make the scene itself humorous as it shows the oddities of people. Even if the topic is serious, such as politics, American cartoons would always have an element of humor which would give viewers another perspective of the issue without having to learn the complex theories surrounding the issue .
Similar to the Americans, Japan had a very long history when it comes to the field of animation or “anime” as the first Japanese made anime predates since the 1900s. According to von Feigenblatt (2007), this first anime clip featured a young Japanese boy waving in the screen. However, production was halted due to the regulations of the Nationalist government and ordered that anime clips should show stories or scenes that would uplift the people’s spirits. Some of these government-commissioned films were “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1942)” and “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1944)” and showcases Japan’s creed as to why they are fighting the war. However, due to the propaganda both films had, the popularity of the films vanished after Japan’s defeat in World War II. After a while, Japan had a short period of inactivity when it comes to making anime until 1963 when renowned mangaka and “God of Animation and Manga” Osamu Tezuka released Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy). Although this anime had a bit of sci-fi, the story had Western themes on them and depicted the struggle of the country after its defeat .
Since the popularity of Astro Boy and the succeeding animes that followed its footsteps, Japanese anime became more diverse when it comes to its storylines in comparison to American cartoons and reflect Japanese thinking. Tsutsui (2010) stressed that looking at a common factor in anime can be very difficult due to the number of genres the Japanese anime industry has for any type of viewer. However, some experts have highlighted four central themes in a majority of famous animes in recent years. The first popular theme in Japanese anime is the love for anything related to the apocalypse as it reflects Japan’s continous struggle against earthquakes, tsunamis and even the nuclear bomb. Despite these problems, Japanese animators used anime to show another look at the beauty that can be found after every tragedy and highlight the dangers of nuclear warfare to its viewers. In some cases, they use typical “apocalyptic” symbols in some animes as a bit of a light humor. In the 1970 series Time Bokan, for example, often included scenes werein the bad guys would be blown up and consumed by a mushroom cloud similar to the mushroom cloud after the nuclear bomb.
The second common theme in Japanese anime is their love with monsters (kaijuu) or the supernatural. Japanese folklore itself had cemented the love of its people to the unknown and creatures that had extraordinary abilities. Even before anime became popular, the Japanese people adored monster-related stories and some of the most popular titles are Godzilla and Pocket Monsters (Pokemon). Following the monster theme is the aesthetic themes of cuteness (kawaii), which had brought in further genres meant for female fans. Anime with this theme often include scenes depicting childishness, sweetness and cutness. Sociologists explain the popularity of cute Japanese animes such as My Neighbor Totoro and Doraemon by stressing that this is Japan’s way of ensuring that any audience can still have a sense of happiness and emotional warmth to uplift their spirits just for a while while watching these films. Finally, Japanese anime are also quite into the future or the improvement of technology that would give rise to artificial intelligence, robots and other 21st century items. The most prominent example under this theme category are Tetsuwan Atom, the Mobile Suit Gundam series and Neon Genesis Evangelion. With these animes, they reflect the Japanese perception as to how technology would become humanity’s key to the future and at the same time, a potential threat to mankind .
Aside from these central themes, Japanese anime also deals with other contemporary issues just like American cartoons, but in a more deeper perspective. Boden (2001) stated that critics and Western commentators often highlight that anime discusses these themes similar to documentaries and ensure that the values are clearly depicted in the scenes before them. This makes anime much longer than its Western counterpart, which also adds to the excitement of fans to determine what comes next and elements from previous episodes is connected to the new episodes. Some of the examples of contemporary issues depicted in Japanese anime is the position of women in society. While some of the classic titles like Dragon Ball Z still showcased classic roles for women who are subservient to the male characters, the growth of series included in the shoujo (female) anime industry is showing now that women can also be equal in rank and roles with men .
In addition to the themes used by Japanese anime and their grasp wih Japanese ideals, what makes Japanese anime stand out from American cartoons is the fan base it has created. However, although there are casual fans of anime who enjoy these shows for entertainment, there are hardcore fans of Japanese anime that literally put their time in the hobby or the famous “otakus.” According to Tsutsui (2008), otakus are the hardcore and otherwise obsessive fans of Japanese popular culture and the term has spread out even overseas. For regular fans or spectators, otakus are the “geeks” or those people with unattractive physical form, poor sense of fashion and usually found hanging out by themselves. There are also other definitions to otakus which included being “shut-ins” or “Hikikomoris” as they prefer being around the things they collect. Oxford English Dictionary had recently defined an otaku as;
“Originally in Japan: a person extremely knowledgable about the minute details of a particular hobby (esp. a solitary or minority hobby); one who is skilled in the use of computer technology and is considered by some to be poor at interacting with others”.
The definition provided by Oxford is quite correct as the term “Otaku” can be literally translated as “your house”. Although historians are often uncertain as to when the term was used to refer to hardcore popular culture fans began, its current usage was sparked by the growth of science fiction works and illustrators in the 1970s. In an analysis of known pop artist Murakami Takashi, he believed that these artists – especially from Studio Nue, the first animation studio in the country founded in 1970 – used the term to call someone instead of using “you” . As of 2005, the Nomura Research Institute has indicated that Japan currently has 1.72 million otakus following either one of the 12 most popular obssessions in the country. The largest number of otakus are manga and anime enthusiasts who spend more on than 83 billion yen per year on merchandise. It is also noted that some of these otakus who took part on the survey were “closet otakus” due to the current derogatory perspective of some regarding their obsessions .
Aside from the themes and the fandom, Japanese anime is also different with American cartoons with its impact on the fans itself. On the one hand, anime serves as a great teaching tool for many students as stated by Furo (2006) as anime involves elements such as technology, art, history and many others. Although there are available textbooks and other mediums which would allow students to learn more about topics, some studies showcase that anime motivates students better in learning Japanese language, culture and even other critical topics in an anime format . Chambers (2012) also added that while Japanese anime is also translated for its Western audiences and non-Japanese speaking countries, some fans opted to make “fansubs” to create subtitles for these Japanese animes to appreciate the storylines these anime have for its viewers without ruining its integrity. Although there were complications when it comes to the legalities of fansubbing, fansubs allow viewers to get the actual story rather than rely on the watered down translations provided in official versions .
However, there are some instances wherein anime does present some dangers as seen in its content and some of the genres that tend to trigger dangerous tendencies from its fans. Chambers (2012) stressed that while American cartoons do have sensitive cartoon shows meant for their older audiences, it is still regulated and censored to ensure that the material is still acceptable to American standards. On the other hand; however, Japanese anime does not stick to just “acceptable” standard on content and include themes that shows the reality of life that others may say is too sensitive to discuss in such a medium. Some anime protagonists tend to showcase usual human faults such as having vices. Some stories even have content that depicted adult languages, nudity and even the issue of death and afterlife. In this instance, American cartoons tend to show that cartoon characters never age and stay the same; but in Japanese anime, they show that they see death as a part of life and let some of the well-loved anime characters die and present another piece in the puzzle .
Japanese anime’s preference to such deep and profound genres has already made a lasting impact to the otaku population in Japan and how they are seen in the world. Dela Pena (2006) stressed that while otakus were originally seen as regular geeks or hardcore fans, they are now widely feared by many people. For starters, many otakus are often those who are in their late twenties and feel the pressures of starting their own identities. Some of these otakus turn to anime to stop these pressures from overwhelming their senses. However, for those who feel completely overwhelmed by these pressures, some of them develop dangerous urges and dispositions that has led them to commit crimes . The most notorious example to this is Tsutomu Miyazaki, who in 1989, conducted a series of killings in the year directed towards young girls. Miyazaki has kidnapped, molested, killed and mutilated four young girls and upon police investigation, Miyazaki was revealed to have an extensive collection of pornographic anime and kept trophies of his killings. It is his case wherein the term otaku became synonymous with psychologically-disturbed individuals and perverts. Further fear on otakus developed with the rise of known terrorist group the Aum Shinrikyo, who instigated the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo. It is said that from the group’s founders to its members, the Aum Shinrikyo were heavily influenced by Japanese animes featuring science fiction and the apocalypse. While the otaku identity has shifted after these two instances, there is still fear amongst the public with regards to the impact anime has to its viewers .
It is without a doubt that any version of animation is a work of art due to the storylines they possess, the artwork and detail given to them by their animators and the impact they have to its viewers. American cartoons clearly highlight American and Western values while catching the hearts of its viewers with its brand of humor. They also enable viewers to step out of the harsh ongoings of life even for just a moment. However, it does have shortcomings to the extent some of these cartoons are now becoming tools for consumerism. On its end, Japanese anime also captures the hearts of many fans with its wide range of storylines and genres while showcasing Japanese culture and ideology at its finest. However, while it does help viewers learn more about Japan, the complex themes and visuals in these anime can spark dangerous urges from fans as seen in the otaku culture. Regardless of which version is preferred, it is important to remember that these animations are meant for entertainment and while its ok to love them to some degree, it should not become a big factor as to how they see life and everything in general.
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