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Is it Anime?

Is it Anime?

Long time readers of ANN may remember a guest editorial I wrote for the site back in March 2000 before I was actually a part of the editorial staff here. In that editorial, Is it Manga?, I commented on the trend of American comic book artists who were incorporating Manga-style art into their comics.

The focus of today's editorial is on a similar situation, but in Animation more than in Manga.

First off, let's try to define Anime. The general consensus is that the Japanese word anime is derived from the French word animé, which translated into English means “animated.” The French word can be used either as a verb, or as an adjective, but it is not a noun. In Japan, anime is used to refer to all animation, Japanese animation, American animation, Korean animation and every other type of animation. Pure and simple, the Japanese word anime translated into English is “animation”. However, in English we use the word Anime to refer to Japanese animation, also referred to sometimes as Japanimation.

So Anime means “Japanese animation,” right? But does it refer to the Japanese style of animation, or only to animation produced in Japan? We all know that Cowboy Bebop is Anime… but consider these possibilities.

1. A TV series made for an American company where the animation is subcontracted to a Japanese studio.
2. A TV series made for Japanese viewing, where the animation is subcontracted to a Korean Studio.
3. A TV series animated in North America by a group of Japanese animators from Japan.
4. A TV series animated in Japan by a group of Americans who have been working in Japan.

Assuming that all of those were identical in story and art to Cowboy Bebop… which ones would still be Anime? Now what if we take Japanese animators and the location of Japan entirely out of the picture… what if a Korean studio that has done tons of subcontracting work for Japanese studios decides to create its own original series. They will obviously be heavily influenced by the work they have done in the past, and perhaps their end product will be indistinguishable from a genuine Anime in all ways.. until the credits roll. Would it be Anime?

Or let's play an even bigger head game, what if an Anime was produced in Japan, broadcast on Japanese TV, contained Japanese names in the credits, it would obviously be Anime right? Now what if we found out three years later that all the names in the credits were pseudonyms and that the series had in fact been produced at a studio in Oklahoma by a group of American writers and animators, none of whom were of Japanese descent or had ever been to Japan.

Imagine we found out that Cowboy Bebop had in fact been produced in America. Would it still be Anime?

Obviously that kind of situation will probably never occur, but the point is, what makes a cartoon Anime? Is it its content, or the people who and location where it was produced?

The romantic in me would like to say that Anime is about content, after all what makes Anime special isn't the novelty of its origin… is it? But the realist in me, the editor who has to draw a line somewhere, has decided that the definition of Anime has more to do with the people who produced it and place in which it was produced. This isn't definition that I'm trying to convince other people to adopt, but rather a working definition that ANN will adhere to… for the time being at least.

Fortunately, I can consolidate my romantic and my realistic notions by realizing that there are a lot of pseudo-anime and pseudo-manga out there that are very close to Anime in their art, animation and story style, and that, in many cases, these pseudo-anime and manga are every bit as good, as those that inspired them.

This brings me to how this affects ANN, in particular the news that we cover, and the titles that we will allow into the Encyclopedia. Recently someone entered a number of Korean titles into the Encyclopedia, and we had a bit of a discussion as to whether or not we would allow these titles. On one hand, there are a number of good reasons to allow them into the Encyclopedia:
  • They look very interesting;
  • Putting them in the Encyclopedia and labeling them as “Korean” would actually serve to inform people of their origin and avoid confusion.

On the other hand there are reasons not to allow them into the Encyclopedia
  • They aren't Anime;
  • There are still 3000 or so Anime titles that are missing from the Encyclopedia and these should be our priority.

The point that finalized the decision not to include the Korean animation was the last one, perhaps it would be good to have them in there, but there are many more titles that are more important. Perhaps we will re-assess this issue when we've got 3000 titles that are over our “relevance threshold.”

One thing that is important to point out, is that a sense of “Superiority of Japanese Anime” had nothing to do with the decision. Another thing is that the rules aren't written in stone, there will be exceptions from time to time, particularly in the amateur arena.

Unfortunately all this still leaves us with a question… what makes Anime Anime? Content or Creation?


Christopher Macdonald
Anime News Network

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