Tadashi Sudo: Does Japanese Animation Suffer From the Galápagos Syndrome?
posted on by Kim Morrissy
Animation industry journalist and analyst Tadashi Sudo wrote an article published by ITMedia on Monday regarding the problems that potentially face the Japanese anime industry in the face of globalization. The central question behind the article was "Does Japanese animation suffer from the Galápagos Syndrome?"
The Galápagos Syndrome is a term of Japanese origin which refers to products created in isolation from the global market that are difficult to export overseas. Sudo argued that, due to its distinctive visual style, Japanese animation has historically been very popular when exported overseas since at least the 1960s with titles like Astro Boy. In the 90s, titles like Akira and Ghost in the Shell also successfully conveyed the unique appeal of Japanese anime, and the boom is still continuing to this day. However, as time has passed, other countries are producing animation with a similar appeal to Japanese anime. Instead of defining the world standard into the future, as Hollywood and Disney have done in the past, Japanese animation is at risk of suffering from the Galápagos Syndrome while creative teams overseas produce more globally appealing content.
Sudo argued that what needs to change about Japanese animation is not the visual style. Nor does the content need to change specifically to appeal to a global audience. The biggest thing that needs to change is that Japan itself needs more diversity, and it needs to become more exposed to foreign cultures. As an example of a situation where there was a lack of knowledge regarding foreign perspectives, Sudo brought up a controversy around the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure OAV in 2008 where Shueisha apologized for a scene in which the villain Dio is shown reading the Qu'ran.
"It is important to be aware that a large number of people are watching anime to an extent that was previously inconceivable, and that these viewers come from diverse backgrounds," Sudo wrote. "There are quite a few things that are taboo that we would previously not have realized. We ought to make the utmost consideration."
He then clarified that this is a separate matter from "political correctness." Rather than globalization, it is a reflection of change in Japan's own society to avoid violent expression in children's media, ensuring gender balance in a cast of characters, and removing bias against gender, age, and race. To Sudo, this is not a matter of keeping up with the world but in keeping up with the times. "There are many things that were once permitted but are no longer permitted in this day and age, but this is a separate matter from globalization or the Galápagos Syndrome."
Sudo's next point was that, while there has been much concern in Japan regarding the uniqueness of Japanese animation, the rest of the world is beginning to change rapidly. Despite the fears of lack of exportability, Japanese animation has been transcending cultural barriers, and other countries are beginning to develop their own style of animation influenced by Japan. Sudo pointed to Netflix's "Anime" category which can refer to works that were not developed in Japan but are inspired by the visual style of Japanese animation. Stylistic quirks such as characters with large eyes were once derided or regarded as unusual in Asia and the West, but are now becoming more commonplace in foreign animation.
"Japan has hardly changed, but the world is changing dramatically. The uniqueness of Japanese anime, subject to the Galápagos Syndrome, has expanded to the world, and that uniqueness is now, in fact, becoming diluted," he observed. "The spread of the Japanese style can be seen as a sign of success for Japanese culture. On the contrary, however, it bodes difficult times ahead for Japan. This style which was once thought to belong only to Japan can be created outside the country, which compromises Japan's top position and increases competition."
Sudo does not believe that Japanese animation will lose its unique traits, but in the worst case scenario, Japan could lose out to its competition and only the visual style will remain in the world. It is because of Japan's previous successes that this danger has become relevant.
So where does the future of Japanese anime lie, then? Given that the Japanese animation style has transcended cultural barriers, Sudo suggested that the creative and production processes on the Japanese side can also benefit from transcending national borders. Sudo proposed making anime with a community of people who embrace the style, without being conscious of national origin.
"When Japanese anime accepts foreign talent and culture, then the place it is made does not have to be Japan. There are many international co-productions which have resulted in failure, but among a community that does not have a conflicting vision about the direction, it should be possible to create global works as a team," he concluded. "The success of Hollywood films was the spread of American culture. Because of its success, talented people in the world strive for Hollywood, and people overseas take on its traditions and create things in their own right. Japanese anime can also become strong and bountiful by connecting many talented people all across the world."