WEEK 8: ANIME

Looking at both Napier and Cavallaro (2006), discuss how these critics suggest anime is culturally ‘located’ – i.e., in the East or West, or somewhere else?

According to Napier (2005) anime is more accepted and valued as an authentic cultural product in Japan than opposed to the West. This is because the West traditionally categorise all animated content as ‘cartoons’ and targeted at child audiences. The West’s unwillingness to consider anime as a serious medium devalues its position in Japanese culture. In Japan anime plays on television at all times of the day, with different genres and themes suited to different audiences. Napier (2005) states that anime is not just for kids in Japan, and that many animators such as Hayao Miyazaki create films with themes that resonate across generations. Miyazaki films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997) express concern for the environment, showcasing the destructive impact humans can cause. The importance of looking after the environment is a theme relevant to all human beings, regardless of age. In the West, as cartoons are viewed as child media, the themes of Western cartoons are often not as deep or complex. From this perspective, anime can be placed culturally in the East, as it is not fully understood and therefore under-appreciated by Western audiences at first glance.

However, Napier (2005) also discusses the inspiration and influence of Western culture on the creators of anime in recent decades. By the 1990s, Napier (2005) states a “cross-pollination and popular cultural borrowing that complicate[d] and enrich[ed] anime texts occurred” (p. 22). Young Japanese artists had grown up with more exposure to Western culture than previous generations and as a result this affected what types of anime they would create. Anime was still culturally located in the East, but was now drawing inspiration from the West. Interestingly, the West has also been influenced by anime adding more complex themes, characters and plot to Western cartoons. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005), is a prime example as it is heavily influenced by traditional Japanese and Chinese cultures (Global History of Anime, n.d.). However, in referring to anime, the Western influence could be seen through characters having big eyes, blonde hair and thin lips. Although these characteristics resemble the West more than the East, although Napier (2005) argues that a new culture was being established with Japanese origins and Western influence. This new culture, more accurately described as a stateless culture (Napier, 2005), is shown by creators using pink, green or blue as typical hair colours. Therefore, rather than creating characters who look more like Westerners, these animators were actually ‘de-Japanizing’ the characters so they appeal to a global audience, not just Japan. From this approach, anime could be argued that sits in its own stateless culture rather than belonging to either the East or the West.

Cavallaro (2006) supports the idea that anime belongs more to a global culture in recent times. Miyazaki’s movies are a great example of this as the themes in his movies reach across cultural and geographical boundaries. The settings for various Miyazaki films are in locations which bear no significant features of Japan, and instead present themselves as ambiguously global or belonging to the West. Six out of his first nine features are set in non-Japanese locations, European-looking cities. By using locations that are not distinctly Japanese, the stories being told by Miyazaki take on a global appeal. These settings would suggest anime is therefore culturally situated outside of Japan. However, Cavallaro (2006) argues that the West still views anime as belonging to the East regardless of setting. She uses the examples of the Simpsons (1989) characters to demonstrate this thought process. Despite humans not having a yellow complexion, the Simpsons characters are still perceived as Western. This is the same for anime and manga characters who are viewed as Eastern even when they have big blue or green eyes. This highlights that the Japanese origins of anime are the significant factor in its cultural belonging.

While both Napier (2005) and Cavallaro (2006) acknowledge the Japanese origins of anime, they do not underestimate the influence of the West and global culture. As a result anime occupies the liminal space between the two, where it is simultaneously Japanese and non-Japanese or global. Therefore, it seems more accurate to place anime in its own category. This way the typical themes, style and characteristics of anime represent anime culture, as opposed to Japanese or Western culture.

References:

Brooks, J. L., & Groening, M. (Producers). (1989). The Simpsons [Television series]. United States: Fox.

Cavallaro, D. (2006). The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

DiMartino, M. D., & Konietzko, B. (Producers). (2005). Avatar: The Last Airbender [Television series]. United States: Nickelodeon.

Global History of Anime. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rightstufanime.com/anime-resources-global-history-of-anime

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1984). Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind [Motion picture]. Japan: Topcraft.

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1997). Princess Mononoke [Motion picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli.

Napier, S. J. (2005). Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, Updated Edition: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. London, England: Macmillan.

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