If we go back to the original source, anime is simply the Japanese word for animation. That's all. Much like the word kawa means river, and yama means mountain, it's a general word that encompasses all animation. By this definition, technically anything could be anime, even Disney, Pixar, and Aardman creations. However, that's just looking at it literally. Outside of Japan, the word anime has come to mean something else, and it's this "something else" that causes more friction or confusion. Typically, the western world has two main definitions as for what anime actually is:
- Animation originating from Japan.
- A style of animation that originally came from Japan.
My main gripe with the definition based on style as opposed to country of origin is that the whole style thing is - in a word - bullshit.
For a start, the original "anime style" was adapted from the early American animations. All you need do is take a look at Osamu Tezuka's drawing style to see the heavy influence that pre-war black and white cartoons had on his work. This isn't to say that it's derivative by any stretch of the imagination, as it has evolved and made the big sparkly eyes its own. In fact, the so-called anime style is almost completely removed from its humble roots nowadays, which leads me to my main point. If you define anime purely on the style of animation, then what about all those beloved anime series and films that don't conform to the standard laid out by this restrictive definition? Surely Osamu Tezuka's work is anime, right? Well the Black Jack TV series look closer to westernised animation than Japanese, and in particular, many of Tezuka's shorts look more like they belong in 1960s America alongside Hanna Barbera and the Pink Panther cartoons. And while we're talking about American influence? What about Panty and Stocking? That's an anime series, right? Even though it looks like a slutty, violent, sex-crazed version of the Powerpuff Girls.
|Left: Osamu Tezuka's Drop. Right: Classic US animation, The Pink Panther
They may not be identical, but the visual influences at work are fairly plain to see.
What about the Studio Ghibli films? You wouldn't call them anything other than anime, would you? Even My Neighbours the Yamadas the most visually "un-Ghibli" Ghibl film? It doesn't look like your standard anime fare, but you'd still call it anime. So don't give me all this crap about it being "all about the style", because it's not.
|Nowadays more and more series try something a little different visually, which is brilliant and beautiful, because as viewers we are getting a whole range of new and exciting experences. Take the likes of House of Five Leaves, Tatami Galaxy, pretty much anything by Akiyuki Shinbo, they push the boundaries of what Japanese animation can look like and they don't just rest on that one familiar and comfortable appearance, but there's no question that they still count as anime. Animation is a constantly evolving medium, so to define anime based on a specific style is, in my mind, offensive.|
I love the simple definition of anime being animation that was made in Japan, because through that definition, I have come to watch a variety of glorious Japanese animated shorts, that had I gone purely on style, I'd have never found. Had I only looked for anything that matched the visual desigm that has come to be familiar to us all - that anime archetype - then I'd never have stumbled upon The Diary of Tortov Roddle, or the gorgeous stop motion puppetry of Kihachiro Kawamoto. I'd never have given a second glance to the works of Natsume Ono, who has become one of my favourite mangaka.
In my mind there's no question that anime is animation from Japan and nowhere else. So for those of you out there who bitch about Avatar not being listed on your favourite anime site, calm down, get over it, and go and experience the sheer variety of what both the mainstream and independant Japanese animation industries have to offer.