Japanese Animation Videos

By Michael Hinckley

Japanese animation videos, or "Anime," have a definite appeal in the United States. Originally starting through obscure, imported television programs and movies, Japanese animation has caught on with the general public in ways both obvious and subtle. From blockbuster feature films to Saturday morning cartoons, the influence of Japanese animation videos on American culture is undeniable.

Identification

Japanese animation videos, also called "Anime," draw strongly upon Japanese comic book animation called "Manga." In Manga and Anime, the hair of characters is usually some improbable or outlandish color, cut, or volume, limbs are long or exaggerated, and eyes are invariably large with correspondingly tiny mouths. Martial arts, impossible weapons, and brilliantly-flashing action are some of the other hallmarks of Japanese animation. Other hallmarks, however, include long, involved story lines, morality tales, and comedic facial expressions.

Types

Japanese animation videos come in several types. First there is children's animation, of which the famous Pokemon movies and television shows are a prime example. The story lines feature imaginary creatures and fights between the child (or children) protagonist and comically incompetent adult villains. Young adult Japanese animation video has more complex dialogue, deeper characters, and often more violence. The classic Robotech series is a prime example. Some young adult Japanese animation videos may contain martial arts, some morally corrupt characters, and a certain level of romantic tension. Adult Japanese animation videos often use characters that would not look out of place on children's or young adult videos, but puts them into more morally and ethically complex situations. There tends to be more violence, more romantic tension, morally complex plot lines, and (occasionally) sexually explicit scenes between characters.

Significance

Japanese animation videos have a strong following in some American subcultures, but have also leaked into the mainstream. In addition to cartoons such as Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Air Bender" and Cartoon Network's "Yuh-Gi-Oh!" award-winning movies such as "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle" have garnered critical and audience acclaim as well as respectable profits. In response to the popularity of "Spirited Away," for example, Disney Animation (the distributor for Spirited Away), released other Japanese animation feature films such as "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Castle in the Clouds" on video in the United States. Japanese animation also affects some revivals of older cartoons, such as "The New Adventures of Scooby Doo" and "Johnny Quest." The characters in those cartoons, though still recognizable from their Hannah Barbara days, have taken on the artistic style and features of Japanese animation videos. For instance, Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame has disproportionately-long legs and arms.

Effects

Japanese animation videos have a larger effect on American culture than just movies or televisions shows. Video games such as "Kingdom Hearts," "Final Fantasy," and "Devil May Cry" draw heavily upon Manga and Anime traditions in visual representations of the characters. For example, Dante, the protagonist in "Devil May Cry" is depicted wearing 19th-century inspired clothes while wielding an enormous sword with a very small handle. His hair is spiky white, his mouth is proportionately small, and his chin has the distinctive point of Japanese animation video characters. Additionally, Kingdom Hearts, which is an example of the blending of American and Japanese animation techniques, has protagonists that exhibit all the traits of Japanese animation (spiky hair, swords in the shape of keys, big eyes and little mouths, etc.) assisted by somewhat-classically drawn Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy.

Potential

Much like Disney films and characters influenced generations of artists in the middle part of the 20th century, Japanese animation artists such as Hayao Miyazaki (artist and director of Spirited Away) have the potential to influence a new generation of artists. Japanese animation videos already have a world wide following and their influence is felt in Korean, European, and American animation, movies, and video games. Still there seems to be increased potential for Japanese animation video techniques as film markets, such as those in India and Eastern Europe, continue to mature and begin to borrow from other cultures.

About the Author

Michael Hinckley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in US history from the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Arts degree in Middle East history from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hinckley is conversant in Arabic, and is a part-time lecturer at two Midwestern universities.