Anime Is Not The Japanese Word For "Cartoon"
An Exploration Into A Media
Phenomenon That Has Had An Impact On Society In At
Least Three Ways
In recent years, anime has had a considerable impact on society. It has demonstrated
to mass audiences in Western cultures that animation is not only a valid art
form but also a respectable communicative and entertainment medium to mainstream
and niche audiences. In addition, its recent upsurge in popularity has incurred
a large influence on the voice acting industry (in America, namely) as well
as world commerce through the mass merchandising possibilities it brings to
the global market. It comes to light that Anime is not simply the Japanese word
With few exceptions, cel animation has been a part of American society traditionally
in the form of nonsensical and comical television programming. Commonly referred
to as cartoons, it had at its heart the goal to entertain children with humor
and mirth. Although Hanna Barbera's The Flintstones was the first animated
program to air during primetime decades ago, obviously targeting an adult audience,
it was still understood that cartoons were children's fare and lacked the sophistication
to warrant the attention of older and more mature audiences. In later years,
shows like Batman: The Animated Series, South Park, and The
Simpsons with their dark storylines or contemporary adult humor would change
that view... albeit slightly.
According to Pulver and MacKinnon in their book, Big Eyes, Small Mouth,
Japanese animation, or anime, "has garnered more respect in its native
country than North American cartoons have in Canada and the United States."
Unlike its Western counterpart, anime was never limited to appeal to only young
audiences. As such, it was allowed the ability to delve into more sophisticated
fare and into multiple genres that would better attract teenagers and grown-ups
of diverse walks of life.
In an About.com interview, Carl Macek, named " one of the individuals
responsible for ...anime's ...current popularity", says that this type
of animated entertainment came to America by way of a fluke:
It was almost an accident. While doing marketing and promotion for the
movie, Heavy Metal, he began to research animation that wasn't oriented towards
the kid market. This led him to anime, which he recognized as being different
'directorily and content wise'. It wasn't adult animation, but it certainly
wasn't oriented solely to kids either. For Carl, this was something new in
film and he felt it was worth pursuing.
Acknowledging the seriousness by which the Japanese approached their brand
of animation, Macek thought it would be advantageous to bring it over to the
And it was.
But not without notice.
U.S. kids, accustomed to the more slapstick Western approach to animation,
were surprised with what children on the other side of the world were being
exposed to. Many an American child of the mid-80s will recall the day that one
of the main protagonists of the hit show Robotech (an animated series
Macek successfully brought to the Western audience) actually died. A contributor
to the everything2 online database community, "advid" comments:
"Children's manga and anime shows in Japan will sometimes depict death;
while the Western stories (on children's TV) seem determined to run away from
such realism." Grittiness suddenly became a part of "cartoons"
for youngsters all over the nation.
Another area marked with dissimilarity was in the way the stories were told.
Wherein Western animated programs were plot-driven and story-focused, anime
dealt more with character development. A relationship between the viewer and
the participants of the story was formed with the progression of a television
series as one was given the opportunity to watch a character grow. As opposed
to the more one-dimensional, caricature personalities that Western animation
relished in, japanimation characters were more like real people. Like their
viewers, they, too, had dreams and fears and convictions. Soon, America began
to open its eyes to the notion that animation can be used as a serious and acceptable
(and even comparable) alternative to live action depictions of human drama.
This is demonstrative in the recent feature length animated films released in
the United States, namely in such movies as The Prince of Egypt and Disney's
Atlantis, which not only had character death but depicted scenes of collateral
Animation was not just kids' stuff anymore.
In an Animation World Magazine article, Kath Soucie writes:
In the last few years, animation and voice-over have become a source of
great interest to folks, but for quite some time it was a niche that was enjoyed
and appreciated mostly by children. As the field has become more and more
sophisticated and `toons are more artfully executed, the entire subject has
become far more mainstream.
With its rising popularity in the U.S., most anime these days, though written
originally in Japanese, is now available dubbed in English. Before, anime fans
would be satisfied with the subtitled versions of anime titles for the simple
reason that the voice acting was by leaps and bounds of better quality in the
video's native tongue. The reason for this is simple: as Western cultures have
only recently begun to take the animated medium seriously, the accompanying
skill of voice acting has had little opportunity for growth there. In Japan,
however, voice actors, or seiyuu, are artists in their own right, insofar
as attending special schools to hone this art. They are celebrated members of
society and are considered on par with screen actors.
In the last decade, the quality of voice acting in America has improved with
the rising popularity of anime. This is evident in the Japanese animated series
Bubblegum Crisis. Released in the U.S. in 1988, the English-speaking
vocal performance in this piece, much like other translated series at the time,
was lacking in emotion and dramatic timing. Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040,
a remake released in the last three years, is not only rich in distinct character
voices but it successfully expresses personality and feeling in the vocal dramatic
area. A good amount of the dubbing quality can be attributed to the creative
liberties taken in translating the script from its original Japanese. In the
last ten or so years, the emphasis has moved away from literal verbal translations
to more accurate and analogous cultural translations.
Before the significance of seiyuu was brought to the forefront in the
United States, it was a rather small and tight industry. Soucie writes:
It's a commonly held notion that there is only a small group of actors
who do the great majority of voice-over work and I would like to say that,
for the most part, it is true. I have spent the last 12 years of my life voice-over-wise
in the company of pretty much the same band of thieves.
She adds: "...it is not uncommon to see the same actors several times
a day both on the job and at auditions." The voice acting industry
in America has swelled in recent years. With the release of the much celebrated
feature length anime, Princess Mononoke, in America, a lot of Hollywood
stars jumped on the bandwagon to lend their unique sound to the film. In their
number are Academy Award winners Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, and Minnie
Carl Macek adds his own two cents on the issue:
Between 1970 and 1990, the field became flooded with new performers and,
since then, it's only gotten more crowded. As a result of Disney features,
"The Simpsons" and a general depression in Screen Actors
Guild employment, it is no longer unfashionable for on-camera actors to do
cartoon voice work. Many animated shows have rushed to cast actors who are
best known for their work on live-action TV series on the questionable (I
think) premise that employing these folks elevates the cartoon to some higher
Now, the American seiyuu industry has demonstrated a competitiveness
that rivals its screen acting sibling. Macek also describes an instance in which
a top voice agent received in excess of two thousand submissions for potential
talent one year and only accepted two as clients. In an attempt to catch up
with Japanese voice acting, America is elevating its cartoons to "some
Aside from the impact it has had on the acceptance of cel animation and vocal
dramatic performance as respectable art forms in the U.S., Japanese animation
has had no small contribution to the world market. Before going into merchandising
derivative of Japanese animation, consider first how anime is distributed.
There are three ways anime is disseminated: theatrical releases, television
programming, and direct-to-video releases (called Original Video Animation
or OVAs). Typically, most anime finds its way to Japanese TV. Being budgeted
for a season at a time and with thirteen episodes per season, the quality of
these series, though great, often suffers. If a particular anime is believed
to do well at the box office, it will be released in theatres. Though common
in Japan, the U.S. has only begun to move in that direction, having Princess
Mononoke and Laputa as the first major anime features to reach American
movie theatres. As opposed to how direct-to-video features are thought of in
the United States, OVA animation often means that the production staff involved
has been granted a larger budget. Also, not being broadcasted on television,
Original Video Animation are frequently given more creative freedom than is
their wont, sometimes demonstrating a slightly different feel or style that
was not present in the television series. The distribution of these three versions
of anime brings a tremendous amount of money locally. When they are shipped
overseas to, say, America and Europe, even more money shifts hands.
Being dispersed world-wide, popularity increases exponentially. With the rise
in global appeal, mass merchandising of anime-related paraphernalia becomes
a possibility. Consider the Pokemon craze of recent years. In an About.com article
entitled "Pokemon: The Road To America", the question "Why
is Pokemon successful?" was answered:
Mr. Kawaguchi revealed that one of the reasons for Pokemon's success was
the fact that they did not just import a product but a strategy, which they
call a 'Mixed Media Strategy'. Using this strategy, they create and sell a
video game, the tv series, and a card game. Each of these individual products
reinforces and supports the other products
What was originally a simple animation series has now spawned a video game,
a collectible card game, and a growing number of movies and videos/DVDs. In
the interest of profit share, strategic business partnerships have also been
forged. Burger King, for one, joined with Pokemon during its U.S. theatrical
release. The makers of this anime now have their fingers in different industries
and are reaping the benefits. Pokemon has become a formidable opponent in the
Dragonball Z, another anime of growing status in the United States,
is no slouch, either. By virtue of its overseas distribution, DBZ is
a contender in the collectible action figures market in North America. In a
press release, Irwin Toy speaks to the opportunities globalization has
The universally popular Dragon Ball Z anime TV program that originated
in Japan and now reaches children around the world, has proven staying power
and its popularity is reaching new heights. The TV ratings, web success, toy
sales and products in a variety of categories are truly making Dragon Ball
Z an increasingly important part of pop culture. Kids follow the adventures
of Dragon Ball Z every day on TV. The main character, Goku, uses his
powers to right injustice and protect the innocent. Each story of the mystical
action adventure saga is like a mini-morality play with good conquering evil.
Armed with the fame of Dragonball Z, Irwin Toy also has its fingers
in other industries.
With a nod to the celebration of geek culture, adult consumers are also taking
up anime merchandise. Being that a vast majority of Japanese animation falls
under the categories of science fiction and fantasy, it is only natural that
it would be found appealing to the technically oriented or geek-minded. It is
not uncommon to find Neon Genesis Evangelion action figures (with eight
points of articulation, no doubt) used as computer monitor decorations in Information
Technology departments or to discover that most subscribers to the A. D. Vision
Films new releases mailing list are software programmers or application developers.
A cursory click-through at Slashdot.org, a 'zine geared towards the geek
elite, will find oneself inundated with not only technology ad banners but anime
ones as well.
Through the efforts made by merchandising, anime is quickly making its way
to be everywhere. At this rate, a little bit of Japan is making its way to every
home in the world.
Japanese animation has had considerable impact on society. Being a worthy participant
in the world market, it has encouraged the growth of commerce on an international
level. Proving itself as an art form to be reckoned with, it has begun the validation
of the animated medium in Western cultures. Recognized as a significant forum
for dramatic expression, it has fostered the growth of the voice acting industry
in the United States. No, anime is not the Japanese word for "cartoons".
Rather, it is nihongo for "a compelling art medium that is known
the world over for its style, versatility, and character."
- ADVID. "anime (thing)". Online posting. everything2.
7 October 2000. Everything Development Company. 20 July 2001. <http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=778444>
- ATESH. "anime (thing)". Online posting. everything2.
17 June 2001. Everything Development Company. 20 July 2001. <http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1082698>
- BOYD, Bobbi. "Dragon Ball Z Is Hot! Irwin Toy's Action Figures
Sure to Please Fans." About.com. 2 May 2001. Irwin Toy press release. 22 July 2001. <http://actionfigures.about.com/library/press/bldbz050801.htm>
- EVANIER, Mark. "A Voice Is A Voice, Of Course, Of Course."
The Comics Buyer's Guide. Krause Publications, 1996.
- PULVER, David L. and Mark C. MacKinnon. Big Eyes, Small Mouth.
Second Edition. Canada: Guardians of Order, Inc., 2000.
- SOUCIE, Kath. "And I Get Paid!?!: The Life of a Voice Actor."
Animation World Magazine. Issue 2.12, March 1998. Animation World Network. 23 July 2001. <http://www.awn.com/mag/2_12soucievoice.html>
- "An Interview With Carl Macek. San Diego Comic Con. July 2000."
About.com. 15 February 2001. 18 July 2001. < http://anime.about.com/library/weekly/aa021501a.htm>
- "Pokemon: The Road To America." About.com. 8 February 2000.
22 July 2001. <http://anime.about.com/library/weekly/aa020800.htm>
Anime (Titles translated to English)
- Bubblegum Crisis.
- Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- Perfect Blue.
- Princess Mononoke..
- Ranma ½ The Movie: Big Trouble In Nekonron, China.
- Robotech: The Macross Saga.
Suggested Anime Websites
- A "Matrix" & "Ghost in the Shell" comparison:
- A. D. Vision Films:
- Anime World Turnpike:
- The Official Robotech Website: