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Japanese Animation Essay, Research Paper

Thirty-five years ago, Japan s entertainment industry found an answer to its problems. Still developing in the aftermath of defeat in World War II, and the subsequent restructuring plan instituted by the United States, Japan was without surplus resources. There was no money for the production of films. American films soon began invading the Japanese entertainment industry. Yet the Japanese people longed for entertainment which would reflect their own culture. And so animation…developed in Japan to fill the void of high-budget film-making (Marin, 69). In the years that followed, animation would take a pop-cultural foothold in Japan that has grown and transformed, and yet exists today. Even with the onset of increasing economic fortitude, animation continued to flourish within Japan s entertainment industry. The creative possibilities of animation s unparalleled visual story-telling capacities had been discovered by Japanese filmmakers, and would continue to be exploited into the present age.

Japanese animation, more commonly referred to as anime, or Japanimation, has somewhat different origins than western animation. Where animation developed to entertain European and American children through comedic exploits, anime was created to entertain wider audience groups. Indeed, one might find difficulty in characterizing all anime together; the Japanese have viewed animation as a medium of creation rather a form of entertainment limited in audience and expression. Anime is included in a group from which the United States has traditionally banned animation; specifically, anime is considered a form of creative expression, much as are literature, modern art, live-action films, and other arts. A man by the name of Osamu Tezuka first envisioned animation s possibilities in Japan in the 1960s (Ledoux, 1). Tezuka realized the power animation could

lend to story-telling, and produced a myriad of animated films and television programs from which modern-day anime has made its genesis. At first heavily influenced by Disney s animation, Tezuka s animation soon transcended the confines within which American animation had placed itself. Tezuka can be credited today with being the first to produce animation for a sophisticated audience. Osamu Tezuka adapted comics, the most popular form of entertainment in Japan, to his animation. Tezuka was a creative dynamo whose comics tackled nearly every possible subject: science fiction, action/adventure, romance, horror, and adult drama, creating a readership which encompassed nearly every possible age group (Ledoux, 2). When he began producing animation, it too was varied in subject matter. Keeping with Tezuka s creative process, nearly all animation in Japan has been derived from comics, which are known there as manga. This tradition for the most part still exists today.

In the present age, anime is extremely popular in Japan and abroad. In Japan itself, anime constitutes approximately sixty percent of all television programming (Ed Goodwin, president of CA West). In Europe and Asia, Japanese animation has been widely accepted as well (DUinfo). One anime property, known as Sailormoon…moves $250 million a year in tie-in toys world wide five times the U.S. sales for the once mighty Power Rangers (Karp, 36).

Only one type of animation in the world can stand comparison to the nation of Japan s animation as a whole: the animation of Disney. Disney animation is generally regarded to be the world s most technically superior animation. But is Disney animation of superior quality to anime? Comparing the patrons of these two groups of animation, Walt Disney and Osamu Tezuka is like comparing Rembrandt to da Vinci. Both pairs have been aknowledged as masters in their respective fields. Rembrandt and da Vinci were painters, Disney and Tezuka were animators. However, the creative processes of the individuals within each pair are vastly different. Like Rembrandt, Disney had a studio of artists; much of the animator s work was produced by others under his limited supervision and then given his signature. Tezuka on the other hand, was a renaissance man like da Vinci; Tezuka produced all of his own work, and was a master of multiple topics and genres as opposed to Disney s one (i.e. family entertainment ). These comparisons hold true for modern day anime and Disney animation.

In addition, Disney has greater resources than anime. According to Carl Macek, who has been responsible for the American importation of various anime titles including Robotech and Akira, Disney spends on average eight times more money to produce a feature-length animated film than does the typical Japanese animation studio (Matsumoto, 72). Considering Disney s enormous resources, compairing a Disney animated film to the average anime might seem indecorous; and yet, an intimate connection has been drawn between Disney and Japanese animation by anime fans of late.

When American animation fans familiar with anime made their way to theatres during the summer of 1994 to see Disney s current animated feature they were shocked. The Lion King seemed to a direct plagiarization of Osamu Tezuka s Jungle Taitei, meaning Jungle Emperor (known in the U.S. as Kimba, the White Lion ) an animated venture predating the former by nearly twenty-five years. In the years since, discussions considering the possibility of such an impropriety have appeared in such American publications as Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, as well as a plethora of anime fanclub newsletters and animation magazines. Trish Ledoux, author of The Complete Anime Guide: Japanese Animation and publisher of the magazine Animerica best described the similarities between the two films that have upset fans:

In 1994, Disney studios released the theatrical animated feature The Lion King which, although promoted as an original story was perceived by many anime buffs to be more than a little beholden to Tezuka s Kimba, the White Lion. Both stories are tales of young male lions whose fathers are done in by the trencher of a nefarious older male relative ( Scar in the Disney version, Claw in Tezuka s); both include anthropomorphic talkative parrots( Zazu in Disney s, Coco in Tezuka s); both provide wizened baboon sages for their young protagonist(Disney s Rafiki, Tezuka s Mandy the Mandrill ), not to mention the cackling evil hyena henchmen; both feature morale-boosting visages of ghostly patter lions in the clouds above [Ledoux, 16].

Manga artist Machiko Satonaka circulated a petition demanding that Disney acknowledge its debt to Tezuka; with over 400 signatures, eighty percent of which came from fellow artists, the petition was sent to Disney (Ledoux, 39). Disney issued a statement that none of their animation staff had ever heard of Kimba, the White Lion or Tezuka, despite a statement from Simba (The Lion King s lead character) voice actor Matthew Broderick claiming that he thought he was being cast for a remake of Tezuka s classic.

Whether or not anime has directly influenced Disney s animation, Japanimation aficionados agree that overall, Japanese animation is superior to American animation. Anime fans may not be aware of the methods of production involved with animation, and its finished quality; nevertheless, anime s superior utilization undoubtedly contributes to what is liked about Japanese animation better than American animation. Most of those familiars with anime realize that it is of a more sophisticated nature than is animation of the U.S. And anyone who has watched Japanese animation will bear witness to the fact that it must appeal to a wider variety of audiences than American animation. But a fraction of anime s collective qualities, these characteristics establish the core of its transcendence of America s animation.

Japanese animation is produced with care and quality unseen by American animation. A number of aspects of animation production lend exemplary evidence of Japanimation s superiority. Foremost among these is the usage of modern technology in the process of animation. In this, the computer age, animation technology most certainly encompasses the use of computers to enhance animation. Anime does not simply use computer effects though. Instead it assimilates computer effects into hand-painted frames of animation, resulting in a symbiosis of fluid color and movement. Computer animation is by nature very different from hand-painted animation; a disparity in the smoothness of movement and the visual texture of computer and hand-painted animation exists that makes the incorporation of one into the other a difficult process. In order for the process to be achieved smoothly, the animators involved must be masters of both arts. Japanese animators have mastered this incorporation process, and achieve it in a manner that does not appear contrived. Today s cutting-edge Japanese directors haven t neglected computer animation as an option…they ve worked to incorporate it into traditional cel-based features to create even more startling effects (Goodwin). By contrast, American animation typically does not utilize computers, and when it does, the computer effects tend to be utilized inappropriately, in a choppy manner that interferes with the animation. Photography, essential to the animation process, also presents an example of anime s superior utilization of technology. A recent technique used by Japanese animators to enhance their work has been to photograph three-dimensional models in order to add an element of realism to animation backgrounds. This technique brings Japanese animation to a whole new level; it allows the viewer to imagine that the animated story s courses of events are proceeding in a conceivable setting. Three-dimensional model photography has been pioneered by Japanese animators and is yet to be seen at all in American animation (Pollack, 32). American animators generally do not experiment with such creative uses of technology. For this reason, Japanimation tends to have a cutting-edge quality that is not associated with American animaton. In an artform that is primarily hand-painted though, the painting technology itself is quite important. The Japanese make use of airbrushes more commonly and effectively than do Americans in animation (DUinfo). This of course adds an aesthetic quality to anime generally not achieved in American animation.

Beside Japanese animation s technical superiority is its excellent choice of music. Anime strives for pleasing audio presentations to accompany animation s inherent visual spectacle where American animation usually does not. Nearly all of Japan s musical superstars at one time or another contribute to an animation soundtrack. Whether producing theme or background music, Japanese musical artists take seriously the task of providing music to be set to animation. In fact, animation is one of the main facets of Japan s music industry (Goodwin). In America, an artist producing music for a relatively low-budget animation such as a television episode would be unheard of; in Japan however, this is a usual practice. With professionals who have devoted their lives to music production contributing to Japanese animation, anime generally sports music of a quality unmatched in American animations in the same, or even a close budget range. The Japanese singer Shinya Sadamitsu, who was widely popular in Japan for her vocal talents before lending her voice to animation, voices the lead character of Priss for the television series Bubblegum Crisis, and sings the theme song as well. Japanimation s music is so well liked that it maintains popularity unrelated to the animation itself. Animation fans, known in Japan as otakus, as well as music lovers unfamiliar with the animation buy albums of Bubblegum Crisis music, several of which have been released (Karp, 40). When music that is popular enough to sustain an audience on its own is combined with high quality animation, anime s superiority over American animation stands out. Such popularity of soundtrack music is virtually unseen in American television, and particularly so in the field of animation.

Perhaps most important to Japanimation s superior production methods is the amount of individual care paid by the Japanese to individual frames of production. This feature of animation production constitutes a truly stark contrast between Japanese and American animation. Japanese animators produce all of their own work in their own studios as opposed to obtaining individual frame animation art from overseas, as is the typical case for American animation. As a result, anime has more carefully produced frames of animation, painted by the hands of the artists whose inspirations become animation. Also as a result, Japanese animators have, over the years, developed their own techniques of frame production. For example, Japanese animators use a variety of camera angles. Ed Goodwin illustrates such ciematic effect in his description of Japanese animated television:

A Japanese animated TV show…absolutely overflows with tracking-shots, long-view establishing shots, fancy pans, unusual point-of-view camera angles and extreme close-ups. In contrast, most American produced TV animation tends to thrive in an action-obsessed middle-distance. Rarely in an American production do you ever see a significant director s influence on the finished toon. [Goodwin]

Such imaginitive cinematography augments the graphic presentation of anime to provide the element of realism. Another aspect of animation frame production that is superior in Japanimation to American animation is the use of color. American animation is characterized by the exclusive usage of a flat, bright color. Anime has realized the potential of color in such a graphic visual medium, and so makes use of a variety of coloring styles in order to fully make use of visual story telling. To the Japanese animator, color is a cinematic tool, and is utilized to achieve creative effect. Finally, the superior quality of Japanese animation production can be witnessed on a quantative basis, to a point, based on the actual number of animation frames used. While American animation uses on average twenty-four frames per second ( Animation, 918), anime typically animates frames at thrice this rate(Goodwin).

If the production of Japanimation lends to its audiovisual superiority over American animation, then the sophistication in artistic expression of anime story lines contributes to its intellectual preeminence. Gaining immediate notice in this is the fact that Japanese animation freely embraces a range of topics much more cosmopolitan than any observed in American animation. Unlike American animators, the Japanese are unafraid to treat socially and culturally relevant topics in their work. Japanese animation often focuses on such subjects as historical nonfiction. A recent example of one such animated film is Barefoot Gen, an animated feature documenting the horrific experiences of a young survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II (Matsumoto, 72). The plot of the film is set entirely in the aftermath of the bombing, and concentrates on telling the mental and emotional experiences Gen has as the only surviving member of his family. Themes used frequently by Japanese animators also include commentary on perceived societal problems. The peril of technology is a commonly touched upon motif within Japanese animated films (Karp, 39). Another subject matter used in anime is popular culture. The animated Ah, My Goddess is based around the pressures placed on Japan s youth. In summary, Japanese animation does not restrict itself the way American animation tends to. Throughout Japanimation are themes, motifs, social commentary and generally more intellectual subjects than exist anywhere at all in American animation. This presence of sophisticated topics in anime unseen in animation of the U.S. is expounded upon in New York Times journalist Andrew Pollack s comparison of animation storylines:

Disney and American animation has built a tradition upon striving for perfectly preserved, stiflingly safe fairy-tale stories…whereas Japanese animation pushes for a sense of immediacy, unafraid to be dated, unafraid to surf the fashion of its era [Pollack, 32].

Japanese animation also proves itself worldlier than American animation with story lines that are longer, more developed, and more realistic. A structural disparity between the formats of Japanese and American animation can be found in the fact that Japanese story lines tend to be more developed, and so require a greater space in which to introduce and create original characters, plot lines, settings, and drama. Due to this necessity, Japanese cartoons are not in the American format of self-contained, interchangeable episodes (DUinfo). They instead follow one huge progressive serialization. With this demand that the viewer have a greater attention span than is required for the following of American animation story lines, anime admits to treating subject matter of a more involved, more sophisticated nature. Story content of Japanese animation also is nearly always at times more dramatic than of American animation. In other terms, Japanimation transcends purely visual entertainment. By contrast, American animation does not rely on the strength of individual, self contained episode story lines for success in its field. American animation does not attempt to capture audiences through the use of sophisticated story lines.

Japanese animation is, moreover, diverse in overall content where American animation is stagnant. Japanese animation may combine a number of features unseen at all in American animation. For instance, concepts seeming bizarre in relation to American animators subjects, and American entertainment in general such as genetically engineered telepathic, techno-organic viruses that plague post-apocalyptic war-torn societies, in addition to complex personal relationships between the main characters (Ledoux, 27) are made manifest in anime. Japanese animation is the only medium in which diverse topics are typically followed within the same presentation (Goodwin). Plot lines, which would never be followed within the same story in the realm of American animation, are combined in a manner that seems natural in Japanese animation. Similarly, genres are highly diverse in Japanese animation, and may be grouped in ways unseemly in appearance but that click together perfectly under Japanese story-telling direction. Sci-fi may be combined with romance, or horror with drama. Story complexity the likes of that which is possessed by anime remain wholly not apparent in American animation. This sophistication has thus far remained far out of the grasp of American animation.

If anime s claim to overall superiority over American animation is demonstrated by its superior visual production and sophisticated, diverse story lines, then it is exemplified by the variety of audiences for which Japanese animation holds appeal. Japanese animation is subject-intensive, and thus attracts the interest of certain highly defined groups. American animation on the other hand tries to lump together as wide a sphere of interest around a work as possible in order to obtain the maximum possible audience. As a result, American animation usually abandons specific topics, and almost invariably turns to the tried and tried again slapstick comedy routine. Shooting for a less mature audience, American animation might devote effort as well to a genre of ridiculous action and cult-popularity phenomena such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze of a few years back. In any case, radical experiments are rarely attempted. Japanese animation operates under no such inhibitions. Japanimation, no matter what the specific subject or genre, frequently spends at least some development on the exploration of human relationships. This automatically attracts more mature audiences, though it might turn off the fans seeking more frivolous entertainment. Controversial topics, such as violent crime are not shied away from by Japanese animators because of lack of toy marketability, as in American animated works. The Japanese animated feature, Rape Man discusses not only the effects of the crime on its victims, but the psychosis of the victimizer as well (Ledoux, 76). This film might attract the attention of a psychoanalyst, a parent, a teacher, a student, or any other fascinated by the stories probing the human psyche. Thinking of such diverse topics in terms of American animation is almost absurd, as American animators at large have never attempted portraying stories even within the scope of remote similarity. In the same theater as Rape Man might be a film about love in human relationships, such as in Kimagure Orange Road. This of course could attract a wholly different audience. American animation would most likely fail to attract either of these audiences, as well as a variety of others that patronize animated films in Japan regularly.

Japanese animation itself is a much broader term than American animation; anime contains many genres unseen in American animation. The Complete Anime Guide: Japanese Animation lists the following major genres for Japanese animation: horror, adult-comedy, romance, romance-comedy, war, and postapocalyptic cyberpunk (Ledpoux, 65-73). In fact, anime also includes some genres not seen at all, or hardly seen at all in any American media. At the forefront of these is sh jo, a uniquely Japanese form of soap-opera (Marin, 69). Also, another genre unfamiliar to the U.S. is that which has been growing in popularity in Japan recently. This as yet has no name, but might be termed surreal fantasy (Ledoux, 42).

The most important way that anime s audience varies though is in age. American animation is, by and large, sharply limited by society to young children. The reason for this is that nearly all the animation that has come out of the U.S. until recently has been of a childish nature. American animation is for the most part aimed at a juvenile audience. Japanese animation knows no such constraints. Japanese animation caters to an audience as diverse as anime s subject matter. Whereas most American viewers of animation are within the narrow age margin of four to ten, Japanimation knows no age boundaries:

Japanese animation focuses on the same age group as most American (non-animated films): 14-30 years of age. However, it contains works dedicated to a wide range of age groups (i.e. young children, older children, pre-teens, adolescents, the middle aged, and even in some cases the elderly [Duinfo].

This fact makes anime almost incomparable to American animation. The term American animation is in truth much more specific than Japanese animation. Whereas the classification of films as animated seems appropriate in the U.S., this is not so in Japan. Referring to Japanese animation as a generalization is much like referring to American television would be. American television shows vary to greatly too truly be used to gather as a group; so too do Japanese animated works. One must point out though that the age group aimed at by American animation constitutes a minority of anime audiences. As one thirty-six-year-old American fan named Frank Koch recently said in a Newsweek article, you can only take so much of Disney s cute, fuzzy animals (Marin, 70). Japanese animation offers something for everyone. The fact that Japanese animation appeals to such a wider variety of audiences than American animation stands testament to the fact that anime is indeed superior. In many countries the world over, other than Japan, Japanese animated films are popular and even compare favorably with Disney. Japanese animated TV shows have found their way to success on television in various countries other than Japan (including the U.S.); American animation has not made this accomplishment for the most part. There can be no greater proof than the simple knowledge that more people worldwide prefer Japanese animation.

Japanese animation s superiority to American animation is becoming more and more evident. Anime has been in the process of invading the American marketplace over the last several years. Japanimation can be seen daily on American television, and is replacing slots that previously held American animation, for example. A variety of Japanese animated television programs have been dubbed in English and are being shown on American television. The list of these includes, but is not limited to Dragonball, Sailormoon, and Robotech (the latter in reruns). In the past year alone, several titles have reached syndication on American television, including Tekknoman and Ronin Warriors. Certain American channels have become very receptive to Japanese animation. These include the United Paramount Network, the Sci-fi channel, and the Cartoon Network (Ledoux, 43). During summer and fall of 1995, there have been reports in Newsweek, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Hollywood Reporter that anime is finally being accepted on American TV (Ledoux, 13). Michael Jackson used clips from the Japanese animated Akira in his music video, entitled Scream (Marin, 69). Japanese animation video sales have taken off in the past two years in American. No longer considered to only support a cult-following anime videos generated some seventy-five million dollars in the U.S. last year alone. Large chains of stores such as Blockbuster Video and Tower Records and Video sell and rent Japanimation on video and laser disc. This has brought anime within nearly everyone s reach. Japanese animation has even begun to exert its influence on American animation. A recent Newsweek article interview of the creators of MTV s Aeon Flux divulged the information that the show s animation is heavily anime-based.

Some types of anime have recently attained a more popular following in America than in Japan, such as the adult series of films entitled Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend (Marin, 70). American otakus like anime s cutting edge animation, effects, and storylines (Ledoux, 12). Anime may be finally taking off here because America is finally catching up to Japan s post-industrial society (Pollack, 32). For whatever reason, Americans have come to realize Japanese animation s superiority over American animation. In fact, most do not even consider the two comparable. Japanimation has proven its quality on various levels, and certainly deserves the respect it is beginning to receive.

Japanese animation is superior to American animation in form and content. Fans prefer anime s audiovisual presentation. Fans thrill to Japanimation s action, and become enthralled in its story lines. Japanese animation has proven itself superior not only to American animation, but also to animation the world over, and today anime is starting a revolution in the idea of animation as a hobby. A multitude of fresh, exciting adventures that have until present remained unexperienced in the United States wait overseas. If Japanese animation is given a warm enough reception in the years to come it could provide entertainment for many walks of American society.

Trish Ledoux s sentiment regarding anime is perhaps most significant in the comparison of Japanese animation to American animation:

In technique, style, and above all, maturity…[sic] – Japanese animators have long since gone where no American animators have gone before. They ve gone beyond. [Ledoux, 14]

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