The Complex Impacts of Japanese anime on Western Culture
Although the term anime entered into popular use in the 1970s, it was actually born in the early 1900s as Japanese filmmakers began to experiment with a range of animation techniques developed in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia. In that sense, anime has already heavily borrowed from Western culture, before giving back its own ideas and its own spin on things later on. The oldest known anime in existence is a clip that was first publicly shown in 1917; this is a two-minute excerpt of a samurai attempting to thrust a sword into his opponent, but ultimately failing to win the clash. Pioneers in the anime arena included Shimokawa Oten, Jun’ichi Kouchi, and Seitarō Kitayama.
By the outbreak of WW2, animation had firmly established itself as a popular form of storytelling in Japan. However, it experienced fierce competition from overseas producers and several top animators, such as Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata, continued to operate using cheaper cutout (one approach for creating animations utilising flat characters, props and backgrounds made of paper, card, stiff fabric and even photographs) as an alternative to ‘cel’ animation, which enabled key elements of each frame to be replicated from frame to frame, hence saving labour.
A good example would be a scene with two characters on screen, which features one person talking and the other staying quiet and motionless. Since the latter has no movement, it can be presented in this scene using only one drawing, on one cel, while numerous drawings on multiple cels will be used to dramatise the speaking and moving character. Other movers and shakers in the industry, like Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo, made impressive advancements, particularly with regards to raising awareness of the art at a government level and persuading leading statesmen of its usefulness as a propaganda tool. The very first anime with sound was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka, which was developed by Masaoka in 1933. The first feature length animated film was Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, which was directed by Seo and released in 1945, backed financially by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
However, despite its presence in Axis propaganda, anime owes much to Western animators – especially the famous large-eyed characters! Osamu Tezuka, who is thought to have been the first to start emulating this method, was influenced by caricatures like Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, and Disney’s Bambi. Tezuka felt that using large eyes would help to convey the emotional state of his characters more effectively, to enhance their expressions.
Universally understood themes of good versus evil or admiring the courage of the underdog resonate well with Western audiences. Anime physics, which is astonishingly gravity defying, is at work in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Speed Racer is now a live action film.
The use of dynamic angles and camera effects is another way anime has impacted on western animation. Instead of simply offering a single point of view, anime typically allows for a number of angles for different scenes. Extreme close-ups, zooming in and panning are a few of the animation methods first utilised in anime that have gradually made their way into Western art in recent years. Finally, anime can now be considered part of the mainstream, as it is now regularly screen on popular TV channels like Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Anime Network, Jetix and Animax. In the United Kingdom, there is AnimeCentral.