Anime: Amazing window to Japanese culture
- Japan and its cultural introduction through Anime
There is nothing permanent in the universe, everything keeps changing, evolving and over a period of time it is hard to imagine how much things have changed. When India was under the British occupation till 1947, most of the things that Indian were exposed to were only what was allowed by the British rulers. Indians were forced to look away its own rich cultural and historical linkage with East and focus on western culture for learning and advancement. Even after gaining independence, it took us a very long time to acknowledge and strengthen linkage with the countries in the East, more specifically with Japan.
By 1980’s Japan had become an economic powerhouse, the synonym for high end technology in India. Lots of Japanese multinational arrived in India as our economy opened up in 1990’s and with them came the awareness about a lot of things about Japanese culture, its art and entertainment world, which were hidden from us for a long period of time.
World over, Japan has been known for such “high cultural” products as haiku , Zen, and the martial arts, the Japan from 1990s onwards began to develop a new export, animated films and videos-anime, a Japanese abbreviation of the English word “animation”. Anime has now entered the English vocabulary across the world. Through anime Japan has become an increasingly significant player in the global cultural economy – Anime today can be described as Japan’s “chief cultural export” throughout the world. A 1997 cover story in the Japanese version o f Newsweek makes clear, anime’s reach extends around the world . Its products are popular in countries such as Korea and Taiwan, and also in Southeast Asia including India, where the children ‘s animated series are a big hit – Doraemon, Shinchan, Kitrestsu, etc.
Anime has also penetrated Europe, from the United Kingdom, where Akira was a top-selling video in the year after its release, to France, a country not known for its generosity to non-native cultural products , which in the mid 1 990s carried over 30 hours a week of Japanese cartoons, In America, anime’s popularity has grown enormously in the last decade.
India happens to be one of the biggest growing markets in the world for the animation industry. Japan exports between 40 and 70 works of animation films to India. The Japanese animation industry is pitching in a big way to get into the Indian drawing rooms, as it competes with American animation companies which produce cartoons such as the Tom and Jerry.
Japan wants Indian children to watch Sazae-san, Dokaben, Inayusha and other popular animation characters. During an high level interaction in 2012, the then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda took up this matter with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Their joint statement issued after the meeting said the two PMs expressed their expectation that the “strengthening of cooperation in creative industries… animation and manga” would further promote and deepen mutual understanding of the two countries. Addressing the strategic community in Delhi, organised by the Indian Council for World Affairs, Noda said, “Adults may be unaware of it, but I understand that Japanese Anime is quite popular here.”
What is Anime?
To define anime simply as “Japanese cartoons” gives no sense of the depth and variety that make up the medium. Many definitions in the West attempt to explain anime by comparison to American animation, specifically Disney. A story in The Times in 1999 covered anime as a special feature and tried to define what exactly is anime? The article attempted to answer the question by suggesting that in comparison to Disney “anime is a ‘Kind of different’ . . . Anime is kids’ cartoons: Pokemon yes, and Sailor Moon . . . But it’s also post doomsday fantasies (Aki ra), schizo-psycho thrill machines (Perfect Blue), sex and samurai sagas – the works “
While even a few years ago it was known only to small subgroups among science fiction fans , anime is increasingly moving to at least a marginal niche in the mainstream. Whether it will ever be totally integrated into pop culture is still debatable. Indeed, a strong part o fits appeal, as will be seen, is its difference from the Western mainstream. Anime’s influence also extends beyond Japanese exports of actual tapes and video discs to include everything from the Pokemon toy give-away at McDonalds to Kids dressed in Japanese animation character for the school fancy dress competitions.
If anything, Time’s focus on the more extreme visions of anime actually minimizes the variety of the form , since anime also includes everything from animations of children’s classics such as Heidi to romantic comedies such as No Need for Tenchi. Nor do the insistent comparisons with Disney permit the appreciation of the fact that anime does not deal only with what generally the viewers would regard as cartoon situations. Essentially, anime works include everything that audiences are accustomed to seeing in live-action films-romance, comedy, tragedy, adventure, even psychological probing of a kind seldom attempted in recent mass-culture film or television.
It is not surprising, therefore, that animated works are a major part of the output of Japanese studios. Japanese television studios produc e around 5 0 animated series a year and a comparable number of Original Video Animation(OVA). Animated films are also far more important in Japan than in the anywhere else in the world, amounting to “about half the tickets sold for movies. In fact, in 1997 Princess Mononoke (one of my personal favorite anime movies) broke all box office records to become, briefly, the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan , and it remains to this day the highest grossing Japanese film ever.
Unlike cartoons everywhere else in the world, anime in Japan is truly a mainstream pop cultural phenomenon. While rabidly fanatical fans of anime are called by the pejorative term otahu and looked down upon by conservative Japanese society, anime is simply accepted by virtually all the younger generation o f Japanese as a cultural staple. Viewers range from little children watching Pokemon and other child-oriented fantasies, to college students or young adults enjoying the harder edged science fiction of films like Akira and its many descendants , such as the bleak Evangelion series.
Sometimes , as was the case with Princess Mononoke and other films by its director, Miyazaki Hayao, anime cuts across generational lines to be embraced by everyone from children to grandparents.
Images from anime and its related medium of manga (graphic novels) are omnipresent throughout Japan. Japan is a country that is traditionally more picto-centric than the cultures in other parts of the world. Anime and manga fit easily into a contemporary culture of the visual. They are used for education (one manga explains the Japanese economy), adornment (numerous shirts are emblazoned with popular manga and anime personages), and, of course, commercial enterprise.
When the hit television and manga series Sailor Moon was at its most popular in the mid 1990s, pictures of its heroine Serena (Usagi in the Japanese version) peered down ubiquitously from billboards, while Sailor Moon – related accessories – everything from “moon prism power wands” to bath towels – were snapped up by devoted fans o f the series , largely young girls who were attracted by the characters’ unique combination o f cuteness and fantastic powers.
On a more ominous note, Japanese society has on occasion convulsed into what the sociologist describe as a “moral panic” regarding the olanu culture, as it determined anime and manga to be socially unhealthy. The first time this occurred was in the 1980s when a young man accused of murdering four little girls was found to be an avid watcher of violent pornographic anime. The Japanese media, indulging in an orgy of blame-finding for the disastrous sarin gas subway attack in 1995 by the cult group Aum Shinrikyo, claimed that many of Aum’s “best and brightest” followers were also avid fans of apocalyptic scienc e fiction anime. Reasons to study anime within its Japanese context should by now be obvious. For those interested in Japanese culture, it is a richly fascinating contemporary Japanese art form with a distinctive narrative and visual aesthetic that both harks back to traditional Japanese culture and moves forward to the cutting edge of art and media .
Furthermore, anime, with its enormous breadth o f subject material, is also a useful mirror on contemporary Japanese society, offering an array of insights into the significant issues, dreams, and nightmares of the day. But anime is worth looking at for other reasons as well, perhaps the most important being the fact that it is also a genuinely global phenomenon, both as a commercial and a cultural force.
Commercially, it is beginning to play a significant role in the transnational entertainment economy, not only as an important part of the Japanese export market, but also as a small but growing part of the non-Japanese commercial world , in terms of the increasing number of non-Japanese enterprises that deal with anime. These range from small video rental operations in big cities throughout the world to mail order houses up to and including such behemoths as Amazon.com, iTunes (which has a special anime section) and most famously the mammoth Walt Disney Enterprises, which , in 1996, made a deal with Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most well-known animation studio, to distribute its products in America and Canada. To be sure, its international commercial impact is still small compared to the global returns on a successful Hollywood blockbuster, but anime and its related products are increasingly drawing attention from marketers around the world.
Looking at anime as a cultural force is even more fascinating than inquiring into its commercial aspects, as it brings insight into the wider issue of the relationship between global and local cultures in Twenty-First century where the world has come so close to each other, all thanks to the Information Technology Revolution. In a world where American domination of mass culture is often taken for granted and local culture is frequently seen as either at odds with or about to be subsumed into hegemonic globalism , anime, similar to the Bollywood stands out as a site of implicit cultural resistance. It is a unique artistic product, a local form of popular culture that shows clear indications of its Japanese roots but at the same time exerts an increasingly wide influence beyond its native shores .
People raised on western culture of children’s cartoons may find anime’s global popularity surprising. ” the most valuable feature of the concept of culture is the concept of difference”. Certainly one salient aspect of anime, as Time’s disquisition makes clear, is its insistent difference from dominant American popu lar culture.
Anime is different as they do not compromise on the roots that it is based on (Japanese culture). Also it is deferent with regards to narrative style, pacing, imagery, and humor, not to mention emotions and psychology, which usually run a far wider gamut and often show greater depth than American animation.
Anime is uncompromising in other ways as well. Its complex story lines challenge the viewer used to the predictability of Disney (or of much of Hollywood/ Bollywood fare overall, for that matter) while its often dark tone and content may surprise audiences who like to think of “cartoons” as “childish” or “innocent “
Indeed, what appears to be the single most-asked question about anime is, “why is anime so full of sex and violence? ” is an inquiry that, while betraying an ignorance of the complexity and variety of the art form, is still significant in that it reveals the bewilderment o f Western audiences in confronting so-called adult themes within the animated medium. Given its apparently uncompromising “otherness ,” why has anime succeeded so remarkably as a cross-cultural export?
The short answer to this, would have to do with the fact that the medium is both different in a way that is appealing to a audience satiated on the predictabilities of American popular culture and also remarkably approachable in its universal themes and images. The distinctive aspects of anime-ranging from narrative and characterization to genre and visual styles-are the elements that initially capture viewers’ attention (and for some viewers these may be the main keys of attraction) , but for others it is the engrossing stories that keep them coming back for more .
It is also important to emphasize how the visual style of anime is significantly different from mass-audience Cartoons. Japanese animation merits serious consideration as a narrative art form, and not simply for its arresting visual style.
Anime is a medium in which distinctive visual elements combine with an array of generic, thematic, and philosophical structures to produce a unique aesthetic world, Often this world is more provocative, more tragic , and more highly sexualized (even in lighthearted romantic comedies) and contains far more complicated story lines than would be the case in equivalent American popular cultural offerings.
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