Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Defines Anime?

As I was perusing the internet yesterday, I ran a cross an article by Chris O'Brien that examined the question of whether or not Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra is anime. He debates back and forth on whether or not anime must be exclusively produced in Japan or if it is more of a blanket term for a general artistic style.  While the author makes no final conclusion, the whole thing did force me to do some thinking.  My knee-jerk reaction to the question of, "Is Korra anime?" is, "Of course not, I like Korra."

I will elaborate on the status of Korra later, but first allow me to explain before I have hordes of anime fans ripping me apart in the comments.  I do not hate anime by any stretch of the imagination (I'm partial to Death Note and Afro Samurai especially), but I have two major complaints about it as a genre.  

First of all, I don't feel that there is enough variation in the art itself.  Granted, there are differences between various series (the works of Miyazaki, Cowboy Bebop, and Sailor Moon all look very different for example), but the fact is that it doesn't take much more than a fleeting glance to look at anime and recognize it as such.  We're over 50 years from Astro Boy and Gigantor and yet the influences of those early anime pioneers is still painfully obvious.  Is there a secret anime rule book somewhere that requires a certain number of tropes and graphical cliches that must be present?

(Video by Derek Lieu)

My next biggest concern is anime fans, at least in the United States.  Don't believe me that they can be problematic?  Post "ANIME SUCKS!" somewhere online and see if your house isn't on fire when you get home.  Many, indeed I'd venture to say most, anime fans are not theses waifu-obsessed weeaboos, and are in fact perfectly normal people. I'm friends with several in fact.  I wish I knew what it would take to get people that fired up about American animation; lord knows it could use the support.  More to the point, their blind obsession drowns out legitimate criticism of the industry, which is hurtful especially now with anime already dying on the vine due to harsh working conditions and loss of revenues from piracy.

Now, having said all of that, is Korra anime?  I would argue that no, it is not.  I would instead say that it is heavily inspired by anime, as are Ben 10, Teen Titans, and several other shows on TV in recent years.  What makes anime anime?  At this point, I think it is largely an argument of semantics.  If it's a style, then those shows are simply American-produced anime.  If you choose the Japanese argument, then no.  The important thing is not to try and define art, but letting artists create works drawn from various influences and enjoying the results of all of their hard work and dedication.  Korra is a fantastic series regardless of what you call it.

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