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Semantics, and why Anime is American. July 19, 2007

Posted by bettynoire in anime, community, ranting.
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I’ve seen a bunch of these type of posts lately, trying to define things, even more than just these two, but today was the final straw. If I were a wittier person, ala Alexander Pope or a certain Mr. Swift, I might feel compelled to write an essay on how the current use of some incredibly common term, such as “like” or “as” has been bastardized in it’s modern usage and how we should either come up with new words to replace them in their new form or solidify the old, correct definition. Because damn, language evolving and changing is such a pesky thing, especially when everyone still knows what you mean anyway.

In all honesty, the questions surrounding genre labels and terminology within mediums have always been a source of debate, in large part to the fact that people’s brains favor certain words in ways that other people don’t. Thus one person using a word to describe something may sound incredibly wrong to you, just because you wouldn’t use the same term. Now, what I mean isn’t something like, one person describes a soda as sweet and the other salty, but rather like if one person were to call the soda bubbly, and the other person to say it was carbonated, and a third to say it was effervescent. Now imagine all three of those get in a huge fight because they claim all three of those things are not an accurate description of the soda — this is what reading these blogs feels like to me. It’s semantics. Aka the most retarded argument in the world. It is, I give, a bit trickier when it comes to talking about abstract concepts or names/titles because at least with soda we all feel the same sensation that is, essentially, bubbliness, effervescence, AND carbonation. A fight wouldn’t break out over describing it that way because we all feel and experience the same thing, which is based on a physical sensation.

—————

I’ll respond specifically to Bateszi’s blog here, because his issue is semantics, but it’s also a bit more complicated than that. The question of what is anime is a dangerous one because an anime fan does not want to admit they watch cartoons. Cartoons are low class… anime is foreign and therefore classy. Adding Americans to the background of making an anime is a dangerous idea, because Americans make cartoons. The problem here, is once again… semantics. Mixed with a weird sort of backwards xenophobia… instead of being afraid of foreigners, you loathe the remnants of your own nation in favor of being a complete fanboy (xenophile) for another. Annoyingly common among the more retarded anime fans, but apparently, not absent from the more intelligent ones either — at least in trace form. I’m going off an a tangent here — back to my topic.

Anime breeds this sort of mentality because it’s the animated medium being used to tell stories that aren’t necessarily for children. Americans have this mentality that cartoons are for kids, but Japan defies that sort of mindset. Yeah there’s anime for kids, but it doesn’t have to be. Thus anime gets held up as this entirely separate thing when frankly — it really isn’t. Cartoons aren’t necessarily only enjoyed by children, even the American made ones. And it’s not like other countries necessarily believe that animated films are only for children either… take for example the Triplettes of Bellville, a French animated film. Or even any of the Disney movies. Frankly, the only thing that defines the kids medium is a bit less violence, and watered down sexuality (“girls like boys but not in detail thankyouverymuch”.) A kid’s show isn’t bad because it’s a kid’s show — it’s bad because it’s a crap story. Children can still be entertained by it much the same as a new fan of horror films will start out liking even the terrible ones. They haven’t formed their taste yet.

People who deem anime as separate from cartoons are in denial of the fact that anime can often be just as crap as any American animated show. Many of them are. The distinction here is not at all in the word, but in the countries acceptance of the animated medium. Anime is not “Japanese cartoons.” They’re cartoons that are not necessarily made for children. Any country can make them, and many countries have. The Americans brought on board to write for The 5 Killers likely had a story that could not be marketed to the average American audience because American’s have that stigma of cartoons being only for children. And hell no would the PTA back down from burning some crosses at making a cartoon about a bunch of Killers and assassins. Thus they teamed up with Japanese people to make something that a receptive audience would enjoy — anime fans. Anime is not Japanese. Anime is a diverse perspective in the animated medium. It just so happens that that happens a lot with Japanese cartoons.

At least that’s how I think of it.

p.s. This totally applies to Manga, too.

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Comments»

1. hidoshi - July 19, 2007

Not sure what you made of my post, but I do indeed insist that anime is no different from cartoons. Cartoons are not necessarily “for children” either. Fritz the Cat certainly wasn’t, nor was Who Framed Roger Rabbit — though the latter is infinitely more family-friendly. Anime as a /style/ refers to cartoons made with Japanese influence, more specifically from Japan but as we can see, globalisation is negating that.

Children’s cartoons are things like Hello Kitty and The Smurfs. A teenager’s cartoon is something like Thundercats or Gundam Wing. And an adult’s cartoon (here not implying sexual content) is something like The Yellow Submarine or Tokyo Godfathers.

While animation has had a more juvenile context to work within as far as North America is concerned, this is not true the world over. If we are to call something “anime”, it does not imply something NOT intended for children, so that definition is useless too. Anime is, as far as regular use should be concerned, something influenced by Japanese animation, or Japanese animation itself. It is then attached to perhaps a pornographic, adult, teenage, or child following which is a category of genre. Of course there are many other technicalities to be concerned with, such as if it’s an action film, a drama, or a comedy, and so on.

Anime is quite Japanese. It is influenced by (and largely taken from) early American animation, but it IS Japanese. Therefore we cannot say that Treasure Planet is anime, it is an American cartoon for teenagers — for which we have no more concise a term. To say otherwise is to deny the essence of the title. It is one thing to expand a definition, it is another to abandon its spirit altogether.

2. That’s Not Kanon » [Anime] Terminology and its Evolution - July 19, 2007

[…] the case where I have discussed genre, category, etc — anything to do with terminology, the general rebuttle has been that we do not need to qualify language with definitions in sight of the fact that it is […]

3. bateszi - July 19, 2007

I’m a little bothered that you’re throwing around of words like xenophobia. Putting aside the fact that I’m not American (and not a resident of the US), it’s a semantic issue; so, it’s nothing to do with “purity” or whatever other sub-Nazi buzz word jumps to mind. I couldn’t care less about the origins of what I’m watching; as long as it’s good, that’s all the matters. It just so happens that I love anime, which in the English language, is classified separately from “cartoons” and is used specifically to describe Japanese animation.

Obviously, in this day and age, such a strict definition that’s based on geographical boundaries is a little redundant, but at the same time, there is a reason why I’m an anime fan, a feeling or a style of storytelling that’s distinct to Japanese artists. Anime itself is spreading the world over, it’s now an aesthetic “style”, but for so many fans, the original attraction must be directly related to it’s unique Japanese sense of direction, characterization etc. This is where the semantic issues come in, but I’ve already said enough, ultimately, our language will evolve as society changes.

4. bettynoire - July 19, 2007

@ Hidoshi: I actually wasn’t disagreeing with your post at all. The only reason I linked to your post was because it was an example of the semantics/definition type posts that have been rampant in the community of late — a trend which bothers me because it feels as though it lacks actual discussion. I went into a bit more depth in regard to that in my comment on your entry (apologies this one comes late… I only just figured out how to moderate comment — comments I didn’t even know existed, actually >.<…) so hopefully I’ve made myself a bit clearer in that respect. The topic of Anime being not American is something I also addressed in my comment on your entry, buuut to be clearer I’ll elaborate a bit.

My emphasis was more on anime in so far as storytelling, what separates it as a medium from the approach that other countries take with their animation. While the visual style is the most recognizable trait of anime, I feel it’s superficial to believe that’s the only thing that can define it, since even that style has grown and changed over time as technology has allowed and, in ways, facilitated. What I was trying to do was not define what anime is, but rather explore why the perspective people take in regard to it is so very different than other animated mediums. And that is not because it is Japanese, and not because it looks different, but rather because it’s spirit is different. Anime is more diverse in the range of stories it feels fit to tell. It’s difference in spirit, however, is often overshadowed by it’s visual style, or it’s ‘nationality’, both, I feel, are only small pieces of what makes it such a great thing.

@Bateszi: I apologize if my use of the word xenophobia came off as an attack — it was only brought up as a sort of tangent about how anime fans tend to go all “Japan is the best!” and anything outside of that is an unacceptable abomination. I didn’t think you were being the case I was describing of this at all, though your declaration of needing a new word because an American wrote it and other such things triggered the thought process. It was really just a tangent, and wasn’t intended as insult. 8I actually agree with much of what you’ve said in this comment, and in your post, my only issue is that the names for things, to me, are wholly irrelevant, as long as the spirit of them stay the same. Hence my ranting on semantics.

5. nirai kanai » Anime - Why can’t the world just be simple? - July 19, 2007

[…] response to Bateszi’s post, ensuing argument and commentary, I have but one question to ask, “Why can’t the world just be […]

6. Xerox - July 19, 2007

Oiy, you had a different theme the last time I was here. O_O

7. bettynoire - July 19, 2007

Lol, well I decided since people were actually reading my blog I should spruce it up instead of being lazy. :-p


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