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Anime, Ain’t It?

By Janet Houck     January 18, 2007


AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER Complete Book 1
© Paramount

Besides the debate on the legality of fansubs and scanslations, the other question that will crop up in any anime Internet forum is the definition of anime and manga, and whether these terms include animation and comics originating from other countries with an anime/manga style to the artwork. 

Everyone seems to agree what manga and anime is, when it comes to straight-from-Japan entertainment. Branching out from there, the common ground gets shaky. I find that all of the arguments reduce down to syntax and slang. Let’s say that someone says that Avatar the Airbender is anime. By this, they don’t mean, hey, it’s animation from Japan (unless they don’t know that this is a US-made cartoon, which can be understood if Saturday morning cartoons aren’t your usual TV viewing). They’re referring to what it looks like, which is, anime. So instead of saying “Avatar is in that crazy Japanese anime style,” they simplify the sentence down to “Avatar is anime.” 

Manga is a little more fluid with terminology, and the otaku debaters are less likely to jump you for using the wrong terms, such as labeling a manwha (Korean manga-style comics) as manga. Just think of someone calling Planetary a superhero comic. Close, but... so far away. The proliferation of webcomics in the manga style (webmanga?) has eroded the line between the creator’s country of origin and the validity of their creative work as a manga, making the otaku community more open to non-Japanese manga, both online and on the shelves and at conventions. However, both anime and manga are still looking for the right terminology, ones that don’t imply that Japanese media is “better” than non-Japanese products. 

I abide by “anime” being Japanese animation, and “manga” being Japanese comics. (Non-Japanese anime is simply animation inspired by anime, or in an anime style from my perspective.) That isn’t to say that I’m on the radical side of the fence, where any foreign-made comic drawn in a manga style isn’t manga; it’s just a comic, and heaven forbid that they use Japanese culture in their work without being Japanese! (Insert my shock and horror.) Instead, I’m for labeling the English version as original English language (OEL) manga, and other language manga as... well, something along the lines of OEL. The term “world manga” has been tossed around, but nothing has really stuck among the otaku community besides OEL (I have seen the nebulous “original manga” in advertisements before, but that really doesn’t define the comic at all, besides it being an original work, or perhaps untranslated manga reprinted domestically, which frankly, doesn’t make any sense at all). Maybe “Non-Japanese Manga” would be a good term, as that groups everything into two camps: manga, as in Japanese comics; and non-Japanese manga, as in manga-style comics from other counties. 

However, this brings us back to the whole Japanophile problem, where Japanese goods are inherently “better” than non-Japanese ones. In a perfect world, a non-Japanese manga would be seen and taken at face value as the same as a translated Japanese manga. However, OEL manga creators still face stigma of not creating “real” manga, and their books simply not being Japanese. It’s sad to think how many titles go unread on bookshelves simply because they don’t come from the Mysterious Far East of Western fascination. This stigma even applies to non-English language titles, as oftentimes magazines and websites only want reviews of manga, not of manwha (which has been growing over the last few years), and browsing potential customers often see the unfamiliar sound FXs and put the book back on the shelves. 

Anime suffers more from being used as a label for funky animation and artwork by mainstream media, a double-edged sword for otaku. Yes, it’s not right to use the word as an all-encompassing word for TV shows and artwork with big eyes, and a small mouth, but at the same time, this is bringing greater awareness to our hobby, and hey, at least they’re trying to understand. Isn’t that a good start? Mainstream media is getting better at using “anime” for things which actually are anime, as more and more TV channels develop anime and foreign film programming blocks.     

As time goes on, language evolves, taking in new words and developing new meanings for old words. Perhaps we’ll get those new words for anime and manga outside of Japan in 2007. The year is still young. When you venture out into the perilous domain of anime and manga forums, don’t let the purists get you down; remember that everyone has opinions, especially the pompous otaku, and yours are just as right.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 9 of 9
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gamera23 1/18/2007 4:35:26 PM
I've been using the term "anime" interchangably with "animation" over in Anime Avalanche because it's a more graceful word. Also because that's the word they use in Japan for all animation - where anime was totally inspired by cartoons from the USA. So why should we ghettoize something we love so much? Would you NOT cover Avatar in an anime column because it's produced by a US studio? How about Ghost in the Shell? It's just easier not to pick nits. 100 years ago they'd be calling it all "trick films" anyway. _BT
glyph 1/18/2007 4:50:32 PM
See, now I think swapping "anime" and "animation" interchangeably is disrespectful to the folks making animation that isn't anime or anime-style. You're giving them a label on how their creative work should look like. You don't call French comics "comics" -- they're la bande dessinee. Likewise Avatar isn't anime; it's a US cartoon that borrows heavily from Japanese styling, part of the criss-cross of culture (especially in moving pictures) that has been occuring for years. [And thus the debate begins... yet again. ;D]
nadiaoxford 1/18/2007 6:42:21 PM
I agree it's almost disrespectful to "mislabel" non-Japanese cartoons as "anime," simply 'cause it ain't anime. It's not like I believe anime is superior to western cartoons (each has their own merit), but it's just incorrect to call one the other.
michaelxaviermaelstrom 1/19/2007 4:04:46 AM
I find the Japanese Manga producers are actually less anal than American Otaku when it comes to terminology. It's my understanding that they would prefer non-Japanese Manga be perceived _en-quality-par_ with Japanese Manga. It seems very important to them, that non-Japanese Manga isn't looked down upon. Possibly for corporate reasons (all branches eventually lead back to the tree) but also I think because they want to show that they respect other cultures and I think it's also a matter of honour that they not insult other cultures by terminologically implying another culture's variation on manga is somehow inferior. I've used "OEL", I've used "Global", but I find the fallback in my personal vernacular when I want to disambiguate is to append "style" and pronounce it as one word. AnimeStyle, MangaStyle.
gamera23 1/19/2007 1:12:37 PM
This debate over labeling is ridiculous. When Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons were shown in Japan in the 1940s and '50s, they were called anime. One of Hanna-Barbera's top animators (who died this week) was Japanese. The Simpsons is animated in Korea. Animators from the USA, Japan, Korea and Europe have been collaborating on projects since the 1960s. Some time in the 1990s, some fans of Japanese animation started getting snobbish about distinguishing between the "real anime" (that they of course are the elite champions of) and "lesser" cartoons from elsewhere. Well, let's all grow up. All animation today follows techniques invented by Emile Cohl 100 years ago, and they were advertised as "animated cartoons" the first time anyone tried to put a label on them. It's all just drawings given the illusion of movement, so it strikes me as silly that some people that like animation from Japan will fly into a rage if you refer to Evangelion as a cartoon, and somehow feel betrayed if they find out that any of the personel that worked on one of their favorite anime TV shows or movies isn't of purely Japanese blood. So, it's up to you if you want to worry about whether or not you can call a cartoon movie anime. Perhaps you can set up some sort of racial purity test to determine whether a cartoon is anime or not.
DigitalDong 1/19/2007 1:26:07 PM
I'm more concerned about the quality of a book rather than were it came from. Which by the way could be another reason OEL's are sitting on the shelves. There are other terms more important than those. Such as "sellers" and "stinkers".
nadiaoxford 1/19/2007 5:33:32 PM
Yeah, I guess it is a small worry in a big world. Actually, I forgot anything animated is generally referred to as "anime" in Japan, so it's a little silly to get worked up over the American definition of the word. I still have to say I get annoyed at cartoons like "Teen Titans", which are created by people who believe the public's interpretation of anime includes excessive sight gags and speed lines instead of, for example, a decent on-going story. I've not yet seen Avatar, but I hear it's great, especially since it's obviously influenced by anime, but doesn't try to emulate and magnify it.
michaelxaviermaelstrom 1/19/2007 6:20:00 PM
( - DD - ) Yet if you ask the average American netizen to name what introduced/interested them in Manga, probably the most cited influential work in the last 5 years is MegaTokyo, an extremely popular if free American Manga web-comic.
karas1 1/20/2007 9:07:20 AM
"I still have to say I get annoyed at cartoons like "Teen Titans", which are created by people who believe the public's interpretation of anime includes excessive sight gags and speed lines instead of, for example, a decent on-going story." Gotta disagree. Teen Titans wasn't made for adults. It was made for kids. To expect it to show the sophistication of Ghost In The Shell is unrealistic and not what that show is about. I like the characters and I think they have done a good job of realizing the comics' storylines (which I read when they were new). Some of the Japanese stylistic stuff is a little over the top, but I can live with that. It's just a fun show that really isn't made to be taken too seriously.
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