Anime has influenced the greater world of entertainment by its existence. I have previously noted this effect in the areas of live-action film and animated film. This previous analysis, of course, ignores the most obvious (and in my opinion, the most important) influence: that of animated television.
I broke this post into sections based on the media’s origin area. This lets us analyze a little further the origins of such development.
Note – A lot of my commentary comes from observation. As such, I may state incorrect comments…it’s just what I’ve seen from different media. Discussion is always interesting and I encourage responses if you disagree.
I’m guessing not too many of you would put South Korea as a major influenced animation. As an exporter, you would be right. South Korean originated media is far less common than other major players. But the influence of the world at large on it isn’t negligible. South Korea is a well-known animation exporter and as a result imports animation convention from elsewhere. It’s likely you’ve seen the fruits of their labour too as South Korea animates a great deal of anime and western animation of extremely variant quality. From the infamous Lost Universe train wreck of animation which infamously accumulated into the Yashigani Hofuru episode (an episode so badly animated that the Korean animated version is no longer considered canon) to parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender to holding contracts with such largely known franchises as The Simpsons, it’s likely you’ve seen South Korean animation before. Well, the business of animating other group’s works. South Korean animation, to no surprise, takes from this wide swath of projects. South Korean animation typically utilizes equal amounts of anime convention and Western animation convention.
This is much easier to observe with examples. First up is a new-ish series, Hello Jadoo. I honestly haven’t seen much of this franchise but I’m sure the anime and Western animation influence leaks through screenshots.
These frames make the anime influence quite obvious in this franchise. The super deformed and chibi style proportions, massive visual expression in the face, and very distinct foreground/backgrounds are all very systematic and integrated aspects of anime. But it isn’t all anime: anime heavily relies on sharp contrasting angles. You can see that in the first image. Yet the second image falls more as Western animation. And, much more to the compare to an anime, the show features simplified hair whereas anime gets a massive and well-known reputation for extravagance in that facial aspect. Of course, this doesn’t suggest that anime purely lives and dies off complex and intricate hair, but that this is one of anime’s calling cards.
On the opposite end, we have Aachi and Ssipak, a totally not safe for kids animation.
These frames, especially the latter, call from Western animation greatly. Again, simplified hair is a terrific indicator here. The formation of the character’s mouth and nose as much more visible than in anime, well-known for understating both of these points (heck, the general rules anime style tabletop game named itself Big Eyes, Small Mouth) greatly reflect the Western animation side. Yet signs such as the first frame also reflect the anime angle (with an image style used to the point of parody). The mixture creates an interesting result and South Korean original animation works as a hybrid of both systems.
“Western Animation” Europe
The title is clunky, yes. I can’t speak for all Europe’s animation though as I haven’t seen a great side of it. I’m familiar with the side exported to North America and, as such, will speak to that.
The integration of animated media in Europe deals primarily with borrowing much of the style outright. I’m not sure I can explain this phenomenon at any level as it always seemed strange to me. At any rate, the influences are both visual and trope based. One could consider this almost outright “borrowing” the entire medium of anime as oppose to really merging it with other aspects. That said, it is never a 100% conversion and differences in style remain. But, as I contrast later, the amount of anime dutifully brought into their animation, when called, is much greater.
French cartoon Wakfu first came to mind as I typed the above.
The show highlights that anime styled right right away. Complex and unusual hairstyles litter those images. And yet this not the only place where Wakfu keeps those roots obvious. Character traits frequently note its origin. The character I jokingly describe as a ghost above, named Sadlygrove, rolls many shonen audience anime together…he’s a book dumb, overconfident, fighter who charges in headfirst. I’m not sure how many different young male anime protagonists that describes. Then the character on the far left of the first image, Eva, is an extremely competent fighter who acts as the group’s sanity metre and holds a fairly traditional tsundere personality towards her love interest. This, again, measures very well against common anime trope convention.
Of even more fame, and of personal connection to my own anime history, are the cartoons created by Marathon Media, another French company. While Totally Spies their most famous production, I’ll focus on one I’m much more familiar with as I’m Canadian and the show had enough Canadian effort to meet CRTC requirements (also, it’s just a better example in some areas): Martin Mystery.
Again, the anime influence should come through clearly. Marathon‘s original signature style included a visual style very similar to common anime. The characters reflect a high level of detail to hair, a common eye style (see the first image), and a tendency to turn to super deformed characters at the show’s sillier moments at rates not seen since Rayearth. The second image has nothing on the rest of the show. And much like Wakfu above, Martin Mystery utilizes fairly common anime convention for its target audience (younger males): slightly book-dumb hero and an irritable tsundere female lead. Oh, not to mention a pure love of overplayed emotions such as gushing eyes.
But Martin Mystery also effectively highlights a deviation from the anime style. It’s small and somewhat subtle but effectively reflects the small deviation these anime-styled cartoons contain. The first image shows us an outline of a character’s face. The chin’s style, one which points forward and with a high degree of sharp contrasting angles, is a visual style similar to more Western cartoons. This actually lightens and becomes less notable in later seasons which indicates a shift towards a more anime specific art style.
To get a strong sense of this level of faithful following of anime convention, I’ll contrast it to American animation.
There is a great deal of contrast that animation from Europe exported as “Western animation”. As I mention earlier, the approach is very different; USA approaches anime with an homage” mentality in mind in contrast to European “borrowing”. The common aspects including satirizing the convention (such as gratuitous poor lip syncing) and integrating only certain conventions in. An old example (and I’m sure you can tell by now that I love old examples) comes from Megas XLR. You know, I feel kind of old as I can name this show very easily.
I find Megas XLR is the epitome of American animation in regards to anime as it represents the typical treatment of anime in these shows: the show utilizes elements of the style but not it in its entirety. For example, the premise of Megas XLR is very much aligned with anime. The basic concept is that the protagonists are defending Earth from alien invaders by use of giant robots. Mecha in the animated medium is, by and large, still an anime narrative. I made the description above so general that it actually could describe Evangelion. Or Fafner. Or most apocalyptic mecha anime.
But Megas XLR doesn’t take anything else. It takes a primarily Western setting, namely New Jersey. Also very evident is its more Western animation-styled art which gets even more evident when considering character designs (well, except for the female protagonist). It also takes many character personalities with Western blends. The male protagonist is Coop, a fat slob with no training. And as far as I can remember, none of the above improve. His sidekick, if you’d like to call it that, is another unemployed man with no real consistent positive traits. These are characters fairly distinct from the traditional leading teams compared to anime. Characters with such traits typically develop out of them, even in comparing a comedic lead. The standard “lovable loser” that animated shows love tying themselves to shares change between anime and Western animation; the anime protagonist typically develops. This provides most of the thrust in harem protagonists (and I mean most as there are exceptions) and provides the development of Shinji Ikari, probably the most famous “can’t catch a break” anime protagonist I can imagine. Now, this difference’s existence could stem from cultural differences as Welcome to the HNK and Watamote provide examples possibly closer to the traditional Western animation, but then I’d consider that Western animation flavours itself in the routine comedy…the repeated episodes day after day. Either option is quite possible and distinguishes itself from anime, a medium with more fluidity and possibly less episodic nature.
Which, of course, leads us to the possibility of more serious Western animation. Does such a topic exist greatly? It’s more difficult to find answers but this standard hybridization seems to exist. I pulled from Xiaolin Showdown, a program oriented with a slightly-serious-but-slightly-children oriented show.
A similar situation appears where the show only pulls from aspects of anime. As the second picture attests to, it also calls on the overreaction and visual comedy in anime. This actually exists as the show’s standout in the regard (from what I recall – it’s been years since I’ve viewed the show). Yet it also calls on more Western character development. The characters fall into Western cycles, such as a man who typically doesn’t get upset unless you disturb his clothing, and an arrogant and haughty master of martial arts (and Asian to boot!).
Are their higher target audience examples? The 10-20 audience typically encompass the focus audiences of the above two shows. Well, less so. Unfortunately, Western animation carries stigma of “child things”. It’s rare and difficult to admit fandom of Western animation as an older individual. It’s rare to break that stigma and the companies play up on it by rarely, if ever, testing mature Western animations. It’s difficult to find comparable animation projects to some anime as a result.
Of course, all these rules are by no means hard and fast. It’s very easy to come up with exceptions. Franchises such as Avatar (well, the television series) and Teen Titans would contrast against the trends listed above, both being extremely similar in trope usage and animation style to more traditional anime. Communities tend to acknowledge Avatar: The Last Airbender in this regard though and groups sometimes lump that fandom in with anime fandom.
And as the final topic, I want to bring the topic full circle and discuss how anime’s opening to the world influences anime. Change in the medium is impossible to deny and it’s unfair to think of anime as only influencing and not influenced by such exchange. Like many examples above, considering case studies are easier as, obviously, there are still no solid rules or total shifts…just examples.
The most famous I know of its Cowboy Bebop‘s premise, which borrows the Western genre very heavily. This almost borrows completely from the USA styled semi-borrowing of style; Cowboy Bebop is carefully and meticulously anime in art form but borrows many narrative tropes from anime. True…it hold enough different genres that one of them must have Western origins, but the narrative of an “old West” space narrative distinctly draws the “old West” part from American culture.
Probably of even more Western animation style though is The Big O.
This anime is very unique as it borrows heavily from the Batman franchise. I’m sure it’s plainly obvious in the image above but the male protagonist, Roger Smith, parallels Bruce Wayne in many regards. Lots of toys, an insanely exquisite car, and a no guns policy. Yup, that’s pretty much Batman. The show as a whole is an incredible blend of the two styles, mixing the traditional concepts of anime (such as the female character above, R. Dorothy Wayneright, holding many traits similar to the ever-popular Rei Ayanami) but also giving a heavy Western animation and cultural injection. Animation certainly borrows from both animation styles, giving Dorothy a distinctly anime image with a lack of focus on mouth or nose to contrast with Roger Smith’s hybrid appearance (borrowing heavily from the studio’s last project of Batman: The Animated Series). Then there are the aforementioned Batman lines and the film noir influences with many of the artistic choices coming straight from this genre.
And ultimately, this is where I hope anime goes. These hybrids, these mixtures of cultures, are some of my favourite media ever. This reaching between styles gives wildly unique results and, while obviously not all of them well succeed, the uniqueness makes interesting results. Experimentation, such as The Big O above, creates inventive media.
But I digress, this post intends to describe the different ways anime influences the world’s artistic choice in animated television. The four focuses included animation from South Korea, select Europe (again, only the ones I’ve seen myself), North America, and Japan itself. The international exchanges create a straight up direct mixture in South Korea, gets some wholesale borrowing in some European animation, and creates a blend in both North American and Japanese animation.
As this writing project wraps up, I must admit that I never really expected to complete it. There are so many different rabbits to chase in the discussion that I intentionally limited my writing and length to prevent posts of insane length. This one is by far the longest (reaching around 2500 words). I know I haven’t touched on a great deal of subjects here and maybe a further, more detailed discussion comes up in the future. Until then though, I hope this sparks a little discussion on the influence (and future of) anime.