Defining Anime

by criticalhit009

Geoff from Mother’s Basement made a new video recently critiquing how we current define anime, and what definition(s) we should take moving forward. I find the idea of anime as a series of movements interesting. I also like his point of how we can get more people talking about animation in its various forms. I do think, however, that his conceptualization of anime itself as a movement has some problems. A lot of what I disagree with I’ve articulated in my two-part series What is Anime, but I’ll take some time to expand upon a few points I disagree with.

One problem is that the idea that anime is a collectively agreed upon movement is not true in Japan. Creators like Hayao Miyazaki, Kuri Yoji, Furukawa Taku, and Aihara Nobuhiro express their disdain for anime, which for them means television animation in Japan. You can read more about that in the open access article  “To Be or Not to Be – Anime: The Controversy in Japan over the “Anime” Label” by Sheuo Hui Gan.

There are also contexts that can get lost if anime is conceptualized as one giant movement. The big eyed aesthetic is something that has historical and political contexts emerging from the beginnings of television animation in Japan. The “big eyes” come from Tezuka, who got them from Disney comics during the occupation. The fact that the fattened, big eyes aesthetic is then taken back to America is a fascinating cultural flow that I think gets lost when the discourse of anime is changed to a movement rather than a locus of production centred in Japan. Another important piece of knowledge lost is how stylistic cost cutting is something that emerged from a political and economic context of Japan, particularly emerging during Japan’s Americanization in the 50s. Keeping a definition of anime that focuses on Japan’s production, distribution, and consumption helps keep these histories of imperialism and aesthetic within the public discourse.

Comparisons to the French New Wave, and how he conceptualizes it are a bit murky. French New Wave films are recognizable as French New Wave because they are films produced in France during the 50-60s with certain aesthetic and stylistic flair. The movement is located in a distinct, defined political, historical, and economic context. When we say Tarentino and others are influenced by the movement, we recognize they were not directors working in France in the 1960s, but rather the French New Wave as a movement in filming had dramatic effects across the globe in envisioning new methods of filmmaking. The same is for anime. Many western animators (Genndy Tartakovsky, for example), are influenced by anime, but we also recognize he is not an animator working in Japan, but rather globalization developments, technological changes, and global cultural flows all have a hand in spreading anime’s influence around the world.

Hence my hesitation to call it a movement, at least in the very general sense that Geoff uses. There are certainly many movements within Japanese animation (such as genre shifts, aesthetic changes, etc.). But I do think for concrete discourse and study of anime, Japan as a locus of history, politics, economics, imperialism, and more is essential for understanding anime both as a product (shows, OVAs, films, etc) and a process (the anime industry that shapes these products).