Growing up the only person in my family who was obsessed with anime, you got a lot of weird comments. And, of course, back then, it wasn’t as mainstream, so naturally, other kids would make fun of you for it. The one comment that sticks out to me was always about how ‘immature’ it was that a teenager still enjoyed ‘watching Chinese cartoon shows’. First of all, anime is from Japan. And secondly, I never understood why that was a bad thing either way.
Technically, anime is another animation medium, just like cartoon shows. But there are so many differences between the two that make anime more distinct. Western cartoons remain pretty trivial and comedic to cater to children. They don’t dive into a narrative arc like anime tends to do. There’s also the whole origin thing, with anime being mainly Japan, but that has also branched out.
The problem is that the line between what constitutes anime and what doesn’t, has been blurring for a while now, with how much impact the medium has had internationally. It’s seeped into most modern animation houses and spawned animation projects that cite anime as an influence. The most popular example of this is Avatar: The Last Airbender, but since then, we have had many more anime-inspired western productions.
But what does that mean when comparing anime to cartoon shows? Well, the nuances are important here. Because there is no hard and fast definition of what anime is. But the history of anime, and its eventual evolution into a global phenomenon, is important to discuss. Anime has broken its limitations, and here’s why it’s a glorious thing to witness.
What Defines An Anime?
Anime has a long history in Japan. The power of storytelling is what propelled it as being more than children’s shows. It’s a medium that grew beyond itself because it didn’t shy away from more serious topics, such as death and war.
There was a time when anime had strict guidelines, according to the Otaku community. It had to be a hand-drawn 2D animation, with a very specific aesthetic and it had to be made in Japan. But since then, anime has blown up so much, with its foray into different art styles and stylistic choices making each entry different from the next.
Technically, any animation project in Japan has been deemed an anime. The word itself is borrowed from the English language, and it just means animation. So, for example, movies such as Disney’s Tangled would be considered anime alongside works like Naruto Shippuden.
The ‘Anime Are Cartoon Shows’ Discourse:
So, this argument is kind of funny. Because technically, cartoons are anime in Japan. Anime doesn’t mean anything specific, as discussed before. Everything from serious adult content like Berserk to lighter cutesy ones such as Cardcaptor Sakura is considered anime. Hell, Peppa Pig would be called an anime in Japan too.
Even back in the ‘Meiji’ era, when anime started, they were considered entertainment for children. The stories were adapted from the manga that was drawn for easy accessibility to kids and could be purchased easily at the ‘Kombini’ (Convenience Stores). And then the 80s, happened, when the Japanese economic boom led to anime being used as toy advertisements, such as Mobile Suit Gundam.
In simpler terms, all cartoon shows would be considered anime in Japan, but not outside of it. And no cartoon that’s not made in Japan is considered an anime.
Anime Outside Of Japan?
Or is it? Okay so, this one is a doozy. Technically, anime has rendered its boundaries useless. Anime is being outsourced to different studios across the world, and there are a whole lot of crossed wires. Take the case of Castlevania, which is an anime based on a Japanese IP but produced by Netflix. Is it not anime?
And then there’s Tower Of God, an anime made by a Japanese Studio, that is adapting a Korean WebToon. Don’t even get me started on Donghuas, which are anime-style productions from China. If they are popular enough, they get dubbed for multiple regions, including Japan. So, are they also not anime?
Simply put, anime and cartoons have become so intertwined that it doesn’t make a difference trying to separate the two. Good animation is good animation, in the end.