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What is Anime Again?

November 9, 2002

A lot of artists here in the States are trying to pass off their work as “anime” and “manga”. Yeah, I know it's trendy now, but these people are forgetting one major thing.

They're not Japanese.

The definition of “anime” and “manga” as used in American pop culture is ostensibly quite simple. Anime denotes Japanese animation. Manga denotes Japanese comics. So how can Adam Warren claim to be writing “manga” and how can, oh, let's say, Gold Diggers claim to have an “anime” OAV?

The problem here stems from fan-creators who have mistaken “anime” and “manga” as denoting a style rather than a culture-based medium. By using the word “manga” as a crutch, they draw comics with big eyes and speed lines, and sell their stuff to fans as if it were Japanese. But if you look at the storytelling, you will find it has much more to do with independent or anthropomorphic (“furry”) comics than actual manga. There are happy endings, where in true manga, the concept of an “ending” is largely moot. There are black-and-white characters – when there are “characters” at all! Most “manga” characters are one-dimensional and rather uninteresting, and the whole phenomenon is really a discredit to the name.

Even worse is Adam Warren's caricatured portrayal of The Dirty Pair, which is about as faithful to the original as Verhoeven's Starship Troopers movie was to the Heinlein novel, little more than a sanctioned doujinshi.

But it's the name sells, which is why companies spread this stuff around like it's gold. If anything, it's fool's gold, as impermanent and worthless to a discriminating, educated comic fan as No-Face's gifts in Spirited Away.

It's telling that most heavily manga-influenced American comic artists (Colleen Doran, Stan Sakai, Richard and Wendy Pini) do not call themselves “manga” artists at all. And while a few “manga” artists have proven themselves to be of merit, they are alas the exception and not the rule.

As for local “anime” productions, they seem to have not improved beyond Sailor and The Seven Ballz, a true paragon of fan creation. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic here.) And to call any American animated feature an “anime” is to ignore the efforts of American animators to improve and hone their craft in an age where the Disney name is no longer considered a guaranteed stamp of quality. Batman Beyond is NOT anime, and you would insult the creators to even insinuate that.

Just because an animated feature is good doesn't mean it is anime. And the converse is equally true (otherwise we wouldn't have one star reviews!).

The American animation and comics industries need to concentrate on improving the standards of their work in order to regain the respect amongst fans that it once had. To do this, they should not have to resort to pretending to be Japanese to sell merchandise – because they simply can't.

We here at THEM Anime Reviews only review anime, in the definition of animation that is primarily conceptualized and created in Japan. While there may be a few oddballs (Carl Macek's screenplay for Sin and Peter Chung's character work for Reign come to mind), the origin and intent of an anime feature is very hard to confuse with that of another country. And while other people's works may imitate and emulate anime, they are not anime, and therefore can't be reviewed here.

That doesn't mean that shows like Batman Beyond don't have merit as animated work – they are simply outside the focus and purpose of this website.

- Carlos/Giancarla Ross

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