Japanese animation is a remarkable example of how a modern non-American culture has had an impact around the world.
The many forms of anime have shown how cultural movements can gain huge global popularity when many people interested in an emerging industry combine their talents.
Author Ian Condry explores the phenomenon in his book, The Soul of Anime, in these excerpts from his conversation with VOA’s Jim Stevenson.
CONDRY: Collaborative creativity is one of the big ideas and the hope is that we see through the example of anime how committed, excited, passionate groups of people who may start as fans of something, can build businesses and opportunities through that passion, through the collective action of working with peers. The success of Japanese animation came out of a kind of bottom-up excitement, and even so, it became a global industry and a global culture that offers excitement and mystery for generations to come.
STEVENSON: Anime has been around for a long time, what is the fascination with it around the world?
CONDRY: What I think it shows is that when we’re looking for how new businesses and new kinds of expression emerge, we have to look at the communities that invent them. You know, right now I know a lot of young people are worried about “where are the jobs of the future going to come from? What are ways we can imagine new kinds of economies happening?” And animation is a fascinating example because a hundred years ago, there was no such thing as animation. And that Japan has been such a success shows one of the paths, how that new kind of business, new kind of economy can happen.
STEVENSON: From an anthropological standpoint, you have a lot to really dig into as far as the Japanese culture of animation.
CONDRY: You’re not kidding. It’s amazing the variety of stories that are out there. You know the ways that you look at Japanese animation and there [are] questions of gender and sexuality and confusion about these faces. There’s also all of this exploration of bravery and courage, and even the ways technology and war and the environment are related. I mean, that’s what makes anime such a fascinating world. It’s a huge universe of culture and expression that it’s not surprising to me that people are attracted to it.
STEVENSON: What makes anime so different from the kinds of animation that we’re used to here in the United States?
CONDRY: Animation in Japan was in some ways inspired by Disney, and comic books in Japan were also inspired by early comic book experiments in the U.S. There’s always been a tight connection between Japan and the U.S. in terms of their animation businesses. In the '70s, American animation companies were outsourcing their work to Japan. It was part of the thing that helped grow Japanese animation, as well. But why Japanese animation was able to in some ways, to precede American animation, particularly in the global television market – it’s partly the Japanese animators learned to make their animation more cheaply. Pixar and Disney have taken certain steps towards the Hollywood Blockbuster market and they’re hugely successful. Japanese animation is carved out of a somewhat different space, in some ways, a wider range of material that reaches a somewhat different and yet equally dynamic audience.
STEVENSON: The technology has made it easier for people to get into animation and work with it and distribute it. I’m sure that’s had quite an impact on the growth of the industry, especially in the last 20 years or so.
CONDRY: Exactly. So you say, why was Japan the source of so much of the world’s animation and comic books? It’s a really interesting historical story. In the U.S. in the 1940s and early 50s, there was an outcry against violence and sexy comic books that were corrupting children of the day. The comic book industry’s publisher’s took a stand and said “comics have to be uplifting and good for children of America.” And it made our comics in the U.S. something just for children. In Japan, the same kind of outcry came out, but in the end, the comic book publishing industry had a more open view. And so grown-ups, and older people and teenagers become completely enchanted by the weekly comic books that then became the basis for this huge animation culture.
STEVENSON: Where do you see the future of anime going from this point? Is it going to expand and find new horizons?
CONDRY: Absolutely. I think animation has proved that there are ways to make a sustainable creative business, even as the package industry of DVDs and CDs is disappearing because ultimately, economies are built on the excitement and the social energy of the audience and the fans who care. And as long as that’s there, I believe there will be a business in the future for anime, and in fact, all kinds of art forms today.