For most fans and followers in the “Anime” Community, anime is anime and cartoons are cartoons. In other-words, if is not conceptualized, produced, and bred in Japan – it is not anime and rather anything foreign that borrows that moniker is simply anime-themed or confusing called (by the annals of the all-mighty Wikipedia) “Anime-influenced animation“. However, after looking at the two as separate entities and as one and the same, honestly, there is not that much of a clear distinction to me; whether it be on a surface level or deeper contextual one expect for a few nuances and ideologies. I am sure many have pressed this claimed before and many ostracized for it by the either side of the communal fence, but I think those that bring it up may have a point. After all, what is so special about “anime”
At any rate, people have different ways of viewing and comprehending things. “No sh**t , Sherlock” I am sure most of the chorus are going to squeal, but when it comes to things like definitions and meanings, over time they tend to change by whoever uses it or better yet, changes meaning in the context it is used. So, if I where to pose the statement: “Define what Anime is” I have a general idea of what some of the common and agreed upon notions would be among: newbies, enthusiast, and the “your taste is sh**t”, elitist. “Japanese, animation, vivid designs, traditional, and hand-drawn” among other choices would be predominant broad buzzwords. However, by another omission – anime has generally been accepted as nothing more than the “catch-all” term for animation itself. Over time, I am sure it has developed into the narrow-lined definition it is today, but unfortunately, being purely what is today, it seems to only refer to “animation only from Japan” to make it something more digestible and understandable. After all, as humans, we like things that we can easily categorize and anything we can not becomes a frightening deviance we can not possibly come to reconcile with. It has to be one or the other, not both and no room for discussion. Hopefully, as time progress, people will be more open to discussion of this medium and not purely limited to being something purely unique to Japan. By various accounts of fans, it is, but by other scholarly research, it seems to be something developed and applied in other areas before then.
Next question and the main point of this shoddy conceived editorial (I am sure most of you will tell me): What is the difference between “Anime” and “Non-anime”? You know, besides the point about it being produced and born in Japan. As aforementioned, I will admit that there are certain details such as: ideologies, cultural ideas, established norms and mores (aka, the things society will allow and find acceptable to an extent), recommended demographics, etc. Then again, when you really press a lens to some of the more surface born elements something like Tom And Jerry is not that much different from something like DBZ or Baka Test. They are hugely different in their concepts, genres, and what they aim to do and speak to, but I think it is also fair to say that the three are similar as works of animation and maybe, no matter how old you get, you can still enjoy it as it is. This can be disagreeable point for many hardcore and hard-boiled fans that think “anime” has no equal when it comes to “non-Japanese” produce animation, but the simple of the matter is: it is not as unique and great as you may believe. Stylization and means of production are one thing, but sometimes the lines of what “animation and art” is has a very rich and robust history that blurs lines.
One example of this is the conversational “anime-styled” series The Boondocks, by Aaron McGruder. Most you know that show (adapted from a comic strip) as it aired on Adult Swim with two African-American boys, their grandfather, and the usage of the word Ni***r more times than you can possibly hope to see on an internet troll-infested forum. McGruder himself actually touts the fact that he was inspired by series like Samurai Champloo, and Cowboy Bebop for most of the action-sequences that was fueled by his love of “anime” and manga. However, the animation studio, Madhouse (you all know it) was also instrumental for most of the minor production contained in the 1st season (support by another Korean Studio) and largely 2nd season. What that is that considered? Still could be American by way of its creator, but also equally Japanese anime by the studio. While this is just one rare exception, if you take a distinctive walk back in time to studios like: Toei, Tatsunoko, Pierrot, and others – their animation techniques are wholly different from they are today and look akin to most foreign productions of the 1940’s to early 1970’s. Why is that? Because most western animation was the standard to Japanese studios and became instrumental for the design of most theatrical productions of the earlier years. Of course, Japan has been in this arena long before any foreign countries since the 1930’s. I am sure the rabbit hole of animation goes back further than that (more than I have researched and know), but is quite interesting how the past does put things into perspective. Regardless, produced in Japan or not, most the many studios, producers, etc still refer to their creations as “animation” and some similar process to bring them to life. So the lines of what we know and generally call “anime” is something that again – time and fans have changed. If you ever get a chance to hit up your library, check out “60 Years Of Japanese comics” by Paul Gravett, “Ani-May? “Animation and Japanmation” by Garret Narware, and a few of the extensive ones on Osamu Tezuka. They are up there in age and hard to find, but really feel like they nail what anime, manga, and the wider spectrum of animation is about.
Another reason why people argue that cartoons are different from anime is because cartoons are usually perceived as children material where as anime, can extend their demographic reach to other age groups and areas. Mostly, you see this idea perpetuated by the fact that anime usually contains deeper themes and subject matter. While I do agree with half of this statement, most of it is utter BS. For the greater part starting with their visual illustrated companions, most cartoons contained: political, religious, and often times, undeniable racism. Of course, most these messages are hidden and carefully cloistered and unrecognizable to children (something for the adults to enjoy while they watch it with their children), and today, a far-cry of differences from when I was growing up. However, there are also productions that will and do offer themselves to an older crowd.
The Simpsons is a social satire of American society, Family Guy is another satire based one with more emphasis on popular references and family dysfunction, and Futurama plays to a more cultural and visionary role of that “imaginative” future that is just as common with some nerd humor mixed in. The list continues of things that quite trendy and novel in a sense. The only difference between adult-centric material of Japanese animation and mostly by American production, the field for Japanese animation has become more mindful of its audience as it includes a swath of demographic groups while most western productions reach out toward a younger audience by default or at least, a family friendly quality. In other words, Japanese “anime” has become somewhat more distinctive than western or foreign “cartoons”. Although, this does not make one better than the other. So trying to use the whole “edgy” or “cutting-edge” distinction is not at all valid, since something like a film Pixar is prone to the same amount of discernment in production as a Studio Ghilbi or vice versa. In any case, differentiation such as these are nothing more than personal biases.
In the end, I truly feel like there is nothing special about what we call “anime” other than the meaning we give it. After all, both “cartoons” and “anime” are basically the same medium; allowing children, adults – people a means to enjoy themselves and relax. As someone who has taken a large interest in art and animation as an enthusiast, I don’t think people should limit themselves to personal preferences, selective genres, and labels alone. Even though, I am more into “anime”, I really would have been missing out on some wonderful experiences both in terms of storytelling as well what animation is capable of, if I was strictly all about “anime”. Series like RWBY in particular have really been a source of interest in the past few weeks, not for the “anime style”, but for what they bring to the table. With web content become a brand new frontier of getting media noticed and a lot of creative minds waiting to be seen, I think that it would be fun to see what “anime” lends to it for any creators that exemplify it in their work. Besides, what’s so special about anime, anyway?