Anime and its Global Popularity

When asked about anime, responses vary based on the age group one approaches. From being seen as ‘cartoons’ due to their animation style, to having intense fan followings for certain series, anime, as a whole, has garnered an impressive gathering around the world — with many arguing that anime itself is a broad term, with each show being classified into different genres, from video game fantasies to high school mysteries. However, anime as a cultural phenomenon has grown exponentially from the 1970s, with anime becoming popular around the world. The proliferation of this style resulted in thousands of TV shows, either springing from original ideas or adapted from Japanese comics (‘mangas’), with some anime running for decades on end (for example, One Piece, with over 900 aired episodes, is still continuing).

Anime, derived from the word ‘animation’, is used to refer to animated media from Japan, and (outside of Japan) refers to a certain animation style that’s particular to the Japanese, in terms of vibrant colours, bright graphics, and fantastic themes, though there are animes that have broken into stark, realistic themes as well. Anime has been a part of collective popular culture since the 1970s when anime reached TV markets around the world — one notable release was “Mobile Suit Gundam”, a show released in 1979 about giant robots. Though the show wasn’t a hit, it gained a loyal fan following, turning it from an average cartoon into a 30-year franchise, spawning a series of cartoons, movies, toys, video games, and much more (Dizikes, “Why are Japanese Cartoons a hit?”). As the years have passed, Japanese anime has become one of the country’s biggest global exports — about 60 percent of the world’s animated television shows originate in Japan (Ibid). The style alone is an important component of anime, with the vivid, colourful animations lending a hand to the story, making it visually and aesthetically pleasing to watch — though the show may be animated, the themes discussed are suitable for young adults and mature teens, with anime playing a major role in breaking the convention of ‘cartoons being for children’.

With the advent of anime came a new form of cross-cultural learning, of audiences around the world discovering Japanese art and beauty, and of a fascination with the space itself. The proliferation of anime has resulted in a new form of tourism as well, known as ‘contents tourism’, with the focus being on narratives, characters and locations. For many, the term ‘Japanese popular culture’ is synonymous with manga, anime, and J-pop. However, scholars and policy-makers have struggled to articular a precise definition of contents tourism, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan defining pop culture as ‘a culture produced in the everyday lives of ordinary people’, equating more traditional forms of culture with anime and manga (Philip, “Japanese Pop. Culture and Contents Tourism”). Studies have shown that content tourism is triggered by a number of factors, including a concrete, identifiable, and accessible location where scenes have been shot, the location is tied to am emotional storyline, and the media itself becoming a classic or cult film, further solidifying emotional ties with the space itself (Roesch, 200). Indeed, anime and manga have been used by the government to promote their own nation, with the government focusing on attracting international tourists, not through traditional culture alone, but through popular culture as well, with then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō announcing that Japan was an ‘intellectual-property based nation’ (Arai, 05). (concluding sentence)

Anime is useful for cultural studies as well, garnering enough attention from the general population and academia alike in terms of its popularity, its ease of access, and its relatability (despite such fantastical themes). Despite the outward absurdities and fantastic notions of anime, the shows deeply connect with viewers at large, discussing grand themes of friendship, love, loyalty, justice, life, and death. Even ‘lighter’ animes that revolve around sports (like Kuroko no Basket) discuss ideas of strength in teams and sportsmanship, while still being a light-hearted show for sports-lovers to enjoy. Studies have shown that the resulting student population in Asian countries points to an uptick in young adults watching anime — be it to relax and enjoy a light show, or because of a deeper emotional connection with the characters (Hassan, “Study on Anime”). With such a wide range of shows, it’s easy to find anime that resonates with the viewer, with studies pointing to anime as media communication, tying in with how media can influence the audience (Cohen, 247.) With such a wide range of shows to choose from, it is easy for audiences to choose particular anime to connect to and resonate with, resulting in audiences forming large followings of their animes, complete with conventions and cosplaying beloved characters.

The idea of ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ culture comes into play as well, with various forms of Japanese art falling into both categories — with Japanese artwork housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and with manga and anime being available to people around the world. The term ‘highbrow’ was first popularised in 1902 by Will Irvin, a reporter for The Sun (a newspaper in New York), and though the term is connected with ‘the notion of more intelligent people having high foreheads’ (reeking of eugenics and racialism), the word stuck around, in a culture that holds the prestige of artistic endeavours in high regard (Mallon, “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow). Its polar opposite, ‘lowbrow’ works, are works that operate without much self-consciousness, with crass humour and pulp fiction taking up the bulk of ‘lowbrow’ work. The term ‘middlebrow’, however, is most interesting, with work attempting to stand up to the standards of high art, while watering them down and making them available to the general public — with the availability of so much art and its sheer ubiquity, ‘middlebrow’ works reign, with work being blended and mixed together, making such strict categories difficult to enforce. Japanese art, too, falls into this wide range, with manga and anime falling into more ‘lowbrow’ forms (like the ever-popular One Punch Man that parodies the superhero figure) and more refined manga and anime, that deal with heavier questions of life, death, and justice (like Death Note), among other concepts.

Like it or not, anime has established itself as a mainstream genre of its own and has secured a place on the global stage. The attention garnered by anime has resulted in a renewed interest in the far east, with Japan establishing itself as a popular tourist destination, along with being the home of many beloved anime shows that have continued to run for years on end. Looking at how the industry has grown, it’s safe to say that anime culture rivals that of other countries, with anime being here to stay.

References:

Seaton, Philip, and Takayoshi Yamamura. “Japanese Popular Culture and Contents Tourism — Introduction”. Japan Forum, vol 27,Issue 1. 2015. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09555803.2014.962564

Hernández-Pérez, Manuel. “Looking into the ‘Anime Global Popular’ and the ‘Manga Media’: Reflections on the Scholarship of a Transnational and Transmedia Industry”. Arts. 28 April 2019.

Dizikes, Peter. “Why Are Japanese Cartoons a Global Hit?” MIT News, 29 Jan. 2013, news.mit.edu/2013/the-soul-of-anime-0129.

Mallon, Thomas, and Pankaj Mishra. “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow — Do These Kinds of Cultural Categories Mean Anything Anymore?” New York Times. July 29, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/highbrow-lowbrow-middlebrow-do-these-kinds-of-cultural-categories-mean-anything-anymore.html

Hassan, Nor Azlili & Sallehuddin, Iza & Abdul Aziz, Nik. “Study on Anime and Its Impacts Among University Students”. Prosiding Persidangan Antarabangsa Sains Sosial dan Kemanusiaan, 2. 387. 2016. University Tunku Abdul Rahman, Sg Long Campus. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319494624_Study_on_Anime_and_Its_Impacts_Among_University_Students

Cohen, Jonathan. “Defining Identification: A Theoretical Look at the Identification of Audiences with Media Characters. Mass Communication & Society”. Mass Communication and Society. Philadelphia: Routledge, v. 4,n. 3, p. 245–264. 2001.

Roesch, Stefan. The experiences of film location tourists. Bristol: Channel View. 2009.

Arai, Hisamitu. “Intellectual Property Strategy in Japan”. International Journal of Intellectual Property. Pp 5- 12. 2005. Accessed from http://www.ipaj.org/english_journal/pdf/Intellectual_Property_Strategy.pdf