American Influences in Anime


While anime is popularly perceived to be a uniquely Japanese art form, it has its roots in American animation of the early 20th century. Even today, some forty-six years after Ozamu Tezuka pioneered the first Japanese animated TV series, Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy), American culture has a heavy influence on the medium.

Take, for example, the fact that most anime series and movies either have titles that are completely in English or are a melange of Japanese and English. This is best illustrated by the list of anime releases in the timeline of Evolution of a Genre: 1963-1999. Japanese anime companies have admitted that it is a marketing ploy to grab the attention of potential viewers. It may also be a residual effect of post-WWII Japanese opinion that Japanese products were inferior to American products. Thus, by "americanizing" an anime series, one would be able to increase, at least psychologically, the quality of the anime. (2)

American influences on anime can range from the subtle --- for example, Tenkuu No Escaflowne's (Vision of Escaflowne) revision of the corporation headquarters in the American movie Blade Runner into the Zaibach empire headquarters --- to the obvious (hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the popular shojou anime, Hana Yori Dango.) (12)

In Hayao Miyazake's Kiki's Delivery Service, American elements are not only obvious, but part of the entire atmosphere of the film. While the language and social behavior of the characters are Japanese, the story background is actually set in some unnamed utopean European city. Though Hayao Miyazake has said many times that he "makes films for Japanese children," there can be no doubt of the Western feel of Kiki's Delivery Service. Suprisingly enough, Miyazake states in an interview with Animerica magazine that "Kiki's Delivery Service shows another side of the 80's, that of Japanese economic prosperity." It is clear from this statement, by a man who is one of the most respected anime directors in the industry, that much of what we can see to be American elements in anime may not always be intentional. (1)

To view a visual presentation of American products in Kiki's Delivery Service, click on one of the following links:
low bandwidth, low quality Quicktime clip (~900 KB)
high bandwidth, high quality Quicktime clip (~6 MB)

Another obvious example of American influence in anime is the physical appearance of anime characters. Over the past few years, there has been a movement towards making anime characters look more traditionally Japanese --- especially in historical series like Hakkenden, a samurai saga --- but for the most part, anime characters do not resemble the Japanese at all. (3) The argument has been made that anime characters, with their typically huge eyes, tiny pointed noses, and wildly colored hair, do not resemble any particular ethnic group at all, but there are too many instances of obviously Caucasian characters in anime for it to be a mere coincidence.

One good example of this is the anime TV series Hana Yori Dango, which is also a popular serialized comic strip in the Japanese women's magazine, Margaret. movie clip of opening credits, high bandwidth only (~10 MB). The series is set in an exclusive high school in Japan, in which family wealth and connections determine a student's popularity among his peers. All the characters -- with the exception of one minor character visiting from Germany --- are supposed to be Japanese. They have Japanese names, are shown in traditional Japanese garb (kimonos and yukatas) on occasion, and have Japanese parents, yet all are portrayed with what are commonly perceived to be Caucasian features: light-colored hair ranging from light brown to auburn, blue or grey eyes, and "Western" noses.

Even though anime is sprinkled with many American elements, it is still a purely Japanese phenomenon. American companies such as Studio IronCat have attempted to break into the anime industry with series made in the style of anime, but so far they have been unsuccessful. This is perhaps due to the fact that anime has as equally numerous Japanese references and elements as it does American. Wiithout successful research into not only the obvious aspects of Japanese culture but also the implied, unspoken social codes and ideas, it would be nearly impossible for an American company to make a film that would be considered anime by the Japanese.