Fairly recently, a debate broke out in the anime community after moderators on Reddit’s r/anime board banned discussion of the music video for Porter Robinson’s “Shelter” on the grounds that, despite being animated by a Japanese studio (A-1 Pictures), it’s “not anime” because of an American creator’s involvement. This upset many people who saw no reason not to define it as anime, and the whole “what exactly is anime” argument broke out again.
I think I’ve come to a pretty clear stance on where I draw the line that everyone’s trying to discuss (anime is an animated product in which culturally Japanese creators have the biggest influence), but I’m actually going to take another stance in addition to this: anime is not just anime.
Okay, that’s a pretty insane statement, so let me elaborate: the community’s collective consciousness of “anime” goes beyond the scope of just anime itself. Anime is perhaps the biggest monolith, but there are so many other mediums that are so heavily linked to anime that it’s difficult to discuss them separately.
What’s prompting this? What’s making me write this? Well, its my frustrations with the sakuga community again, and specifically with Josh Dunham’s repeated stance that animation is the most important aspect of anime. Is animation the most important aspect of the medium of anime? You could make an argument for that. But for so many people, it’s just not relevant because that’s not what defines anime for them. It’s because anime isn’t just anime. It’s manga, it’s light novels, it’s visual novels, it’s mobile apps…it’s so many things that are so inextricably linked to anime but aren’t, strictly speaking, anime.
What was the first anime you ever watched? What are shows that got you into the medium? Was it one of those long-running shonen series like Dragonball Z, One Piece, Naruto, or Bleach? Because those are manga. Pokemon or Digimon? While both shows have largely original content, they’re both based on games. Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note, Attack on Titan, and One Punch Man are all based on manga. Sword Art Online is a light novel. Take a look at any anime-ranking site and you’ll see that almost all the top anime are based off of something. As of this writing, My Anime List has only two original anime in the top 15 (or top 10 if you combine all the different Gintama seasons/movies into one entry): Your Name and Code Geass S2…and Your Name’s release as a novel before the film’s premiere means its status as an original anime is debatable. In the mix you have a lot of series that were originally manga, a few that were visual novels, and even an adaptation of a series of novels.
These series are all anime, but they’re also not anime. Just like a film based off of a book inevitably leads to discussion of the book, watching anime adaptations opens the door to conversations about other related mediums. But because so much of anime is so often adapted from the same types of sources, these mediums are more strongly connected than mediums often are. These mediums all have a symbiotic relationship that can’t be removed from the discussion.
We don’t have a name for this collective sphere of anime, manga, light novels, visual novels, and other similar mediums, so more often than not, we just lump it all under “anime” because anime is arguably the biggest pillar in the west, and the one that’s also currently the easiest and cheapest to obtain. I don’t tell people “I like anime, manga, and light novels,” I just say “I like anime” because that’s simplest, most efficient way to convey the information, and it usually implies I like the other things as well.
So yes, anime is, in fact, what I defined it as earlier. Funny how words mean what they’re defined as like that. But anime is also so much more than that. It’s a collective of ideas that a group of people are passionate about. That’s what so many people love. It’s not anime specifically. We’re all going to be drawn to different aspects of different mediums in this whole sphere. And I think that’s neat. But that’s also why anything being touted as the “most important” aspect of anime bothers me: because while anime is a medium that can’t exist without animation, it’s also a defining feature of just one aspect of a whole fandom. To me, it implies “manga doesn’t have this, so it’s not as valuable.” Which I think is a shame, because, to me and so many people, manga is still anime, despite not being strictly defined as such.