Bugshrugs: Anime is not Anime

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.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I mean, I’m pretty much OK with simplifying things, especially if neophytes are involved. And it is true anime is very closely tied to manga and LN especially. However, I really don’t think anime’s meaning is lessened or incomplete if we take the sources out, just like saying animation is the most important element of anime doesn’t lessen the meaning or value of manga.

    They are different media and should be treated differently. A manga is probably A+ but once adapted to anime to a T, it might be just mediocre, because a good manga doesn’t mean a good anime. Things are treated differently. If it weren’t, why would we even bother with anime adaptations, and anime in general? Might as well read the manga and stick with the manga, or worse : watch a slideshow.

    We don’t have a common name to refer to the big clusterfuck that is “Manga/LN/VN/Anime” because we don’t need to. They “just happen” to share similar ideas and to be marketed to similar audiences, and as such as very closely related but I honestly think they are not and cannot mean the same thing. They’re just a big family ; closely related, probably never gonna be one without the other, but definitely their own little thing.

    If we consider anime a medium, I don’t really think we can define it by its ideas, influences, themes, etc… although things do get a bit blurry. But I think it’s because those things are meant to be used following a medium’s rules. Nihilism in music isn’t expressed the same way as in painting, for example.
    And if we go back to our topic, Harems in VNs are used in Routes (because we want to see 2D characters fuck each other), but in Manga or Anime, it’s more often about maximum shenanigans and with more status quo. (well, I don’t even know if this makes sense or have some weight…)

    In the end, everyone has their own view on things. Some people put writing at the top of their list, for some it’s the animation, or the characters, or the directing or what have you. We all have different values, and I think that’s just what this Josh Dunham is expressing ; his values, his convictions.

    1. I don’t really disagree with you. Yes, anime is a medium and it does need to define it as such. I’m just also a contrarian who’s decided to write about an “anime is a cultural idea over a medium” stance because it interests me and can spark conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *