What is Japanese Anime?

Anime is a term for animation produced in Japan which has a very distinctive style that tends to feature bright colors and themes that Americans wouldn’t associate with cartoons. The word itself is the shortened form of the word animation in Japanese, and this form of entertainment has taken the Western world by storm over the last several decades.

The origin of anime’s unique style can be traced back to the 1960s, even though Japan was producing cartoons and animations as far back as 1917. Some of the earliest examples that Western audiences might recognize are the original “Astro Boy,” “8 Man,” and even the popular “Speed Racer” and “Voltron” series. However, as technology has advanced, various studios have created their own art styles and unique looks. Some have even experimented with 3D animation, leaving the distinctive, hand drawn style behind for many projects, though part of the appeal of anime is its unique, Japanese art style.

Another thing that makes anime really stand out, particularly among Western audiences, is that the themes it features run the gamut from child-friendly to highly provocative adult themes and everything in between. This isn’t a standard that a lot of audiences are used to, since we usually associate animation to be something for kids. The shock value of cartoon death matches can sometimes be enough to get an audience’s interest alone. However, the stories that anime tells also make it a unique form of culture and a distinctive story-telling mechanism.

Anime covers a variety of genres, from fantasy pieces like “Berserk,” to science fiction classics like “Armitage the III,” but no matter in what the genre the series or movie is taking place, anime is told with a distincly Japanese flair. Puns and slapstick comedy are some of the staples of an anime series, even those that have deathly serious plots and that feature characters with humorless professions or dispositions. Additionally, many anime series feature characters from countries foreign to Japan, and the way those characters are viewed is seen through a different cultural lens. For instance, American characters tend to be larger, rude, brash and occasionally brutish. Chinese characters may be seen as overly concerned with ceremony and history. Russian characters may be seen as convicts, killers or otherwise dangerous men and women. It’s a window into the way Japan views foreign countries, as well as a different way of telling a story.

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