“That's Not Anime!”, It's The Real Thing - What ISN'T Anime to American Otaku? | アニメ!アニメ!

“That's Not Anime!”, It's The Real Thing - What ISN'T Anime to American Otaku?

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera

#33: “That's Not Anime!”, It's The Real Thing - What ISN'T Anime to American Otaku?

Alright, I've told you how to make fun of American otaku, now I'm going to tell you how to make a lot of them mad. What can I say? When you write about anime for long enough, you learn a lot about making anime fans mad... whether you meant to or not.

It's pretty easy. Just call Japanese anime “cartoons.” You don't have to be mean about it. it's not an insult. Just say something like “Yeah, that cartoon K-On! is great!”. To a lesser degree, calling Japanese manga “comics” works the same way. In a group of American anime fans, odds are good that you will offend a few.

The American anime/manga niche has grown in such a way that it's deliberately separated itself from other cartoons and comics. Part of it is an aesthetics issue. Some of it is just Japanophilia. But the barrier is real. It's somewhat understandable, a little unfortunate, and I believe very interesting.

Let's use an extreme example again, because I'm fond of them. During its TV run, I showed Panty and Stocking to some friends who had been asking me about it. Among them was someone I'd only met this once, a really passionate anime fan and apparent Japanophile. She got genuinely angry at this show from the moment the characters appeared. She got even more hostile when she realized that the characters were speaking Japanese, and this show really was made in Japan by Japanese. “This isn't anime!” she insisted, while looking away.

When I told her it was by Gainax and Imai, and was inspired by old Cartoon Network stuff like Dexter's Laboratory, she replied, genuinely confused and betrayed, “Why would they want to be like THAT s***?” When the transformation scene (animated in a more traditional style) came up, she looked up from her laptop and remarked, “This show would be good if it always looked like this.” The aesthetic of this show-- never mind its gross humor-- was personally offensive to her. These boxy, squat people-- and the idea that a Japanese creator would even want to draw them-- shook her foundations of what anime was, and she wasn't willing to accept it.

Panty and Stocking is actually a fairly popular show here. Americans who see it get the joke immediately, and most people are perfectly fine with calling it “anime”. This person just had an extreme reaction.

There are people who will tell you that Pokemon isn't anime because it's too popular, or because Pokemon is for kids and anime is not for kids, or because it was on TV. For American fans, the word “anime” is a lot like the word “otaku”: nobody can exactly agree as to what it entails and they fight about it passionately, for silly reasons.