Pop Culture Class: Is Anime the Same in America and Japan?

Pop Culture Class: Is Anime the Same in America and Japan?

The short answer to this question is yes…and no. First of all, it depends on what you call “anime”.

Most English-speaking anime fans I know refer to Japanese animated works as simply “anime”. When we say “anime”, we usually only mean Japanese anime; anything else is a “cartoon”, or “[some country’s] anime” (ex. French anime, Korean anime). This is important to know, because if you call Spongebob Squarepants an “anime” in the U.S., you may very well get a weird look.

Cartoons vs. Anime

Many people make a distinction between Japanese anime and other anime because of the difference in art style and storytelling. What we call cartoons tend to be more episodic, with not much of an overarching plot line. The ones that do, in my experience, have a plot that acts more like a Japanese anime—perhaps in order to attract the attention of anime fans.

For a while, a great majority of cartoons in the U.S. were (and still are) aimed at children, so for many years, it was expected that one would leave such childish things behind as they grew up, and move on to “regular” TV shows and movies.

This may be one of the reasons why anime became popular here in the United States. Teenagers and adults could enjoy series reminiscent of their childhood cartoons, without the stigma of watching a “kid’s show”. As fans spread the word, and more series got imported, the distinction between “anime” and “cartoon” became more important, and to some people, even a defining point.

Case in point? When I first became an anime fan, it was not uncommon for us kids and teenagers to correct adults if they called our favorite series a cartoon. “It’s not a cartoon,” we would say. “It’s anime.”

Do you like anime or cartoons? What differences do you see between them, and what similarities do you see?