When you read the word ‘anime’, what comes to mind? Is it
Japanese animation, or is it a particular style of animation? Perhaps it’s
both? Why does such confusion even exist at all, but more importantly, is it
even worth getting riled up about?
Brian Ashcraft over at Kotaku perceives a problem
with the term ‘anime’. It’s a catch-all for many things, and yet it is none of
That’s both the beauty and the problem with the word
anime. It has different meanings to different people. It’s shorthand. It’s
loaded. Is there a way around that? Maybe, yeah.
My question is: does it even matter?
Not to belittle Ashcraft’s excellent analysis and argument,
but in all my years observing the industry, not once has the term ‘anime’ ever
been brought up for debate. Plenty of people both inside and outside the
industry are clearly content with using the word and the conflicting things it
This isn’t a new problem, or exclusive to Japanese animation
either. Animation in general has long defied an overarching descriptive term.
Invariably labels like ‘cartoon’, ‘mo-cap’, ‘CGI’ and plenty of others are
supplemented for ‘animation’ all the time. Ask any random member of the public
if they’ve seen a ‘CGI’ film, and my money says one of Pixar’s finest will more
than likely be the answer you receive. Is that a problem to be overcome, or
merely the result of a limited knowledge/appreciation for animation that will
never be eliminated?
If it is to be overcome, there’s a long road ahead. A good
friend of mine who doesn’t have an interest in animation, just the other day
saw an image of the Kill la Kill character Nui Harime on my phone, and asked if
it was something from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Obviously he is not
familiar with either, but given that his confusion extended across multiple
areas (genre, style, demographics, and country of origin!), getting the word
out about a general consensus for a common term for animation is going to be a
nightmare even within the industry, let alone the fans and general public!
I’d go so far to argue that the ‘anime’ is like good art:
you know it when you see it. If some explanation is necessary, it will be asked
for and given. The context of the particular conversation probably plays more
of a role in how anime is defined than anything else. The same goes for
animation in general. When animator Tissa David was hired at UPA’s New York
studio, she was asked by Grim Natwick what animation was. Her answer was
“animation is animation.” Which is, realistically, about the best answer anyone
Animation has always defied perceptions, so it’s not
surprising that it continues to defy labels as well. It’s called what it’s
called, and if the message gets across, then why worry about it?