The future of “anime” is bright

Let’s take this Dai Sato discussion for another spin, shall we?

The above image is from the film My Beautiful Girl Mari. It was released in 2001, and is being distributed in the US by ADV films. Moreover, you can stream it for free courtesy of the Anime News Network. It centers around a dream the protagonist has, as a young boy, while staring at a cat’s eye marble. The film is atomospheric, intense, visually pleasing in the extreme and experimental.

If you didn’t notice already, it’s also Korean.

He even accused people in the anime industry of refusing to teach Asian subcontractors special skills or how to craft stories because that would undermine the position of Japan in the production of anime. Non-Japanese are reduced to cheap mechanical labor, and aren’t invested in the work at all. Sato identified this as a major underlying problem with anime today. — Quote from the article in question.

If we’re to believe Sato’s argument, there shouldn’t be any Korean animation. The only animation occurring outside of Japan (aside from Disney and the West, but we’ll get to that later) should be in the studios Japanese animators outsource to. So how is it that My Beautiful Girl Mari, let alone something like the almost too gross to sit through Aachi & Ssipak exist?

What Sato fails to realize is the greater socio-economic implication of outsourcing: the transfer of skills. In continually outsoucring their inbetweening and background art work to Korean studios like DR MOVIE and their Chinese counterparts, they’ve indirectly taught them the art of animation, in the Japanese style. Where did this “Japanese style” come from? From the times when it was cheap to outsource to Japan, and Disney did it, in the same way that Japan is doing it to Korea and China currently. Put in some skill, throw in a different environment, and leave to ferment for long enough, and creative output will inevitably arise. Anime as we know it is a reverberation of outsourcing.

What Sato is predicting isn’t the end of the anime industry, just the end of Japan’s dominance over it. It’s been around two decades since DR MOVIE and its contemporaries in Korea were established, and well over that since the Macross outsourcing that earned Sato’s ire occurred. And only in the last ten years are we seeing original, imaginative Korean animation. Creative people are everywhere, irreverent of political or economic concerns. And, when given the skills, they will create. My Beautiful Girl Mari has some rough edges, but it also has heart, and a willingness to experiment that seem hard to come by in Japan lately. It’s only a matter of time until Korea finds the stories it wants to tell via animation, and the way they want to do it, and then they’ll set off to impress the world.

And so the question arises: is My Beautiful Girl Mari “anime”? Does “anime” belong to Japan alone? I tumblr’ed about this a while back, but things like Avatar: The Last Airbender, while being American in its origins, is undoubtedly inspired by, and draws from the anime tradition, both in its visual and narrative execution.

Sato’s concern is right, and merited. With countries like Korea, and American-born anime like Avatar are increasingly coming onto the market, what does Japan have to offer? When, despite the angry whinging of  hardcore fans (and undoubtedly, Japanese executives), when things like Avatar are referred to by non-fans as “anime”, what does that leave Japan with? What about the Animatrix? Or before that, Disney’s 1982 The Last Unicorn, animated in Japan by what would become Studio Ghibli? People like Michael Arias, director of Tekkonkinkreet and elephant-in-the-room foreigner? Does it still count as anime if it’s directed by a white man, even if they’re in Japan?

Anime is changing, and it’s doing it in two ways: the kuukei-kei, or airy/atmospheric (the term lines up best with “slice of life”) anime which seems to be getting more air time is a representation of a commoditization of anime. After nearly 50 years, they’ve found the formula that works. And there’s nothing wrong with that – anime is a business too. It’s also becoming more experimental, however. It’s just that said experimentation may not be occurring inside Japan. For every Tatami Galaxy made in Japan, there’s at least one My Beautiful Girl Mari. As Sato says, “Anime has become a “super establishment system,” where nothing can be changed.” That doesn’t mean they’ll be no creativity within anime, it’s just that the term anime either needs to expand beyond the boarders of Japan, or that creativity in animation will find a home in other countries, and Japan, like America, will be left to produce bad cartoons ad infinitum, until something like Avatar comes along, years later, to liven things up again. The future of anime is brighter than Sato prophecizes, but it may not be anime as we know it.

37 thoughts on “The future of “anime” is bright”

  1. Yay for Mari Iyagi!

    I can understand Sato’s point of view though. Sure there are Mari Iyagi and Aachi wa Ssipak coming out from Korea every now and then, but I have to wonder if any significant credit should go to Japanese industry, which uses other asian countries as grunts like Sato said. Certainly animators can grow and flourish more where all the directing and key animations take place. I certainly think artistic-wise, it’s better to have all animation processes to take in one place (either in japan or overseas) so the final product is more wholesome, consistent and organic, but economic-wise it’s often better to have outsourcing like they’re doing now unfortunately.

    Anyway like bateszi said in previous post, I don’t see why Sato has anything to complain about when Japan is still pumping out stuff like Tatami Galaxy, and in my eyes still the undisputed king of mainstream animation quality. I can count the number of ‘good’ Korean animations with my one hand, but for anime I need a freakin myanimelist to even keep a track of it.

    As for Avatar, I’d say the narrative has more familiarity with west (something I felt about Last Unicorn too), although animation-wise it’s very much anime-influenced (I hear they made animators watch FLCL or something). But I think they had a look at few Korean cartoons too! Take this scene for example…(from my old avatar post)
    guriguriblog.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/kitaraa.jpg

    Anyway for Korean animation industry to mature, I think the way our conservative society sees animation has to first change. We don’t pander to ‘otakus’ per se but we do pander to children, you could say something like mari iyagi and aachi wa ssipak was a miracle. The director of Mari Iyagi later produced a big budget animated film “yobi”, which in my view was so constrained by its need to pander to children/family values, the director couldn’t flex his creative muscles that he showed in Mari Iyagi. That and the most talented people are being drafted to computer games industry where the real money is in Korea.

    1. On the note of Avatar and the Korean dress in parts of the Earth Kingdom:
      I think they tried, as best they could, to pull from as many different Asian cultures as possible. I always wondered whether the motivation for this was purely artistic/narrative, or whether someone at Nickolodeon said to them “we have to be multicultural!”, and thus the production danced the great dance of political correctness, as most children’s shows do.

      On the note of Korean animation:
      This is certainly true re: computer games. Some of the concept + character art coming out of like, shit online RPGs puts many japanese illustrators to shame. Also point well noted – I harped on My Beautiful Girl Mari so much in this article because not much else came to mind easily in terms of Korean (or even non-Japanese) animation. That said, in my opinion the Korean animation industry is simply a bud right now; if you look at the output of Japan, it’s only in the last 20 or so years that it’s been so high. These processes take time.

  2. I love how positive you are about all this. You do make an extremely good point. So this industry is like a cycle, with Koreans supposedly taking the baton next? If it does happen eventually, there will come a time where things will be evenly divided between Japan and Korea when it comes to anime, I believe at that time we’ll be seeing things that truly transcend the medium (IF it happens IF hehe). What scares me though is the idea of Japan being pushed out completely making way for a fully operational Korean anime(doubt they’d still call it that then) industry. Subsequently, ridding anime from that certain feel, that certain aura that I can’t put my finger on, that certain something that made me love anime. Its troubling honestly. Nothing against Koreans, I love their art and music, which will most definitely impact the anime industry. But the thought of Japan being replaced some time in the future doesn’t sit well with me.
    And what happens next? When Korea stagnates and needs to give it up to someone else? Who will take over? Of course this is all conceptual, its an interesting topic though. Food for thought.

    1. I wouldn’t say it’s a cyclic industry at all – it’s simply that Japan’s society is a very closed one, and in many ways they’re stifling their own anime industry’s creativity. And, of course, the anime industry runs on creativity. Within the context of japan Japan it’s a process that, if left unchecked will spell the end of the anime industry.

      if anything, it’s more like ripples in a pond traveling outwards, encountering other ripples, and creating more complex waveforms. Everyone is influencing everyone else.

      I highly doubt Japan will ever be outright replaced, but its place in the world of animation (on a global level) will change, and the type of work it produces and for whom will as well.

  3. Sato’s argument wasn’t that Japan shouldn’t outsource to Korea because Korean animation sucks. He said that letting different animation companies do the in-betweening for anime has made the finished product inconsistent in terms of style and even quality.

    Then you go into that “What is anime, really?” debate. The term anime means cartoons made in Japan for a Japanese audience. And if you say “Well what about things like Avatar and Teen Titans that were influenced by anime?” then you already answered your own question. Influenced by anime. Stop trying to complicate a simple issue.

    As long as we enjoy an animate TV show or movie, who cares what we call it? I liked Avatar (can’t say the same for My Beautiful Girl Mari though). Technically, is it anime? Don’t know, don’t care. I’ll leave the semantics for the nerds who care about it.

    And for all you optimists who think that anime isn’t going downhill fast, just look at the chart for this summer’s anime season. Sure, Tatami Galaxy was made recently, but they let Masaaki Yuasa make that because he was an already established director. Also, when was the last time a truly original anime like Tatami Galaxy was made that didn’t air in the Noitamina time slot? As I said before, anime is in trouble.

    1. When anime like Tatami Galaxy didn’t air in the Noitamina slot they aired at two in the morning. Tatami Galaxy is like small budget European cult movies. They may be great, they may be truly original, they may be artistic but they’ll never attain mainstream attention, not matter whether mainstream attention is fixed on huge mecha or cute moeblobs. (Not that cute moeblob anime are mainstream, though. There’s just a lot of it because creators try to earn money by pandering to the otaku crowd. But they also air at two in the morning.)

      1. > Tatami Galaxy is like small budget European cult movies.
        > they’ll never attain mainstream attention

        Nah. It’s because these are shows for adults. Adults have less time to spend on anime when compared to kids. And when they do it’s after work, and probably after prime-time. Sure, you can argue that there are lots of adults who still watch “kiddie” anime, but we aren’t talking about them are we? The problem is that it’s HARDER to convince adults. Kids and teens are the low-hanging fruit here.

        Anime don’t really have a reputation as being worthwhile beyond the odd nice movie/OVA, so why risk spending time on a 24-episode series when you could just as easily watch a more mature TV show? As more and more decent shows gain exposure, you might see those people shift to anime to try something new. Especially those who grew up with anime and already know that they don’t have to be kid’s shows.

    2. > just look at the chart for this summer’s anime season.
      > when was the last time a truly original anime like Tatami Galaxy was made that didn’t air in [x]

      I’ve heard people saying that in just about every season of anime since I started using the Internet in the mid-90’s. The fact it, anime isn’t going downhill. It’s just stabilizing again to the time before it boomed. A time when there weren’t 300 moe shows a year, but just a relatively trickle of varied anime.

      Though if you want to argue about whether the business mentality is harming anime, I’m all for that. I think that’s where Japan’s anime is in trouble. It seems they’re content to just sell anime, instead of selling us on anime.

      1. True, people have been saying that the current anime season sucks since the dawn of digi-subs, but this season in particular is bad. The majority of shows this season are cheap moe shows made by AIC and JC Staff. That’s not to say that every season after this will be as bad. On the contrary, this fall season is shaping up to be pretty great. However, it seems like anime creators are now more inclined to take the safe route by pandering to the small but stable otaku demographic which is never good.

    3. I understand that part of Sato’s argument, and it’s valid, but there are multiple effects to every cause – and Sato seems to ignore many of them. If you give the article a close reading, the tone of his comments seem to suggest that the only people capable of creating thought-provoking, well animated stories are in Japan. And that’s just not the case, IMO.

      Anime as we know it is in trouble. but the entity known as anime isn’t a stagnant form; it’s continually evolving. And thus, it will evolve – it’s simply a matter of how it does.

  4. Hm… no, I can’t say I agree with you on all this. This kind of reasoning implies that the current trends in anime are not trends but something that is here to stay; but I don’t see any reason why it would be so. It also implies that right now there’s no variation and creativity in anime, at all, which is… again, not true. Just because the current trend leans towards brainless moe fluff doesn’t mean all anime that is produced is either brainless fun or artistic, experimental stuff. Even if you didn’t like Night Raid, Bantorra, Durarara, Sengoku Basara (brainless fun but not the moe kind), Fullmetal Alchemist (both series), Kuroshitsuji, etcetera they’re not very artistic but no brainless moe fluff either.

    Also, personally, I don’t think “anime” is expanding beyond Japan. It’s just that “animation cultures” influence each other. Disney influenced Tezuka and countless other creators around the world (just not all of them became influential like Tezuka). It’s no wonder that Japan’s animation culture influences Korean and American animation, especially since it became popular and easily accessible internationally, reaching more people, including people who create animation. (Its popularity doesn’t hurt either: it brings viewers/money hence people will try to incorporate anime elements to make their works more popular.)

    I admit I haven’t seen Mari, only clips from it, but based on those I’m reluctant to call it a sort of Korean version of the Japanese anime. Same with Avatar. Just because the it borrows elements from mainstream anime doesn’t mean it’s an American version of the Japanese anime. It’s an American cartoon with anime influences.

    I don’t think we can declare that anime in Japan is done for and we can only expect variation and creativity from countries’ anime-influenced cartoons.

    By the way:
    “Moreover, you can stream it for free courtesy of the Anime News Network.” – not in my little corner of Europe. :(

    1. > I don’t think “anime” is expanding beyond Japan. It’s just that “animation cultures” influence each other.

      You have a very fine point, there. I think fans of Japanese anime don’t quite give credit where it’s due, nor realize that anime already exists in a lot of societies, just not necessarily as the exact same mixture of tropes.

      > “Moreover, you can stream it for free courtesy of the Anime News Network.” – not in my little corner of Europe. :(

      You’ve hit my number-one concern about anime – the business model. They don’t seem to *want* to sell to the rest of the world anymore. Moreover they want to just ignore the Internet and vilify the fans in those emerging markets (ie, true fansubbers etc).

      I personally think that Japan will simply become marginalized in “cartoon entertainment” at this rate, just like they seem to be wanting. China and Korea, if they want, can easily break into the market. They just have to target the markets correctly and offer sane distribution models that aren’t based on near-ancient television practises, but rather the modern Internet.

      1. Business models are definitely a huge problem with anime, but I don’t think it’s because Japan doesn’t want to sell anime to other countries. Not at all – they’re making anime of Western properties paid by Western companies (Animatrix, Supernatural, Heroman – kind of); and ever since they realized that anime is a business in the US they’re also making anime with the specific purpose of selling it to the US. Stuff like Chevalier d’Eon, Blood+ and Gonzo’s “let’s twist popular stories until they don’t resemble the original anymore” series (Romeo x Juliet, Samurai 7, even Gankutsuou, superb though it was) were made mainly for the US market, along with Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, Innocence, and the Bebop and Trigun movies. The mangaka who did Monster (can’t remember his name) ahs started a manga specifically to “break into” the US market (he didn’t succeed).

        The problem is, that a) anime is a business and as such it operates within pointless boundaries such as region codes, licences and whatnot, b) Japanese companies have genuine difficulties in grasping that things work differently elsewhere and what works in the domestic market will not necessarily work elsewhere. (Oh, the stories I could tell.)

        As for vilifying people… well, they’re protecting their property. I’m not a hypocrite, I download raws and fansubs, but let’s be honest, they’re illegal. Their effects on fandom is something people will debate until their mouths fall off, but copyright is copyright. I know I wouldn’t have bought all the anime and manga I have without all that illegal stuff. However, as part of an emerging market, I can see the negative effects of people downloading fansubs/manga and not buying official releases therefore hampering the growth of the market. (Which they don’t give a damn about.)

        1. > they’re also making anime with the specific purpose of selling it to the US.

          That’s true. But I’m not talking about pandering and gearing the entertainment TO others like the US. If that is what they’re concerned about they ought to invest more heavily in them. I don’t think it’s playing to their strengths to branch out in this way, even if some of those anime are stellar.

          It’s clear there is a demand already for their EXISTING product, just translated. I’m also talking about “moe” anime in addition to the more unique stuff. Otherwise the whole fansub/scanlation debate wouldn’t exist.

          > As for vilifying people… well, they’re protecting their property.

          Sure, it’s their right and it’s their product, but just saying that won’t solve anything. The reality is that they’re letting the problems remain, and the fansubbers still feel justified in what they’re doing when there aren’t legal alternatives (which is very often). Crunchroll shows that it’s possible to work towards a solution, even if it’s not as pleasant for the fans as fansubbing is. And it shows that people will pay, and that profits are possible.

          Besides, if they wanted to protect their property they could work with the fans, who have no way of distributing their own translations without illegal effort. But the problems are more with copyright law being antiquated, with varying pay structures based on region, and with third-party licensing deals being far more lucrative than catering to fans.

          1. “It’s clear there is a demand already for their EXISTING product, just translated. I’m also talking about “moe” anime in addition to the more unique stuff. Otherwise the whole fansub/scanlation debate wouldn’t exist.”

            Unfortunately this is where fandom myopia comes in. When you look around yourself in fandom, you see countless people who LOVE anime, including moe, mecha, etc. The problem is that these are actually not THAT many people, compared to the market itself, let alone the entire population. Moe, for example, is a niche genre in the West (which is not surprising, seeing that it caters to Japanese sensibilities – cultural differences and all). So it’s just not worth licensing them, because the sales wouldn’t justify the money going into licensing, creating a dub and/or sub, advertising, etc etc.

            Digital distribution, especially with subs only, would significantly lower the costs but would produce less income as well, so I guess companies on both sides of the Pacific are reluctant to try it. (Though Crunchyroll’s example may change this.)

            “Besides, if they wanted to protect their property they could work with the fans, who have no way of distributing their own translations without illegal effort. ”

            I don’t think that would be a very good idea. Translations are not inherently good just because they’re made by fans.

            But yeah, I agree that the whole licensing/copyright/distributing system, both in Japan and in the US, seriously needs to be reformed because as it is an antiquated mess.

          2. Besides, if they wanted to protect their property they could work with the fan

            This is a bit of a troublesome statement. In my opinion, the anime industry has almost always worked with the fans – sometimes to the point of stupidity. I remember in the mid-2000’s some companies were doing full-blown AnimeJunkies style karaoke effects on their DVDs.

            We’re the ones at fault. 10 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for a fansite for [Your Favorite anime here] to have an FAQ page specifically about the morals, legals, and ethics of fansubbing. The community had an intense awareness that what they were doing was technically illegal, and that it needed to stop, come legal releases. The ones that broke down the floodgates (far as I remember) were the subs of Inuyasha, which used the reasoning “though Viz may hold the liscence to the first 50 episodes, we’re subbing episode 65, and therefore it’s legal”. By this time, those FAQ pages were gone with the Anipike winds, and it was all downhill after that.

            Anime liscencing companies are not the problem. Nor are people like Dai Sato – for all his bigotry, all he’s doing is pointing out a trend. If anything, we as fans are the problem.

    2. The streaming will come to Europe soon. there’s just too many damn countries’ laws to sort through. But patience will be rewarded, I’d think.

      I don’t really know how to reply to this, actually – I think the points you’re making are entirely valid. Sato’s not the only one to notice something wrong with the state of anime production in Japan, either. I watched a video interview with… err… a…. director (i’m sorry, the name really escapes me, but this blog post does a great job explaining the same story) in which he voiced many of the same concerns as Sato, though framing it in a more economic context: because of the low amounts paid to Japanese animators and inbetweeners, a) the industry cannot exist without outsourcing and b)they can’t make a living. And, because animation studios can’t do anything without profits, they end up making eroge shows and their ilk to fill the gap. It’s a vicious cycle.

      Whether we consider the possibilities of anime (or even just Asian animation) outside of Japan, Sato’s points stand: the industry within Japan is in serious trouble.

  5. Another interesting story. So the question is not ‘is anime failing?’ but more a question of whether anime’s success requires it to remain a Japanese art form. I know a lot of anime fans that don’t agree with calling Avatar an anime. MAL is adamant that it’s not one. Are these people purists excluding other potential sources of anime, or are they preserving the art form’s true nature?

    Very fascinating question. On one hand I think it is a global age. People around the world can read about and stream anime. It may be a Japanese convention, but there’s nothing about it that can’t be reproduced in Korea, the US, or even Europe (ever seen a Spanish or Italian anime? They’re trash, but they’re out there)… it is a statement to anime’s popularity that people around the globe are trying to emulate it and we shouldn’t want to shut that down. There are already so many anime that the genre turns on rankings and bloggers’ reviews; it’s not like we can’t avoid crappy Korean and European knock-offs in favor of superior Japanese animation if they actually are crappy.

    But on the other hand, perhaps something really is lost in all this globalization and outsourcing. There don’t seem to be as many classical masterpieces made any more. As soon as something hits the global register, the market competition changes fundamentally – it becomes less profitable for trusted Japanese studios to produce quality anime, more difficult for them to compete. It’s like what happened to the video game industry. Suddenly everyone starts pandering to the idiots that’ll buy anything because it’s just cheaper to make a bad product that’ll sell than a good product that may or may not.

    Thanks a lot, Celeste. Quality story on the challenges facing the increasingly worldwide anime scene. I think there is hope left. Some of my best animes, like Code Geass or Death Note were made in the last five years :)

    1. > on the other hand, perhaps something really is lost in all this globalization and outsourcing. There don’t seem to be as many classical masterpieces made any more

      That isn’t a byproduct of globalization. It’s just stagnation. Anime has tapped out the well of potential in Japanese culture to the point where they know what sells and what doesn’t, and don’t WANT to create new masterpieces. Twelve Kingdoms can only carry the industry for so long. There are only so many times we can hear the same damn Japanese story (albeit with mecha this time!) before we shout “I’M BORED”.

      Consider, then, that if other cultures create cartoons they will base them on their own biases, tropes and legends. We get to (re)experience other masterpieces that aren’t about the same thing over and over again. The problem is whether this part of the process will simply be bypassed in the interests of making money.

      1. I think you raise an interesting concern, Hogart. I’m criticizing the cheapening of the genre to make a quick buck. You are telling me, I think, that this has happened in Japan because anime is a finished product and everyone who is making it knows exactly who to pander to. I think your point is valid, but I don’t know that it is necessarily true. Sure, some anime feel like they’ve been done a million times. There are more shounen manga out there than there are stars in the sky. But what is Death Note if not an original story? What is it ripping off, Detective Conan? I would be hesitant to argue that the possibilities for new and inventive, but authentically Japanese, anime have run dry.

        But you make a point which I find to be more interesting. What is to say that, uninterested in putting their culture’s own personal stamp on the genre, all of these new anime studios won’t simply crank out their rendition of the same old crap? That’s a really good question. Would Koreans buy Gundam all over again if the story was repackaged and reanimated in a quintessentially Korean way? Seems like, if you’re trying to popularize a new form of anime, you have to start with the old stuff. Your target demographic is the people who already like anime, it’s easier to sell to them than to create new fans of the genre. But isn’t the process organic, don’t we reach a point where the old crap won’t sell any more and it’s time to put our thinking caps on or give up on making a profit? I’m not sure what the answer is.

        1. “everyone who is making it knows exactly who to pander to”

          I think this is definitely true. This is why we have token character types and elements in so many anime shows, characters and elements that are there because the creators know that they will appeal to target group X. We have the token loli, the token pretty boy(s, if there’s more of them they may even have UST), the token fanservice, etc. Not because it’s absolutely essential that the character be a loli or a bishounen, or that the women’s uniform show most of their breasts, it’s just that these things attract certain viewers. Is it essential for the story that the pilots in every (non-UC) Gundam series since Wing are angsty pretty boys? No, but it panders to the female target group. Was it essential in Macross F that Sheryl is a busty babe, and Ranka is a flat-chested cutie? Or that Klan is a babe with boobs the size of a house in one minute and a cute loli in the other? Not really, but you know… (I think Ouran Host Club lampshades this pretty well: the boys form a perfectly stereotypical harem, and they are very well aware that their clients choose them on basis of their attraction to certain character types.) I don’t think this is unique to anime (cute critters in Disney movies, female superhero costumes, etc.), but often they’re applied pretty blatantly.

          “What is to say that, uninterested in putting their culture’s own personal stamp on the genre, all of these new anime studios won’t simply crank out their rendition of the same old crap?”

          I think the point here is not necessarily cultural but personal… that is to say, it’s cultural in the aspect of making something unique that is easy to digest for people of a certain culture. You mentioned crappy Spanish and Italian “anime” – what do they have aside of mimicking stereotypical anime art style and tropes? Nothing. It’s painfully obvious that they were created to ride the anime wave. Avatar, on the other hand, integrated anime influence with Western animation traditions (looks, storytelling, character types) and the creators’ personal vision, and the resulting mix is a product that has something to offer other than “this looks kinda like anime so buy it.” (I’m not sure about Mari because to me it didn’t really look like it was borrowing anything specific from anime.)

          1. By the way, I haven’t actually seen Avatar except for some random clips, so I’m just going by what other people told me about it.

    2. I’m glad you find the question fascinating – I think about it quite a bit, actually :). 10 years ago (5-6 years ago, really) I would’ve agreed with MAL – if it wasn’t produced in Japan for a Japanese audience, it wasn’t and couldn’t be anime. But times have changed, the industry has changed, technology has changed almost everything, and now I’m not so sure. I entertain the possibility of non-Japanese anime now because I don’t know that products can be tied to specific geographical regions nowadays: look at things like Wedgewood china, typically a British thing, which I can guarantee you is almost all produced in China. Another example is that Disney, now that Japan is too expensive, outsources to India – and who knows what kind of animation they’ll produce, 20 years down the road :)

  6. A good view of the other side of the coin – I approve! Although outsourcing is taking talent away from Japan, this talent has to be going *somewhere* and those ‘somewheres’ could well be where we’ll be seeing more and more good productions coming from.

    I can’t think of a good reason why I wouldn’t want to watch My Beautiful Girl Mari. If it’s visually appealing and tells a good story, what does its nationality matter? I’ve watched enough films in Japanese and various European languages so I’m used to subtitles, after all!

    It’s worth pointing out too that Korea has a fertile and vibrant film industry to start with: K-horrors are mentioned in the same breath as the likes of the Ring trilogy, Shiri can mingle with the best Hollywood blockbusters and as for the ‘Vengeance’ series of films…genius.

    As an aside, I wonder whether the contemporary Korean and other East Asian live-action movies drew inspiration from Japan in the same way as their animation and graphic novels did, or whether the reality is a more complicated melting pot of Western influences…or indeed swapping each other’s. The bottom line is, if it’s good I’ll like it; regardless of nationality or language. That’s what subtitles are for!

    1. Oh man, the ‘Vengace’ series is a favorite too! Beautifully done blood-and-gore, with great stories to boot! :)

      I’m not sure if they drew inspiration from Japan so much as their shared cultural heritage and myths. Though they’re seperate countries and speak different languages now, at one point they were all the good ol’ Middle Kingdom – and that gives them a cultural language from which to draw on, which is why it all seems the same-but-different, imo.

      My Beautiful Girl Mari has as few rough edges, but it’s a pleasing watch. I’d definitely reccomend it. :)

  7. I think this problem is complex, in the sense that there are multiple parts, so it makes it difficult to make a final statement about solutions, or even effects.

    [1] Sato talks about outsourced workers not being trained or provided the full vision of the show on which they are working. This is largely pointing to animation quality issues, but also to the problem of how people learn the craft, and even about the exploitation of both the workers and the consumers (selling the Japanese-ness of a product that is assembled off-shore).

    [2] Then there is the whole issue of whether corporations that control the funding of anime production are willing to green light projects that deviate from what is seen as a money-making formula. One might also include here the question of whether productions that get made despite deviating from the formula are promoted with as much vigor as competing formula products.

    This is already enough complexity to make discussion difficult, but then we have the [3] “Is it anime?” question as well. To some extent this overlaps with the issues related to outsourcing.

    To cap it all off, we have no real hard data to ground the discussion in facts. In part this is because the ground terms are undefined, for example is Sengoku Basara an example of the “good” kind of anime because it is not kuukei-kei? Is House of Five Leaves an example of the “bad” kind of anime because it is kuukei-kei? It is difficult to have a discussion without talking past each other when the basic facts of the discussion are undefined, so [4] how do we determine that some show is “good” or “bad”? Which we need to do in preparation for [5] has the number of “good” anime gone down in recent years? Note the total number of anime might have gone up or down, but that is somewhat irrelevant; the question is really, can “good” anime continue to be produced, given the current conditions?

    Here I just wanted to pull apart some different components of the problem as I see it.

    1. Mm, lovely. As you stated, it’s a complex issue.

      Frankly, for me, the problem was the lack of information: what we’re getting is an interpretation of Sato’s presentation. I’d love to see the transcripts, so I could form a better argument!

      The thing with anime in Japan, to me anyways, is that it lies within the socio-economics of a place – and that intermediately gets complicated. There are so many factors which influence this thing we call a “country”, let alone the “world economy”. It’s all a butterfly effect type of thing, and though we tend to see anime as this.. thing isolated from the world, it isn’t. It’s subject to the pulls of economic demands, and societial conditions. That’s why my fundamental view on this situation is anime as we know it will change. It may be a simple shift in tone of stories told, or something more fundamental in the way it’s produced. I hate to use the line – but we can only wait and see.

      1. “The thing with anime in Japan, to me anyways, is that it lies within the socio-economics of a place – and that intermediately gets complicated. There are so many factors which influence this thing we call a “country”, let alone the “world economy”. ”

        Yes, exactly! Like all entertainment, anime has never been stagnant and probably never will be, because it changes according to all the various changes in society, culture, economy, the fandom, its own inner system, etc. But these won’t be quick changes so anime won’t change quickly either. (It never really has.)

  8. The future of anime is still bleak despite skills being transfered to the Koreans. Japan is still the only country where 2-dimensional animation is consumed in bulk by adults as much as movies. Skills may be transfered to Koreans, but they will utilise these skills a lot more for completing outsource contracts from Japan rather than creating original 2d animation. I agree exactly with guguri that a change in the mindset of the Koreans is needed to fully realise a better future for anime: for many more adults to consume animation rather than children. Seeing how Japanese 2d animation is pandering more and more towards moe and more moe instead of artistic aesthetic, I would say that the future of quality anime would be quite bleak. As Koreans will use improved skills to aid the Japanese in producing more moe anime. Its a downward spiral however I see it.

    1. Yeah, but while they may currently use those skills to complete crappy anime, what will they do in the future? In 10 year’s time? Say every anime company in Japan goes under due to making too many eroge adaptations. And then every Japanese animator on the planet.. turns into a zombie and dies, or something. all of a sudden, you have highly trained workforces in Korea & China with no work – they can either all become barbers, or they can (and will, I’d stress) rise to the challenge and create.

  9. I’d also point out that for every My Beautiful Girl Mari there is also an Astro Plan. One cringes at the almost palpable trace lines in the Chinese-made latter.

    In regards to the rest of the discussion so far though – I’d actually like to see the day when we can discard the entire loanword “anime” and just use the proper English word “animation”. There’s just too many assumptions packed into the use of the word.

  10. No mention of the French animation scene? They’ve been doing some interesting stuff with Oban Star Racers and Wakfu.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2JrWJfdoqk

    This was a very interesting post, but I’m sorry that I couldn’t get through all of the comments (but it’s always a great sign to such spirited and in-depth conversation).

    1. Interesting to note that Masaaki Yuasa has directed an episode of Wakfu, too. I believe it was the prequel episode or something? I’ve seen clips and it looked great.

  11. Anime often has a uniquely Japanese feel to it, I think.

    The only other country that I’ve seen with a similar feel to its entertainment is Korea, although you can detect subtle differences in the worldview of its creators.

    Indian and Chinese anime, whilst being from cultures that were influenced by the same Buddhist ideals that define a lot of Japanese art, would probably be quite different – lacking in ‘wabi sabi’. More taboos about different types of story.

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