Later today I’ll get to watch some raw anime — episode one of Afro Samurai. And this time the Japanese can fansub it. A perverse notion if ever I’ve heard one, but quite clearly Western culture is directly infiltrating (a nicer way of putting it would be influencing) Japan’s anime industry, inevitably resulting in an odd fusion of cultural trends — the very name “Afro Samurai” is an obvious reference to this colourful clash of styles between traditional East and contemporary West.
Our natural reaction is fear, "please don’t change our anime" — but then the archetypal genre formulas are becoming tiresome. Once you’ve been around for a few years and seen Evangelion, Naruto and Azumanga Daioh, you’ve basically seen it all. Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, but the fact is that the majority of anime is just recycling the same old ideas over and over again.
This cross-pollination of traditions and culture then, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing after all. The very idea of an afro’ed samurai is absurd to the point of insulting in a traditional sense, but it’s still refreshing and original none the less. It sounds fun, which is a lot more than I can say for Kanon. No, a remake of Kanon. Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Samurai Champloo all take their cues North America, fuse the complex characterisation, stylish animation and moving drama of Japanese anime with North America’s pop culture to great and lasting effect.
It goes the other way too, but with not quite the same outstanding results. Cartoon Network is brimming with new productions that borrow the cliche visual style of anime but alas fail to capture the blatant essence of it; simply cartoons that don’t condescend, that don’t feature faultless personalities and aren’t boring moralistic treacle. I doubt it will stay this way for long — the spread of fansubs, the expansion of anime into households, it can only be a good thing. Kids in their ever increasing numbers will grow up with anime, be inspired by it (like we all are now) and become the next self-made Makoto Shinkai. Audience and range of influence is no longer limited by physical plain or birth origin, everything is right here on the internet. A global culture is fast approaching.