The word anime is often defined as “animation from Japan”. If it just could be that easy! When you hear the word “anime”, images of big eyes and brightly colored hair spring to mind. Maybe something like that?
Or this one?
Look at the blue hair!
In Japanese, anime is written as “anime” (literally “anime”) and stands for the word animation (animation or Animeeshon). The problem is how the word is used both in Japan and abroad.
In the west, the word anime refers to Japanese cartoons – but it generally refers to a specific type of anime. Namely Japanese cartoons in which the characters have huge eyes (anime eyes) and funky colored hair. The word “anime” is an abbreviation for this, and it can sometimes be used derisively in English. “God, this is SO anime.” In other cases it is more neutral and is simply used descriptively.
But is it always the right word?
Shortening words is common in Japanese. If the language can do a little bit shorter, you can bet on it. For example remote control (ル モ ー ト コ ン ト ロ ー ー or Rimooto office door) becomes Rimokon (Remote control), the word television (television or Terebijon) is fair now Terebi (テ レ ビ) and the long product name Family Computer (“ァ ミ リ ー コ ン ピ ュ” “or” Famirii Konpyuuta “) becomes Famicom (フ ァ ミ コ ン). The language – or at least its speakers – often seems obsessed with making the jargon shorter and more compact in everyday conversation.
These examples are foreign loanwords, but Japanese words are contracted and abbreviated in a similar manner. Loan words are called Gairaigo (外来 語) in Japanese, but although borrowed, the words are included in more than the lexicon. You become part of the culture and society. They are often used to explain ideas and concepts – Japanese ideas and concepts – in a more nuanced way. While they were born abroad, they are linguistic immigrants and eventually become Japanese.
A typical example is “Anime”. The word itself isn’t that old. Initially, only people in the animation business used the word “animation” in Japan. The general public used different words for the Japanese cartoons that appeared in cinemas and on television. As a website Gogen explainedThere was the awkward thing Manga Eiga (漫画 映 画) or “Manga-Film” or that just as cumbersome Terebi manga (TV Manga) or “TV Manga”. There was Douga (動画), which literally means “moving picture” and is often used to refer to clips and so on. Before that, however, all of these words related to what we would call anime today. But none of them were really stuck. The word manga now naturally refers to so-called comics or even graphic novels in English. Japan has a long, proud tradition of popular mangas achieving further success after they are animated.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the word “anime” caught on in Japan. It was around this time that the otaku fandom as we know it today really began to unfold. This is not a coincidence. In the 1980s, “anime” was widely used in Japan to refer to anime. However, the word is also used retrospectively to refer to works that were created and broadcast before the term was widely used. To take Astro Boy. The character and his look with those giant eyes were later used to define the term anime, long after the show originally aired in the early 1960s.
It’s not a coincidence Astro boy ‘Its creator, Osamu Tezuka, the man behind many influential and groundbreaking works, is known as “The Godfather of Anime”. His work brilliantly captured the American animation he saw and fell in love with as a kid. above all the animation of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. It was the films of these two men that inspired Tezuka to create his own animation. What modern audiences often forget, however, is how big the eyes of the cartoon characters were in the years leading up to World War II.
Fleischer’s most famous creation is Betty Boop. Note that the character’s dog, Bimbohas even bigger eyes. (Woody Woodpecker is also not an eye-catcher in the eye department.)
“Anime” became a brilliant branding – a way of separating Japanese cartoons from cartoons in the rest of the world. (The other branding, Japanimation, was used in both Japan and overseas, but as indicated in The anime encyclopediaThe term is reminiscent of a wartime arc. With or without right, “anime” has become a way of making the country’s cartoons appear different. When I use the word “anime” in English, you immediately know that I am referring to Japanese animation.
In Japan, however, this distinction is not always made. For example, it is not uncommon for foreign animations to be also referred to as “anime”. NHK refers to strange animations like Curious George and Boss baby as “Anime”, along with local shows. Sometimes a line is drawn, but not always. In Japan, the Cartoon Network refers to American cartoons as “overseas anime”.
Disney isn’t immune to the word either. Disney usually refers to its films as “Disney Works” (デ ィ ズ ニ ー 作品 or “Dizunii sakuhin”), but many fans refer to Disney films as “Disney Anime” (デ ィ ズ ニ ー ア ニ メ), where the Word “Disney” is usually in front.
Likewise, Japanese animation companies refer to their own creations in a similar way. Studio Ghibli prefers the term “work” (作品 or Sakuhin) and avoid the term “anime” or “animation” even if fans don’t.
I would argue that the word “anime” is loaded in English too, which might explain why Studio Ghibli anime are often referred to as “Ghibli films” or “Ghibli films” in English. This allows English speakers to separate the works from the anime’s luggage. However, not everyone does this.
These are anime characters, right? Like many anime, there was a manga version first. And then it was animated. Also, like many anime, this was shown on Animax, a network for anime. So … one exception you say! May be.
This is Sazae-san. This is perhaps Japan’s most famous anime TV program. It’s been on TV since 1969 and literally everyone across the country knows it. You can’t say that about other anime.
The characters look rather normal. Nobody has tremendous Astro Boy Style eyes. That could be because this is based on a 1940s comic book. But American animation had some big eyes in the 1940s … and new episodes continue to be produced and broadcast weekly.
This is America’s longest running program. The simpsons. It shows characters with funny hair and huge eyes. Is that anime? Well, at the time of posting the first line of the Japanese wiki very clearly refers to this show as an anime – albeit an American anime.
The Japanese language can use the term “anime” to refer to anything in an incredibly broad way Nice healing to Popeye. However, if you do the Google image search “Anime” (ア ニ メ) in Japanese, you will get:
Most readers look at this and say, “Yeah, that’s anime, all right.” Well the Japanese would look at that and think the same thing. Big eyes are a hallmark.
As in English, the Japanese word can refer to a style or a motif. However, as mentioned earlier, Japan does not have a monopoly on giant animated eyes. Even today, big-eyed animated characters appear in western cartoons, including modern Disney animations.
However, in Japanese, people sometimes refer to anime and say something “looks like an anime” or “seems like an anime” but not derogatory. Rather, it is descriptive and is used to describe something that can be anything from exaggerated to idealized. (Note: this also happens with manga.) And the nuance understood is that they relate to a scene or style found in domestic animation.
While I was working on this story for the first time, I asked my eldest son, who is Japanese, what he thought of “anime”. Is Sazae-san Anime? “No, it’s too old.” Well what about Astro Boy? “Yes, because Tezuka made it.” How about Shin-chan crayon? Is that an anime? “Little children shouldn’t see that.”
That is both the beauty and the problem with the word anime. It has different meanings for different people. It’s an abbreviation. It’s loaded. Is there a way around this? Maybe yes. Qualifiers help explain what exactly you are talking about. “TV anime.” “Disney Anime.” “American Anime.” What ever.
Do I think we should use a word other than anime to describe a particular style of Japanese animation that many would immediately associate with the connotations the word anime creates? No not at all. The word is such a part of the internet dictionary that trying to remove it from use would likely only cause confusion. Plus, the language just doesn’t work that way.
In English, the word anime continues to be used to describe animation from Japan – better yet, a specific type of animation. It’s good. It evokes a style, a look, and even a mood. Remember, however, that “anime” sometimes means more than just “anime”.