Final Draft of my research paper: Hybrid Anime
Convergence of the Modern and Traditional Aspects of Anime
Although some viewers of anime categorize the medium as childish cartoons, anime is not exclusively marketed towards young children. The complexity of the themes featured in anime attracts a wide variety of age ranges, of which the audience members are both male and female. Interest in and consumption of Japanese animation has increased exponentially across the world in the last 10 years (Leonard, 2005, p.281). Anime is a word for Japanese animated films and television programs (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 206). As a central part of Japanese popular culture, anime is closely held with video games and manga, Japanese comic books.
Although anime is created with only the Japanese audience in mind (Price, 2001, p.5), it has not stopped Japan’s anime from finding a new fan base in America. The differences in culture can create significant differences in how the subject matter of Japanese anime is received and decoded by the audience. To cater to this new American fan base, certain steps are taken by production companies to ensure marketing success for this new culture of fans quite different from the typical traditional Japanese audience. Changes to elements such as voice actor scripts, theme, and storyline sophistication are made to grab the attention of the new American fans. On the other hand, do changes to these central elements of the stories told through anime take something away from it as well? Some would say that new American anime will create a new hybrid form of anime, blending elements of the traditional style with new aspects desired by the new audiences. This new potential hybrid form of anime does not create an entirely new form, but rather creates a generic hybridized form of anime that is not so different as to take significance away from the traditional style. Although, this new form demonstrates that there are significant differences in the impact of anime on cultures in Japan and the United States due to these two distinct cultures converging to produce a hybrid form of anime. This essay will argue that the changes made to Japanese anime upon being imported and aired in the U.S. create a hybrid form of anime because of the necessary changes made to attract new fans. This essay will also address the changes made to Japanese anime, such as censorship, voice dubbing, and theme and sophistication changes. To fully grasp the concept of anime one must first examine its origins in manga.
Every anime series is spawned from a manga storyline. Manga are Japanese comics or graphic novels and are the basis for all the elements of an anime. In contrast to American style comic books which feature common themes of superheroes exhibiting superhuman powers and good vs. evil scenarios, manga have a wider range of themes that reach out to a wider variety of audiences. Manga contain themes such as fantasy, everyday Japanese life, cooking, action, adventure, martial art, sports, romantic drama, comedy, same sex relationships, horror, characters with supernatural abilities, science fiction, futuristic and samurai themes (Fukunaga, 2006, p.213). These different themes can create elaborate and complex storylines and plots.
Anime series display different styles concerning the flow of the story or subject matter. Some plots and storylines may show a natural progression of the plot throughout the length of the season of the anime series, a span of 26 episodes. In this style, the plot can unfold over the season and come to a conclusion at the end of a season or each episode could contain a conflict or topic to be resolved and concluded at the close of each episode.
Another style of anime is the saga. The saga style is much more complex than the previous. Anime sagas normally revolve around a main character that is faced with obstacles that become life altering experiences. These sagas are often complex in theme and storyline. They contain sophisticated subject matter, as well as many characters, obstacles, and back stories that are revealed as the saga progresses. The uniqueness of the saga is seen through the progression of the plot throughout the season of the anime. Sagas take more than one season to fully pan out, so it is normal for an anime saga plot to stretch across as many seasons as the creators’ see fit. The anime Naruto, at the start featuring a 12 year-old ninja in-training as the main character (Kishimoto, 1999), is a saga whose plot can only be fulfilled when the main character reaches his adulthood stage of life. This saga features dozens of characters and obstacles shown over nine consecutive seasons of 26 episodes each. Although at the end of this series the main character has not yet reached his goal, the popularity of the series initiated a subsequent sequel series that continues the plot into the main character’s young adult years of life (Kishimoto, 1999). The sage style accurately reflects the complex nature of a sophisticated anime while instilling mature human values in its characters.
Before we had Pokemon….
Anime was seen and recognized in America in the 1980’s but was imported into the country at an earlier, less declared stage. America had previously been airing cartoons, less sophisticated animated generic works (“childish” in theory, yet for all ages), before the major movements of anime into the country. American cartoons, originally conceived as relatively sophisticated narratives for all audiences during the studio system of the 1930s and the 1940s, became cheap television retreads after the collapse of the system in the 1950s (Leonard, 2005, p.283).
Shows like Tom and Jerry were ‘sanitized’ to remove their politically incorrect content, reducing them to repeated action scenes with fits of unresolved violence (Leonard, 2005, p.283).
Networks decided to move the cartoon genre to Saturday morning because there were more children in proportion to the total viewership (the ‘kid only’ label alienated adult viewers), thus providing food and toy sponsors with more value for their bottom dollar (Leonard, 2005, p.283).
The first wave of anime in America began in 1963 with Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom), more commonly referred to as Astro Boy (Dynon, 2002, p.190). Even with the success of Astro Boy, imports of anime dropped considerably up until the 1980s (Dynon, 2002, p.191). The next wave of anime came in the 1980s and quickly captured the attention of a new fan base in America. All participants pointed out that the uniqueness of anime, which differs from American animation, attracted anime fans in America; humor in anime differed from what they were used to with American animation (Fukunaga, 2006, p.212).
Production companies have two options to approach: to produce a full series of episodes, normally 26 episodes in length, or to produce an Original Video Animation, an OVA pilot. OVA’s are usually “one-shot productions or short series and are released direct to video” (Dynon, 2002, p.190). The OVA market boomed in the late 1980s, and their short, self-contained nature helped encourage some companies in the West to start importing anime (Dynon, 2002, p.190). With the introduction of the video cassette recorder, anime fans were now able to copy and distribute footage of OVAs as well as anime series to fellow fans, creating an underground system of free sharing of anime (Leonard, 2005). The fan interest in anime was not halted at just the animation, but for some, was extended to learning the Japanese language as well. Japanese speaking immigrants, as well as American fans who had newly learned the Japanese language, had begun a process of translating the copies of anime into what is commonly referred to as “fansub”, or subtitled versions (Leonard, 2005). Fans who undertook these tasks of fansubbing performed the service for free stating that they did it to spread the word about anime and increase the amount of fans for this subculture (Leonard, 2005). Although there were other individuals who partook in this process for profit, true fans of anime created underground networks for distribution from 1976-1993 (the VCR being introduced in 1975) (Leonard, 2005). From the beginning of anime being imported changes have been made; even at the earliest stage these imports underwent changes to appease its new American fans and overcome the language barrier.
While American culture has become a dominant facet of global media, anime from Japan has shown significant media influence around the world. As anime consumption increases in America, its reception by audiences constitutes a contraflow effect. “Although Western domination of the global media and communication industry remains overwhelming (Thussu, 2006, p205)”, the contraflow of anime into the U.S. shows how Japan is the dominant force in the animation medium. That contraflow is addressed with censors and language changes in an effort to Americanize anime products, thus creating anime with elements of old and new to form new hybrid anime. The theory of hybridity appropriately addresses the changes made to anime upon its entrance to American markets.
Kraidy’s views on hybridity can best be summed up by this following statement:
“hybridity”, rejecting the polarity between global (production and dissemination) and local (reception) of mass mediated culture (Kraidy, 1999, p460).
In Kraidy’s studies of hybridity, he observes how global and local cultures converge on each other and interact. He attempts to prove that “hybridity is not a negation of identity but its quotidian and inevitable condition” (Kraidy, 1999, p456). Kraidy also states that “cultural hybridity is an ontological grounding for the ongoing internationalization of media and cultural studies” (Kraidy, 1999, p456). Kraidy’s research shows a pattern between dominant cultures influencing local cultures and how those cultures transform, in theory, taking on similar characteristics of the dominant influencing culture.
Kraidy’s research supporting his claims of hybridity can be observed in two of his articles. Kraidy (2002) deciphers the content of articles from the Washington Post news publication to observe any evidence of a dominant U.S. culture creating hybrid local cultures around the world due to the strong influences of U.S. popular culture’s reception in other countries. Kraidy also details the lives of Maronites in Lebanon (1999). Kraidy explains how dominant western culture influences’ impact the lives of young Maronites trying to establish an identity for themselves.
Kraidy’s observations of the articles in the Washington Post revealed hidden meanings of global hybridization (2002). Some of the articles Kraidy analyzes include: “American Popular Culture Abroad”, “Hollywood Tailors its Movies to Sell in Foreign Markets”, “Studies say ‘Ethnic’ Films are not Popular Overseas”, and “Malaysians create hybrid culture with American Imports: Despite Government Censorship, Young People Enthusiastically Embrace Western Music, Fashions” (Kraidy, 2002, p 324). As Kraidy analyzes each article, he notes the hybrid points of each culture being influenced by American popular culture. The articles with topics concerning foreign movie markets explain correlations between Hollywood’s attempts to attract foreign audiences and those audiences adopting the values seen in those films. Though censors are prevalent in foreign media, Kraidy claims that the non-Western audience’s desire for Western media is too strong to be impaired by the strict rules to prevent citizens from importing products labeled uncensored contraband by foreign governments (Kraidy, 2002).
Kraidy’s research of hybridity continues in his study obeserving the demographic of young Maronite citizens in Lebanese society and attempts to analyze their reception of global culture (1999). Kraidy explains how the Maronite people are in a position to absorb content from multiple cultures around the world. Television programmings, as well as radio broadcasts and movie theater releases, are available to the Maronites in a variety of genres translated from multiple languages (Kraidy, 1999).
The Maronites’ did not identify with any specific culture, but rather adopted aspects of the cultures they came in contact with to form their own unique identity (Kraidy, 1999). Kraidy displays these claims as a result of the Maronites’ reception of foreign sitcoms and soap opera genre shows that are translated and aired on local stations. The Maronites showed patterns between which values the Maronites’ chose to align themselves with and those values they chose to reject; “Young Maronites identified with the West’s commitment to personal freedom and civil liberties but criticized perceived Western individualism and sexual promiscuity (Kraidy, 1999, p464).” On the other hand, one could say that the very practice of picking and choosing what values are desirable to adopt from these foreign cultures is a way of setting the Maronites apart from their larger community of Lebanese citizenry. The Maronites may very well choose to align themselves with specific social identities, religious identities, etc., though Kraidy clearly establishes the overall identity of these Maronites as hybrids (Kraidy, 1999). In the case of the Maronites, one can clearly identify their Lebanese foundation and differentiate between the adopted Western attributes used to shape an individual identity for themselves. Holding on to an identity influenced by the local and adopting values from global influences can cause cultural distinctiveness to blur. Becoming an active participant in analyzing global influences enables hybridization of cultures; selectively choosing methods and values is what allows hybridity to exist.
Although, some would argue that hybridity has always existed but was not formally recognized. Morris addresses various mediums that are hybrids undergoing constant change through “cultural borrowing and refashioning (2002, p282).” “Culture is not a timeless source of national purity, but is, in general conditions, subject to constant absorption and adaptation (Morris, 2002, p282).” People may fear the effects and new products of cultural hybridization on the assumption that their cultural practices and values are pure and unaltered by outside influences (Pieterse, 2001). Though how can cultural purity exist when that culture may adapt or influence another in the future? The theory of hybridity may be irrelevant when observing the bigger picture of cultures and how they are established, often by adopting, or borrowing values from other cultures.
As anime has made it into American markets and captured fan’s attention, there have also been changes made to anime to cater to this new audience of American fans; such as censorship, voice dubbing and changes to the theme and sophisticated nature of an anime.
Censorship is a foremost issue whenever an imported product has come to America that is to be broadcast on television. The censorship of original content from Japanese anime is not often well received by “old school” fans of anime, though some claim “the regulation of imported media is frequently justified by claims about the need to protect culture and identities from the corrupting influence of external elements (Morris, 2002, p278).” “This censorship of Japanese anime causes some problems for U.S. anime fans and frustration with the “American” version of anime. For example, in the first season of Sailor Moon (Sailor moon, 2008), there were two male characters that had a relationship. By the next season, they turned a him into her (Fukunaga, 2006, p.213).” Changes like this are too significant to the story created in the original which makes this censored version very different from the Japanese anime. Differences in society and culture, as well as comfort levels with same-sex relationships, contributed to a major change to a plot such as the Sailor Moon example. In effect, censorship of anime can be used to “protect” the type of media shown on television in the United States. In the Sailor Moon example, censorship occurred to offset mainstream America’s comfort level with same-sex relationships.
Sub vs. Dub
Voice acting is another example of the major changes made to anime productions; Because American fans are less likely to favor a subtitled version of anime than English speaking versions of anime, voice actors are hired to revamp imported anime productions. The differences in culture alone, not to mention slang vernacular, create problems in the process of translating scripts into English. Listening to two versions of an original anime, one English voice dubbed and one subtitled, is a very contradictory process. To view subtitles is to have the translated form of the anime in as close as possible a translation as one can get. To listen to voice acting versions, production companies have taken into account the difference in culture and speech. American audiences may respond better to the version that is interjected with English slang vocabulary and idioms but this new version has become a separate entity as well.
Newer fans do not object to the voice actor dubbed versions but older fans make known their frustrations with the hybrid forms of anime. Older fans see hybrid forms as “deceptive treatment of particular parts of anime” (Fukunaga, 2006, p.213); often going to a subtitled version to compare the difference between original and hybrid. The changes seen from the language translation can vary from minimal to significant. The obstacle that is presented for those who prefer one form to another is that English voice dubbed hybrids can be found on television but subtitled versions cannot. Those looking for subtitled anime can find these versions on internet websites hosted by fans that cater to the needs of anime fans, or fans have to buy the footage of anime on DVDs and apply the subtitle option in the setup menu. Voice acting can solve problems that arise when Japanese anime is first translated for use in America, even if the process hinders the significance of the content in the original Japanese anime.
Theme and Sophistication
Changes, such as censorship and voice acting, made to Japanese content impair upon the original message embedded in the anime by its creators’. Changing elements such as the Sailor Moon characters in a same-sex relationship can change the entire theme that was to be represented in the first place. The differences between Japanese anime and hybrid anime shown in America can, at times, be so significant as to create an entirely different show with new themes and messages portrayed to its audience. Changes like these take away from the significance the original content possessed before being marketed towards American audiences. By removing or altering themes of Japanese anime, the sophisticated nature the anime once possessed is turned into nothing more than another Saturday morning American cartoon.
This new form of the revised anime is no longer the original but something else that must fit a category of its own; American anime. The differences in society and culture do not make it possible for the original version to be received with the same significance because American audience members cannot be expected to react to original content the way a Japanese viewer would. This new American anime is really a hybrid of the original content melded with new elements.
Acceptance of Hybrid Anime
Hybrid anime series airing in America may be separate entities but still have their fan’s attention. Every anime series aired in English in America is, in essence, a hybrid anime, and yet they have high popularity with the same types of fans that experience the shows in Japan. Series such as Full Metal Alchemist (Full metal alchemist, 2004) and Bleach (Bleach, 2007) are highly popular in Japan, even producing movies and subsequent seasons of the series for each title, and when aired in America show the same response in popularity from their fan bases. There may be different elements for each version but the premise of marketing the anime is unchanged. Veteran fans of anime have criticisms about this hybrid format and choose not to partake in the viewing of hybrid shows, though hybrid shows have still held the interest of many newer fans to anime and have kept the demand increasing for further imports of anime in the future.
Because U.S. television networks are subject to regulation and censorship, the content of anime is sometimes changed (Fukunaga, 2005, p.213). The aspects of Japanese animation are complex and detailed; no censorship, distinctive art style, quirky humor, detailed and continuous storylines, deep involved relationships, strong character development, high quality voice acting, creativity, and popular music, while American animation and hybrid anime are simple and single faceted; limited variety, strict censoring, controlled content, sitcom style, childish stories (Fukunaga, 2005, p.213). This melding of two styles into a new hybrid form of anime, in a small way, pays homage to the tradition of anime and establishes a new medium for fans to explore and observe. Though the changes made to imported Japanese anime are essential and effective, through censorship and English voice actors, the fact still remains that these changes create a new entity to be analyzed as a hybrid form of anime. Japanese anime compared to American hybrid anime shows how “modernity meets with tradition (Kraidy 1999, p. 464)”. Hybrid anime is still in the early stages of being recognized but will most likely continue to change in the future into yet another form of creativity in animation.
Bleach. (2007). Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://bleach.viz.com.
Dynon, A. (2002, Summer). Anime, the West and Asian popular culture. Metro, 131, 190-194.
Fukunaga, N. (2006, November). Those anime students: Foreign language literacy development through Japanese popular culture. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(3), 206-222.
Full metal alchemist. (2004). Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.fullmetalalchemist.com/flash_index.html.
Kishimoto, M. (1999). Naruto. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://naruto.viz.com.
Kraidy, M. (1999). The global, the local, and the hybrid: A native ethnography of glocalization. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 16, 456-476.
Kraidy, M. (2002). Hybridity in cultural globalization. Communication Theory, 12(3), 316-339.
Leonard, S. (2005). Progress against the law: Anime & fandom, with key to the globalization of culture. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 8(3), 281-305.
Morris, N. (2002). The myth of unadulterated culture meets the threat of imported media. Media, Culture & Society, 24(2), 278-289.
Pieterse, J. N. (2001). Hybridity, so what? The anti-hybridity backlash and the riddles of recognition. Theory, Culture & Society, 18(2-3), 219-245.
Price, S. (2001, Spring/Summer2001). Cartoons from another planet: Japanese animation as cross-cultural communication. Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, 24(1/2), 1-23.
Sailor moon. (2008, April 4). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sailor_Moon_(anime).
Thussu, D.K. (2006). Contraflow in global media. In D.K. Thussu, International communication: Continuity & change (2nd Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.