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The first thing that comes to our minds whenever the word anime is mentioned is Japan. The word anime as used outside Japan refers to Japanese animation (Brown, 2006). Unlike manga that represents printed comics usually available in the form of small novels and magazines, anime is animated cartoons that appear in movies, TV programs or video games (Schwartz and Avila, 2006).
The characteristic Japanese animation started gaining popularity in Japan in the 1960s, but captured the world’s attention in 1980s. Japanese animations have been gaining popularity at an increasing rate in the world given its unique element of Japanese popular culture. Japanese animations are now making significant contributions to film industry and influencing the western culture.
As we all know, any form of entertainment with such high level of popularity is likely to have an effect among its fans and a direct or indirect effect in the economy. This essay, therefore, seeks to examine the cultural influence of Japanese anime in foreign countries as well as its effects on Japan’s economy.
Cultural influence of Japanese animations in foreign countries
Before the 1980s, Japan’s exports to the West constituted automobiles and electronics such as TV and walkman. Currently, Japan has added another product to its export list; Japanese animation characterized by wide-eyed princesses, giant robot men and epic battles. Can this stuff offer some potential for Japan to become a world economic giant once more? Japanese animations hit the West market in the 1980s and have since gained increasing popularity among fans.
According to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), anime have captured the attention of over seventy countries that air the animations on the television ([email protected], 2006; Japan External Trade Organization, 2005a).
In the United States alone, Japanese animation programs grew from thirteen in the 1990s to 37 in 2006 ([email protected], 2006; Japan External Trade Organization, 2005b). Sony in collaboration with other partners spearheaded the popularization of anime by first launching a satellite television network in Japan in 1998 followed by expansions to other Asian countries in 2004 ([email protected], 2006).
In the U.S. anime increased popularity became eminent in 2002 when Anime Network headquartered in Houston started airing of anime programs as a video-on-demand service ([email protected], 2006). The increased viewing of anime has had a significant influence on people’s way of life including their perception of Japanese pop culture.
Currently, children and adults alike are reacting to the influence of Japanese pop culture expressed in the animations. Children are trying to learn both Japanese language and material art as they impersonate their favorite characters in the animation. Youths are now crazy about “everything Japan” from traditions, clothing and food.
They are also learning Japanese to be able to fit in the current youth society influenced by Japanese pop culture. Adults are equally amazed by the colorful world of anime and how this pop culture has transformed their children. Even adults have now started to appreciate Japanese pop culture and are enthusiastic about everything Japan.
Besides, anime fans outside Japan are increasingly associating with Japanese through picking up some of Japanese words related to anime to identify with. For instance, otaku that is negatively used in Japan to connote the pride of anime fans is commonly used among non-Japanese anime fans to positively refer to foreign anime fans.
Apart from its effect on fashion and lifestyle, anime has made a dramatic influence on the western culture. Since its adaptation in the global market in the 1980s, more foreigners have been exposed to Japanese culture through viewing of Japanese animations. This also included the popularization of other elements of Japanese culture including food, clothing and language.
Most Westerners have so far developed an interest in Japan and consider the country a good destination for tourism. Most people are now interested in Japanese language as expressed in the drastic increase in the number of people studying Japanese.
Moreover, anime has made a significant impact on various successes in film industry in the global market. The commercial profitability of Japanese animations in the Western countries was first revealed by pioneer projects such as Astro Boy in the years when the distribution of such comic stuff was illegal (Leonard, 2003). The inclusion of anime series in Pokémon, Nintendo’s multi-billion dollar franchise contributed to its success in the 1990s.
Japanese animations have also influenced artists in the West. In a bid to meet the increased demand for anime in the West, artists are now borrowing some skills from their Japan counterparts ([email protected], 2006). In their work, some artists cite Japanese animations as their source of inspiration.
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These artists incorporate the characteristic anime stylizations, gags and methodology in their piece of work to produce animations that are a bit similar to Japanese anime ([email protected], 2006). Studios in Europe, United States, and Asian countries are now producing anime-influenced animations. However, critics do not consider such productions as anime. This has made some artists to collaborate with Japanese artists so that their work can be accepted among the fan base.
Japanese anime has also had an effect on the Western countries TV series. Animated television-series have since gained popularity in the West and non-Japanese Asia. For instance, South Park, which is an American animated TV series have singled out the satirical intent of anime in its styling.
The most eminent animated episodes of this series are “Chimpokomon”, “Good Times with the Weapons” and “Brittle Bullet”. The characteristic anime is notable in the drawing style of these pieces of work. Anime has also led to the introduction of animated cartoon networks such as Kappa Mikey popular in the United States.
In addition, anime has made a contribution in social forums. Currently, there are annual anime conventions held in major cities of anime dominated countries in Asia and the West. Participants include artists, music groups and directors from Japan as well as invited guests from these regions.
As a routine, attendees mimic anime dressing code and participate in cosplay thus marketing Japanese pop culture. Apart from anime conventions, anime clubs are increasingly becoming popular among the youths as a means of increasing youths understanding of Japanese pop culture.
Anime is also used in advertisement to create some elements of comic. TV commercials now have some elements of anime in a bid to lure more viewers to their channels. In Asia and the western countries, anime is linked to the sales of toys and other related products that have proved successful among children and youths. Besides, Hollywood movies have also been forced to incorporate some elements of anime in their episodes in order to cope with the immense competition.
Effects of anime on Japanese economy
Since its publicity in the 1960s, there has been mixed reactions towards the increased popularity of anime in the Japanese market (Sugimoto, 2009). While the fans are enthusiastic about this new form of entertainment, critics are scared of the effects it might have on the society. Critics argue that information presented in anime is oversimplified and sometimes vulgar hence not suitable for children (Sugimoto, 2009). Despite its negative effects, we cannot fail to recognize the impact that anime might have in Japan’s economy.
Japan built its economy on cars and electronics in the mid 20th century. Currently, anime seems to be going beyond the entertainment industry to other sectors of the economy as well. Could this be a new economic tiger in Japan’s economy? Anime has evolved over the years from Speed Racer cartoons in the 1960s to Pokemon in the late 1990s and the Award winning film, Spirited Away” in 2003 ([email protected], 2006).
These developments also went hand in hand with the expansion of anime market globally. As I mentioned earlier in this essay, anime programs grew from thirteen in the early 1990s to 37 in 2006 in the United States ([email protected], 2006). But what do these developments mean to Japanese economy?
As documented in [email protected], anime fans in Japan and abroad spend close to five billion dollars on DVDs and films and close to eighteen billion dollars on anime-linked merchandise ([email protected], 2006). Remember this figure represents the fan base only in the West and Asia. What if anime finds its way to the other parts of the world? Anime can for sure drive the economy of Japan to the next desirable level.
Apart from direct sales, the increased popularity of anime outside Japan may also generate a halo effect on Japanese products. For instance, the rapid growing trend of ‘everything Japan’ ranging from clothing, toys, video games, watches, stickers, figurines and tableware is likely to enhance the sales of these products in the global market.
Even as I write this essay, there exists marketing collaborations between anime production houses and the manufacturers of these products. The marketers of these products are capitalizing on the increased popularity of Japanese pop culture and the ‘everything Japan’ craze to market their products among anime fans, a venture that has since proved successful.
With the increased awareness about Japanese pop culture, thanks to anime, many people especially in the West have increasingly developed interest in Asia and specifically Japan. Japan is slowly becoming an important tourist destination. More people are interested in knowing more about Japanese culture hence considers Japan a destination for their adventure. With increased tourism, Japan’s revenue will definitely increase thus an impetus for other sectors of the economy.
The growing interest among foreign artists in anime is also likely to have a positive effect on Japanese economy. Currently, American film production companies are buying production rights from Japanese companies to be able to produce anime outside Japan (Anime: Japan’s ‘Gross National Cool,’ 2006).
Even though anime production rights may not be as expensive as Hollywood films, if more countries gain interest in purchasing anime production, then the pull will be big enough to make a contribution to Japanese economy. Besides, most western companies currently incorporate anime in their commercial adverts to be able to have some comic element and also capitalize on the anime euphoria hence capture a wide market for their products.
These companies have to buy the right to use anime from Japanese film companies hence a positive contribution to Japanese economy. As Hiroshi Kaminde, a KBC Securities analyst in Tokyo once said, the future of anime lies in global sales since the Japanese market is already saturated ([email protected], 2006).
Anime, commonly referred to as Japanese animation, is a comic art that has gained remarkable popularity within and outside Japan. It has since been linked to Japanese pop culture and now having a cultural influence both in Asia and in the West. Children, youths and adults alike are now crazy about Japanese pop culture. As a result, more people are learning Japanese, adopting Japanese attires and joining anime clubs as a way of identifying themselves with anime society.
Back in Japan, this renowned interest is an economic incentive that the country cannot let bass by. Anime has generated a halo effect for Japanese goods in the global market and is likely to increase the country’s revenue through increased sales both in anime films are related goods. Anime is also likely to attract more tourists to Japan in order to learn more about Japanese culture.
Brown, S. T. (2006). Cinema anime. Palgrave: Macmillan.
Japan External Trade Organization (May 2005a). “Cool” Japan’s Economy Warms Up, (in English).
Japan External Trade Organization (May 2005b). Japan Film Industry, (in English). Web.
Leonard, S. (2003). Progress against the law: fan distribution, copyright, and explosive growth of Japanese animation. (Student paper). Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web.
Schwartz, A. & Avila, E. (2006). Understanding the manga hype: Uncovering the multimodality of comic-book literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. p. 42-49.
Sugimoto, Y. (2009). Modern Japanese culture. Australia: Cambridge University Press.