Japanimation Breaking Down the Boundaries

By Watson, Lisa Crawford | Art Business News, April 2001 | Go to article overview
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Japanimation Breaking Down the Boundaries

Watson, Lisa Crawford, Art Business News

With hip subject matter and prices to match, Japanimation art is all the rage overseas. Find out if it's only a matter of time before this trend crosses the Pacific and lands in the arms of American art galleries.

She's young, beautiful, and she was raised by wolves. Her commanding presence is a combination of uncommon depth and realism, not to mention exquisite composition. She is Princess Mononoke, one of Master Hayao Miyazaki's most spectacular contributions to Japanimation. Now licensed through Disney, Mononoke's production cells--and others like them--are fetching thousands of dollars by avid collectors of the genre.

Perhaps it's because production cells, once considered refuse, have become increasingly scarce with the advent of computer animation. It may be a return to the nostalgia for the characters of animation. Most likely, it is the explosive popularity of the flat style of Japanese animation that has collectors of all ages seeking the imagery as an art form in galleries, art shows and the world's largest Anime Expo held at the Long Beach Convention Center every July.

"Fine art galleries that understand both animation and the Japanese culture are getting into this," said Jerry Lindberg, owner of the Mars Colony, which licenses video-game soundtracks and sells licensed products from anime properties out of Irvine, Calif.

"It's a whole school of art, this flat art. It's Japanese Pop; kind of Warholesque and very trendy, very hip," he continued. "And it's priced to be very collectible. It's a trend that's just developing here. The cells are the first form with their strong, sharp colors. It's not pointillist, it's not cubism--it's just in-your-face, comic art. It will have its true depth of value over time, but we'll see it come up very strongly in the next two to three years."

Anime and Manga

Japanimation is not new. It began as a way to infuse the greatest number and variety of people with the spirit and strength of Japanese culture at a time when both were buried under the rubble of the atomic blast. In an effort to rekindle a sense of cultural self and re-establish society, Japan turned to an obscure art form known as anime.

Anime is a form of storytelling expressed in an intricate and elegant style of moving images. In English, it is known as the animated movie. Its counterpart, manga, is the drawn story or comic; although neither definition does justice to the artistry of the style, which blends highly stylized animation with traditional Japanese painting and print-making.

Following World War II, the Japanese used these vehicles to gain a sense of personal power, to build hope and to entertain--much the way Americans used motion pictures during the Great Depression. While the Western interpretation of these art forms traditionally has been left to youth and children, in the East, anime and manga are appreciated by all ages. In fact, manga makes up 40 percent of all publications in Japan.

"Check out the top-selling magazines in Japan, and you'll have to look pretty far down the list before you find a non-manga magazine," wrote Matt Thorn, associate professor, Department of Cartoon & Comic Art, Kyoto Seika University, Japan. "And the range of subject matter and styles is as broad as the sales are high. Whether your tastes tend towards sci-fi, slapstick, history, baseball, romance, gourmet cooking or S&M, there's a manga for you."

Hence there is a proliferation of not only children's manga, such as Pokemon and Digimon, but also an abundance of adult themes, including considerably violent and sexually-charged subjects.

Unlike the caricatures of American cartoons, anime is committed to realism in both image and movement. Figures are drawn, painted and presented with great care and precision, yet the image remains flat.

"I've been thinking about the reality of Japanese drawing and painting and how it is different from Western art," artist Takashi Murakami told The Los Angeles Times in a January 2001 interview.

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