Visual Evolution across the Pacific: The Influence of Anime and Video Games on US Film Media

Article excerpt

The past decade has witnessed an explosion of popularity of Japanese animation (henceforth, anime) in the United States. Starting from series such as Sailor Moon (1992) and Pokemon (1997) during the mid-1990s to Yu-Gi-Oh! (1998), Dragon Ball (1986), Full Metal Alchemist (2003) and Naruto (2002) throughout the 2000s, anime has become a part of mainstream media in the US. Scholars in media studies, cultural studies, sociology and anthropology have also recently picked up on the phenomenon, bolstering anime studies in the West. Eri Izawa's study on the fantastic elements in anime and video games, Sharalyn Orbaugh's research on the visual hybridity of the female and male bodies in anime and girls' comic books (shojo manga), and Scott McCloud's in-depth visual comparison of western comic books and Japanese manga structures are good examples of scholarship on manga and anime's visual characteristics. Additionally, Susan Napier's analysis on Hayao Miyazaki's films in relation to Japanese culture and Brian Ruh's examination of Mamoru Oshii as an auteur filmmaker provide insightful literary film analyses. Furthermore, Anne Allison and Sharon Kinsella both investigate the shifting organizational aspects of manga as a subculture and mainstream industry as well as how manga and anime texts are produced and consumed as a global product from an anthropological and sociological perspective.

Although some scholars have pointed out the links between the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix (1999) and Mamoru Oshii's anime, Ghost in the Shell (1995) (Seay & Garrett 22) and American cartoons such as Power Puff Girls (1998) and 'large-eyed' anime (Mirzoeff 11), there is yet to be any substantial comparative research of anime's influence on US media in terms of the increased transnational appropriation of visuality and sensibility. Such a study is not about how much The Matrix "looks like" Ghost in the Shell, but rather, what it "means" for the former to look like the latter. In an era where information technology constantly spawns new forms of media at an exponential rate, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with the acceleration of intertextuality created among contents such as manga, anime, video games and live-action films. Furthermore, the recent Japanese governmental promotion of their Content Industry, which heavily focuses on the symbiotic "package" nature of anime, video games and manga under the slogan "One-content, multi-use," raises question as to what defines "anime." For the sake of this study, anime, manga and video games produced in Japan will be grouped under the conceptual umbrella of anime.

If one does not keep up with plethora of new narrative strategies and imagery produced in anime and related media, it may become increasingly difficult to appreciate new titles; for example, to fully appreciate Samurai Champloo (2004), one must have seen not only prior anime created by the director Shin'ichiro Watanabe, but also other Samurai anime as well as the underground music scene in Japan during the late 1980s. Similar examples in US media would be the better appreciation for Shrek (2001) after viewing The Matrix. By presenting a few examples of anime's visual and narrative influences on US media, this study attempts to provide a better understanding of how cross-cultural media production and consumption hybridizes and transforms global media, in hopes of broader media literacy on anime to emerge.

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THE VISUAL CHARACTERISTICS OF JAPANESE ANIME AND THE WESTERN VISUAL SENSES

What are the visual characteristics of anime, and how do they differ from other Western visual media such as film? First, one must understand the relationship between anime and manga, which takes up to forty percent of the entire publication industry in Japan (Information Media White Papers 2005). Scholars such as Kenji Hatakeyama assert that manga-based anime became a major trend in the early 1990s after the network of Television Tokyo was established (201). …