Sunday, January 13, 2013

Anime: An Emerging Cultural Phenomenon

By Charity Lantz

Anime is an abbreviated Japanese term used to describe the Japanese process of animation, i.e. Japanese Animation. Anime is a wide-spread interest, crossing many cultures. Anime may often be confused with manga, which is the Japanese word for comics and cartooning. Anime and manga are incredibly popular within Japan, as well with youth in America culture.

A still from Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors
The history of Anime begins in 1917 with the first Japanese cartoon short created as a form of propaganda. Later on, after Disney’s success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Japanese animation legacy began. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was the first feature length animation, which was created in 1944. Anime was seen as an upgrade from traditional live story telling in Japanese culture.
Despite Anime’s early beginning, it hasn’t gained much attention in American culture until the last couple decades. Anime seems different from traditional art, but it is still highly considered an art form. By today, the art form has gathered an extensive and devoted following. This can be seen by the immense popularity of Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z in America, both of which are traditional Japanese manga. Another cartoon that became popular in the states would be Sailor Moon, although probably without as much of an impact. Manga can be bought in almost any American bookstore, making the animation highly accessible to vast amounts of people. Many famous Japanese animations are made after successful manga series. The themes of Anime vary from Japanese literature or fantasy, to adult-oriented themes, such as sensuality. Many anime’s embrace fantasy, and animals or magical creatures are the star of the animation.

Overly dramatic expressions from Fullmetal Alchemist
The formal qualities of Anime stay fairly consistent between different artists and animations. The backgrounds for Japanese animations are almost always hyper-realistic in shading and perception of space. Yet the character’s themselves are often highly stylized, especially when emphasizing emotion. The expressive figures are often supplemented by large and bold textual exclamations. A typical anime character would display large eyes in a heart-shaped face, with bright, outrageous hair, on a slender, simplified form. Another popular character in Anime would be the ninja hero or warrior. In this case, the character would likely maintain the outrageous hair, with the addition of an outrageously muscled body.

Although these exuberant characteristics are frequent, they are not always the case. Some animated films permeate darker themes, and the characters are symbolic of the intended mood. A good example of this would be Spirited Away, an incredibly successful animated film in both Japan and America. In the film, a young girl escapes the anxiety of moving to a new place through her imagination. The film is still carried out within a fantastical storyline; however, the characters themselves are portrayed as more realistic or mundane. This is done intentionally to contrast the protagonist’s reality with the audacity of the her imaginings.  

The same outlandish imagination can be seen in contemporary art featured at Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla. It is located at 920 Kline St. #104 in La Jolla, San Diego. The gallery exhibits contemporary, urban, lowbrow, and graffiti art from local artists. It is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12pm to 4pm.


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