Ask John Editorial: What Exactly Do Japanese & American Otaku Like About Anime?

An interesting article that I found on  I must say I share the qualities from both ends. What are your thoughts? What is about Anime that attracts you to it?

Anime, as we all know, is the combination of numerous component ingredients: visual design, color, writing, animation, sound design, music, and the distinctive creative perspective of Japanese artists. And clearly anime appeals to viewers in both Japan and America. But the reasons Japanese and American viewers enjoy anime seem to be different. Precisely what attracts Japanese and American viewers to anime is different. These differences explain, to a large degree, why Japanese studios produce the types of anime that they do in the quantities they do, and why certain anime are more popular in Japan or America. I believe that the philosophical reception of anime in Japan compared to America may be summarized in two related theories. Anime fans in Japan largely perceive the immersive content of anime as an alternate world while American anime fans typically perceive anime as an escapist world. An extension of this difference is the fact that Japanese viewers are heavily attracted to anime characters while Americans are typically attracted to the action of anime. These distinctions aren’t applicable to every individual anime fan, and there are individuals on both sides of the Pacific whose inclinations are closer to those of the other country. But these generalizations do seem to broadly apply to cultural attitudes.

For many Japanese fans, the worlds depicted in anime are an idealized alternative to the real world. Some of the settings depicted in anime are more fantastic and exciting, but many of them are simply a gentler, more receptive mirror of the real world. While anime fans deal with alienation, stress, and feelings of inadequacy or unfulfillment in the real world, the anime world offers friends, a world in which average youngsters have to narrow down potential girl or boyfriends instead of pine after one, family relationships that suit the individual, and a world in which daily stresses and responsibilities exist, but are always a minor background detail rather than an immediately pressing urgency. Anime, in effect, represents the world as Japanese otaku wish it was. This explains why there are so many popular and long running anime domestic sitcoms like Atashinchi, Sazae-san, and Chibi Maruko-chan, and why life-sim, dating sim, and other romance and relationship drama anime are produced for Japanese audiences.

Americans, on the other hand, typically don’t feel an intimate desire to live in an anime world. For most Americans, anime is merely a temporary diversion – a movie world like any other that’s fun only as a temporary distraction. American viewers are especially attracted to fantastic and otherworldly anime. Giant robots, ninja, vampires, cyberpunk futures, and distant lands seem to capture the attention of American viewers much more consistently and firmly than mundane realistic settings. While dating simulation anime is, admittedly, marginally more accepted in America now that it was a few years ago, it remains a niche genre. Crayon Shin-chan – one of Japan’s most successful slice-of-daily-life anime is only marketable in America in a drastically altered version while shows like Atashinchi and Sazae-san aren’t watched in America at all. Titles like Witchblade, Afro Samurai, Naruto, Bleach, Hellsing, and Dragon Ball are American favorites, and these types of anime aren’t produced in Japan nearly frequently enough to satisfy American demand. Even America’s own animation largely avoids mundane reality. Certainly programs like The Simpsons, American Dad, King of the Hill, and South Park have proven successful, but these series all concentrate on exaggerated slapstick and parody, unlike Japanese domestic sitcoms that frequently feature more mild and restrained comic elements.

The reason why American shows like South Park and The Simpsons exist as marginal exceptions to America’s distaste for “realistic” animation lies in America’s affection for action compared to Japan’s fascination with character. As an extension of Japan’s fans subconscious desire to perceive anime as an alternate reality, Japan’s fan community has a great affection for animated characters. Franchises like Shinra Bansho, and the Super Black Jack mascot character Rio are tremendously popular in Japan despite having no anime. Japan has anthropomorphized virtually everything imaginable, including computer operating systems (OS-tan), train stations (Miracle Train), bullet trains (Fastech Train Girl), countries of the world (Hetalia ~Axis Powers~), video game consoles (PS Three-san), spicy peppers (Habanero-tan), and even men’s sex toys (Tenga Girls). But America has no nationally recognized similar trend at all. Thousands of Japanese otaku have signed a petition urging the legalization of a right to marry fictional characters. A similar petition would never originate from America. For Japanese otaku, appealing anime characters don’t have to do anything; they just need to exist and be themselves in order to attain popularity.

American viewers demand action – not necessarily battles or carnage – merely something appreciably happening. The personalities of anime characters can be appealing to American viewers, but personalities alone aren’t enough to satisfy Americans. American viewers require plot progression, drama, romance, fighting, humor, relationship developments, natural maturation – something happening. While Japanese otaku can love characters for their personalities, and love characters isolated from any anime or manga, Americans typically love characters as an extension of the manga or anime that they hail from, because they represent and reflect the source they came from.

I’m not suggesting that either Japanese or American philosophy is superior, or that either approach to anime is more mature, more rational, or preferable. It’s not my intention to judge, merely to compare. The differing approaches to anime between Japanese and American viewers are a product of respective cultural heritages and social perception of commercial art and animation. I think, simply, that these cultural differences exist, and that recognition of them allows for greater understanding of why certain anime exist and why Japan produces the types of anime it does in the quantities that it does.


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