I recently read an article in Variety about the Rooster Teeth layoffs, and I was about two-third of the way through when I ran across this line.
“… and animated series “RWBY,” the first Western anime series to be distributed in Japan.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve run across this dangerous nonsense. So lets be clear about this. “RWBY” isn’t anime. You know what else isn’t anime — “Castlevania,” “Avatar,” and any other show that is produced in America.
Assuming that anyone actually reads this, let me lay out a bit of a history. There was a time, back in the old days, where we didn’t have a word for animation from Japan. Really, I didn’t even know the cartoons I was watching were from Japan. I just loved “Force Five” or “Robotech” on the rare cases when I could pick it up on my rotary antenna.
It wasn’t until I picked up a book on Robotech and I read the word “Japanimation” that I had a word for these awesome cartoons. (Yes I know we can get into a long conversation about whether Robotech is actually anime, but I think that dispute is far less worrisome in the present context.)
Now I’m not the anime historian that some are so I can’t say whether people were using anime at the same time as Japanimation, but I didn’t have another word.
Then I went away to college and met other people who liked cartoons from Japan, and they gave me a new word for them — anime.
That is what anime is. It’s not a style. It’s not a genre. It is merely defined by a location. If you don’t agree with this, you are wrong, and you are in danger of pigeonholing the medium you profess to enjoy.
Why this is controversial?
So Anime News Network is much nicer about this than I am. They said:
“There is much controversy as to whether or not the label “anime” can be extended to non-Japanese animation that look like Japanese animation. Whether or not the label can be extended to non-Japanese animation depends largely on the technical definition of “anime” that one chooses to accept”
So this begs the question, “Why this controversial at all?” I mean I trust Anime World Order to know more about anime than I do, and they pretty much spell out that anime comes from Japan. Anime News Network’s editorial standards say that anime comes from Japan.
It comes down to four words: “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
When Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko created the show they brought in elements of shounen shows, mixed them with Western techniques, and adopted a serialized storytelling style. Effectively, they created the closest thing to “Dragonball Z” that had ever come out of a western studio. The shorthand for this became, “anime-inspired,” “anime-influenced,” or perhaps the most problematic “Western anime.”
To be honest, I think anime fans at the time (myself included) dropped the ball here. We retreated to our shelves of “Fushigi Yugi” and “City Hunter,” and our LimeWire and BitTorrents and said, “Avatar is not anime.”
What we should have said is, “It’s not anime-inspired. It’s inspired by shounen action shows.” The problem is we gave up the chance to educate people about the breadth and depth of anime. We could have at least introduced them to “Armored Troopers VOTOMS,” “Evangelion,” “Cowboy Beebop” and “Trigun.” I’m not saying it would have worked, but we let the entire medium be defined by a genre.
This has only been reinforced over time. If you look for shows that break through to mainstream success since Avatar, they’re all shounen action shows. They all feature large, bombastic plots where wild things happen, and we have let these define anime to the point where a sentence later in the same Variety article refers to gen:Lock as a “mecha” show.
Why is this dangerous?
I started by saying that calling “RWBY” anime is dangerous nonsense. Those are strong words, but I stand behind them.
I once challenged someone to find the stylistic link between “Cowboy Beebop” and “Kill la Kill.” I can do this with dozens of shows. Tell me what traits are shared by “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” and “Dragonball Z”? What is similar between “Paradise Kiss” and “Samurai Flameco”? The issue remains the same. Anime is a diverse medium with a deep and rich history. There is a wealth of shows to explore.
If anime is just “My Hero Academia” or “Attack on Titan,” then we lose the ability to talk about that diversity with people on the fringes of fandom. We are stuck explaining that, “Yes. Nana is a show where they talk about feelings a lot. No. Nothing really crazy happens. I mean not crazy in the way you mean.”
All anime becomes defined by one or two genres, and not even all of those genres; just the parts that were popular in the mid- to late-90s.
Is this a battle that the old otaku can win? Probably not. Is it something that I’m going to try to win? Hell, yes. I am going to share this anywhere and everywhere I see someone say that “Castlevania” or “RWBY” or “gen: Lock” or “Avatar” is anime, or anime-inspired or anime-influenced. This is my rallying cry. Come in. Try the RahXephon, and leave a better person.
Please don’t make me go back to using Japanimation.