A Look at Japanese Anime in American Culture

I am starting to move into writing feature interview articles for my blog about different bloggers I have met on The Bipolar Writer blog. To show I have written plenty of features I wanted to post this piece I wrote in June for journalism class that focused on feature writing. Those of you who have followed my blog know that I am into Asian culture across the board (but few know I am actually part Japanese and Filipino.)

This was a fun piece to write and it explains more about who I am not only as a human being but a writer. Watching Amine was always a way I dealt with depression and anxiety as a teen and adult.

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Suspended in the air, the hero Goku faces his nemesis Majin Buu. Goku transforms first to a Super Saiyan, his hair going from spikey black to spikey gold, an angelic aura around him. Powering up, Goku transforms to his Super Saiyan 2 form. Poised, Goku’s next transformation takes longer shaking the Earth. Goku emerges as a Super Saiyan 3, ready for battle.

This scene is from the popular Japanese Anime cartoon created by Akira Toriyama entitled Dragon Ball Z. The entire series, with the journey of its main protagonist Goku, his son Gohan and friends, spanned 291 episodes and 17 movies. Dragon Ball Z was first released in Japan in the 80’s and became a popular among youth in the United States in the 1990’s.

For a kid like me with a flood of wishes to watch Japanese anime in the 1990’s, I had to purchase it on VHS. It was an expensive venture. As a collector, I would purchase all the tapes in a set, and would be rewarded with a picture when the covers sat end to end. Stores like Sam Goody, a popular store in the 90’s, were the only places to complete collections and every penny of my teenage job as a janitor went to my obsession.

Dragon-Ball-Z-VHS-Collection-vhs-35926117-500-375

Japanese anime extends beyond tapes to include video games and books—called manga. The history of Japanese anime and its rise in Japan can be traced according to Otmazgin (2014) to 1917, “The first animated work to be shown in a movie theatre was (Mukuzo Imokawa, The Doorman), which was released in 1917.” In Japan, anime became mainstream in the 1980’s, and with a recession, Japanese companies took aim at American children in the 1990’s.

Japanese anime in American culture became popular with the release of the first Pokémon video game in the 1990’s. Popular in Japan, the American Pokémon enthusiast had two choices for their Game Boy, Pokémon red and blue. A truly innovative game for its time, Pokémon was marketed simply, “gotta catch ’em all.” The task for the collector was collecting all one hundred and fifty-one Pokémon.

This was no easy task. As a kid, I would spend countless hours roaming the Pokémon world collecting. Rare Pokémon was traded among friends using a link cable. The rarest Pokémon like Mewtwo could only be captured with a master ball, while others like Mew were only available at Pokémon events. I eventually captured all 151 original Pokemon on my GameBoy versions blue, red, gold, and silver.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Japanese Anime had some major success. Otmazgin (2014) had this to say, “Japanese animation in the US in 2002, including the sales of licensed goods, was worth US$4.36 billion, accounting for 3.5 percent of total exports from Japan to the United States.”

But, the internet would change Japanese Anime forever.

With the rise in the internet in the 2000’s, the access to Japanese anime rose to prominence in America. The industry also saw a decline in sales. A saturation of the market by the number of Japanese anime produced and distributed, coupled with illegal downloading, became factors in the downward trend in sales. Still, the ease of access gave way to new fans to anime and the increase in popularity of the new anime shows.

What makes anime so popular? Japanese anime is rooted deep in story and it often makes the watcher, gamer, or even reader immersed in a different culture, not of their own. At a deeper level, the anime world connects people, who at times may feel outside of society, by a love for what the stories of Japanese animation bring.

To meet the demands, Japanese anime creators sought to adjust content to an American audience. The most ardent anime fans watched their favorite shows in Japanese, with English subtitles. But, as audiences became larger the anime shows adjusted for all audiences and dubbed their episodes in English.

Today, with an ease of access to platforms like YouTube on cell phones and tablets, Japanese anime has become a phenomenon that crosses all generations. Teens and adults can connect with one another with shows both new and past. Dragon Ball Z fans can connect on the same level of as Attack on Titan fan because at its base level Japanese Anime is a part of American society. Japanese anime has gone so mainstream that anime shows have even made their way to mainstream American theaters. For the first time as an adult I was able to watch a Dragonball Z movie on the big screen, something I never thought possible.

It is clear, Japanese anime is here to stay.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAndre Benz

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