Why is there no "Western" anime?


#1

Something I’ve been thinking about as I scrolled through the current anime thing thread: I’ve been a casual anime fan most of my life and, like a lot of people, my appreciation for the form has increased with the rise of Crunchyroll, Funimation (I prefer dubs. Sue me.) and now VRV. But it’s made me realize there is nothing even approaching it coming out of Western animation studios.

Now don’t get me wrong, I happen to think Western animation is as good now as it’s ever been. I can’t imagine how great it must be to be a kid today, with Cartoon Network, Disney XD and Nickelodeon all pumping out multiple, high quality shows. Similarly, adult-oriented (as in, the targeted demo, not porn) is excellent, led by shows like Bojack, Rick & Morty, and Bob’s Burgers.

So, Western animation falls into one of three categories (or often two or all three): children’s shows, superheroes, or comedy. There are basically no non-comedic, non-cape, non-kid’s shows. The only exceptions I can think of are Neo-Yokio and Castlevania, but they’re both cribbing anime style, not telling grown up stories in traditional Western animation. (I guess that means the thread’s title is misleading - I don’t want Western anime, I want American/European animators to make their own thing. It also occurs to me now that I’ve been using “Western” to mean “American,” but if my several trips to France are anything to go by, I doubt there’s a thriving scene there.)

Other than a hot second of Liquid Television, Tron: Legacy might be the closet thing I can think of, but I think that probably counts as a kid’s show, too, right?

The “animation is for kids” cliche has been gone ever since Homer Simpson drank it under the table. Yet in North America, it’s never moved beyond comedy into serious, serial storytelling. So my question is, why? Do people have any speculation, or know of any research? Do we think anime’s explosive popularity the last few years will lead to that changing? Or is it out there and I just don’t know about it? Do we even care?


#2

I feel like Bojack Horseman (which you named) is probably the closest thing we’ve got. There are enough silly gags for it to be labelled as a comedy, but there’s also enough heavy drama and darkness in the characters that I wouldn’t immediately recommend it to someone looking for something like Bob’s Burgers or Family Guy.

Having a tough time coming up with any other real examples. The only ones you didn’t name would be the Avatar series, and those are still family-oriented and cribbing the anime style.


#3

Oh tron legacy. We hardly knew ye. Probably the most upset I’ve ever been by a cancellation.

I can’t add much here because everything I can think of is animated by Studio Mir, which isn’t an American studio. I will say that France has Miraculous: Tales of Lady Bug and Cat Noir, which is extremely popular (but also a superhero show)


#4

I think the main hurdle has been finding an audience, or a proper platform. There’s still a general perception among Western audiences that animated content is either defined as kid-friendly, or adult comedic. Even opening the form up to the latter was a process that required years of exposure, and one of the most successful sitcoms in TV history.

That process is just now underway for action-oriented animation in the West. Spider-Man: Enter The Spider-Verse might be the first mainstream film to really try and cash in on this market - and I even doubt that will score a PG-13 rating.


#5

Is that what those are?! I’ve seen the Miraculous shows on Netflix for a little while and never knew where they came from. Tbf, the only cartoons I saw in France were French dubs of The Simpsons and a non-speaking show where some sort of creature is constantly trying to capture and eat a bikini-clad bathing beauty, while getting foiled by a clumsy shark? I may be misremembering the details, but it seemed very, very French.


#6

i think part of this issue comes from demographic perception, and how anime is actually marketed in japan. most of the anime i see tons of people post about watching, the really popular (especially via Crunchyroll) stuff, is all meant for teens.

like just for a market sample, let’s look at these recent poll results about the most-watched shows this season in europe https://twitter.com/Crunchyroll/status/960991743251505152

out of these 12 shows, the only ones that i would guess are actually aimed at a primary demographic older than high school are the Junji Ito collection and possibly Pop Team Epic. Sanrio Boys might actually be getting a larger adult female fujoshi audience than teen audience but i could see that going either way

basically i think the real difference between the NA animation industry and anime industry is that japan has a shit ton of media being made for high schoolers which then gets localized for an adult market in the western world, not necessarily that there is a wealth of media being made specifically for adults in japan. lots of the most fundamental categorical terms used to describe anime genres (shoujo, shounen, seinen) are all references to the target demographics: teens with a scattering of young adults


#7

Yup, it is! A lot of the same team that did Totally Spies actually, which was also a French show, though it took place in California.


#8

I think France has dozens of cartoons that are very much in the vein of anime shows. I don’t watch many of them but there’s Wakfu, Code Lyoko, and the ones @eightbitsamurai mentioned.

There’s also a few “anime” shows that are produced at least in part by Western companies, thanks to Netflix. Voltron: Legendary Defender is an adaptation of an anime IP, but it’s certainly got a distinctly Western take on quite a few aspects. They also put the money behind Knights of Sidonia and the Blame! movie.

Oh, and while it’s on Crunchy Roll, RWBY is made in Texas.

I guess you could say that using 3D models disqaualifies it as anime but I think that’s to confuse the medium for the genre.


#9

Do Avatar The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra count? Because those are phenomenal and are prime examples of accessible storytelling. But other than those, I feel that anime is frowned upon due to its lack of appeal in the west by the mainstream. It sucks because I would love to see more western stuff like Avatar and Korra out of the west.


#10

This is the impression I’ve always gotten from documentary coverage of Japanese culture. It doesn’t seem to be much more culturally acceptable to be an adult who watches anime in Japan than it is in Western countries. It sure seems like a decent amount of anime is made for adults, given its content, but…apparently not.


#11

Does anybody know if Crunchy Roll produces all of their own ads?


#12

I was thinking the same thing with Avatar and Korra!

I love watching Japanese and American animation learn from one another. Like, if there were no Disney or Betty Boop we might have never gotten Astro Boy. America has their own takes on anime with series like Teen Titans or Power Puff Girls.

Then you watch Panty & Stocking and it feels like a response to a response to a response…

It’s really interesting to think about this way. It’s a slow burning international conversation that evolves the medium.


#13

Anime learns from “western” animation, and vice versa. For the most part I don’t think of either of them as cribbing. Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans series had a heavy anime influence, especially as seen in the theme song, and I’d put it up there with the “serious, serial storytelling” you mentioned. The fact that a lot of western animation is for kids and/or superheroes doesn’t make it lesser, just as the fact that most anime is some variety of formulaic shonen/moe doesn’t invalidate it. Steven Universe has a large adult presence in its fan base, because it manages to tell beautiful stories in interesting ways.

I hate these kind of arguments, but I think Over the Garden Wall can stand up in “serious, serial storytelling” quality to most anime. What I want to know is why we don’t have the same range of animated movies (although Japan’s anime dominance has come at a severe cost to their live action movies, which rarely find gov’t support or international distribution). Everything else seems more a difference of genre than content.


#14

Like @WastelandHound mentioned, our superhero animated series and films are pretty good, and lots of them aren’t for kids. DC in particular seems to be pretty enthusiastic about making PG-13+ rated animation. It’s the more non-comedic, non-superhero animated series that seem so rare, if not non-existent.

Like, where’s the animated version of Downton Abbey? Animated Mad Men? We’ve had half a dozen different live-action reimaginings of Sherlock Holmes in the last decade, so where’s the cartoon one?

Considering how expensive good live-action shows are to produce, you’d think we might start seeing more animated shows that are pushing the boundaries, but it hasn’t quite happened, yet.


#15

@jaguar

That’s a good point about target demographics. A lot of anime would probably fall under the Young Adult category here. Although I’m not sure you see much YA animation that isn’t superhero-based coming out of the West.

Maybe that really is the answer: America’s version of anime is the DCAU.

@sleepiest

I totally agree that Western animation isn’t lesser. I’d count several contemporary animated series among my favorite shows of all time. I just think it’s curious that in this age where prestige TV dramas, anime, and animation are all at their peaks, it seems like very, very few American animators are putting those 3 pieces together. (eta: Over the Garden Wall is so freaking good)

@EmuPrime

I think you got right to the heart of my point. Like, sure Altered Carbon is one hell of a good looking TV show (all other points aside) but I kind of want to see the world where that becomes an animated series instead of live-action.

Also, dammit, now I want to go watch Sherlock Hound.


#16

Also, in terms of French animation (which I don’t follow) besides the examples mentioned I know of Persepolis, A Cat in Paris (which was _dark_for children’s considering the depiction of depression and death), the Rabbi’s Cat, and Ernest and Celestine. Mostly, but not all, children’s focused but still its own thing. There’s also whatever European studio it is that put out Book of Kells.


#17

Their follow-up to Kells, Song of the Sea, was gorgeous and I recommend y’all check it out.


#18

Thanks for the clarification. I was getting heated because I mistakenly assumed you were denigrating non-japanese animations. Sorry about that.

The actual answer is just economics, yeah? Well, economics/institutions, if there’s a difference. America’s version of anime is the DCAU because America’s comics are mostly superheroes. With the rise of indie comics I think that there are non-superheroics animated series in the works, like Nimona, but those haven’t happened yet and some will probably just be adapted live-action (wicdiv, I assume).

Japan you have Famitsu and the like to not only build a base for your manga, but to give companies the readership numbers so they know what to adapt and a more established pipeline. There’s also an existing track for webcomics to become animations, whereas the ceiling on webcomics in america/elsewhere seems to be “become a book”


#19

Western “anime” as defined in this thread could become a boom if people adapted graphic novels into animated series and films rather than just live-action. Scott Pilgrim was genre-bending in terms of what a live-action film can be, I think, but it still would also have been cool to see the animated series. But there are also graphic novels about immense suffering and adult action. An animated film adapted from Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner would have tremendous potential and could honestly become a major media event because of its subject matter and the relevance of anti-oppression violence in the wake of centrists and right-wing folks complaining, “so much for the tolerant left.”


#20

It was gorgeous and looking them up just now it looks like they snuck in another Oscar nominated film last year without anyone noticing. But more important than that is that this they’re teasing another Irish mythology masterpiece. And it’s Cromwell! Cause you’re still not properly woke till you know your travesties against the Irish.

Cartoon Saloon.