Anime VS American Animation by Marker Apenname Thesis Statement This is my thesis statement — while American animation and Japanese animation both have their virtues, the style of American animation, in general, has a significant amount of higher quality. Where to Begin? Where to be Going? To begin with, one of the major problems that has hindered American animation is budget and time constraints. On the other hand, in Japan, anime has been allowed to flourish all over. When it comes to animation, it seems that Hollywood simply does not take it seriously and would rather throw its millions into “live action” films and TV shows. There is only one company in Hollywood which devotes a significant amount of its resources to advancing our heritage in animation, and that’s Disney.
Comparatively, its Japanese cousin has hundreds. This is a real shame considering that animation itself was originally pioneered by us. The American form of animation has not had its techniques advanced through as many stages or been perfected as much as Japanese anime has. This would lead some to the conclusion that Japanese animation is inherently better than American animation; a false conclusion that I will dissect piece by piece as we go on. Still, there are some examples where the quality of American animation really shines through for what it was meant to be.
Take another perspective, and you’ll see that the cut-throat constraints which American animation producers face can actually help the quality of their animation, because they are always forced to work under the constant threat of being “canned”. Any animation project cannot be a flop or else (as in showbiz terms) so-and-so “will never work in this town again!” Compare this to all that garbage floating around in Japan. However, to gain the popularity and respect that the form deserves, we need to make some big changes. Fortunately, it seems that some of the big-shots up there have finally started to take notice of what has caused the likes of Disney to become very successful and make billions of dollars for years. Of course, it will be a while before animators are given the freedom and creativity that have made the Japanese successful for the last decade. But we cannot simply play catch-up by copying their inferior anime style (even though that’s what they did to us a long time ago).
Then we would be giving away our pride — selling out one of the few proud things that we can say was made in America. No, we must do things our own way! A Little History Few people, including those obsessed anime fans, have a clear understanding of how Japanese animation came to be or how it relates to the American form of animation. So, let’s take a little look at its history. First, let’s figure out what element of Japan’s society has caused the proliferation of anime. Well, in Japan there is a distinctive connection between the animation industry and the comic book (called “manga”) industry.
In fact, many animes are based off of manga. The actual word “manga” was coined in 1814 and roughly translates into “humorous pictures”, but cartoonish art had existed in Japanese culture for centuries prior to that. The crude drawings were used by the Japanese leaders and social elite, usually for political purposes. One of the earliest known collections of these drawings were drawn by a Buddhist monk named Toba in the 12th century. The need for these drawings was probably brought about by a certain trait in Japanese culture, which modern-day psychologists might call an “attention deficit disorder”.
The solution for this was to entice their people with certain visual stimuli. This became a useful tool for those in power, since they could use it to leverage control over the public. The effect could be described similarly to the “media saturation” which has plagued America in recent times. Flash forward to 1989 — only 12% of published material in Japan were books, whereas the majority (38%) were manga! If this does not show anything about Japanese society and literacy, then I don’t know what does. All of this may suggest that the Japanese had a unique style of their own long before the Americans came along, but the truth is that today’s anime and manga does not really bare any resemblance to the prehistoric art form of the ancient Japanese.
After World War II, Japan went through an identity crisis; they began stealing stuff like mad from our Western civilization — which still continues to this day. It seems that they have become the “United States wanna-be”. This is fantasized through their animes where they often show Japan as a culturally diversified nation where everyone accepts each other. In reality however, Japan is almost entirely populated with ethnic Japanese. They seem to find fun by taking things from our culture and playing around with it — perhaps, pretending that if they were a large country like the US, and not a small little island country, they could run things better than we are. Dr.
Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the real father of the anime-style and gave birth to the commercial industry of anime and manga as we know it today. Some people call him the Disney of Japan, which is sort of ironic because he copied many ideas from Disney and other American animators of the time. The classic “big eyes” which many people associate with anime were actually popular at one time in American animation and were used a lot by the Max Fleischer studio. Tezuka himself said: “My career as an animator began when at the age of four. I copied a picture of Popeye. My house was full of comics when I was a schoolboy.
Because we were able to obtain a projector and several films, I was able to see Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Chaplin, and Oswald Rabbit at home.” As you can see, it is obvious where he got his inspiration from. Tezuka’s first success was a manga called Tetsuwan Atom. Before Tezuka came along, most manga were short humorous comic strips similar to what one finds in the newspapers. However, Tezuka used techniques similar to those he had seen in foreign movies when he made his manga. He simulated the fancy camera angles seen in movies as well as giving his manga more complex storylines.
The result was a comic book series with cinematic quality. It became an instant hot seller, mainly because it was a cheap way for common folks (who were struggling with a bad economy) to provide entertainment for their children. The generation of children who grew up on this would be hooked on manga and anime for life. When did animation come to Japan? Probably when Toei Production started its animation division in 1958. They hired Dr. Tezuka to make animated films for them.
Later, in 1962, Tezuka would leave Toei to start his own company called Mushi Production and produce one of the first animated television shows in Japan. Of course, both animated movies and television shows had already been firmly in place for quite a while in the US. In fact, the first animated film was made by James S. Blackton in 1906, only four years after Thomas Edison had invented the movie projector. That was many years before Tezuka was even born.
But the art of animation is even older than that. In fact, an invention called the magic lantern, which projected animation by moving a strip back and forth, was invented in 1645 by Althanasius Kircher. Around 1915, a technique of using celluloid sheets in animation was established. By painting on these clear plastic cels, they could then transpose more than one cel on a static background. This technique is still used by some animators today.
Walt Disney made several breakthroughs by making the first animation with sound (1928) and the first animation in color (1932). It was on December 21, 1937 that Walt made history again with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” — it was the first feature-length animation! Snow White was the top grossing film for its time. Those are the important details to the history of animation, although I have not done justice in explaining the many great works created by the many very talented animators of the time. Japanese anime seems to be this new fresh breed of animation, even though it has its roots in American animation. It boggles my mind how many Americans today prefer a cheap imitation over something that is real and genuine. They say that Japanese anime is of better quality and looks better than our own animation.
In doing so, they have overlooked a pearl that is much closer to home. The truth is that American animation has so much more to offer, that anime simply pales in comparison. Visual Quality There are several elements to look at when reviewing animation. The first I will discuss is visual quality, since this is the first which people will usually look for. We must first realize that animation is a totally different art form than other art forms such as drawing, painting, ect. Those are all used to depict still pictures.
The concept of animation is not about conveying pictures; it is about conveying motion. When you examine a painting, the actual strokes of paint are not important; it is how those strokes combine to form their work of art. A similar concept applies to animation. Even though animation is made of pictures, it is not the pictures which are important but how they’re used to make the animation. We must distinguish these different art forms first and foremost and judge them separately.
This leads us to the first rule any budding animator must know. Each cel of animation must be easily distinguishable at an eye’s glimpse. This is because the animation goes by so fast at many frames per second. You do not want the viewer to miss an important detail because it went by too fast. Here, I will bring up the most noticeable difference between Japanese and American drawing styles.
Japanese anime tends to use a style which has sharp and jagged lines, whereas Americans use a style which has smooth and curvy lines. There are benefits to both of these styles. The most obvious benefit to using the Japanese method is that the sharp lines stand out very easily and thus overcome the problem of having to be distinguishable to the viewer. On the other hand, the smooth curves of American animation are more life-like and natural. In fact, if you look in nature, you will see that anything organic is formed with curves.
Not only that, but as I will attempt to explain later, animation itself is based on the mathematical principles of curves. The problem of course is that it is not as easy to produce something as distinguishable using curves as it is with sharp lines. This makes Japanese animation a lot easier to produce than American animation. The Japanese are able to highlight the details that are important by their usage of actual lines, whereas the American animators must focus on the picture as a whole. To help aid themselves with this problem, American animators often use something known as a “silhouette test” on their drawings.
The test is to see if the drawing is as easily recognizable as if it was to be totally shaded in (like a silhouette). This is because a person’s mind must be able to register the outline of the figure they see and associate it with the action taking place as soon as it’s flashed in front of their eyes. Japanese animation works quite differently, because the sharp and jagged lines make it seem very unnatural. In this case, your mind is telling you that there is something very wrong about the picture. That causes your eyes to focus on it. It also gives this artificial-feeling to anime that some people seem to like, but in my opinion, it designates anime as a lesser form of animation.
It should also be noted that the root definition of the word “animation” stems from a Celtic word which means “to be life-like”. May I also note, that up until modern times, this concept was so foreign to the Japanese that they did not even have a word for it in their vocabulary. That is why they had to borrow the word “anime” from the French. Sometimes in anime you will see little lines sparked across the screen when a character’s expression changes suddenly or some form of action is taking place. These lines are called “action lines” and are strictly prohibited in the American school of art.
The idea, once again, is that the action should speak for itself and not need some fancy lines to guide the way for its viewers. It should be able to grab the attention of the viewers by itself. That is not always as easy when you’re making an animation as it is when you’re making a comic book, because the animation must run at a certain pace. Fortunately, the American animators have a bag of tricks to help their viewers stay on course. The number one technique used in American animation to draw a viewer’s attention to the action that’s about to take place is known as anticipation.
What this does in effect, is it warns the viewer’s mind before hand that a certain action is about to take place so it can register in the viewer’s mind before it actually happens. If you watch American animation, you’ll notice that often times a character may anticipate that he’s going to be hit in the face by reacting before he’s actually hit. Or he may anticipate that he’s going to break into a run by stepping backwards first. If a character is about to become angry suddenly, his facial expression might go through stages before it reaches the pot-boiling point. The principle can be applied to anything, including inanimate objects.
A very exaggerated case of this is when Wile E. Coyote walks off a cliff but doesn’t fall down until he realizes he’s standing on thin-air. The viewer already expects Mr. Coyote to plummet to his doom before it happens. However, the anticipation technique is usually very subtle when you’re watching it because it blends so seamlessly and naturally with the animation.
This is because this technique is just one of the many techniques which the American artists have mastered and perfected, but the Japanese have not. It is also a lot more effective than “action lines”. Upon further examination of the anticipation technique, one may find that it is really based off an exaggerated version of one of Newton’s laws that states, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Who knew that animation could be so scientific? There are a couple of other techniques used in American animation that I should mention because they make animation seem more life-life and pleasurable to the eyes, and also because there is a significant lack of such to be found in Japanese anime. Some of those techniques have to do with something called the “path of action”. This usually has to with where a character starts out, where he should end up, and how he will get there. It’s a little bit like what stage crafting and camera maneuvering are to live action.
I haven’t really seen this task performed as well in anime as it is in American animation. One reason is that American animation uses a technique where the motion of things (especially hands and feet) moves in curves. This is often impossible to do with Japanese animation because of its use of sharp and jagged lines; you have less freedom in movement without contorting the character’s body into some unrealistic shape. On the other hand, curved motion can make the animation seem very fluid and natural — or shall we say, “very animated”. You’ll also notice that in American animation, the time frame of action tends to be parabolic (curved), where the action starts out slow and gets faster until it slows down again. Once again, this makes the animation seem very smooth and appealing to the eyes, heightening your sense of realism.
Another technique used in American animation is called “squash and stretch”. This adds a rubber-effect to the animation. When a force acts upon a body of mass, it either expands it or squeezes it. This makes the object seems real, solid and three dimensional, since the physical reaction conveys weight and mass. Unfortunately, to use this technique, one must work with a roundish body of mass. This means that you can’t use it with drawings based off those jagged lines.
You should now be able to see how the “anime style” can be very restrictive and limiting in the long run. American animation comes in different qualities. The anim …