Anime is a word used in Japanese to refer to animation film, but whether the word derives from the English word animation or French term dessin animé is the source of some debate. Despite the word being used in Japan as a reference to any kind of animation, in the West it is understood to mean specifically a Japanese animation film.
In 1995, Time Out reviewed the anime Ghost in the Shell writing “The sci-fi animé conjures up an eye-dazzling, futuristic cityscape that, sadly, is not matched by the human landscapes at the heart of the story…much more attention should have been paid to the script and disastrous dubbed dialogue”.
Despite this crushing review, anime is hugely popular in Japan and has grown in popularity in the West, especially in the U.S., since the 1990’s. From 2000, the US began to use voiceover for Japanese anime on TV and localize some of the content for the English speaking audience. The result was a generation of young Westerners being exposed to Japanese culture and an increased interest in Japanese language study – indeed, it seems that many university students on Japanese courses will name anime as their inspiration for taking on Japanese.
In 2001, the Spirited Away became the US’s top grossing anime film. The director was the highly celebrated Hayao Miyazaki – perhaps considered to be the father of anime – and this was his biggest commercial success. The heroine of the film is a young girl who fights to survive when she is whisked away to the spirit world where her parents have been turned into pigs. Strong females and feminism have been quoted as recurring themes in Miyazaki’s anime films, as well as environmentalism and pacifism.
Even if you are not a fan of anime, it is hard not to admire the levels of artwork that go into a production, especially in an age where many animations in their entirety are made using CGI. And the more complex and darker themes which run through some of the major anime productions such as Princess Mononoke or the stories that capture the essence of childhood can sometimes be a breath of fresh air when compared to their Disney production counterparts.
Read how English voiceover and localization of Japanese anime helped to create a huge following for this industry in the West.