If you are a fan of manga and anime, where do you stand on the Japan-only debate? The debate is almost as old as the genre we now consider modern anime. It continues to rage today because neither form of art is so easily defined. Neither manga nor anime can be as tightly constrained as some fans would like.
You can buy anime T-shirts and hoodies adorned with original artwork from Umai. However, Umai is not a Japanese company. It is an American company owned by Americans. Does that make their artwork manga- or anime-inspired rather than legitimate manga or anime? That’s the debate. It applies to everything from graphic novels to TV series that are referred to as either manga or anime despite not hailing from Japan.
Animation in Japan
What the West considers anime comes either directly from Japan or from Japanese artists living in other parts of the world. We tend to have a very strict definition of both anime and manga. Interestingly enough, ‘anime’ is a shortened version of the Japanese word for animation. In Japan, any and all types of animation are considered anime.
We, Westerners, stumble over this because Japanese animators do things differently compared to their Western counterparts. Their drawing and animation styles are different. Their use of color, shape, and form is distinct. Their means of storytelling are a lot more realistic than ours.
The Case Against Japan-Only
Those who believe anime and manga do not have to originate in Japan have plenty of reasons for saying so. For example, one of the characteristics of genuine manga is characters drawn with realistic proportions. Western artists tend to exaggerate certain proportions where Japanese artists try to make their characters appear as realistic as possible.
This gives rise to the belief that manga and anime are art forms that can be employed by any artist, regardless of origin. If this is the case, a Spanish artist living in South Africa could produce genuine manga and anime despite having never set foot in Japan.
The Case for Japan-Only
Those who believe genuine anime and manga only come from Japan find their case rooted in the principle of cultural appropriation. It must be understood that the modern concept of manga and anime comes from Japanese culture. Long before the two types of art became known in the West, they were institutions in the East.
In light of that, there are those who believe referring to non-Japanese works as legitimate anime or manga amounts to cultural appropriation. They take the position that any works created outside of Japan should be referred to as ‘inspired’ or ‘like’ – as in anime-inspired or manga-like.
A Never-Ending Debate
The Japan-only debate has been going on for so long that many people do not even remember its origins. Unfortunately, it seems to be a debate that will never reach a reasonable conclusion. Why? Because artwork is rarely defined neatly enough to create the necessary standards. By its very nature, art is interpretive. Trying to confine it to a set of inflexible parameters is to defeat the purpose of creating art.
In the end, does it really matter whether or not anime and manga work originate from Japan? Is a top-notch anime series any less entertaining after discovering it has been created by non-Japanese artists living in the West? Is a manga graphic novel no longer worthy of reading because you discovered it was created by an Australian?
Manga and anime are what they are regardless of national borders. In light of that, the Japan-only debate might not even be worth having.