If Anime Has to be Made by Japanese People…What’s a “Japanese Person”?

If the general definition of anime is “animations made by Japanese people”, then I guess rather than wonder about whether the staff is ethnically and by citizenship Japanese, you have to wonder… what defines a “Japanese person”?

The reason I’m thinking about this is because Miyavi, he of the Kokkoku OP among other anime-related activities, is stated in this interview to be 3rd generation Zainichi (Korean-Japanese), but for most intents and purposes he would be thought of as Japanese, even though his family’s surname is stated to be of Chinese origin. Indeed, I found out through the person who redirected me to this source Miyavi is known as the “samurai guitarist” (which does explain why Flashback is on an album called Samurai Sessions vol. 2), but whether Miyavi totes this moniker in deception or in spite of his mixed heritage is an argument for a different blog.

Long explanation aside, when people think about the question “what is anime?”, the general consensus is “animation made by Japanese people”. However, as pointed out in the introduction, Japan is just as messed-up as the rest of the world when it comes to minorities and historical migration. Not only do they have Koreans and Chinese in their mixed ancestry, what can be said about the Brazilian Japanese, who are also known as Nikkei, if they choose to make anime? What about people from Australia and other countries which have been built on migration to fill their cities, including Japanese people by origin (in the case of Australia, those who are Japanese by blood and Australian by citizenship) and those with visas? Obviously someone with a visa probably wouldn’t have enough time or resources to make an animated series, but it’s still possible.

Often, this problem is solved by stating it’s all people who are of Japanese blood who can make “true anime”. Then again, I’ve just pointed out how hard that is to categorise under the surface.

Now that there’s a French manga (…should it even be called that?) getting an anime (Radiant) and there’s a bunch of anime where heavy American involvement (Samurai Champloo, among others), anime is getting more diverse. However, this is a hybridisation of Japan with other cultures, so really, it depends on how “pure” you want anime to be…

The argument also goes the other way, by the way – what about cartoons with Japanese involvement? For instance, those Saturday morning superhero shows like Batman: Brave and the Bold have also relied on outsourcing to Japanese studios from time to time and Masaaki Yuasa (he of Devilman Crybaby and a bunch of other anime) once made an episode of Adventure Time!

Sidebar: The reason I decided to put this post out now is because there’s a similar question around Crunchyroll’s High Guardian Spice – should an anime licensing company deal with only anime? Or should it also deal with things like cartoons and embrace the entire animation medium, since it also has RWBY, which hails from the US?

So, are we being too picky and/or selfish by calling the medium we know “anime”, rather than just “Japanese cartoons”? Truly, there is no definition of “anime” without generalising to some degree…or is there no point in thinking too hard about defining what makes an anime “anime”?



5 thoughts on “If Anime Has to be Made by Japanese People…What’s a “Japanese Person”?

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  1. Shows like Brave and the Bold are irrelevant to the discussion – they’re American scripts, based on an American comic. They’re produced in English by an American company for an American network and an American audience. It’s stretching things beyond the breaking point to think that outsourcing part of the work to Japan makes it in any way ‘anime’.

    Flipping that around, you get the broadest (from the Western POV) definition of anime. tl;dr version: If the core creative decisions were made in Japan with an eye towards the domestic market, it’s almost certainly anime. The element isn’t race or ethnicity (that’s missing the forest for the trees), it’s the culture that shaped and informed the creative definitions and decisions.

    Which is how Heidi: Girl of the Alps can be anime even though the source is Western. From the other direction, it’s what makes Power Rangers not Japanese even though the source (and much of the footage) isn’t. And then there’s grey area stuff – like the American adaptations of Pokémon or Sailor Moon… I’m not gonna pretend this is an absolute method, the world isn’t that simple. But it is one that at least defines black and white and thus by extension allows definition of the broader shades of gray.

    As far as HGS goes… And with the caveat that we know very little so far: I do find it curious that a company that made it’s bones as an anime importer and caters almost exclusively to customers interested in those imported products (and the balance is imported live action) chose the direction they did.

    HGS appears to be hewing to American standards & practices and thus to be a warmed over remake of any of a boatload of dull Saturday morning cartoons. (Not that there’s any lack of “schoolkids make friends and learn to defend the world” in anime.) It’s kinda like McDonald’s opening a chain of McDonald’s branded pizza places. On one hand, it’s still fast food. On the other, it’s not what customers expect when they hear “McDonald’s”.

    Liked by 1 person

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