The transcultural flow of media content has increased substantially with the rise of the globalized, followed by digitalized, age (Jin, 2011; Thussu, 2007). Ever since the latter half of the 1900s, there has been an upward trend in the amount of traded media content on a global front; however, this trend is often said to be part of a one-way flow that is dominated by American cultural exportation (Thussu, 2007). Although globalization led to a more open distribution structure, scholars argue that this has only allowed the United States to exert even more dominance over the world’s markets—in this case, over the global cultural sector (Jin, 2011; Thussu, 2007). So rather than offering countries the equal opportunity to participate in global trade, Americanization of cultural content has ensued (Jin, 2013).
Inversely, a notable area that defies the pattern of American cultural imperialism is the market of Japanese animation, also known as “anime” (Mckevitt 2010, 894; Thussu, 2007). This cultural product has entered US space from as early as the 1960’s with the series Astro Boy, which was heavily inspired by American storytelling—as was most anime during this era (Otmazgin, 2013). Eventually, anime morphed to become its own industry while incorporating elements of Japanese culture to appeal to local audiences (Daliot-Bul, 2014). As a medium of storytelling that had arisen through inspiration from American works, the international success of anime has led Japan to become trailblazer in global animation exports (Mckevitt 2010). In this sense, the relationship between Japanese and American animated works represents a fundamental shift in animation production; rather than US-produced cartoons embodying a purely American product, many incorporate anime-like styles, stories, and conventions that results in a fusion defined within hybridization.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK & METHODOLOGY
The international success of anime represents a new perspective of transnational media against its American-imperialist counter; American animation has taken inspiration from the art form and storytelling of traditional anime, resulting in a content fusion of the geographic West and East (Otmazgin, 2014). Hence, through the introduction of cultural media content such as anime, the conception of Americanization in the animation sector is slowly being demolished to open a new phase of cultural globalization and hybridization (Mckevitt 2010):
Transgressing national borders with business initiatives such as outsourcing and importation often involves cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts, resulting in transcultural interactions and influences. It is nevertheless productive in emphasizing the complex duality of artistry and business characteristic of the animation industry. (Daliot-Bul, 2014, p. 87)
The impact of transcultural media content is often measured through economic means, such as trade figures. And although quantitative bases provide accuracy in tracking growth patterns over a specific period of time, qualitative analyses are required to explore the cultural-based flow of media content across national borders. For the sake of exploring the influence of anime on US-based animation, this report will engage in the textual analysis of three different works based on their imagery, characters, premise, and other storytelling elements: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sym-Bionic Titan, and Miraculous Ladybug: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
The popularity of Japanese anime skyrocketed during the late 1990s alongside the broadcast of widely-popular works on American cable—including Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragonball Z (Chambers, 2012; Mckevitt, 2010). By importing foreign cultural product into North America, audiences were able to form communities through a common understanding of their cultural components (Mckevitt 2010). And as anime-related fandoms grew, “the remarkable system of exchange and distribution that early anime fans utilized demonstrated the interconnectedness between local communities and the global flow of culture” (Mckevitt, 2010, p. 900). The growing fan base of anime in America led to the emergence “anime-inspired cartoons” that “exhibit individualistic and even eccentric artistic approaches to animation instead of the expected [American] formulaic products designed to capitalize on a market trend” (Daliot-Bul, 2014, p. 85).
According to the Japanese Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry, 65% of the world’s animation production is based in Japan, making it the largest global producer of animation (Daliot-Bul, 2014; Otmazgin, 2013). Based on 2007 statistics from the Japanese External Trade Organization, anime sales in the United States reached US$2.929 billion; however, according to financial reports, the sales of anime in the United States have declined from 2007 onwards with the increase of piracy, low-quality anime, and a reduction of spending during the 2008 economic crisis (Otmazgin, 2013). Despite these perceived roadblocks, this downturn in importation did not impede anime’s influence on Western animation. The development of high-speed Internet has led to a rise of online streaming platforms that have granted users access to foreign content, including Japanese animation (De Jesus, 2014).