What prevents Americans from liking anime?

Besides the usual preconception that cartoons can only be kids entertainment or crude adult comedies, I figured there’s gotta be less obvious reasons for why it’s difficult for the average American to get into anime…

After giving it some thought, I think that there are a few anime attributes that play a major role in preventing the typical American audience from relating well to anime. The first, and probably biggest one, is anime’s emphasis on continuity.

What I mean by “continuity” is the fact that most anime series are not episodic, but rather, each episode is a small piece of a whole story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Characters are introduced and developed gradually, subplots crop up, have their effect on the main story, and are resolved (sometimes), foreshadowing abounds, and references to things that happened in early episodes can be vital for understanding something many episodes later. You can’t start watching Code Geass anywhere but the first episode without being lost. Likewise, if you watch episode 1, you’ll still be lost if you try to skip ahead and watch episode 21. Basically, most anime stories rely heavily on the commitment, patience, and just plain decent memory, of their viewers in order to be fully appreciated. In this sense, anime episodes are more like pages of a book – you can’t get nearly as much out of them just by reading random pages as opposed to reading the whole thing from beginning to end in chronological order.

I’ve hardly seen any American TV shows, but my understanding is that the majority of them are not nearly as reliant on continuity as anime stories are. As long as you know a basic synopsis of the story, you can pop in pretty much anywhere and not have much trouble figuring out what’s going on. As we all know, this isn’t the case with most anime, especially for someone who’s not familiar with anime stories to begin with. If the average American wants to check out a certain anime after hearing a little of what it’s about, then puts on episode 11 of said anime because they happen to come across it on TV or online, they’ll probably be lost since it’s part 2 of a two-part arc starting from episode 10, and there’s references in it from something that happened in episode 3, and a new character appears that we got one foreshadowing line of dialogue about in episode 5…well, you get the point I’m trying to make.

Actually, nowadays with anime being mostly available to the general public through online streaming sites rather than TV, it’s easier than ever before for people to make the “continuity commitment” and start anime series from episode 1 until the end in the right order. Unlike TV where, if they missed the airing of the first few episodes, they would have to keep checking the schedule for reruns if they wanted to watch it chronologically, streaming sites have all the episodes available in the right order all the time. The drawback to this is, well, as I’ve discovered from living in this country all my life, Americans are an overall lazy bunch, at least when it comes to recreational activities. It’s much easier to just push a button and turn on the TV than it is to make the effort to look up specific sites for a specific anime and pick the right episode. It’s easy to just pop in a DVD too, but obviously average Americans aren’t going to spend money on anime DVDs unless they’ve already seen the show and like it (Disney and Hollywood movie DVDs are a different story of course). In summary, in order to follow an anime series well, a viewer needs to watch all the episodes in chronological order. Most Americans who aren’t already interested in anime aren’t willing to make that commitment, and if they just check out a random episode, they’ll likely have trouble understanding it. And unfortunately, lack of understanding leads to disinterest.

After the continuity factor, I think anime’s emphasis on series specific terminology is something else that deters Americans. The names of all the pokemon, the names of all the mecha and organizations in Gundam and similar series, the names of all the attacks in Naruto and Bleach, the staggering number of fantasy terms and names in Shakugan no Shana and Index/Railgun…anime series are full of their own made-up terminology which, like continuity, requires a larger amount of investment and memorization on the part of the viewer than typical American shows do. But I don’t think it’s as huge an issue as continuity since it’s mostly shonen and mecha series that have the big terminology lists.

An additional issue that Americans have with both the continuity and terminology aspect of anime is that, memorizing all the terms and following all the continuity makes one seem really passionate about that anime…in a negative sense, “nerdy” about it. I know plenty of Americans who, for the sole reason of caring what others would think of them, would never want to have a hobby that requires them to have a lot of this useless, geeky knowledge. Hobbies that require them to commit their brainpower and memory to fantasy worlds is just not cool for many, especially females.

A lesser, additional deterrent would be the Japanese language-related jokes, expressions, and cultural references in anime. I don’t think they’re quite as major as the aforementioned continuity and terminology, since translators can often work around them (see the dub of Azumanga Daioh) or put translator’s notes if the episode is subtitled. But compared to the English in American TV shows and movies, which is fraught with expressions, idioms, and pop-culture references, the Japanese in anime has relatively little of this. And for things like White Day and the Cultural Festival, it’s not too hard for an American to figure out what these are. For those who can’t stand the Japanese voices and/or reading subtitles, dubs are the solution (though they’re fading with time…) But again, depending on the anime, especially the ones where their setting in Japan is important, cultural references and untranslatable dialogue could become a major issue.

And lastly, the general design of anime has its deterring as well as redeeming qualities. On the plus side, compared to the simple and exaggeratedly cartoony anatomy of American cartoon characters, with few exceptions anime characters are made to look more attractive and realistic. Detailed hair, flashy clothes, a wide range of facial expressions, and gorgeous, anatomically-correct bodies can be appealing to Americans who are only used to American cartoons. The beautifully detailed scenery, as can be seen in anime like 5 Centimeters per Second and the Key titles, as well as other detailed components like the design of the mecha in Gundam series, can all be quite novel and exciting to Americans. Anime’s main drawback in this department however, is having fewer animation frames per minute than American cartoons. The “frozen face with only the mouth moving” can be unappealing to Americans who are used to their fast-moving cartoons. Other things like anime’s stereotypical “big eyes” and the variety of anime-specific iconography could also be deterring, but I don’t think they’re too hard to get used to with a little open-mindedness.

I feel that these are the most common factors that prevent Americans from getting into anime, besides the obvious reason of being ignorant about the possibilities of the animation medium. I know there are others, but I’m just sticking with these big ones for this post. Do you agree that these factors are the issue? Or are there others you think should be mentioned?

33 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. chikorita157 says:

    I think it has more to do with the cultural differences… There is a big cultural gap with the West and the East. If you were to compare Anime with cartoons, western cartoons 90% of the time are targeted for children besides The Simpsons and Family Guy. Because there are a perception with cartoons being childish, Anime gets the same treatment even if they have deeper stories that can compare to something like the live action TV show like House or Glee.

    For me, I don’t really watch that much western TV shows because they don’t interest me. Besides from the news and MythBusters, I spend most of the time watching Anime because of the artistic and the story… It’s a piece of art that is worth watching. Also, not afraid to share my hobbies either, the hobbies is what makes me unique…

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, Americans’ preconception about cartoons are the beginning factor. Americans tend to associate cute characters with children’s shows, so anime like Lucky Star and Higurashi that are not targeted for kids don’t have much marketability. Even anime like Naruto in which the depth of the original is kept intact minus a little censoring for violence, is still mostly marketed for kids. Not that it isn’t marketed for kids in Japan as well, but there’s less restrictions on what’s suitable for kids there.

  2. Robert Weizer says:

    Now see, I went to anime because of continuity. It’s also why I like Avatar: The Last Airbender. I learned to read at an earlier than usual age and did it a lot. That didn’t stop me from enjoying stuff like Ed, Edd, ‘n Eddy and other continuity-less shows (hell I quote Edd, Edd, ‘n Eddy nowadays when I hang out with friends), but nowadays I mostly watch stuff with plot.

    Minus Aqua Teen Hunger Force. But that’s just a good show to watch when there’s nothing else I wanna watch. It works as a segway show for some reason.

    • Yumeka says:

      I never really thought about continuity in fictional stories until I got into anime. It’s just easier to immerse oneself in such series because of the details of the setting, plot, and characters. It’s like its own unique universe with enough complexity to be real despite being fiction. I still could love episodic anime just as much, but it’s just easier to get engrossed in continuity.

  3. Yi says:

    So many bold statements…

    Continuity is important to many anime, but I don’t think that’s enough to differentiate between American cartoons and Japanese animation. Anime have their K-On!, Lucky Star, Ika Musume, and other “slice-of-life”, just like American Cartoons have their X-Men, Justice League, and Samurai Jack. And if we broaden the scope outside of animations, shows like Lost and Glee kind of indicate that Americans, like most other people, love long series that require a commitment.
    I wouldn’t be too fast to generalize.

    On the other hand, I do agree with the actual animation as being a barrier. I think it might take a while for new fans to start appreciate the specific deformations of the anime style, as well as all the tropes that come with anime.

    But I think the biggest barrier is probably just access. Imagine just a random person looking for some entertainment to kill her 9-10pm every weekday after work. I highly doubt she is going to jump straight onto Crunchyroll or torrenting anime. Rather, she might start watching Glee because her co-workers love it. She might just turn on the TV and randomly be hooked onto Sex and the City. Either way, the probability of her picking up anime is pretty low.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, as I said, I’m not very familiar with American TV shows, so I’m sorry if I generalized too much. Maybe continuity wasn’t the precise word I’m looking for…it could be something along the lines of excessive details? The concepts that I discussed in a previous post about how the details in anime are made to cater to the otaku obsession of categorizing and “collecting” lots of info about the story and characters…something like that.

      The switch between normal character designs and chibi ones, as is the staple of many comedy and kids series, can definitely be hard for those unfamiliar with anime to relate to. That’s probably why the more serious Adult Swim-like anime that have little of this tend to be more successful in America.

      Speaking of Adult Swim, I agree that the lack of anime on TV isn’t helping bring in new fans. Like you said, the average person is more likely to just tune into a TV show she hers about from her peers than go searching online for anime. Streaming has TV beat as far as providing what fans want, but TV is the better way to bring in new fans.

  4. Liza says:

    I think the cultural difference is a huge part with most shows aimed at kids while the aimed for older people cartoons have crude humor and such. Basicly, two very extremes.

    I agree with the slower frame rate too. Since I do watch anime DVDs, I watch them in a guest room with a dvd player and tv and when my mom comes in to do something she’ll watch it for a few seconds then leave while complaining that it doesn’t move. I did explain about lower budgets and such but I think after watching disney and such she just expects a higher frame rate.

    • Yumeka says:

      Violence is acceptable in American kids shows, but not as excessively as Japan, especially blood and detailed weapons. Anything sex-related on the other hand is a huge no-no for American kids. Most anime for kids in Japan don’t have a problem talking about breasts or even showing them on occasion (ever seen Konjiki no Gash Bell!!?), but that could never fly in America. Yes, it’s definitely a cultural difference.

      My mom kinda had that same problem when I first got into anime. She noted how the mouths would not only flap while the face was frozen, but the mouth would vary in size depending on how loud the character was talking. Nowadays she doesn’t care and knows that the compromise is that anime faces have plenty of expression to look at instead =P

  5. Hogart says:

    I honestly think you’re over-analyzing a tad here and there. In my experience it’s mostly just the stupid social “group mentality” that stops people from not liking it, because it’s not mainstream enough to be considered “normal”. Talking about frames per second and such doesn’t matter because most of the stuff Americans watch is just as poorly produced when all’s said and done. At least, with the people under 40 years old, which comprises the vast majority of people I know.

    It’s really just showing people the “good” stuff that they might enjoy that’s the trick here. Just as with Hollywood and North-American TV, there’s a TON of crap to sift through if you want to find the gems of anime – and everyone has their own opinion of what a gem will be in this case. People feel overwhelmed by the amount of anime and need a personal touch to really get started by it, without feeling like they’re risking entering some weird world on their own. Just proving it’s not all cheap mouth-flapping, childish dramatic poses with seizure-inducing backgrounds, kids fighting in giant robot suits, or borderline child-porn, and most North Americans I’ve met won’t care.

    They just won’t talk about much, because it’s not water-cooler talk.. unless everyone in your office happens to catch Panty and Stocking on a weekly basis, no one will risk a faux pas. But outside that environment, they begin to remember the stuff they grew on on, which even back in the 80s was really anime-like, if not full-blown anime.

    It’s honestly not as much of a barrier as most people tend to perceive.. or at least it’s not the type of barrier one might expect. People like South Park and Flash animations, and almost everyone I know has a favorite “cartoon kid’s movie” that’s also an adult’s movie in disguise: Iron Giant, Secret of NIMH, Land Before Time, Great Mouse Detective, etc. They just don’t think anime is worth the time and need someone to show them otherwise.

    • Yumeka says:

      You’ve got some excellent points here. When I first got into anime via Pokemon in middle school, I used to think that most people my age wouldn’t like it. But once I got into high school and eventually college, and encountered a better variety of people over the years, I realized that it’s not that everyone in America cringes when they think of anime…they just don’t know what to make of it since the general public opinion of it is rather skewered (porn or kids stuff? Adult Swim?) and it’s hard to even get started with it since it’s not mainstreamed. You’re right that probably the best way to get someone into anime is to find a genre they like and pick a gem from that genre to show them.

      However, my main problem is how do you get them to take the effort to watch it. Maybe it’s just that I’m terrible at imposing my hobby on others if they’re not interested. It gets harder the more narrow-minded the person is – why would they want to watch something with a nerdy reputation like anime just for the sake of seeing what it is when they could use that time to watch the popular American TV shows? It’s not impossible though…if the person doing the convincing is good at it, and the person being convinced is open minded, it’s definitely worth a shot =)

      • Hogart says:

        You are right, it’s generally tough to get someone interested, and tougher to maintain that interest. And some people just aren’t interested in, well, anything.. new or otherwise.

        I like to lead by example. I watched an ep or two of Tentai Senshi Sunred at lunch at work, and a couple of guys thought the concept was hilarious, having watched Power Rangers as kids.

        I tend to watch all sorts of random stuff so that probably helps. I’m just that guy that finds weird stuff by default, so it’s easier to recommend things to people when they don’t feel like you’re just trying to push your hobby or something.

  6. Alvin B. says:

    Good points, but I think you’re giving American TV less credit than it deserves. While there’s a lot of dreck on the air, there have been shows good on continuity. The Sopranos, for instance, is one. From day one, the writers knew when it would end. The plot moved along in each episode, characters grew – and died. And in the end, it ended the only way it could, something I was reminded of when I watched Requiem for Phantom as well (though less was left to the imagination there). There are also the legions of rabid Lost fans, though I never got into it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer also had good continuity, though it was unfortunately cancelled before the story arcs could end – but that happens to Anime too.

    The American market mostly just sees anime as for kids – I think that’s one of the biggest hurdles. Subtitles or bad dubs are another hurdle, but I think those aspects would improve if the demand were there, and it just isn’t. Worse, because of the paucity of good anime to be seen on TV or bought, Anime fans have become accustomed to downloading their anime rather than buying it, which discourages publishers from bothering to translate all but the most popular shows. It is still almost impossible to find LEGAL english translations of most anime, and if you do, it is rarer still for it to be streamable. Honestly, if there were an official “hulu”-like outlet for English dubbed/subbed anime, supported by multiple anime publishers, I think we would see increased popularity of Anime in America. As it stands now, you have to work to see most anime.

    Again, blame the Sake.

    • Yumeka says:

      As I said in the post, I’m not familiar at all with American TV so I’m glad you provided some examples. But I just feel like those are the minority while with anime, the continuity stuff is the majority (except for shows like K-ON!, etc). But again, I could indeed not be giving American TV the proper amount of credit because of my lack of knowledge.

      There’s actually a lot more anime available legally than ever before thanks to Crunchyroll and other official streaming sources. The only problem is, as I’ve mentioned in previous comments, there’s hardly any anime on TV now, which is the main outlet for bringing in new fans. Adult Swim did wonders to increase people’s knowledge of anime as being more than kids shows…we really need another Adult Swim block of anime nowadays.

  7. LostGamer says:

    Awesome post, you hit the nail on the head on all points. Just wanted to comment about the continuity aspect, it is the reason I, as well as others, really enjoy anime. Cartoons don’t hold a candle to anime in this aspect. As mentioned, cartoons are very episodic with little or no story from episode to episode…but I’m just reiterating what has already been said.

    Another aspect I think prevents many from enjoying anime is the short attention span of the average American. Most of us have been spammed all of our lives with mindless comedy sitcoms, dramas with semi-continuity, and cartoons with little or no continuity and don’t get me started on commercials. If/when they come across an actual story like most anime shows portray many people either do not have the attention span to continue…*ooo shinies* or they do not realize that there is an actual story/plot that will eventually wrap up and end like a book. Unless you watch a drama show or movie generally American television series don’t have much of an overall story. But I ramble… again great post, I look forward to more!

    • Yumeka says:

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Looking at American cartoons nowadays compared to when I was a kid, they’re more hyperbolic and episodic than ever before. I can only imagine what this is doing to kids’ attention spans, not to mention that the only themes kids are exposed to in their cartoons are slapstick comedy or wish-fulfilling superhero action. Compare these to the cartoons that Japanese kids are exposed to: epic tales like One Piece that rely heavily on continuity, Naruto with its extremely developed characters and dramatic themes, mahou shojo series like Sailor Moon with tales of love, friendship, and romance. Kids are very influenced by what they see on TV, so I can only imagine the differences between American kids and Japanese kids in these respects (actually, I don’t have to imagine it because I work with American kids for my job!)

  8. Snark says:

    I know I’m gonna sound like a broken record here, but like all other problems in the world, I’m blaming this one on moe.

    I’ve had very few problems in getting people who are normally completely uninterested in anime to watch stuff like Ghost in the Shell, Black Lagoon and any Miyazaki movie ever made, hell, I’ve even gotten a girl who’s generally only interested in fashion to watch Mai Hime.

    On the inverse, I’ve never been able to convince anyone to watch stuff like Koihime Musou or Haruhi Suzumiya…though to be fair, I’m probably not the best advocate for those titles either…

    • Yumeka says:

      I don’t think the problem is moe specifically – the problem is the genre that typical moe shows fall under, which is slice-of-life, character-driven comedies. Such a genre that anime like K-ON! and Ichigo Mashimaro fall under is completely unknown in America, especially for animation. Shows like Lucky Star and Azumanga Daioh are more like sitcoms, but much of their humor and background is ground in Japanese culture. If you want to call Haruhi a moe show, I actually think it has more universal appeal than the others because of the complex story, sci-fi elements, and de-emphasis on having to understand Japanese culture. I’ve heard Shakugan no Shana called a moe show, but I think it also has universal appeal because of its action/fantasy/romance genre. So yeah, I don’t think it has to do with the fact that anime has moe characters, just the genre that such anime tends to fall under.

      Exposure is another thing. When anime used to be on TV, it was pretty much only action/adventure/fantasy shows because that’s what Americans are used to for cartoons that aren’t kiddy shows or adult comedies. The action/sci-fi genre is simply more familiar than the slice-of-life genre and Japanese-style humor, moe traits aside.

      • chikorita157 says:

        I don’t think moe is the problem, its depends with the attitudes with the fan. Moe is just the whip cream on the sundae, it doesn’t tell the whole story since these shows can also have deep story lines.

        Its blind hate towards a genre is what makes me angry because they think that one genre is better than the other. In my opinion, all the genres are equal, not one genre better than the other.

      • Snark says:

        I would argue it IS moe rather than the genre it typically falls under. While it is true that character driven, slice of life isn’t as popular in the West as it is in Japan, it is still a very much viable genre.

        The British version of The Office for example, was very much a slice of office life show (as opposed to its much more sitcom-like American counterpart). Similarly, Yes Minister, one of the greatest English comedies of all time, was driven almost entirely by its characters and their interactions with one another. Other sitcoms also relied on slice of life elements, such as the nigh legendary season 1 finale of Frasier, which consisted entirely of a conversation between the principle characters in a cafe.

        So yeah, I really don’t think it’s the slice of life genre that is holding anime back. Moe however, is. The problem with moe, is that it holds itself as an ideal, which it assumes to be automatically desirable by the audience, which is of course not always the case, particularly with Western audiences.

        Shana for instance, does have elements of fantasy and adventure. But it’s main appeal, and the driving force behind it’s entire production is still the director saying to the audience, “Hey check it out! Shana’s a tsundere! Also, she’s got like, no tits.” The show thus suffers as a result. Instead of relying on its more universal appeals, the show has to allocate some of its time and resources to moe, which obviously appeals to a far smaller audience.

        How else could one explain the haphazard and borderline abusive relationship between Shana and that eunuch whose name I’ve forgotten? This was all to establish Shana as a tsundere; from her irrational hatred of the guy to her sudden and equally irrational love of him. Tsundere might be considered moe for otaku audiences, but almost no one else in the known universe is crazy for a girl who looks like she’s 12 and regularly assaults you.

  9. Mystlord says:

    I feel like the reasons why Americans don’t watch anime are numerous, but I feel like three primary reasons why no one watches anime are 1) it’s stigmatized, 2) there’s no access, and 3) it’s not mainstream. First off, anime is generally stigmatized as being either “for kids” or just “strange Japanese shit”. First exposure to anime is basically on Saturday morning cartoons, and there it already builds a reputation for being just for kids. You don’t really see anime anywhere else other than truly late night Adult Swim, where it’s even more of a niche activity. Parents usually drum it into the heads of children to go to sleep early, and that continues until something like middle school/high school, at which point everyone has found American shows, and no one cares about anime, because they still perceive it as childish. Same deal with animation in general. There’s no real bridge between childish anime and rather mature anime.

    Moving on, because everyone else is watching American shows, people are slowly weaned off of anime because you can’t really find anyone else to talk about it with, and a lot of people don’t even get into it that much because of parents encouraging children to watch news/sports/other.

    Then of course, we hit the problem of no access. Anime is pretty niche even in Japan. The only thing is that you see it everywhere. I don’t think it’s uncommon to see commercials for anime series on some children’s channels, and the manga industry is pretty big there as well, so you see light novels and such in book stores all the time. So in that case, anime has greater exposure, so more people watch it, and it’s just slightly more acceptable (at least until you hit the realm of stuff like eroge and VNs).

    I don’t think that continuity is a problem. As many people have pointed out, there are numerous American shows predicated on continuity. Heroes, Firefly, Entourage, Glee, etc, etc.
    Terminology is possible, but I don’t think it’s a turn-off. Watch any sci-fi show and you get a ton of terminology thrown around too. Reading some books, you have a ton of random names and facts to remember.
    Japanese specific jokes are easily overcome, especially when you watch subs by Funi or CR. They do a rather good job of localizing random things.
    Animation itself isn’t necessarily a problem either. I disagree that American cartoons are all unrealistic. Let’s face it, Japanese cartoons aren’t anatomically appealing either. American cartoons also have a wide variety of character designs. Compare stuff like TMNT with Total Drama Island. Comic books like Batman and Superman are also extremely realistic in presentation, and those are far more accepted in American society than anime.

    • Yumeka says:

      Great points. You’re right that lack of exposure is a major hurdle for anime to be widely excepted. Which again goes back to America’s perception about cartoons – the only anime that gets mainstreamed are the titles that match their perception about cartoons, so how can Americans see what anime is capable of without making a conscious effort to look for it? I think the beginning of anime being accepted in America is being more easily accessible (a return of Adult Swim and similar TV blocks would be nice).

      And thanks for the American TV/cartoon examples. It’s nice to know that they’re not as generalized as I had thought.

  10. Moses says:

    I think I agree with you on most of your points. But there are also episodic anime series out there like Hamtaro.

  11. ~xxx says:

    simple, because of American hit shows has a season continuation, which may in turn became a commitment practice which in turn turns down many good anime shows is because they lack on continuity.

    Asides, on my note[since I don’t live in the US so I really don’t know the real issue there] Many Americans didn’t watch them because they are not so seriously stressed as something good, asides they have those mentality of “we are very good, so why watch you?”

    but in our country[Philippines], Many didn’t watch them because it’s childish, and It’s usually harder to maintain(unless you are dedicated to it).

    I can say that the main issue is that they like a certain show, so they like to continue it until it reaches conclusion, but along the way they like the twists and turns so that it came to a very interesting show.

    But, I think the naming is also important, because it harder to convince someone if they don’t know the name itself.

  12. Joe says:

    As Alvin B. and others already touched on (not to beat a dead horse), I think that American television is a little more receptive to continuity than you might expect. Aside from the rise of “reality TV,” I think that the biggest phenomenon in American television over the last decade has been the gradual embracement of series reliant on lengthy continuity, ones requiring serious commitment from viewers to keep up with. This began on cable (Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, True Blood, etc.) but also achieved success on network dramas like Friday Night Lights, Desperate Housewives, and the dense, plot-heavy 24, which probably pushed the limits of continuity further than any other program in America so far.

    There are still plenty of shows where viewers can pop in and watch a 1-episode story, as evidenced by the gruesome crime/illness-of-the-week-driven stories of House, Law & Order, or Grey’s Anatomy. But even in those series, its the ongoing character development and long-running subplots that seem to keep viewers interested in the long run.

    I wouldn’t say that, as a nation, we have an especially admirable attention span, so I’m just as surprised as you might be that these kind of shows have managed to find the kind of success that they have. Maybe we’re improving, in that regard. Unfortunately, I think we’re still stubbornly resistant to accepting stories or characters that are so, well… foreign to us. I think viewers are hesitant to accept the manga-stylized art that almost all anime is based on, or are turned off by cultural symbols that keep them from identifying with characters who really aren’t much different from them (Japanese school uniforms, to name just one hurdle that most viewers can’t get over). All this and the fact that we’ve been trained to think that animation is either “just for kids” or a vehicle for adult satire, but not for simple storytelling.

    I mean to reply to this post a few days ago but was too distracted by school issues to get around to it until now. By now I’m sure that most of what I’ve said has already been mentioned by others, as if it wasn’t already on your mind to begin with. But all this has me thinking about another question: what prevents people in other countries from liking anime? Do they struggle to accept the same set of “anime attributes” as Americans do? Do they have a hard time with other aspects of it that we actually do accept here? I don’t even know where to begin.

    • Rain says:

      I thought I’d answer since I’m from Singapore, not America. Interestingly enough, I think that there are some attributes of the average American watcher that have rubbed on to the Singaporean audience. The truth is that even though we’re from two different countries, America’s influence in the entertainment industry is staggering. Plenty of TV shows hail from the US and other countries, which is only logical considering how large Singapore is. That isn’t to say that we don’t produce our own shows, but it is generally agreed upon that the local entertainment scene still has a long way to go.

      The effect of this ‘Americanization’ of the airwaves is essentially to cultivate the same kind of characteristics in Singaporean viewers as their American counterparts, and thus anime is not as popular in Singapore for roughly the same reasons (the continuity issue etc). This is purely my POV, but here are some reasons listed below:

      1) As mentioned, the continuity issue. Besides audiences having shorter attention spans, the pace of life here is very hectic. For the adults, working hours have been extending beyond the usual “9 to 5” hours (don’t really know about this one, since I’m not in this group). For the kids, most of them have extra stuff outside of official school hours — CCA (co-curricular activities, aka school-based club activities), hours of tuition, supplementary lessons, piano lessons, swimming lessons… the list goes on. Because ours is a meritocratic system, the school environment is very competitive, so there is limited time for leisure. And of course, these activities clash with anime-watching time, leaving you confused if you happen to miss a couple of episodes.

      2) Lack of access. Unlike you guys, we don’t have Adult Swim, though they used to air some anime on AXN. The closest we can get to (legal and free) anime now is through Animax, and even that didn’t appear until around 2004, I think. So the fandom spread slowly. Besides that, Animax is only accessible through cable TV (which you have to pay extra for, AXN is on cable too). My guess is that adults won’t subscribe to some ‘cartoon channel’, and parents still control the purse strings even if their kids want to subscribe. Even then, the dubbing puts some people off (like me), further reducing viewership.

      3) Other things to do. Basically, anime is seen as pure entertainment, and there are many alternatives to entertainment. You know the list: games (the various Playstations, PSP, Wii, MMORPGs), sports, and the all-time favourite here: shopping. Most people watch anime alone, so it really is seen as an anti-social and brainless activity. Even a large portion of those who actually do watch anime watch it for entertainment’s sake only. For example, my friends enjoy things like Vampire Knight but wince when I try to introduce them to, say, NGE or Monster. The general view is: I spend so much brain power on school and work, why would I use even more brain power to watch anime when it is supposed to help me relax?

      Basically I think it all boils down to lifestyle + accessibility. Fast-paced lifestyles render people unwilling and/or unable to watch anime or get into the fandom. It is incredibly inaccessible here as well, as Crunchyroll used to be the most popular site but now it’s back to streaming/limited downloading. The crackdown against illegal downloaders from licensing company Odex in 2007 further deterred potential fans (long story). While some view anime as being ‘for the kids’, lots of people have an open mind but their first impressions of anime are usually dashed to pieces because they chose to watch the wrong series.

      There are plenty of other less significant and nuanced reasons, but I don’t want to turn this into a very long essay.

      P.S Maybe if there was a list of ‘best anime to help newcomers enter the anime fandom, based on genre’, it would make expanding the fanbase a lot easier. Though I understand the difficulties of neatly categorizing anime into separate genres. Or is there such a list already?

  13. Glo says:

    The answer here is simple:

    Not enough Americans have been introduced to Gintama. Not only has Gintama been known to cure all ailments, but it can also change even the most rabid anime hater into an otaku through nothing more than the OP.

  14. im12yearsoldandwhatisthis says:

    The real question is “what prevents Japanese people from liking anime”. Or even “what prevents regular people from liking anime”.

    Were you being serious writing all that? Anime is a niche sub-genre aimed to nerdy young adults and teenagers, and nowhere on the face of the planet is it popular outside of that. In Japan it airs while everyone is sleeping, and when the producers have faith in a story and want to expand their audience, instead of promoting the anime more they make awful drama adaptations of it (like Nodame, DMC, Death Note and others). With Urusawa’s 20th Century Boys they didn’t even bother and made it into movies right away.

    When it comes to animation for children, then it becomes simple business. American and European kids watch Ben 10 or Avatar more than One Piece only because that’s what airs on TV on the best time slots, and they are better marketed. Western TV stations are favoring western produced shows more lately, and even if they didn’t, Japan doesn’t produce enough to satisfy the demand. Saint Seiya, Sailor Moon, Doraemon, Dragon Ball, Captain Tsubasa, Pokemon and many others all made huge profits in the western market, and some are still popular with kids depending on the country. There’s nothing cultural or deep about it.

    • Yumeka says:

      You have a good point, and a post about “What prevents Japanese from liking anime?” would also be interesting. In Japan however, animation is accepted as a form of entertainment for all ages, whereas in America it’s extremely limited. Just look at the variety of manga in Japan, from stories aimed at businessmen and housewives alike. I know anime is different though, especially the kind that you find around Akihabara. I know that to average Japanese people, an anime otaku has a negative connotation. But even so, telling a Japanese person that you like anime, Lucky Star and Shakugan no Shana for example, isn’t gonna make people automatically think you’re a nerd (at least it didn’t from my experience). In America however, it mostly likely will, even if you tell people what anime shows are about, and that’s what I’m touching on in this post.

  15. Ayinde says:

    Hey there, I couldn’t help but notice this blog after doing a little searching on anime and the stigma it suffers from. Now I understand that this topic was discussed over 6 months ago, but I personally would like to throw my 2 cents on the issue if it’s not any problem. If it’s not too much trouble, maybe you would care to read my post and extend the discussion a little bit.

    I first want to say that I don’t believe continuity in a plot is at all an issue simply because shows with an ongoing plot is often common to at least some extent in American shows whether they’re primetime dramas, sitcoms or just American cartoons in general. Besides, unless that person is aware that series is multiple seasons long and is still going, I don’t think the first thing on a casual viewer’s mind is whether this show has an ongoing plot or not. They just want to know what the show is about.

    I do however believe part of the problem is widespread exposure. Most anime shows don’t end up on television these days like they use to 10 years ago and with less convient timeslots too. Not to mention very few anime shows can be screened and the ones that do don’t normally last for more than a week and only occur in few theaters. And there’s only so much companies can do financially to screen or broadcast the shows they license, even for Funimation (though from what I heard in Funimation brand managaer, Charlene Ingram ‘s interview in the latest episode of ANNCast, Summer Wars is doing really well for them). That being said, I do think anime fans can at the very least buy an anime on DVD/Blu-ray or show an anime streamed to their family/friends and thus create exposure to a “small” extent.

    However this is where I believe the biggest issue for why many American’s can’t like anime comes in. Say you can get a DVD set of some anime show from Best Buy and then managed to successfully have your family memeber/friends watch the 1st episode of some show. Here are all the questions I expect that person you’re showing anime to will ask:

    – Why does that character have a sweatdrop?
    – How come that character nosebleeds when she sees a girl in a bikini?
    – What’s wrong with that girl? It’s weird that she blushes all the time?
    – Why do they end up so small and super-deformed?
    – What’s an otaku? What’s moe?
    – Why is that character’s eyes so big and watery looking like a bug or a puppy?
    – Why on earth is that character’s hair pink/spikey?
    – Why did that girl bash that guy in the head for saying something naive?
    – What is that thing on her head that appear when he’s angry (the vein popping thing)?

    And the common response from any anime fan is that they can’t usually give a clear answer. The problem with anime is there’s barely anything it can give as a medium that can connect the audience to reality. For many it’s much easier to just watch any live-action program being Dancing with the Stars, Smallville, American Idol, any teen sitcom like iCarly or Shake it Up, or even Degrassi (and that last one’s Canadian). Those casual viewers probably want something they can easily recognize like real life people doing real life-like things, but also still be entertained. However, for not just most anime fans, but also kids and nerds in general, they liked to be entertained by something fictional, whimsical, or doesn’t remind them of anything before, whether it’s a weird character trait/personality, or a theme in a story without any familiar morals or whatever.

    That’s what creates the barrier for anime and why I think it’s so niche. It doesn’t give anyone in an audience who isn’t “already” open and engaged to the strangeness in anime something to psychologically connect to. To giv an example, I’ve lately been trying to get my 11 year-old sister to like some anime shows, particularly Big Windup, SGT. Frog, One Piece, and to a small extent K-ON (all I’ve tried to show her dubbed and legally streaming btw). I thought they weren’t too weird, would fit the tastes of a girl who’s into Spongebob, Phinneas & Ferb, and any teen sitcom on Nick and Disney Channel. And as much as she likes characters like Mihashi, Keroro, Tamama, Chopper, and Luffy, I could never get her to sit through whole episodes of any of these shows. Just clips at the most. She told me that seeing people say/do funny stuff in live-action just catches her interest more than in fiction. And it’s not that she hates cartoons either. Some she likes.

    I actually showed her Disney’s Mulan once for the first time and she liked it. However I think she sat through that movie mostly because Eddie Murphy voiced Mushu and she knows and likes who Eddie Murphy is. Otherwise, she didn’t have as many questions as she would ask when watching any anime I showed her. She didn’t feel too confused about the Chinese culture to ask what they were doing , nor did she have trouble understanding how the characters acted. It was way more accessible to her. In fact, I would argue that the Disney films in the Disney Rennaissance as well as Pixar films sold as well because they had to do with elements within the story, plot, characters, motifs that weren’t hard for the audience to relate to. And it’s not as if that doesn’t make sense to the Japaense either whenever any Disney film is dubbed and shown there (I sometimes see Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks films top the oricon charts in DVD sales). And with shows like South Park, any Seth MacFarlane show, or the Simpsons, they always involve references to pop culture, politics or current events in general that the audience would know.

    This is just something that anime frequently lacks and thus makes it inaccessible to the average person as a medium. I don’t think that when your average animator for an American animated film/TV series/web series doesn’t believe in making up sweatdrops to show a character’s nervous or nosebleeds to show a character is sexually aroused because only they think so. They try to show gestures or scenes of a character being nervous or sexually aroused in a way where their entire audience thinks it makes sense. Like when a guy sees a sexy-looking girl, it doesn’t take much other than for the guy to drop his jaw and stare at the way that girl walks and sways her hips.

    I think if anime directors, writers, animators and even manga creators (since that”s where a lot of anime shows adapt from) keep thinking of weird ideas “without” trying to have those ideas makes sense for the audience, then there’s a chance that audience will often be lost. Anime fans say that anime isn’t “just” about big eyes, or spikey/colorful hair or whatever and not that I don’t think it’s true, but anyone who doesn’t know better will always make that stereotype and the fact that every anime season, a majority of shows those stereotypes without breaking the mold doesn’t help.

    So that’s my two cents on the issue and I don’t think it’s a matter of easter or western differences and not entirely a difference in culture either so much as it is a matter of psychology and common sense in animation. That’s not to say that anime can’t be whimsical and strange at all. It’s just it needs to try to connect more with the mass audience that don’t automatically get this stuff as oppose to just kids or hardcore fans/otaku who already get this stuff.

    • Yumeka says:

      Wow, your comment may be even longer than the post itself! ^^ But it’s no problem, thank you for sharing your insight on an old topic.

      I get what you’re trying to say about anime’s lack of universal appeal, especially in its animation style, having too many “in jokes” and unusual iconography for Americans to relate to. But I’d have to disagree and say that there’s a large percentage of anime that’s perfectly universal for a Western audience that doesn’t have any moe, crazy hairstyles, chibi characters, nosebleeds, etc,. Anime like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Death Note, and the Gundam series all enjoyed success on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block because they featured universal stories that Western cultures can relate to and not stories that revolve around Japanese culture and humor. There are still plenty of anime exactly like that being produced that don’t rely on those typical anime conventions I just mentioned – Darker than Black, Beast Player Erin, Eden of the East, and Canaan just to name a few – have little to none of the sweatdrops, chibi, moe, and other things you mentioned.

      But even anime like Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha, and Bleach were pretty successful on Adult Swim despite having sweatdrops and the characters turning chibi sometimes. While anime like Lucky Star, K-ON, and Angel Beats! that rely specifically on Japanese humor and animation techniques wouldn’t naturally fare well with average American audiences, these are not the only kinds of anime being produced. So in the end, I think it’s more of American companies not wanting to take risks with showing animation that actually tells a serious narrative, especially when there’s little demand for adult aimed animation to begin with.

      • Ayinde says:

        See, I don’t agree that there’s no such thing as “adult-aimed” animation. This is something I hear A LOT out of anime fans when it comes to American animation and that it’s all for kids and stuff. And I’m not sure if this is a matter of anime fans being turned off by character designs being seemingly-goofy, or teh reputation of your average animated anything in movie theaters never being above “pg” rating or if it’s that most shows are on Cartoon Network or Nick and each segment in an episode lasts for 10 minutes as a way of assuming kids have short attention spans or something. But there are a few important things to understand not just based on observation, but also based on some things I’ve recently learned in my animation courses in an art college that I’m attending.

        The first thing to understand is that “American animation isn’t only for kids, it’s kid-friendly.” That phrase was from strangely-enough, someone on Youtube named “TheJosephShow,” who made 3 Youtube videos on the subject of why anime sucks. Now despite how the title “Why Anime Sucks” sounds, they weren’t troll videos. He actually did point in some insightful information about the flaws in anime as a medium. But that being said, he made that phrase about American animation and he has a point. The fact is regardless of what people may think, young kids are always the first to view a Pixar film, followed by the parents, followed by the teens, followed by the animation/Disney/Pixar nerds, followed by everyone else. And if kids are going to automatically be the majority of people watching a Pixar movie, if kids are going to be the majority of people watching anything on Cartoon Network, then animation studios have to make their content kid-friendly enough or else, hundreds of thousands of mom and dads will sue them. That can’t be helped.

        However that doesn’t mean the creative minds in animation studios don’t care to target adults either. Viewers just need to watch out for the subtle, clever elements in a show that kids wouldn’t understand. For example, in Spongebob, of course kids will respond to Spongebob and Patrick and their wacky/silly attitudes. Squidward is another story. He hates his “dead-end” job, can’t stand his neighbors, and wants to pursue his passion, but is stuck dealing with a mundane society. You don’t know ANY adults in real-life that act like that? Or what about in the Incredibles when Helen lectured her kids in the cave about how the bad guys they were about to fight were NOT like the bad guys in saturday morning cartoons where they’ll pretend to shoot and miss just to give the superheroes an opportunity to save the day. Or in Young Justice where the teenage sidekicks act like rebellious kids and have a mind of their own and want their own exclusive missions and don’t want to be baby-sitted anymore.

        Again, it’s all about noticing subtle, clever elements that may seem to be based on something too complicated for the kids to see in shows and the writing/directing applied. And speaking of writing, I get why many anime fans would be attracted to the sense of extensive narration. However what I speficially learned when I had to make a 2-minute animated project (didn’t end well, long story) and had to write scripts and draw storyboards is that to keep your audience interested, you have to be “clear and to-the-point.” If there was anything I had to learn from all of my instructors in the animation department so far, it’s that my story needed to be clear and had a beginning, middle, and end. ALL of which was to keep the audience interested and not have them ask, “okay, based on the first episode or 10 minutes of what I saw… WHY do I care about what I’m watching again?”

        There’s nothing wrong with wanting an extensive narrative if you want to KEEP being entertained. But to be entertained in the FIRST place, creators of American animated shows worry about making the first of ANY of their stories a stand-alone. Also, American creators don’t know if they can even make more past the pilot episode, let alone past the first season. So they don’t get too ahead of themselves by making something too extensive. I’m pretty sure a bunch of American writers want to tell more stories like that, but I would assume to procress of developing an animated anything and even “pitching” a story is a bit different from the creative stages of anime shows or movies where they have the whole production-committee system and the normal route would be to HEAVILY adapt from a light novel/manga.
        Anyway (apologies for this being lengthy. I figure I would divied this into two parts somehow), regarding how some anime shows can have the “western appeal,” you’re pretty much recommending the same examples every other anime fan would recommend. And my problem is that while those aren’t bad examples, either shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Akira are from 10, 20 years ago or whatever else or you can recommend that are recent are 1 or 2 universally-appealing shows out of 100 that premiere every year. What is my point? My point is that anime as a medium these days is too focused on being so niche that the only GOOD examples any fan can tell people are either over a decade old or arrive once in a blue moon if they’re recent.

        And even then, I think what’s “universally appealing” to Americans from any anime fan’s point of view doesn’t translate as well with what might ACTUALLY appeal to your casual viewer. And I doubt it’s anything as simple as “does this appeal to the west and not just the east.” What I simply think is needed to appeal to any American viewer “at all” is the show has to be “to-the-point” with the story and the content itself needs to make “enough” sense so that the audience doesn’t have to question so much what the hell is going on.

        If you’re going to show Darker than Black for example to your average person who hasn’t seen anime before (I’ve seen the show and loved it as a biased anime fan btw), then after watching just the first 2-episode arc, they might STILL think it’s slow and may not understand exactly who Hei is, what is his goal in the story or why they should care about the story.

        I understand if it sounds as if I’m defending the non-anime fans. But I’m only trying to be the neutral and help people understand from their perspective. By anime fans asking non-animes to sit through ANY anime show and hoping they would like it, you’re asking them to sit through maybe twice as long as they would with any Disney film just to fully grasp the who, what, where, and when, and why in a story (Who: the protagonist and their goal and their antagonist. What: the concept of the plot. Where/when: setting, time and place. Why: Why would I be interested based on the who, what, where and when?).

        This is more than just lack of translatable gestures and facial expressions. This is a fundamental problem that the Japanese animation industry and as much as a I love them (you’re talking to a 13+ year anime fan from the Toonami era), they seem to be stuck with this. and the end result is they can’t easily appeal past the hardcore audience that are “infatuated” with the content and can only come with a couple of shows that seem “possible” to recommend.

  16. Shikon says:

    Extremely late on this post, but i recently found this site lol. Regardless i agree with the factors that you mentioned. Although i think what it really boils down to is that it depends on what you grow up with, sure people can get introduced to anime at an older age and still be interested in the genre but is it really more prevalent than someone that has been watching anime since they were a child?

    In my case I would be the latter of the two, i’m 20 now and have been fascinated by the anime world since i was…5 or 6? So anime is almost a way of life for me, but someone just being introduced to the series may find themselves being “a stranger in a strange land” or so to speak

  17. Gabriel says:

    Well you make very good points, but there are a few things that I would like to elaborate on and make points about.

    “The first, and probably biggest one, is anime’s emphasis on continuity.”
    I highly agree with this statement. But I would not consider Pokémon as an example. Everyone knows the gist of the story: Ash Ketchum left home to become a Pokémon master. That’s it. And he will not stop since he will never turn 11 (or twelve). Now that you know the story, you can tune in whenever you want and see his progress, because it honestly doesn’t matter who Ash is denying having a crush on, or how many people Brock’s hit on, or who’s after Pikachu now since at the end of the episode Ash will grow as a trainer. The show is making over a Nintendo billion dollars worldwide and besides the main reason being that there’s a game series and game spin-off series AND a manga series (etc), it’s not 100% serial (and none of the games are either). Any kid can be born and start watching this show at any point of the series and get the story and not miss a beat, unlike DragonBall (Z) or One Piece. If they were to make Pokémon 100% serial, it would have to end like Powerpuff Girls Z had to (I don’t know why a story boarder would think that was a good idea financially but whatever), then Nintendo would have to wave goodbye to billions and billions on top of billions and billions of dollars.

    “I’ve hardly seen any American TV shows, but my understanding is that the majority of them are not nearly as reliant on continuity as anime stories are.”
    Family Guy has somewhat adopted being serial. For example, at one point Peter’s working at a toy factory, and then one dinner roll later, he’s working at a brewery. Also, Bonnie’s only pregnant for a good six seasons and some episodes. What I’m getting at is that the continuity of a show isn’t a real problem unless it isn’t as extreme as, let’s say, Inuyasha or Naruto.

    ” The names of all the pokemon, the names of all the mecha and organizations in Gundam and similar series, the names of all the attacks in Naruto and Bleach, the staggering number of fantasy terms and names in Shakugan no Shana and Index/Railgun…anime series are full of their own made-up terminology which, like continuity, requires a larger amount of investment and memorization on the part of the viewer than typical American shows do.”
    Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy have multiple characters (not including pop culture references), so that’s not a problem either.

    “A lesser, additional deterrent would be the Japanese language-related jokes, expressions, and cultural references in anime. I don’t think they’re quite as major as the aforementioned continuity and terminology, since translators can often work around them (see the dub of Azumanga Daioh) or put translator’s notes if the episode is subtitled.”
    DING DING DING DING DING! That’s the main and only problem.
    I’m going to be frank. I’ve never seen an anime that has made me laugh. Pokémon is able to make air blow through my nostrils, but that’s pretty much it. I would mention how shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra make me die of laughter, but they’re not considered anime (I don’t know why not, but sadly, they aren’t). And also, foreign language related jokes fail a good majority of the time (I would say all the time if it weren’t funny for a Hispanic to say jajajajajaja). Explaining a joke in the sub is what it is: explaining a joke. A majority of Americans don’t care enough to really find out what the joke is if it flies over their heads. It’s no longer funny, just understood.

    “Other things like anime’s stereotypical “big eyes”…”
    This should not have been a point since anime eyes HIGHLY differ from one anime to the next. one example is how some are all pupil, no sclera and some almost vice versa. A great example is Hayao Miyazaki’s style which is an accurately sized eye. The big eyes pioneered by Osamu Tezuka, were inspired by Betty Boop and mainly Walt Disney character such as Bambi, Mickey Mouse, but mostly Donald Duck. Anime and manga artists around this time were initially inspired by Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the first full-length cell animated feature that is, when adjusted for inflation, the highest-grossing animated film of all time and, also when adjusted for inflation, the 10th highest-grossing film of all time.). And guess what: the Walt Disney Company is still making characters with big eyes, and a majority of America LOVES them still. One thing that is highly worth noting is that the artists working on the animated films from the Disney Renaissance and every single Pixar film got inspiration from the art style of anime (specifically MIyazaki). So the style is not really a problem at all, but I already touched on the actual problem.

Leave a Comment