From East To West: The Rise of Anime

Cora-Laine Moynihan

The popularity of anime has undoubtedly risen in recent years, spanning from its origins in the East to now dominating the Western world. Cora-Laine takes a look back at the rise of this popular genre to discover how it originated and why we love it so much now.

Summer of 2017: my GCSE exams were finished and 6 weeks of freedom awaited. The world was my oyster.

I could do anything I wanted, within reason of course. At only 16, there were still many limitations on what ‘anything’ was. So, like the curious, outgoing and social teen I was not, my ‘anything’ became an endless summer of binge watching anime. 

And since then, it seems the rest of the western world has caught up with my binge, obsessing over magic, robots, and slice of life romances too. 

“Modern anime” first evolved in the 1950s and since then has moved on to dominate screens worldwide. A golden age of anime – the 1950s saw what traditionally was just animated films and shows just like any others from across the world burst into a wide-reaching plethora of tropes, genres, and themes. 

Anime traverses many subject matters that touch the inner workings of our society and human emotions

Anime became solely defined by hand-drawn and computer-generated Japanese animation style and secured it’s success around the early 21st Century with films like Miyazaki Hayao’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and ever popular shows such as Pokemon (1997) and Naruto (2002). 

As the 21st Century continued on, so did anime’s popularity. With the rise of online streaming services and, controversially I might add, pirate sites; anime became more and more accessible for fans outside of Japan. Animation studios started to export their creations to other cultures, providing subtitles and dubbing in multiple different languages. Consequently, in 2017, the industry benefitted from this move, hitting a record revenue of $19.8 billion. This record largely stemmed from the demand of foreign audiences. 

With bright colours, riveting characters, and complex narrative; anime is like any other A-list TV drama or Hollywood blockbuster. Yet, it’s distinct enough all in itself to garner a global following. Most recently at the end of March 2022, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 ranked second only to The Batman in box office ratings, demonstrating just how popular Japanese animation has become in mainstream media. 

Although I cannot definitely say that anime has overtaken Western animation in popularity, with hits such as DeathNote and Attack on Titan, it has hugely influenced it. Some studios have even gone so far as to replicate the style in their productions. I speak of ‘Americanimes’ like RWBY, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and even Batman: The Animated Series. There are even some shows you would assume are animes in the traditional sense without prior knowledge like Avatar: The Last Airbender. These all extract a similar art style from anime as well as address many mature themes that originally attracted audiences of all ages to the medium. 

From grief to self-discovery, anime traverses many subject matters that touch the inner workings of our society and human emotions. Raising moral questions, debating society, and addressing issues of discrimination; as a medium anime does not shy away from the tough stuff – which is why so many people are attracted to it. Take Studio Ghibli films, for example. Every single one of their productions are meant to pull on your heartstrings. It’s difficult to leave behind one of their films without a tear in your eye. My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, and even Howl’s Moving Castle all explore mature themes like war and coming-of-age, disguising them inside a pretty fantasy wrapper.

So, amongst the attractive art style, relatable characters, accessibility, and emotional rollercoasters that are the plots; anime has over time checked off the criteria needed to attract a global audience and rise to ultimate stardom. 

It is exactly this checklist that attracted me to the medium in the first place. And perhaps, after reading this article, you will find yourself binge-watching anime throughout your summer too.

Cora-Laine Moynihan

Featured Image courtesy of Dex Ezekiel via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article trailer courtesy of AnimeHype????? via Youtube.com. No changes made to this video. 

In-article image courtesy of ghibliuk via Instagram.com. No changes made to this image. 

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