HEADLINES

Galápagosization Syndrome and the Future of Anime

By Momoka Yamamoto | Feature Writer

Vol. XCI No. 17

Feb. 21, 2020


Japanese anime is undeniably popular in the world. Although a lot of factors are attributing to its fast-growing popularity, there are at least four main reasons why an increasing number of people have become a fan of it.

First is that anime can target a wide range of age groups, from children to adults. There are many kinds of stories such as school life, action, historical drama, sports, cooking, robots, and science-fiction, among others which can meet the diverse taste of audiences. In Western countries, there is a similar illustration called a cartoon. As much as how the medium of cartoons is created in the same way as the anime, differences in how both of them are executed are noticeable. For example, some people say that cartoons have been downgraded since they only portrayed pretty characters that will move as stories have become dull. However, movies produced by Disney and Pixar are exempted as they have good stories that offer a happy ending, which most viewers would admire. For this, people who grew up watching Disney and Pixar movies find it hard to let go and still feel the same excitement even if they watch these shows as adults.

On the other hand, anime stands out because of its unique presence for each creation. As it gives many stories, people can find their favorite anime. It is distinct in a way that viewers find it difficult to predict the development and end of a particular anime even when the main character loses or dies. Also, many supporting characters have entirely different personalities, and sometimes they stand out even among the main characters. Examples are ”進撃の巨人 – Attack on Titan – “ where Levi has garnered more fans than Eren and “僕のヒーローアカデミア- My Hero Academia – “ with Todoroki being more popular than Midoriya. These situations make people excited which cartoons do not usually have. Anime also has a merit that it is addicting because as the story continues every time, viewers especially fans, cannot forget to watch even one episode.

Second is that Japanese religion and history hugely influenced the anime (which most of its counterparts usually lacked): Shintoism, one of the Japanese religions that has a good influence on anime. Shinto in Japan is where one object called “Yorishiro” ー regarded as a god. Thereby, the idea of ​​comparing the object to another object and envisioning the non-existent object is prevailing in the Japanese culture. From a historical perspective, since Japan has never experienced invasion from other countries, its culture remains pure as it reflects in the unique expression narrative of anime from Japan’s Galápagosization. Galápagosization syndrome is wherein there’s an isolation of a development branch of a globally available product. In this case, no other country can improve anime as its roots are based on Japanese culture.

The third is the differences between the production structures of Japan from other countries. Disney has created movies with a global marketing strategy from the beginning, which has to consider country-specific religion, politics, and lifestyle taboo. Therefore, the stories are simplified so that they can be universally accepted. However, anime is basically for the domestic market. Because there are no world-aware taboos, various story settings are straightforward. Freedom allows the world’s common sense to tolerate surprisingly violent scenes and sexual descriptions found in popular anime such as “東京喰種 トーキョーグール -Tokyo Ghoul” and “ワンピース -ONE PIECE.” From this background, Japanese words such as moe, tsundere, hentai, and Ero Guro, which derived from anime, have become recognized around the world. 

Lastly, anime authors’ and directors’ originality reflects their works. The work of Studio Ghibli is “Miyazaki work”, theatrical animation “Your Name” and “ Weathering With You” are “Makoto Shinkai works”. The reason why they are known worldwide by their director’s names is that their fans have recognized that the producers and directors’ creativities strongly reflected their output. Disney and Pixar’s work, which incorporates a lot of opinions and is produced by the entire organization, is rarely known by the director’s name. Because it is possible to reflect intense creativity, it is easy to create works that stand out for the creativity and originality of each creator.

The future of anime will likely dominate different media platforms as people can watch anime easily by expanding video transmission services such as Netflix and Crunchyroll. Netflix just announced in January that 21st-century STUDIO GHIBLI movies would be available to about 190 countries and regions. Back when overseas broadcasting was still regulated, there were a few people who could watch anime. However, the presence of some cartoon movies is also becoming popular recently. For example, ”Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the first theatrical animation work of Spider-Man, which was usually a live-action film so far, instantly gained fans and praise. Chinese anime is also becoming popular among Japan anime fans as both of them have cunning similarities. 

Japan’s anime industry has many unique offerings under its sleeves. However, if the competition with other countries intensifies, Japan’s uniqueness will naturally diminish. If unsatisfied with the current presence, it will continue to become famous by continuing to look for new proactive “uniqueness.”

Photo from screendaily.com, Toronto International Film Festival

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