Have you ever wondered what exactly it is that separates Japanese anime from Western cartoons?
Firstly, talking about american animation or more commonly referred to as “cartoons”, they started developing from early 19th century. Most cartoons are drawn with more conservative artistic element that refrain from going into too much detail. Characters usually have features that are not relative to the rest of the body and therefore are further from reality. The cartoons main audience became children, as it would be considered “childish” for an adult to watch animated features and shorts. Most of these shorts were designed to be comic, to entertain through comedy and slapstick humours, but there are some which have more serious themes usually involving the hero/leading characters saving the world from evil forces. Most cartoons can be found in the after-school time-slots, where children are most likely to be watching television.
Also prevalent in almost all American animation/cartoons is that there’s always a “good” hero/team, and there is an “evil” villain/criminal with one “right” answer in the end. The line which divides them is strong and solid. Lately, however, some American studios have been producing adult-themed cartoons, for eg - The Simpsons, Boondocks and South Park.
Furthermore, almost all cartoons are episodic. Episode after episode passes by and the main characters comes back totally unaffected by the previous episode’s events. It is easy to just miss out an episode or two, or watch the episodes out of order since there’s no need to follow a complex storyline as cartoons typically have self-contained episodes, where most or all of the goings-on are wrapped up by the end of the half-hour time. I have yet to see a single physcological thriller in the American cartoon industry.
On the contrary, Japanese animation often referred to as anime is somewhat different. It is a form of media that has an audience of all ages and started gaining popularity since 1980. Even children can watch anime but there are even times when anime is hardly suited for children. There are series based on wandering samurai, space adventures, slapstick comedy, and even soap operas. Most anime is based on manga, the Japanese version of comics which are then later brought to life if they gain much popularity. Anime has a distinctive character art style that separates it from cartoons. It involves big, expressive eyes, colorful hair, stylized display of emotions and more. Ofcourse I don’t mean that all anime look alike. They are simplistic in facial design so that the characters can be recognized immediately. Lately some Western cartoons started copying anime style with some success (eg- Boondocks ).
In most animes death itself is shown and the audience is never shocked to find their favourite main character killed off. That is because death is viewed honourably especially if there is a noble cause in one’s death whereas the Western feeling in cartoons, is that death has to be avoided at all costs. As for storylines, they are continuous, with plot twists and character development, which in my opinion, makes them more interesting to watch. You cannot just expect the characters to be the same as the previous episode and may miss something if you miss out an episode or two. However, there are selected few episodic animes too which are quiet entertaining as well.
Another interesting point is many series never clearly draw the line between “good” and “evil”. Characters often switch from one side to the other, some characters can be both, and some characters can be neither. A character’s goals may be “good”, but their methods are “evil”, and vice versa. An odd plot twist is present in the series Death Note where the main character becomes the villain as he comes in posession of a notebook which can kill people.
Both a cartoon and an anime may be created by drawing scenes and characters by hand or through generating them from a computer. While cartoon programs enjoy great popularity, anime has surpassed it in later years and there are significant differences between both of them.