Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Alright! Welcome back true believers. (I stole that, by the way. RIP Stan Lee. We miss you man.)
Last time I discussed why I think that Manga is kicking the collective butt of the American comic industry. Today, I want to tackle animation and why I feel that Japanese Anime is currently superior to American Animation. If you doubt this, all you have to do is look at the box office receipts over the last year. The number one movie in the year for 2020 was Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which is an anime from Japan. (Not the number one animated movie, but the number one movie over all.) In contrast, Raya and the Last Dragon, Soul and Onward from Disney all failed miserably at box offices and on digital download.
Now, I want to clarify something. Not all American animation is inferior to Japanese. Over the last year, I have watched quite a few animated films and series that are on par with anime. From Castlevania on Netflix, to Disney's Bad Batch, there is a lot of enjoyable American content that I feel is just as good as Japanese anime. Netflix in particular has really stepped up their game and are now giving Disney and Dream Works a run for their money. From what I have seen, their content has improved so much over the last few years that they have risen up to become a major competitor to the Big Two. (Look out Mickey and Shrek.)
Netflix is also creating Anime and I have been pleased over all with their creative offerings. In truth, the gap is not as wide with animation as it is with print comics. I am going to make a statement that may not be kosher for some, but that I feel most people will agree with it. American comics are dead. But I have already covered that in my last post. Animation, on the other hand, is still a pretty competitive industry over all. They have a lot of the same issues as comics, but they have not been as devastatingly crippling to them. So on to the list...
Not politically driven. Ok, so over the last few years there has been a war going on in the entertainment industry. It has been covered more in the film and comic industry then in the literary, video game and music industries; but though not as widely publicized, the war has made its way into pretty much every form of entertainment. The mainstream creators have decided that entertainment should be ruled by social justice politics. Pretty much all content is either tainted by this policy or created outright as preachy political rhetoric. Now, most people are not against creators putting their own beliefs into their work. The truth is that it's impossible to leave politics out completely because it is part of the creator's world view. But, when everything that is created is mandatorily preachy and heavy handed, it becomes tiresome. In Japan everything is pretty much a meritocracy. Their creators are measured on the quality of the content they create and not their political leanings. If it is good and it sells, then you get to keep your job. If the quality is poor and people don't like it, then down comes the axe. The policy of meritocracy causes creators to continue to grow and become better at their art. The idea that something could be made and distributed to fans simply because it is "politically correct" would never happen in Japan. Since they do not have those constraints, they have the freedom to create good stories simply because they are good stories. The political war in entertainment could never exist in Japan the way it does here in America, and that leads me to my second point.
The war between the creators and the fans. From Comicsgate to Gamergate, the landscape of the American entertainment industry is currently littered with battles between the fans and the creators. We see the casualties of this war in the firings from cancel culture or from studios losing money hand over fist and having to shut down whole departments and fire or lay people off. Where as cancel culture is starting to lose it's steam due to the fact that the social justice warriors are no longer exempt from it due to infighting. (When the standard is perfection, no one measures up.) This war, however, hasn't made its way to Japan; and where it has tried to invade, it has been quickly shut down by the Japanese people. They don't want our political war over there and are not going to have it. Because of this, the content is pure and completely regulated by the success and quality of the work. This fosters an environment where only the best content survives. Moreover, it would be an outright sin in Japan to ever attack your consumer. Why is that? It is not just because in their culture that would be considered rude, but they know that in order to make money you have to give the fans what they want. The more fans buy, the more money they make. Since the debacle of The Last Jedi, it has become expectable policy in America to attack the fans and consumers when they don't like the content being produced. By calling them stupid, ignorant or names such as "ists and phobes", creators have effectively alienated the people who are responsible for their livelihood. This war with fans has decimated the profits of these companies and creators, leading to, not only poorer content, but loss in revenue.
Japanese Anime is more entertaining. Come on Jay, that is just your opinion. Ok, I will give you that, but it is true. I have found that there is an anime for everyone. If you like sports, then there are a thousand sports animes. You like cooking, well then I can list at least two you would love. You get the picture. In America, we currently have social justice, a little less social justice, or independent content that you have to search out, and that is pretty much it. Because Japanese creators are allowed to pretty much create any kind of story they want, they are generally a lot more fun to watch. A lot of current American animation is generally politically driven or preachy and not always a lot of fun. Even if it is enjoyable, you always walk away feeling like a lot of the story and characters were simply put there to be political. That kind of feeling is rarely present in Japanese anime, since tokenism is generally not part of their culture. Now, that's not to say that there are no weaknesses in anime. A lot of them can be repetitive and they have there own predictability issues at times, but overall, they are just a whole lot more fun. For instance, I watched both Raya the Last Dragon and Demon Slayer in the same week. I liked Raya, but Demon Slayer was just so much more fun. Raya was predictably political and Demon Slayer was nothing necessarily new or original for anime; but where as Raya's plot was mired down by politics, Demon Slayer gave me exactly what I expected and wanted. These two movies are perfect examples of why Japanese anime is currently superior to American Animation.
The truth is that if you like animated content, there is a lot of good stuff on both sides of the pond. Disney still manages to put out at least one great film a year (2020's Onward), and there are so many different kinds of anime that everyone can find something there to love. From the Mitchells vs. the Machines to the Blood of Zeus, I feel Netflix in particular is giving us some great stuff, and Disney's Bad batch is just awesome. Of course, you can never go wrong with Faloni and Favro. No matter your tastes, we are living in a good time for animation. Hopefully the pressure from Netflix and Anime will cause Disney and Dream Works to step up there game and once again rise up and become the creative leaders they once were. Of course, they have to let go of the insistent need to please the Twitter mob, or not only will they go bankrupt from loss of revenue, but they will fall behind their competitors.