Why It’s Okay to Use the Term ‘Anime’ Loosely

Anything and everything that has achieved cult status has its superfans. These are fans whose appreciation is so hardcore that they won’t compromise on any detail. The anime world has its share of them. They are easily recognized by the adherence to strict definitions of terms like ‘anime’ and ‘manga’.

To the true superfan, all anime has to be animated. They are willing to say that the artwork appearing on Umai t-shirts and sweatshirts is anime-inspired, but they will not use ‘anime t-shirts’ and ‘anime sweatshirts’ to describe the company’s products. That’s fine. People will buy their t-shirts and sweatshirts anyway.

In the interest of adding fuel to the fire, there is actually a very good reason for using the term ‘anime’ more loosely. That reason is actually found in Japanese culture. And given that anime is a Japanese art form, we should probably defer to them on this matter.

It is All Anime

Anime is something specific to Western eyes. You know it when you see it. But in Japan, all animated illustrations are anime – even if their styles look nothing like what we Westerners expect. If you doubt this, just look at the word itself. ‘Anime’ is just a short version of ‘animation’.

It is probably safe to say that Japanese fans don’t get hung up on the terms as much as Western fans. And it’s not just anime. The same goes for manga and graphic novels. The chosen terms are not as important as the art itself. So why do Westerners obsess so much over them?

Perhaps it’s just the fact that we like to argue. Here in the U.S. especially, debate is part of the fabric of our culture. If we can find something to argue about, that’s exactly what we will do. But debates over anime and related terms probably run deeper than that. It is probably because we are trying to distinguish anime from tons of other artistic expressions.

It’s Not Western

A good example is comparing anime with Western animation. They look nothing alike. Moreover, this is by design. When anime took the commercial stage in the 1960s, Japanese creators were determined to produce work that contrasted starkly with what their counterparts in the U.S. were putting out. They were specifically interested in separating their work from Disney animation.

Their starting point was a different look to their illustrations. Creators further distinguished anime with stories that didn’t always have happy endings. Finally, they loaded anime with subtle visuals that send equally subtle messages to fans who are paying close attention. By default, anime became a more intellectual exercise whereas Western animation was all about gags, jokes, and living happily ever after.

It’s Not that Rigid

The fact of the matter is that anime isn’t so rigid in Japan. Likewise for other Asian cultures whose own forms of animation are now starting to break onto the scene. If they are not so uptight about the terms, we shouldn’t be either.

It’s okay that the Umai clothing brand markets anime t-shirts, sweatshirts, and a range of other products, despite the fact that none of their artwork actually moves. All the illustrations created by the company fit the anime bill with that one exception. Any anime or manga fan would instantly be familiar with Umai artwork.

In Japan, every form of animated illustration is considered anime. The only requirement for anime is movement and illustration. Above and beyond that, it doesn’t matter. We could learn a lesson here. Getting so uptight about the terms is a waste of time. It is better to just enjoy the art.