For what little amount of activity I designate towards getting into the anime genre and anime culture altogether, there’s been one topic that seems to garner some strong reactions at the idea of one particular group of series being considered an “anime” (almost to point of some taking umbrage in this classification): Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Even though I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable of everything shinbun covers, I suppose having similar internal thoughts about the style to one of my favorite two animated shows of all time encouraged me to have some kind of a pensive discussion about this and see the general feedback from the topic. Does this collection of series have what to takes to be considered an anime?
For those unaware of what series I’m referring to, Nickelodeon premiered a new TV show in 2005 called Avatar: The Last Airbender. The central concept to this series is in certain people born with the magical ability to manipulate some kind of natural element: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. This power is known as “bending.” The story focuses on a unique individual, known as ‘The Avatar,’ who attains the singular ability to bend all four different elements. There’s only one Avatar within a generation and a new one is born when the old one has passed away. This reincarnation angle makes this now-connected pair of series coming-of-age tales that tasks the protagonists, Aang and Korra, to unite the world and keep it in balance.
What’s interesting about the series is its strikingly familiar visual and tonal material. They’re shows entrenched with deep thematic material, political messages, and romantic subplots yet contained in an Y7-rated kid’s show. Having the show available for a younger audience doesn’t mean it lacks in complexity: each nation, representative of a different magic element, all have unique traditions, attitudes, and mien, down to the very stances used to manipulate these natural elements. The co-creators of the Avatars have defiantly been forthcoming in saying much inspiration came from Eastern philosophies/religions, Asian cinema, and anime.
Anime being a stimulating factor in the show’s creation isn’t all that surprising since even my first glance at this made me wonder if that’s what it was ‘classified’ as being. What that translates to for Westerners such as me usually intends in asking if this is a product crafted by a Japanese animation team and in the process opening up a bit of a paradox in this whole classification process. Despite maintaining a tone, energy, and thematic tropes typical to animes, we, The West, conclusively say it’s not anime; that’s the Triguns, Narutos, etc. Granted, you can notice that there is a certain sect of anime that stylistically shows a disparity between Avatar and many of those “authentic animes” but…certainly not ALL of them ( http://www.anime-planet.com... ). So, with an outlook of an entire cultural sphere determining the basis for this specific genre over here being nationality and other aspects considered superfluous it’s rather funny to see that the very location we’re using to determine a genre actually calls any animated show that very same name. Whether specified as Western or something else, Japan just labels them all as animes. The reason the Avatar pair is a more heated one is because this show accumulates so many similar aspects to the point of looking like a previously-referenced authentic anime. It’s another one that borders that thin line we’ve established over here when determining the ‘correct’ genres and it's in this technical classification that makes for some interesting discussion.
These kinds of thin determiners in defining what something is/isn’t are not just exclusive to entertainment, either. Take, for instance, something like bourbon. As far as The Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon is concerned, the kind of alcohol bourbon would be classified as chemically (at least fifty-one percent corn, the mash must be distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into new charred oak barrels to age at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at 80 proof or more) will still not be called what it should be UNLESS that beverage was made in the US of A. And since these geographical boundaries for determining what bourbon is called have no real end result on the consumer consuming hard alcohol—and are only set up for regulatory purposes, what makes this technical fascination for definitions so important when more precedence is typically set on what something contains rather than where it comes from? Just like with that example, there are also some really interesting cases of that same rationale for anime standards. For an example of that genre-defining rationale that's here in the West, Torkaizer wouldn’t be considered anime due to it being made in the Middle East which…just doesn’t seem right. Just take a look at that upcoming series to see what I mean.
With this rigid determination, the question then becomes: what’s profited from observing and then ignoring key stylistic criteria for a genre? Is it there to impose a set of useful determiners? There is logic behind the idea of visualizing a specific set of characteristics for a genre, but could a disservice be done when excluding certain products that admirers of the form may otherwise appreciate all in the name of validity? Perhaps there’s some kind of sanctity angle behind this fueling of dissension in order to keep the genre from getting “tainted,” whether from a new group of fans or just in regards to its artistic integrity altogether. Perhaps, when it’s all said and done, these questions and suppositions will become irrelevant over time if and when the West decides to adopt Japan’s classification of an anime, leaving internet-goers one less thing to complain about.