Non-Desire for Exoticism in Anime

The impression I generally have of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is that it possesses attractive qualities similar to anime, especially when it comes to the more episodic types of magical girl anime. The way MLP respects its assumed younger audience while presenting a variety of characters with fleshed-out and admirable personalities who show many valid ways for girls to be girls and more generally for people to be people reminds me most strongly of Ojamajo Doremi. However, it is the case that not every MLP fan is an anime fan nor vice versa, and it is even the case that some anime fans found themselves more attracted to My Little Pony, undergoing a transformation from otaku to brony. While this could be argued as a failure of anime to retain its audience, and sometimes fingers are pointed at whatever current trend there is, I think it is important to not just look at what anime “had then” and what it “lacks now,” but to also consider the possibility that different anime fans came to anime in the past with varying expectations and areas of adaptation.

Picture two anime fans of the same show who love the story and the characters equally much. The first fan loves the fact that anime is from Japan. It’s different, perhaps even exotic, and to view animation from another country with its own tropes and cultural assumptions and elements is part of the fun. He’s not necessarily a Japanophile, nor does he think that things are better if they’re from Japan, but the fact that it isn’t his own culture adds to the appeal.

For the second fan, however, that cultural difference feels more like a barrier. Rather than it possessing an inviting quality, the culture gap is something which the second fan feels he must work through in order to get to the story underneath. Certainly this fan genuinely enjoys this anime, but if he could get the same show only with the cultural elements naturally familiar to him, then he would much prefer that.

There’s plenty of middle-ground between these two types, but I think this hypothetical scenario is one example of what has happened with people who might have been anime fans but aren’t, or at least anime fans who have found greater resonance with cartoons which are not anime. My Little Pony is similar to Ojamajo Doremi in a number of respects, but MLP assumes an American audience first where Doremi assumes a Japanese one, and having the characters behave in ways more culturally familiar can have a significant impact on the connections people make with a show, even if it were basically the same work as the one that is less culturally close. This can even be as simple as information and access just being easier in your own language.

I can’t find the source, but I recall at an interview or a pnael for Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel The Legend of Korra, the creators stated that when making the series, they specifically had their Korean animators look at American body language and mannerisms. Like MLP, Avatar is a show which bears similarities to anime in a number of ways, but this cultural consideration was seen as a way to convey some of those “anime-like” qualities to people who are not necessarily receptive to anime, and perhaps by extension, those who are tolerant of anime’s differences but could do without them either way.

This is not an indictment of the first fan for prioritizing Japan too much, or the second one for not being open to other cultures, nor do I think that this explains everything about the landscape of fandom between anime and other cartoons. There is plenty more to discuss, including fans of both anime and American cartoons in other countries (including Japan!). Instead, I wanted to just bring up the idea that fandom can be quite a malleable thing, and that we may assume there are more connections within a fandom than there might actually be.

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3 thoughts on “Non-Desire for Exoticism in Anime

  1. Interesting post. I’m actually a fairly new fan of My Little Pony – I only really got into the show late last year (but have since then spent a lot of time and money on it, trying to make up for lost time I guess =P) That’s a good point about how someone who likes anime could be swayed towards more culturally familiar animation. Anyone who likes anime must have some degree of enjoyment for animation as an entertainment medium for all ages, but depending on what exactly they’re looking for in the animation, they could eventually be driven away from anime once its novelty wears off and they’re finding it easier to relate to a cartoon from their own culture. And on the flip side, someone who’s originally a fan of American animation becomes an anime fan because they love animation in general, and anime does so much more with the medium in terms of stories and target audiences than the very limited American cartoons ever would.

    I’ve always been a fan of animation in general, and more or less became an anime fan for the reason I just stated in the previous sentence. But I still enjoy animation in general and I always need a break from anime from time to time, so I watch things like Disney and Pixar movies to take a break from Japanese culture in my animation and enjoy the more familiar American culture. My Little Pony is actually the first American TV cartoon series I’ve watched in full since I got into anime nearly fifteen years ago. Currently I would say I love it as much as anime in general, but I can’t imagine it ever replacing or even overtaking anime as my main hobby. I feel like it’s the type of show that will have its big hay day, and once Hasbro is done with the Friendship is Magic series and no new episodes ever come out, many bronies will move on to other things. It’ll be interesting to see in the future if that really happens or not. But even if MLP fades away eventually, there will always be new anime.

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  2. Pingback: When to take a break from anime — 毎日アニメ夢

  3. Nice post – I was referred back here by Yumeka’s link and while we’re going back a while, I thought it worth posting a reply. It was good to see someone else reminded of Doremi when they saw MLP (I found myself making the same connection over here – http://adziu.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/motto-ojamajo-doremi.html ). And it is certainly true that the exoticism of another culture’s animation both draws and repels different viewers. On the flip side of the same coin, I always found it surprising that the Japanese loved the Powerpuff Girls so much, when is so full of US pop cultural references (like whole episodes riffing on Trix ads) and loved negative caricatures of the Japanese. Yet more fundamental notes sometimes get hit and properties resonate. After all, is it much more surprising that other English-speaking territories happily consume American cartoons without anyone being surprised?

    As for the issue of people seeming to outgrow anime, or to leave it behind, we must also remember that part of it is simply people doing what others they’re in contact with do, with a desire to be included socially. Anime is simply less fashionable now than five years ago.

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