When Debates Lose Purpose: Why “Avatar’s” Anime Status Doesn’t Matter

There are many longstanding debates that have gone on within the anime community. One such debate is the sub vs dub debate, as many have tried to argue that the quality of dubbing in Japanese or English is significantly better than the other. Another debate that has seemingly lost a lot of steam within the last few years is over the definition of anime, and whether or not series like “Avatar the Last Airbender,” which was produced in America, should be counted among more traditional anime series such as Naruto and No Game No Life. Despite being an interesting topic of discussion overall, that debate, in particular, has lost a lot of its original purpose, which presumably was to help define what exactly the anime community is.

In their video on the topic, Geoff from Mother’s Basement explains why a lot of the definitions of anime that are used currently are unhelpful in explaining what anime is, specifically because of the rise of “American Anime.” In the early days of the internet, back when most anime fans relied on fansubs to get access to the shows they wanted to watch, defining anime seemed a bit simpler, because most anime was from Japan. Now, however, the dynamic has changed dramatically.

Anime: Bloodivores

Because anime as an industry has grown, production for many shows gets outsourced to different countries. Countries like China have also started producing their own anime. Plus, many of the fans that grew up watching anime during those early internet days have started producing their own shows with a very anime aesthetic. This has indeed caused a blurring of the line in the definition of anime.

About a year or so ago, I wrote about the slice of life genre within anime, and how best to define it, given that so many shows seemingly feel under that category. After reading some criticism of my admittedly not well-written article, I realized that I, along with many other western anime fans, have a tendency to try and categorize things as neatly as possible, sectioning things off from one another even when they are still somewhat similar. This accomplishes nothing.

Now, before any confusion arises, this is not advocating for the complete erasure of categories and definitions. Obviously, being able to prescribe common attributes shared by different pieces of art is vital to understanding it.

However, just like focusing on genres within anime can lead to unnecessary debates that take away from being able to enjoy a show, so too can focusing on a show’s place of origin. In the end, it does not matter if Avatar was made in the U.S. or Japan because it is a great piece of animated storytelling regardless. Debates are only constructive when they help people explore new ideas, but the reality is that trying to figure out what among the new wave of “American Anime” should be considered true anime does nothing for the understanding or enjoyment of those shows.




5 thoughts on “When Debates Lose Purpose: Why “Avatar’s” Anime Status Doesn’t Matter

  1. I completely agree with you.
    The only counterpoint I can offer is that “anime” in the classical sense has to adhere to a completely different standard of censorship, cultural bias and historical influences than American Anime and as such it can be useful to distinguish between the two on purely informational purposes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Also completely agree with you. Like I said, categorization and definitions are still super important for understanding different works, but it can get distracting when that’s the ONLY thing people focus on.

      And yeah, that’s actually a really important point. Censorship affects a lot of artist’s ability to be themselves, especially when it comes to adapting their works for network television.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Overthinking any question is often counterproductive. You start categorizing when in reality everything exists on a continuous spectrum. Poking things into discrete boxes is a bad approach to life.

    Red becomes green becomes blue without any defining lines. And it is all light which is part of a bigger continuous spectrum stretching from the longest radio waves to the shortest gamma radiation.

    Categorizing people like that is what evolves into racism. Or any other vile form of “-ism.”

    I prefer the big tent approach to most things. If I must categorize, I base it on practical impact. I don’t see a lot of practical impact whether a given animation comes from Japan or China or the US. Nobody has a copyright on the term – it is just a style. And as a style it blends seamlessly into other styles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the approach I’ve been trying to take myself, which is why I agree with Geoff’s characterization of anime as a “movement within animation,” because there are commonalities, but they fracture into many different groups and sub groups.

      Liked by 1 person

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