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.
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.