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What Is Japanese Animation?

Anime characters.
A Japanese animation character.
An anime girl running.
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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
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Japanese animation, also sometimes known as anime, is a term with a broad meaning but which, in general, refers to cartoons that are produced in the country of Japan. There is a distinctive, core style of Japanese animation that helps to define a large amount of the work produced, but not all movies and television shows employ this style. Most often, Japanese animation is associated with exaggeration, both in character design and character animations, employing a set of over-the-top poses, facial expressions and anatomical irregularities to better convey the meaning of a scene or the role of a character. Unlike the general perception of cartoons in the United States, Japanese animation frequently targets adult viewers and involves storylines and characters that deal with controversial or complex adult issues. Still, most of the animation from Japan is designed for children and young adults, and it has gained a sizeable audience outside the country — so much so that some non-Japanese companies have sought to imitate the stylistic elements of the genre.

The origins of many types of Japanese animation come from an art form known in Japan as manga. These are essentially printed comic books. Some of the original color animated movies were adaptations of manga storylines and characters.

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There is a wide range of story genres that Japanese animation regularly covers. These genres can include everything from teenage romance stories to science fiction epics. Many of the sub-genres actually have names and integrated story elements to distinguish them from other genres. More adult-themed animation can deal with controversial historical events, death or sexual topics. A large part of animation produced in Japan also incorporates themes that are common in the cultural and religious practices of the country, such as Buddhist or Shinto philosophies.

The actual animation style can be very unique. Some animators prefer to use realistic representations of their characters, but more often the animation leans toward wildly exaggerated characters. One common example is the oversized eyes of many characters in the animation, drawn in a way so the eyes express a range of emotions that the rest of the face would not be able to do as easily or as universally. Other examples include the sometimes unrealistically bright color of a character’s hair and changes in body proportions to indicate age, status or personality.

The exaggeration in Japanese animation extends to the movements of characters. In many cases, the gestures and body language of characters are displayed as a standardized pose that has become a cliche for the emotion or response it is meant to express. Props or visual tricks — such as a single, large bead of sweat — are used in comical situations to define how characters are interacting without the need for extended dialog.

Japanese animation has seen some popularity around the world, and it is regularly distributed outside Japan's borders. The bulk of exported animation is dubbed, although some is only subtitled. The music and even certain story aspects can be removed, re-recorded or edited so as to be more culturally relevant to the country in which it is being shown. Some companies outside Japan produce animations that are identical in style and form to the Japanese versions and, while these are not strictly considered Japanese animations, they usually are included in the wider category of anime.

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