Anime. The word brings up thoughts of shows like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Naruto, and many other titles. But there are some shows that many consider not to be anime, ergo simple cartoons. But what does it mean to be “anime?” Is it as simple as just being Japanese in origin? Or is it more complex, with the types of characters and story-patterns determining if something is “anime?” Well I won’t try and decipher this mysterious anime word, but I will list a few titles I think qualify as anime, and I’ll explain why.
RWBY (pronounced ruby) is an animated series produced by Rooster Teeth, whom some of you may remember for the Halo comedy Red Vs Blue. Now I have had many of my friends tell me this is not “anime,” with reasons ranging from its lack of hand-drawn art to its American origins to being a web-based series. Bullpoop I say! It is too anime! Why? Well I’ll tell ya!
RWBY is permeated with anime tropes and style. There are characters which fit every anime stereotype, including the beloved tsundere. What also compliments this is the addition of wacky out-of-proportion emotions the characters exhibit on a regular basis (which is an anime trademark I think). Each character us uniquely designed and specifically stand out from the crowd of non-main-characters. While to some, this show may be aimed at a younger audience, with its themes of friendship and school (well school is basically a requirement for all anime), there are many jokes and references which only an adult viewer will understand. Perhaps the largest reason I consider this an anime, however, is the over-arching story which grows to include the whole world. While not an absolute in all anime (especially not romace), generally speaking the actions and events surrounding the main characters typically affect the world on a grand scale. This is definitely part of this anime. Each episode builds towards a larger goal, eventually encompassing the whole. I can’t really say too much without spoiling anything, but once you watch the series from start to finish (er, current finish), you will call this an anime. Also, like there are a million cosplayers as every con. Seriously.
Let’s talk about another title, one which my hardcore anime friends damn as American propaganda designed to destroy the anime industry.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel/thing The Legend of Korra are both cartoons produced by Nickelodeon. However, both series exhibit very serious anime-like themes and characters. Yes, it may air on a network famous for American cartoons, but it, my friends, is an anime.
Let’s talk about the first one, The Last Airbender (which was commonly referred to as Avatar until a certain James Cameron movie). The show begins with a humble arctic tribe. The Water Tribe are a peaceful folk, but then soon get invaded by the evil Fire Nation, who we learn from the opening is an empire which conquered the world. The last Airbender is a kid named Aang, whom the Water Tribe (specifically two other characters) rescue. Aang is the Avatar, a person capable of mastering all 4 elements and bringing balance to the world. He, and soon his many comrades, travel the world making Aang more powerful, with the ultimate goal of stopping the Fire Nation from being a bunch of nazi-esque a-holes. This show is very “dynasty” themed, drawing a lot of its architecture from ancient China. That being said, each episode is, like RWBY, full of anime tropes, characters, and plot developments. This show even runs so long as to have everyone’s favorite anime cliche, fillers! Seriously though, after the first few episodes it’s obvious this is an anime. So, let’s talk about the successor, Legend of Korra.
This sequel-thing takes place many years after the events of The Last Airbender, in a world permanently changed by our previous protagonist, Aang. The main character, Korra, is also an Avatar. This show is decidedly more dark than the previous installment, with each season exploring more grim political issues and ultimately leading to a massive war for the finale. And hey, Steve Blum voices the first villain, so what’s not to like? But seriously, every ounce of anime that is in The Last Airbender also makes its way into this show. And each episode builds to that final goal of encompassing the whole (which I mentioned in RWBY). Each episode contains measured amount of drama, romance, and comedy to create a slurry of media entertainment. And the tsundere for this anime is our main character, yay!
Let’s move on to the third and final show I will talk about. This one is probably more of an anime parody than an anime itself, but I love it so I have to talk about it.
This one has always been hard for me. On one hand, most of MEGAS XLR is very campy and episodic. On the other, this show has many traits of an anime. That being said, I’d have to say, if anything, it is an anime parody. MEGAS XLR is the story of an obese New Jersey man (Coop) who finds a mecha from the future in a junkyard. Said mecha was catapulted back in time via a wormhole, and its pilot Kiva is attempting to reclaim it so she can defend the Earth. Coop’s friend Jamie is along for the ride as mostly comic relief and a little anti-heroism. Coop pilots the metal behemoth from inside an American muscle car which he attached to the top of the mecha to act as a head. Don’t ask me how he did it, but it looks badass. Using a variety of video game controllers and other devices he is able to deftly pilot MEGAS and defeat the aliens which invade every episode. The show is scattered with references to American pop culture such as Las Vegas and the DMV. Yet, it still manages to retain an anime-like feel. It may be the Space Pirate Harlock episode, or the encounter with the almost sailor scouts encouter, but I just associate this show closer with anime than I do with American cartoons. Granted, there isn’t much of a long term goal, and absent are the over-exaggerated emotions and pervy fan service of anime. Still, I think this barely crosses the line into anime, with the giant robots, space warriors, and all-encompassing war. Also, like, it has a car for a head and a lot of guns. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch…
Well, there you have. Stuff that may not be considered anime but still comes pretty darn close. I would definitely consider RWBY and The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra to be anime, while MEGAS XLR is barely making it. What other shows could I be forgetting? I know Samurai Jack is pretty close to anime.
Honestly, I think true anime is really just Japanese cartoons. So, while everything I listed does indeed fall under the many tropes and styles of anime, it technically is not “Japanese animation.” That being said, you see all of these (well maybe not MEGAS) at anime conventions nation-wide. So I will include them in my otaku life. Interesting to think about though, there is a lot of sexual fan service in Japanese animation which is largely absent from American animation. Maybe it’s because Americans just see cartoons as “for kids.” Or maybe it’s because American censorship is much, much higher. Who knows? I sure don’t. I hope you enjoyed my article, thank you for reading it! And I recommend you watch each of the shows I listed, if you generally like anime, you will probably like them.