Intro & The Rise of Anime from Foreign Sources
Anime is something that we all love. Even if you only like it, you are still here and you are still reading this site, so obviously, you have some sort of vested interest in anime and what it is. Anime has spawned from many, many sources throughout the years. Be it manga, light novels, visual novels, actual novels, trading card games, video games, drama CDs, or another medium, an anime can be made using just about anything in the world.
Recently too, there has been a larger presence of “different” anime being broadcasted as anime in Japan. Whether it is loved or hated, stereotypical or not, this market is clearly doing well for itself and it has no signs of stopping. That’s right, we are talking about the new buzzword in the anime sphere known as “Chinese Anime”. What is “Chinese Anime”? Would you be shocked if I told you that it is not “Chinese Anime” but rather just plain ‘ole anime? In fact, ask yourself, what is it that makes anime, anime? Is the definition for anime as narrow as you think it is? If you are wondering what it is or what it is that makes it “anime”, this article should help shed some light on That. It also shows that “Chinese Anime”, is a misnomer and really just anime at the end of the day. Without further ado, why calling certain anime, based solely on what their source is, is inaccurate and wrong.
What Exactly Defines Anime?
Let’s start with the core word that everyone knows, anime. Anime is an English loanword from Japanese that comes from the word アニメ(Anime) which is a shortened version of アニメーション(Animeishon). In Japan, be it western cartoon or Japanese, everything falls under the umbrella of anime. So that means that movies like Zootopia and The Little Mermaid, cartoons like Steven Universe and Spongebob, and anime like One Punch Man and Sailor Moon ALL fall under the category of anime. Heck, even a show like Archer is considered to be anime in Japan. In the West, and outside of Japan, the word anime is used to refer to anime as we know today from Japan: Japanese animation made with the specific purpose that have given rise to sites like ours, myanimelist, and other industry giants.
The earliest known surviving anime, as the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed most of what Japan had at the time, is called Katsudou Shashin (活動写真). This three second clip shows a boy who writes the kanji for Katsudou Shashin on a board, removes his hat, and then waves. However, it was discovered randomly in 2005 and as such, no one knows where it is from, who made it, nor when it was made. The next, and arguably second longest living “anime”, is called Namakura Gatana (なまくら刀) by Junichi Kouchi. Kouchi is considered one of the fathers of anime along with Seitarou Kitayama who created Battle of a Monkey and a Crab. From there, anime has evolved into what we know it to be today over the process of 100 years!
A commonly accepted characteristic of anime is that it is made with a Japanese studio, Japanese staff, Japanese voice actors, and it is made in Japan. A common misnomer is that anime has to follow this formula always. This is because for the last 10+ years, Japanese companies have been outsourcing the artwork and other things to South Korea and China, and more recently Vietnam and Indonesia. Why is the work going abroad? Because it is cheap labor? Because they draw better? Who knows. We can assume that the first one is more realistic. How do I know? Look at the credits in the ending scenes. It’s super obvious that non-Japanese people are animating anime and working more and more in the anime field. Are these works no longer anime because most of the anime is not animated by Japanese people? Think about it for a second. The answer you should arrive at is that anime is not as simple and absolute as you think it is. The one thing that newer fans to anime and uninformed fans seem to get wrong a lot, is that they think that anime has to be made from a Japanese source like a Japanese manga, a Japanese light novel, or something else. Otherwise it is not “anime”. This is just simply not the case.
Look at works like Nils no Fushigi no Tabi (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils) produced by Studio Pierrot, which is based on a novel written by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja (Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter) produced by Polygon Pictures and Studio Ghibli, based on a novel by Astrid Lindgren, Takarajima (Treasure Island) produced by Madhouse, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, and Akage no Anne (Anne of Green Gables) produced by Nippon Animation and based on the novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Other than that, there are other shows like Alps no Shoujo Heidi, Flanders no Inu, and more. For those who complain that those shows are older and that more recent shows are not like that, we present three big titles:
- Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo based on the novel of the same English Name.
- Howl’s Moving Castle based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.
- The Borrowers Arrietty based on the novel by Mary Norton.
Following the previous assumption then, really the only thing different about these stories is that they have a non-Japanese source. Does this disqualify them as anime? No, it does not. We all already accept them as anime, no? Let’s not also forget too that frequently, anime is made by studios working with other businesses to make them. Does that disqualify them? These works too, are anime whether you want to accept it or not.
How is Anime Made?
Have you ever been watching an anime and at a point, usually in the beginning or end of the OP or ED, or sometimes both, it will say something like “xxxShow Namexxx Production Committee”? Long, long before anime is made, a Production Committee is formed. From there, people are brought in from other companies, and what they do, is put up a lot–and I mean a lot–of yen to basically fund the entire anime production process upfront. So, say for example, we want to make manga XYZ into an anime, the committee is formed by getting companies interested in making money off of this series. You have to have someone to come in to handle merch, someone needs to be with a distribution company, you need PR agents, someone needs to be able to handle negotiations of contracts, you need investors, and of course the publisher. Sometimes even a studio will sit on a committee. The next thing is that the committee will approach a studio with a plan/outline and ask the studio to make that anime. Then after the studio is selected to make the anime, the director of the series makes most of the calls after that.
There can be rare cases of the committee putting their wishes into the terms and conditions of the contracts that the studios sign. For example, in a very extreme case, let’s say that someone on the committee who wields a lot of influence in that world really wants Saori Hayami to play a part in a series, it can be put into the contract that the studio has to cast her as that certain character in the series. While this does not happen all the time, it cannot be said that it never happens. The thing to keep in mind is that, again, most of the time, the studio is hired by the Production Committee because of the fact that it costs a lot of money to be on one. I am not exaggerating here. Sometimes the studio will be on the committee, but it is not very often as studios are not very rich. They do have to pay their employees.
Production Committees are banking on one thing more than anything else to return their initial investment: DVD & BD sales. This means that without good sales, they will not be able to recoup their initial investments in the series. When these series do not do well in sales, you can almost guarantee that the 2nd season will never come. Look at Dimension W from Winter 2016. Funimation was part of it, but only the first DVD went on to sell just over 1000 copies. The remaining 5 failed to break 1000. This was not good and most likely why the series will never get a second season ever.
Emon/Haoliners & The Rise of New Stories
Where do these incorrectly-named “Chinese Anime”–it is just anime–come from? Emon Animation. Emon Animation is a company that was originally founded in Shanghai in 2013. They have found explosive success in China and have expanded to form animation studios in both South Korea and Japan. This means that their offices, and the studios in those respective companies, have Korean/Japanese staff members. In Japan, they are known as Emon Animation as well. They have another name that they use when they are involved with anime production, and this one, I think most readers may know: Haoliners Animation League. This is the name that appears the most frequently in our anime world. I am sure that most readers will recognize the brand name Haoliners Animation before Emon.
Emon is the company that is working with Chinese companies like Tencent, which has a very large manhua catalogue, to bring stories from China to Japan and Korea. Then in those countries, under the organization of Haoliners, these stories are produced. That is why we see the name Tencent often in these anime. Haoliners is the corporation of Emon China, Emon Tokyo, and Emon Korea working together.
Works that they have brought to Japan, to be made by Japanese studios into anime are titles like Reikenzan, Hitori no Shita, Bloodivores, Gin no Guardian, Cheating Craft, etc. Again, these are just based on Chinese sources. They are not necessarily made in China. Haoliners are also behind the production of Kenka Banchou Otome -Girl beats Boys- which is currently on air, and the Japanese manga Centaur no Nayami (Centaur’s Worries) by Kei Murayama that is going to be an anime this summer. So, this is pure anime no? All of the titles mentioned have been produced in Japan. So, then what is “Chinese anime”?
Understanding the difference between Chinese Anime and Japanese Anime
We have already talked about what people consider to be “Japanese anime” or “anime” if you will, above. We know that the assumption is that anime is a show made in Japan, by Japanese staff (mostly), and use Japanese voice actors. Following this line of logic then, “Chinese Anime” is anime made by Chinese animation studios, with Chinese voice actors, and Chinese staff. Honestly too, that is really about it. I already outlined above that anime does not necessarily have to come from a Japanese source in order for it to be considered anime. Therefore, what do we do with anime made in Japan (somewhat), by Japanese people, with Japanese seiyuu, but a Chinese source? We call it anime. That is what it is. So then, what do we do with this mislabeled term of referring to anime as “Chinese Anime”? Bury it. No seriously. Get rid of it. It’s not even accurate and it’s like someone running around and calling a cat a dog, because they think it is that, but they do not have any sort of background information. See how silly it sounds?
Within the last year, there has been a rise in the incorrect phrase “Chinese Anime”. We have seen it used to label recent titles like Reikenzan, Hitori no Shita, Cheating Craft, Bloodivores, and the currently airing Gin no Guardian. As you can tell, and this list is not even exhaustive, there have been a surge of anime based on Chinese source manga and light novels. Now, I know you cannot still be saying “but it is made by a Chinese studio” or “But it is not anime because it is from a Chinese source!!”. If you said the latter, please continue to re-read the previous section until it makes sense. If you think that the anime mentioned previously or anime produced by Haoliners Animation were made by Chinese studios, well, sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but please enjoy the following points:
- Reikenzan: Hoshikuzu-tachi no Utage & Reikenzan 2: Eichi e no Shikaku. Studio: Studio Deen.
- Cheating Craft. Studio: Blade
- Hitori no Shita. Studio: Namu Animation
- Bloodivores. Studio: Creators in Pack & Namu Animation
- Soul Buster. Studio: Studio Pierrot
- Gin no Guardian. Studio: Emon Tokyo. (Made in Japan!)
Why Are These Anime Not Well-Received?
It’s not really news that most of these shows have low ratings across the net, and really, other than Reikenzan, because it has a niche fanbase, these shows are not really doing well in the greater anime community. What is the reason as to why? Well, some say it is because the stories are innately Chinese and the stories can be hard to follow as the flow is a little different compared to how we are so used to the stereotypical patterns of manga, light novels, visual novels, etc. While yes, it can be argued that this point is slightly true as the method of storytelling is going to vary from country to country, the stories are not in any way so poorly written that they are unreadable. This is a rather weak point to base a sweeping generalization on. Especially considering that almost all new fans of manga and anime have to adjust to the new way of storytelling from Japan versus how we are used to it in the west. The original stories of Reikenzan, Hitori no Shita, and more, have garnered hundreds of millions, if not billions of views abroad. They are popular. This is a fact.
Another argument often made is that the art is rather low quality. This makes it harder for the fans to watch as the art is not smooth or well done when compared to other popular anime from Japan. But then who is to blame? The original work? No, you can’t blame it. If it is pulling in millions of views online or crazy amounts of sales abroad, then clearly the original work is doing well and is well done. Well what about blaming Emon & Haoliners? You really cannot blame them either because they are bringing the works to Japan as a sort of middleman if you will. They are a producer for the most part. They are not animating themselves. The real problem lies with the mismanagement of the Japanese studios. The studios are the ones dropping the ball when it comes to art, composition, or storytelling. The production committee may say, as many do, “Let’s adapt the first couple volumes of this manga for this season” and they leave the rest to the studio to do. The problem then lies with the studio butchering the story and art to somehow make it fit into 12 episodes.
The thing is though, is that this process by the studios has been done with anime series for years, so clearly this formula works. So then, the real question is, why are these studios performing such a poor job when it comes to a non-Japanese source? That is the real question and the real issue at hand. Obviously, I cannot provide you with a set list clearly defined reasons, but Japanese animation studios, which are creating these anime, are not doing as good of a job on these shows in particular. This is what needs to be fixed. Everyone loved Howl’s Moving Castle because it was done correctly. So then why couldn’t Hitori no Shita have been done better? Bad editing by the studio? Bad execution by the studio? Who knows. Either way, it’s food for thought.
Conclusion: Why It Is Still Anime at The End of The Day
I have already outlined multiple times why these Chinese-source anime are still anime no matter how you look at it, and I hope it has shed some light on the issue at hand. Just in case something did not make sense though, these works are still anime. They still should be called anime. They are not made in another country such as China, but in Japan, and that is a fact. Some people might be a bit salty about it, but they just don’t like change. Don’t listen to others and try to make an informed decision about a series rather than letting others dictate how you should feel about something that is clearly, very polarizing within the anime community. The misguided opinion that anime can only be anime if it is 100% Japanese is creepy and eerily purist to be honest. That sort of thinking will not get you anywhere in life, and it will not benefit you at all. Besides, it is not Emon's, or whatever company may step into Japan in the future to produce anime, fault that these shows are not up to par per se, it is more about what these studios are churning out. Don’t accept mediocrity when you can and deserve better as fans.
Please be sure to let us know how about feel about these new anime in the comments section below and let us also know what you thought of this article!