Anime in The West: Anime influence in American Society

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16 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

Words: 3017|Pages: 7|16 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

Anime has been a part of American pop culture, since the 90s Anime has had an effect on American society. Some popular Anime that are well known in American pop culture are Dragon Ball and Pokemon alongside many more. Anime has influenced many aspects of American society not just pop culture, it ranges from movies, music, and daily life. Anime has influenced movies, and music with many artists making specific references to Anime in their songs. Anime has had an important part in those who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Anime has been around before the 90s but it was during this period of time that it’s influence in American society started to flourish and thanks to Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, it opened a whole new medium for teens to indulge in and get inspired by.

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For those that may not know, Anime is hand drawn or computer generated animation that originates or associates with Japan. Anime has been a big influence to movies and directors from Hollywood. The Matrix is one of many movies that was influenced by anime. The anime that influenced The Matrix was called, Ghost in the Shell. Ghost in the Shell is about a distant future where a cyborg federal agent Maj. Mokoto Kusanagi trails a wanted criminal that goes by the name “ The Puppet Master” who illegally hacks into computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Her search for this man that is able to modify the identity of strangers leaves Mokoto wondering her own makeup and what life might be like if she had more human traits. With her partner, Richard Woods, Mokoto is able to corner the hacker but her curiosity sends the case into an unforeseen direction. The way that the hacker is able to hack into cyborg-human hybrids is through the back of his neck that Mokoto is able to do as well. Comparing both movies side to side and the similarities are uncanny. Both movies explore the possibilities of what could happen if humanity were to merge with either technology or the virtual world, and both have content in it critical thinking along with masterful fight scenes. The Matrix is mainly known for one of two things, the plugs in the back of the characters heads and how it uses cascading green numbers to represent cyberspace. Ghost in the Shell did all of that first and if that is not to convince then hearing it from the directors themselves should. For the initial pitch idea for The Matrix, the directors, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, played the DVD of Ghost in the Shell and said to their producer, “ We want to do that but for real.” Even though the directors were not faithful to their anime adaptation, the influence and inspiration for the world of The Matrix is still there. 

Another movie that was heavily influenced by anime is The Lion King. The Lion King was released in theatres in 1994 and it was instantly met with comparisons to Kimba The White Lion. Kimba The White Lion is a 1965 television series based on Osamu Tezuka’s manga “Jungle Taitei” that was published from 1950 to 1954. The show follows a white lion named Kimba who, due to the untimely death of his father, is forced to become the King of the Jungle. With the help of an old baboon who once advised his father and a comedic mismatched pair of buddies, he must reclaim his kingdom from Claw, a black-maned, scarred lion who has usurped the throne in his absence. From the summarry alone it has many similarities to The Lion King. Both movies have a young lion as the main character, a wise baboon that is a guide to the king, a lioness love interest, a bossy bird, brainless hyenas, and a black-maned villain with eye problems. Disney any influenced from Kimba the White Lion but an animator who worked on the Lion King mentions something that provides evidence that it may have been. Animator Tom Sito does not say that the film was inspired by the anime, but he does admit that almost all of the animators and writers that worked on The Lion King have seen Kimba. Sito goes on to say, “ I mean the artists working on the film if they grew up in the 60s, they probably saw Kimba. I mean, I watched Kimba when I was a kid in the 60s, and I think in the recesses of my memory we’re aware of it, but I don’t think anybody consciously thought, ‘Let’s rip off Kimba.” Tom Sito was not the only animator or writer that was born in the 60s and was working on The Lion King. As Sito said himself, they may have gathered inspiration from Kimba the White Lion through the recesses of their memory but never thought it was inspired by anything since they did not remember. Disney may not have been inspired by Kimba The White Lion but their animators and writers definitely were. 

Movies have not only been influenced by anime, some have even gotten their own homage and live action adaptation. In the last few years, we have seen three blockbuster movies that either are live adaptations of anime such as Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson and Alita: Battle Angel. Both of these movies were based on each anime’s manga. Pacific Rim is a movie series that is seen to be direct homage to Japan’s Kaiju genre and Mecha genre. Japan’s Kaiju genre focuses a large monster that comes into the world and runs rampant either until it is done or until humanity fights back while Japan’s mecha genre focuses on giant robots that either humans control or are self-controlled. An example of one of these Kaiju movies from Japan that is popular here is Godzilla and a popular example of the Mecha genre is The Power Rangers. Godzilla debuted in 1954 but it has recently been a part of its own movie universe that has 2 films and will have a new film to be released where Godzilla fights King Kong. The Power Rangers are based off a Japanese show called Super Sentai where they used a giant robot/mecha when fighting giant monsters/Kaijus. This relates to Pacific Rim because the giant monsters that they fight in the films are called Kaijus while the giant robots that they fight these monsters with are called Mechas. Pacific Rim draws its inspiration from a lot of anime, some examples are Ultraman, Maringer Z, Super Sentai, and even Gundam. Pacific Rim was so popular that is even spawned in a sequel and the sequel had deliberately incorporated elements from anime and Japanese film. John Boyega starred in the film and was more than happy to talk about the movies’ anime influences, he says:

You know what's so crazy, at the beginning I was like,'' I know that there is a distinct style, and a distinct tone [in the original Pacific Rim], but we could possibly explore another kind of tone, and a live action anime is just where I want to go. I love the intricacy of battle and fighting style, and I love the fact that it's [Pacific Rim: Uprising] larger than life, and slightly corny, just like anime. You know they're fighting and for some reason they're having a five-page long conversation. I wanted all of that, I wanted to mesh those worlds together, and I'm like, it could be possible to add this up a bit more! A live action anime!

In other words, John Boyega sees the whole film as a live action anime that just happens to be from America. The Pacific Rim series is seen as homage to Japan and anime throughout its fans. Many other creators have been influenced or even reference anime in their works but it has not taken such a big part in production as the other films already mentioned. One of these movies is Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Scott Pilgrim is originally a comic book that was then adapted into a movie using its source material and the author of Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley, was influenced by a few manga or Japanese comics. In an interview with Gamesradar+, Bryan Lee says, “ Yeah I was influenced by a couple of Japanese comics. The two biggest ones were Beck [and Nana]. Beck was about a struggling rock band, and then also Nana which is like a girl’s comic, it was kind of more real-life. It was about twenty-somethings kind of just living their lives, trying to hold down jobs. I was going through that period in my own life, so it was kind of eye-opening to see comics with that subject matter.” Beck and Nana have since spawned their own anime adaptations respectfully. Scott Pilgrim vs The World has mostly video game influence it still has anime references in it, like how Bryan Lee mentioned he was influenced by a couple mangas and he shows it. When Todd activates his vegan powers for the first time, his hair flows upwards and he glows in a way that is reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z’s Super Saiyan form that is achieved by Goku during the Namek Saga. When Scott levels up in the film and unlocks the Power of Love and the Power of Understanding he is able to draw the swords from his chest and this action is similar to how Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena, draws her Sword of Dios from Anthy’s chest before going into battle. Another film that is influenced by an anime is Chronicle. The movie follows three seniors from Seattle, Andrew, Matt, and Steve. Andrew is a victim of bullying while Matt is his cousin, Steve is one of the most popular individuals at school but they all form a bond after gaining telekinetic powers from an unidentified crystalline object found underground. Towards the end of the movie, Andrew loses control of his powers and goes on a rampage around the boys’ town. This scene seems to be a direct homage to the anime movie Akira and its character Tetsuo. At the end of Akira, Tetsuo goes on a rampage with his telekinetic powers. In an interview with Gizmodo, the director of Chronicle, Josh Trank, says that Akira was an absolutely big influence on the film and speaks about the similarities. “ I'm a huge fan of all things Akira, it's definitely a big influence on the movie.” Josh Trank also goes on to say that a scene that happens between Andrew and the police in the movie was also influenced by Akira, Gizmodo’s interviewer asks Trank if that scene was intentional because it reminded them of Tetsuo’s rampage and Trank says:

Yeah. Absolutely. It's funny because if you had telekinesis and you were going on a rampage, that's just what would happen. If this was a real event, everyone would say, 'that kid just went Akira on everyone.' And that was something I used to say growing up, 'I'm gonna go Akira on them.' When Max [Landis the screenwriter] and I were talking about the script before it was even written we'd just say, 'And then he just basically goes Akira on them.' So...

Anime is a form of animation that happens to originate or is associated with Japan, so it is no surprise that it has a big influence on American animation and cartoons. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a series that comes to many people’s minds when talking about anime influence in American cartoons. The art style and animation style used in Avatar is influenced by various forms of anime. The creators of Avatar, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, confirmed gaining inspiration for Avatar from Studio Ghibli films in a magazine interview. Konietzko and DiMartino say:

The best anime balances great action sequences with humor and emotion, something we try to do on Avatar. We love all the films of Hayao Miyazaki, especially Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Both movies deal with spirituality and the environment in an entertaining way. Also, there's a lot of great animation.

Studio Ghibli is known for having many notable films that are loved throughout cultures and were a part of many children’s childhoods, some films consist of Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke. In an interview with the artists of Avatar, they said that Appa’s design was based on the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro. Avatar: The Last Airbender was such a popular series that it got its own spin off series called The Legend of Korra. Just like Avatar, The Legend of Korra was heavily influenced by anime with its art style and animation style. It carried everything from the original series and expanded on it, the bending was used in more creative ways and was given a more convoluted story. Castlevania is an action adventure, gothic styled, horror video game series created and developed by Konami. Castlevania follows the Belmont clan which is a family of vampire hunters who wield mystical weapons and items as they wage war against the immortal vampire, Dracula, throughout generations. This video game series got its own animated adaptation in July 7, 2017 and was released on Netflix as a Netflix Original. This adaptation follows Trevor Belmont trying to save eastern Europe from extinction at the hands of Vlad Dracula Tepes. As Dracula and his legion of vampires are getting ready to launch an onslaught upon eastern Europe, Trevor Belmont shows up and he is not alone. Trevor and his comrades prepare to battle Dracula and his vampires in order to keep eastern Europe safe. This animated adaptation is heavily influenced by anime, the director of the film, Adi Shankar, speaks on how anime inspired the animation and story style. Adi Shankar says:

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, there would be, like, this crazy, awesome anime on TV and it was never in English. So, like, I didn’t know what was going on but I loved the way it looked. I was like, “ Well, one day, we’re gonna make our own, and it’s gonna look just like that.” From the moment Netflix said, “ Yes, go make your crazy anime adaptation of this video game. Go do it, go for it…”

Adi Shankar was able to fully express himself during this film while following the video game’s lore. All of his inspiration gathered by the anime he watched in Hong Kong was going to be able to shine. Adi Shankar also says that they made the series to be sort of a homage to those anime he watched. Adi Shankar says, “ It had to be 2D. It had to be that hand-drawn style, again that was homage to those OVAs, those OVAs that I would watch on TV in Hong Kong that I loved and I was like, “ This is beautiful. It’s an art form.”

Anime’s influence is not only about films, music has also been influenced by anime, especially the Hip Hop genre. Many of today’s rappers have grown up watching anime, be it Dragon Ball Z or others. Rappers such as Denzel Curry, Lil Uzi Vert, Lupe Fiasco, and many others have referenced anime and anime characters. An example of one of these references would be the lyrics from Lil Uzi Vert’s New Patek. Lil Uzi Vert says, “ Throw up gang signs, Naruto. Put metal on my nose like Pain.” Naruto is a popular anime that many grew up watching and if a reference to how characters of the series summon jutsus which are mystical arts a ninja will use in battle. The users must make different hand signs meaning different things fast in order for the jutsus to happen. Pain is a character from Naruto and he is a villain. Pain is seen with 6 piercings on his nose, 8 piercings on each ear, and 2 piercings on his bottom lip. Music in anime is a big deal, the original soundtrack to an anime has to be hard hitting in order to get those emotions across but many rappers have used those original soundtracks from anime and put them into their beats as samples. Some examples of this are Young Jeezy sampling Pikkon’s Theme from Dragon Ball Z in his song “U know wat it is,” and “Curse” by XXXTENTACION featuring Coolie Cut and Kin$oul. “Curse” samples the opening theme from the anime Elfen Lied, the sound fits both of these works since it they feature ominous vibes. Anime has also inspired quite a few music videos throughout the years, for example, Lil Uzi Vert’s music video for “Ps & Qs”. Lil Uzi Vert uses the exaggerated large eyes anime is known for while also having segments of the video where the video changes from live action into what seems like something straight out of a manga page. Lil Uzi Vert is not the only one to do this, Kanye West, who is considered a legend within the Hip Hop community did this for the music video of “Stronger” which was a direct homage to the anime film Akira. Rappers love anime and it is shown in their work. Atlanta based rapper, Father, told pitchfork, “ N**gas have always loved ninjas, They’ve always loved samurai and that whole having a code,” Father then goes on to say, “ The ninja teams in Naruto are like gangs almost. Real Squad sh*t.”

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Anime has influenced a lot of American society and it also affects the normal citizen. Anime has influenced many fans into sharing their love for anime either in online communities or gatherings called Anime Conventions. Many fans of Anime have come together and found many other like themselves through the same interest in anime. Many of these people may have found each other thanks to the digital world we are in right now, because of the digital age those who cannot find others like themselves in their community can always visit a digital community and finds others like themselves. The love for anime has also inspired conventions as mentioned before, about itself and Japanese traditions.    

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Anime in the West: Anime Influence in American Society. (2022, April 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Anime in the West: Anime Influence in American Society.” GradesFixer, 08 Apr. 2022,
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