Ask John: Why do Americans Love Dark Anime?
You have mentioned in several of your answers to fans that Americans prefer dark, mature, grim, and serious anime. Do you know why anime fans always view noir type anime as the best even if it’s of poor quality? Nowadays I feel they want everything to be “mature” and “adult.”
I have mentioned numerous times that American otaku have a particular fondness for dark, grim, serious, violent anime. I’ve also explained why, but I’m sure that there’s no harm in restating the explanation distinctly. Americans do indeed prefer “dark,” anime. The most successful and popular anime created for American viewers, or co-created by Americans have been titles including The Animatrix, Halo Legends, Afro Samurai, The Big O. Incomplete efforts to co-produce American anime have included dark titles such as Satanika, 7 Killers, Aphrodite IX, and Warrior Nun Areala. North American anime co-productions that haven’t been dark and grim, including D.I.C.E., IGPX, and Spider Riders haven’t been nearly as popular.
Japanese otaku perceive anime as an alternate world, frequently a more pleasant, exciting, fun, inviting world than the real world. Japanese otaku like to immerse themselves in anime, empathize with characters, imagine themselves as part of an anime world. That desire explains phenomena like Japanese tourists visiting locations featured within anime and the “Konata is my wife” fantasy. American otaku largely take a different, more superficial view of anime. For average American anime fans, anime isn’t an alternate life; it’s not another dimension that they hope to be teleported to like an anime hero. Typical American viewers perceive anime as only escapist entertainment. It’s a supplement to or substitute for mainstream television sitcoms and dramas and theatrical feature films. For American viewers, anime isn’t an alternate reality; it’s just enjoyable cinematic entertainment. Anime is good if it entertains, and bad if it bores.
But Americans don’t have a tradition of respecting animation. Even in Japan, animation isn’t given the same degree of respect that live-action film is. But in Japan animation is credited with the ability to contain more literary and artistic credibility than it is in America. The immediate, instinctive Japanese categorization of animation is “juvenile.” The immediate, instinctive American categorization of animation is “childish,” not even “juvenile,” which suggests teen and some degree of maturity and rationality, but “childish,” which suggests that animation isn’t suitable for even teenagers. American anime viewers have to face and overcome their own instinctive American opposition to animation. Grown Americans instinctively feel embarrassed about watching animation – especially 2D animation. American philosophy demands that anyone older than roughly 8 years-old stop watching cartoons and grow up. So American otaku have to rationally and emotionally justify to themselves why they’re still watching cartoons as teens and young adults. The easiest way to overcome natural embarrassment is to watch animation that balances the scales. Subconsciously American otaku think, “This animation can’t possibly by kids’ stuff because it’s so mature, violent, dark, and adult-oriented; therefore it’s okay for me to watch it because it’s not children’s cartoons.” Grown Americans can’t watch children’s cartoons without embarrassment, but they can rationalize that watching cartoons is okay if the cartoons are “adult” and “mature.”
There’s also a second reason that explains the American preference for dark and violent anime. Japanese teens spend their days in rigid schools and often leave school to attend supplemental “juku” cram schools or spend hours studying at home. So anime is an escape for them. After the stress and pressure of their daily lives, Japanese viewers want to relax by watching happy, fun, humorous, romantic anime. American anime viewers are opposite. The typical American otaku is a teenager, someone at his or her most emotionally unstable period of life and experiencing the first feelings of rebellion and desires to aggressively define personal identity. At that particular teen stage of life, aggressive, moody, grim and violent anime perfectly entwines with teen psychology. It serves as both catharsis and vicarious wish fulfillment, a release valve for frustration, violent aggression, and a need to strike out at the world.
Countless American teen anime fans don’t yet have the maturity and rationality to make cool, objective observations. Shows like Dragon Ball Z and Afro Samurai are “good” because they’re satisfying, fulfilling. Dark and violent anime are automatically attractive because they empathize with and compliment the psychological frame of mind of the average American otaku. We’re beginning to move away from that standard, beginning to more closely mirror the Japanese otaku psychology, though. While traditionally American otaku have adored dark and violent anime, lately titles like Uchuu Kyodai, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, and Tari Tari seem to be getting more attention from American otaku than dark and violent titles like Zetman and Hagure Yuusha no Estetica.