America, Japan, and Korea: A Cycle of Animation

Posted by on Apr 8, 2012 in Comic Art News | 3 comments

One Piece

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Emerging anime in America gave rise to companies like Fox Kids/4Kids, Kids WB, and Toonami (as well as empowered companies like Viz, FUNimation, and ADV Films that worked for years in the home media field of anime) to bring Japanese animation to the masses. Fox Kids/4Kids snagged Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon, One Piece, Shaman King, Kinnikuman II (Ultimate Muscle), Sonic X, Kirby of the Stars (Kirby: Right Back at Ya!), and Vision of Escaflowne, Kids WB picked up Pokemon, Cardcaptor Sakura (Cardcaptors), Rockman.EXE (Megaman NT Warrior), Astro Boy, and Viewtiful Joe, and Toonami brought in Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, Zoids, Cowboy Bebop, Big O, Gundam Wing, Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star, .hack//SIGN, Rave Master, and Zatch Bell. As with previous anime brought to the States, the work was wrought with censorship. However, this would outrage many fans because entire plots, episodes, and characters would be cut, content digitally painted over (including food, weapons, tattoos, blood, breast definition, smoked tobacco, and injuries), and violence, sexuality, and homosexuality were sanitized so that media intended for a teenage audience could be marketed to little children (as discussed previously, America observes comics and animation as being almost exclusively for children). It wouldn’t be until Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming aired at midnight that anime intended for teenagers could be shown on US airwaves mostly unedited.

The success of anime also initiated an intriguing change in American animation. Hoping to cash in on anime’s influence (or to pay homage to it), companies began emulating or mocking anime which proved a rather strange process: Americans would conceive series, write plots, and design characters that would try to employ what were perceived formulas and artistic styles from Japan and ship these assignments generally to Korea to animate it. One example that’s rather interesting is Warner Brothers which in several instances has created series and designed characters, had Telecom (formerly TMS) in Japan storyboard the action, and Korean studios animate the shows and films. Some notable “American anime” include Samurai Jack, Megas XLR, Perfect Hair Forever, Teen Titans, Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, Kappa Mikey, and Sym-Bionic Titan. Likely the most successful of these like programs has been Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Avatar - Legend of Korra

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Set in a dawning industrial age setting, Avatar features Asian culture with analogies to societies like Japanese, Chinese, Mongol, Indian, Korean, and Inuit. An action series, martial arts are predominant along with spiritualism and the mythological elements of earth, wind, fire, and water. While only three seasons in length (with a beginning, middle, and end common to traditional anime which has only in recent years begun employing ongoing, serialized fiction like American programs) with an upcoming sequel in the Legend of Korra, the concept gave birth to a large franchise including toys, video games, collectible card games, books, and a live action film adaptation. The story and character designs were conceived at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in California and animated in three studios in South Korean: JM Animation, DR Movie, and Moi Animation. While Avatar has an audience that spans several markets, the show generally classifies as for preteen to teen males (which has been American televised animation’s target audience almost since its inception).

Freezing

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While Japanese comics and animation, again, is made for all ages and sexes, the most popular group in Japan also happens to be preteen to teen males (Shounen, in Japan). Programs such as Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Fairy Tale, Gin Tama, and Toriko dominate the country for anime and manga. However, the animation scene maybe going the direction of the United States. Just like with America, the cost of producing hand drawn animation has gone up and companies are taking their work across the sea where labor is cheaper. Several animation studios claim to only use Korean animators to maintain schedule (in Japan, animation has to generally maintain a weekly schedule to be considered an ongoing series, often forcing show runners to create “filler” content to give time to comic creators, or mangaka, to produce the comics, roughly a chapter a week, that will be adapted to become animation). And yet, a report seven years ago claimed Japan cut their work force from roughly 3,500 to 3,000 animators in that year alone over the cost of producing anime locally (the same report claims 2/3 of Japanese studios outsource to Korea). Dongwoo Animation in South Korea is one of the biggest studios in the country today, producing much of America’s cartoon series and has had a growing market for anime, having produced the popular animated series Yu-Gi-Oh! and its subsequent series. Korean comics, or manhwa, have begun to gain popularity outside of the country in titles like Legend of Maian, Unbalance Unbalance, Ragnarok (which inspired the popular Ragnarok Online MMORPG), and Freezing (which was adapted into an anime last year). South Korean author Lim Dall-young has becoming a leading force in expanding his country’s presence for comics and cartoons by producing works in both Korea and Japan such as the aforementioned Unbalance Unbalance, Legend of Maian, and Freezing as well as Zero, Aflame Inferno, Black God (adapted into the anime Kurokami: Black God), Re:Birth, and Phantom King.

Further Reading:
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_26/b3939013.htm
http://www.awn.com/mag/issue2.6/2.6pages/2.6vallaskorea.html
http://digilander.libero.it/dottor_vaffa/

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3 Comments

  1. I always remember stuff after I write articles. lol America has also influenced Japan. I already mentioned the effect of Betty Boop and Felix the Cat on Osamu Tezuka. I also noted how Transformers really took off in the country. Bubblegum Crisis was influenced by Blade Runner. Superman was an influence in Akira Toriyama's work such as his character Suppaman and in Dragon Ball Z (Saiyans for Kryptonians). Superman and Wonder Woman were paid homage in Project A-Ko. Big O was influenced by Batman: The Animated Series. Record of Lodoss War grew out of a love of Dungeons and Dragons. The relationship between America, Japan, and now Korea is a symbiotic one.

  2. A fun fact: Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, known for bringing Power Rangers to America, got their start in the children entertainment business composing music for cartoons in the 1980s and produced their own cartoon in Kidd Video.

  3. Hand drawn animation wasn't only shipped out to Japan in the 80s. Animagic, what Rankin-Bass used to make their holiday classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin to Town, was also animated in Japan.

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