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Japanese Anime Artists are a Hit in North America

Akira, Pokemon, Astro Boy, Sailor Moon. No matter what your age, chances are you've seen Japanese animation. And if the current Pokemon craze is any indication, the North American market is very receptive to the traditional Japanese drawing style.

But what sets this style of animation apart? The easily recognizable graphic quality of Japanese cartoons can be seen in traditional comics, or manga. It is brought to life through anime, the Japanese version of animation.

Unlike western cartoons, Japanese anime is created for all age groups. It covers just about every topic imaginable. North American animation houses tend to concentrate on children's programming. Anime themes, however, range from historical drama and children's movies to sci-fi, comedy and adult titles.

Lovern Kindzierski is president of Digital Chameleon. That's a comic book coloring firm in Winnipeg. Black and white artwork from comic giants like Marvel and DC is sent to Digital Chameleon to be inked by the few dozen employees.

The Japanese style has had a direct impact on the work Kindzierski's employees have been receiving lately. "Manga has had a really big influence on American comics. People are adding manga stylistic techniques to their bag of tricks. They're incorporating it into their style of drawing."

The style is easy to pick out. "It looks more graphic, like a silk-screened poster. It looks less realistic and more cartoony."

Lately, Digital Chameleon has been finishing art that is a combination of Japanese manga and traditional North American comic style. "So you'll see a character like DC's Impulse, a distant relative of Flash. He's a kid drawn a little more cartoony and they give him impossibly huge feet."

In manga, superheroes are not always given the ideal bodies favored by western artists. Instead, they often have a feature that makes them instantly recognizable and unique.

Streamline Pictures is located in Beverly Hills, California. It was one of the first American companies to specialize in licensing Japanese animation for commercial release. Fred Patten is the director of marketing and publications there. He also writes freelance articles about anime.

For Patten, the pop culture drawing power of anime is not surprising. But he points out that the cartoons are not a representation of Japanese culture.

"It is very representative of modern Japanese adolescent popular culture," he says. "But it does not emphasize traditional Japanese culture and arts."

Some titles build traditional values and images into the work. But Patten says they are often romanticized or given fantasy elements. Few teach accurate Japanese history.

He adds that as anime grows in popularity, books explaining the Japanese cultural elements have been published for the American fan base.

Patten believes the job market for animators is increasing. But he says traditional anime is still only produced in Japan. North American artists looking to break into animation may be better off looking at home first. Anime continues to influence a market on the rise.

"Today, Disney and several new animation studios are producing more theatrical animated features than ever. The new direct-to-video animation market is growing. Animation is becoming accepted for adult TV programs."

But it's not adults caught up in the latest anime craze. Children all over the world trade Pokemon cards. They stand in line to see animated movies on the big screen.

For Patten, it is about time that a pop culture fad came from Japan. He says it proves the pessimists wrong.

"It was assumed by the American entertainment industry that Japanese anime was too weird and would not be accepted by the American public," he says.

"The popularity of Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and Pokemon has proven that is not true. Interest in Pokemon itself will undoubtedly fade over time, but the international interest in similar Japanese anime fads will continue."

And that interest has been on a definite upswing over the last few years. Lists of websites dedicated to anime-related topics continue to spring up.

"In America, there was virtually no anime industry or market before 1989. Today, the American anime video market and related merchandising is estimated at $100 million a year," says Patten.

"Anime specialty stores [have been] becoming common around North America since 1995, as comic book specialty stores have been since the 1970s."

But not everyone believes that an increased interest in anime will create more jobs for animators.

Frank Pannone is the e-commerce supervisor and acquisitions assistant at Central Park Media in New York. He says the increasing use of computer technology is actually reducing the need for artists. Repetitive work can be done through scanning. A computer can complete the animation itself.

But Pannone is quick to point out the impact anime and manga have had on American pop culture. "It has become a part of it and it's just the beginning."

The animated dance and pop duo Prozzak are taking that notion a step further. Musicians Jason Levine and James McCollum decided to create animated alter egos for this musical side project. They opted for an anime style to represent themselves.

So how does one go about becoming an animator? Art schools and technical colleges are slowly adding anime to their curricula.

Adrian Ludwin is an engineering student. He runs a website that offers potential animators animation basics. Ludwin is also a member of an animation society. He believes any style of animation can be taught.

"An animator must have the ability to adapt to the house style of whatever company he or she works at," he says.

"Anime is simply another style of drawing. Any well-trained animator will be able to pick it up in a very short time frame. I would encourage all those interested in animation to study traditional art skills and apply to a college teaching traditional animation."


Animation World Network
From articles to job listings, this site has everything

Understanding Anime
Learn more about the Japanese style of animation

Julie's How to Draw Manga
A teaching site with info on how to draw specific characters

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