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The Enduring Influence of Anime on Western Popular Culture


Mention anime, the popular Japanese cartoon style, to anyone in the Western world, and chances are they'll know exactly what you're talking about. Few cultural exports from Asia have had such a significant impact on popular culture in the US and Europe. Popular events like AmeCon in the UK and Anime Expo is the US draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, while anime films, TV shows, comic books, and video games produced in Japan have been consistent bestsellers in the west for decades.

While the popular appetite for anime is abundantly clear, few people are aware of the ways in which Western popular culture more generally has been shaped by anime. Many of the most widely-consumed cultural productions owe a significant debt to the styles and conventions of Japanese anime. Here's everything you need to know about the enduring influence of anime in Western popular culture.

Anime in Film & TV

The mid to late-1990s is widely considered to have been the age of the "anime boom" in West, when productions from Japan made serious waves in popular culture and began to dominate TV and film. This arguably started with the hugely popular release of films such as Spirited Away, which went on to sweep the Academy Awards. Meanwhile, TV shows such as Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z and Astroboy made for primetime viewing among both children and adults.

Since then, Western filmmakers and TV producers have incorporated the best features of anime into their biggest productions. The major Netflix hit TV show Stranger Things was directly influenced by anime, with the producers specifically citing Ghost in the Shell and Akita as inspiration.

Directors of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, such as The Matrix, Avatar, and Her have all cited popular anime as their source material. Even icons of American culture such as Betty Boop were directly copied from existing anime characters.

Anime in Games

Given that Japan is quite possibly the birthplace of video gaming, it is hardly surprising that the games we all know and love owe their legacy directly to anime. There are of course the most popular video game franchises of Japanese origin, such as Pokemon, Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda which not only take inspiration from anime but have also featured prominent anime cartoonists in their design teams.

Even in the world of online gaming, the influence of anime is inescapable. Even a cursory glance at some of the most widely-played and enjoyed online slot machines will show countless reels inspired by anime. There's the Fruit Zen reel by BetSoft, the Fairy Queen slot by Novomatic, and Element: The Awakening by NetEnt, to name just a few. It seems online casinos are a surprising source of anime content.

Anime in Music

Major artists in the west have long taken inspiration from anime, in both their musical productions and accompanying videos. One of the most outspoken advocates of anime as an art form is Kanye West, who hired leading anime animators to work on his music videos for Stronger and Heartless.

Britney Spears' 2007 hit Break the Ice also features Britney in anime form, with the video featuring a cartoon Britney fighting bad guys in central Tokyo.

The iconic DJ duo Daft Punk use anime in virtually all of their music videos, as well as including the upbeat musical style in their tracks. The same can be said of the EDM group Major Lazer, who often cite anime as a source of creative inspiration in interviews.

It's clear that creators and consumers in the West owe a huge debt to anime. In the future there will doubtless be many more films, songs, and games inspired by anime, and we can't wait to see them.