The Transnationalization of Japanese Anime and Manga

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Japanese popular culture comprises of the modern popular culture in Japan. This includes various aspects of Japan like their cinema, cuisine, television programs, anime, manga and music. In particular, Japanese anime and manga have always fascinated me. Looking back, I was first introduced to the world of anime when I was about 6 years old. The shows Pokemon and One Piece were a crucial part of my childhood. They aired on Saturday mornings and I vividly remember following them religiously.

The manga series Pokemon adventures, that started publication in 1997, was what gave me my first taste of Japanese manga. The manga was available at most local bookstores at reasonable prices allowing even students like me to purchase them. By the time I was a teenager the internet had become a medium for me to immerse myself in all forms of Japanese anime and manga. From Gundam, Naruto and Bleach the number of shows available online was almost limitless. By this time, anime and manga exposure had increased in Singapore.

Shops like ‘Comics Connection” set up shop and stocked all sorts of anime goods from figures and posters to even weapon replicas that my favourite anime protagonists and antagonists wielded. Furthermore, Anime conventions like the annual Anime Festival Asia (AFA) became a norm and started selling a wide variety of such merchandise at a single location. This reflective essay aims to discuss the origin and transnationalization of Japanese anime and manga, focusing on how it has been made accessible to people like me. Japan started the globalization of its anime industry in the early 1960s. Japanese anime studios started to outsource part of their production to overseas studios at an early stage of their development in the 1960s (Mori, 2011).

After the success of the first television anime series, Astro Boy in 1963, larger studios like Toei Animation began to contract Korean anime studios to outsource part of their production process. Toei Animation is the studio responsible for animating One Piece, one of my all-time favourite shows. It is also the studio responsible for other iconic animations like Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya and Slam Dunk. It was in the 1980s that the bases for overseas, outsourced anime production moved from Korea to China when Korean labour costs became less competitive due to their economic development (Mori, 2011). Once again it was Toei Animation who started this. The company established subcontracted anime studios in China. This then led to other Japanese anime companies expanding their production networks in search of cheaper labour forces in China and then the Philippines (Mori, 2011).

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The combination of these above-mentioned labour division methods and low-cost strategies are what played a crucial role of anime’s entrance into the television industry at the beginning of its history and allowed it to be known internationally.Television was one of the first mediums that started bringing Japanese animated shows to people outside of Japan. Cartoon Network was one of the pioneers to bring anime to a foreign setting in the west with shows like Dragon Ball Z airing on the network in the late 1990‘s, while Pokémon began airing in 1998, and continues airing on the network to this day (Rich, 2011). Cartoon Network later went on to establish various blocks of programming that catered to Japanese animation. One of these blocks was ‘Toonami’ which primarily featured action-oriented Japanese anime titles. ‘Toonami’ initially aired on weekday afternoons which enabled their main target audience to tune in after school hours.

I remember watching the shows airing on ‘Toonami’ as a kid as I had access to Cartoon Network. Shows like Dragonball Z and Naruto aired almost daily and I watched these shows a lot during my primary school. This medium was what allowed me exposure to these amazing shows at a young age. Though television started the transnationalization of the anime and manga otaku subculture it was not the sole contributor to this phenomenon.In fact, the internet was a major contributor to the transnationalization of Japanese anime and manga. To demonstrate, in May of 2010, ranked the Japanese popular culture fan website, ',' among the world‘s 1,000 most visited websites (Rich, 2011). Notably, Onemanga was unlike the other websites featured on this list which catered to shopping, social networking, or news. Its primary objective was providing fans whom primarily spoke the English-language the opportunity to consume free unauthorized online copies of comic books(manga) from Japan translated from Japanese into English by fellow fans.

These unauthorized online copies of manga are referred to as ‘scanlations’. Anime is also available in this fan translated form and ‘fansubs’ refer to the translated digital anime file, while someone who participates in the process by which anime is translated and distributed online for free is usually called a ‘fansubber’ (Rich, 2011). I have been using such sites to quench my thirst for Japanese popular culture since I was a teenager. These sites allowed for anyone of any age that had the access to a computer and the internet to read and view fan translated Japanese content. On the negative side, this form of content consumption may be frowned upon by the creators and others in society as it is illegal. However, as a student with limited pocket money, this was the easiest and fastest for me to have access to such content. Many anime series are subtitled by fans (or fansubbed) shortly after they air on Japanese television (Ruh, 2012).

Waiting for officially dubbed content could take months in comparison to these fansubbed content. When anime and manga crossed borders and made their way to the west, certain elements were modified to fit their cultural norms. The first case of this cultural adaptation can be seen in Astro Boy. Astro Boy was the first animation of Japanese origin to air in the west. The show was first broadcast on independent station WNEW in New York on September 7, 1963. The narration was added to the opening scenes and origin story of the protagonist. Through the narrator, the viewer learns that the boy (whose name is Astor Boynton) is driving “his aerocar on the world’s safest road” and that he did not have to worry about steering because “the highway controlled his car automatically.

This was the highway of the future, as safe as a man could make it.” (Ruh, 2012). The Japanese version had no such narration thus implying that the protagonist could have been driving dangerously. Ruh elucidates in his paper how the changes made to Astro Boy for US broadcast allowed the series to moreaccurately reflect the prevailing attitudes in the United States in the early 1960s. (Ruh, 2012). A more recent example of this would be the changes that were made to the anime television program Pokemon. Anthropology graduate students Hirofumi Katsuno and Jeffrey Maret present a case study on the editing of the Pokémon television series for distribution within the United States, finding that most of the sexual innuendo and some of the more graphic violence that was acceptable for a children’s program in Japan ended up on the cutting-room floor in the United States. Banned episodes include some of which included excessive use of guns and others showing certain racial stereotypes.

Living in Singapore, most of the shows we got here including Pokemon and Dragonball Z came from the same studios that localized the shows for the audiences in the US. In conclusion, transnationalization and globalization have allowed for the people around the world to access and enjoy Japanese popular culture. In this case, anime and manga from Japan have been made accessible for all. This is not only due to its creator's efforts of transcending borders but also due to us fans who constantly find new ways and means to consume and access this particular form of content.

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