Is Anime Safe For Children?

Anime has been gaining in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years. This is because the number of kids, teens and adults who have started watching as anime has become more available and number of anime movies and TV shows have increased. Not all U.S. households are thrilled with this development. Many parents claim that anime is inappropriate for kids and question the morality of adults who view it. These parents feel that anime involves adult material, overt violence, foul language and bad behavior. The question is, are these perceptions of anime accurate? Before we look into the accuracy of the claims that anime borders (or even is) pornographic in nature, we must first examine what anime is.

‘Anime’ is what the Japanese call their animated programs, both for TV and movies. What Americans see as ‘cartoons’, the Japanese see as ‘anime’. In Japan, most anime starts off as a ‘manga’, the Japanese word for ‘comics’. Animation, as a method telling stories in film, has been explored world wide since 1917. The two counties who would take animation to new heights would be the U.S. and Japan. In the U.S., animation became associated with Walt Disney, who’s vision of animation was to create children’s stories. And, so, for the those who grew up with Disney, animation is all about cartoons and children’s stories. However, Japan had a different concept of animation – animation was an art form that could be applied to any type of story telling.

The term ‘anime’ refers to a distinct type of animated story telling. Originally, ‘anime’ films and shows were called ‘Japanimation’, as the origin of this wide open type of story telling in film was not limited to the U.S. concept of ‘cartoons’. Japanimation had been around since the 1920’s and 30’s. The term ‘anime’ arrived around the 1980’s to signify a Japanese style of animated stories. These animated stories were unique in both style and substance. And, ‘anime’, by the 1980’s, was no longer limited to Japan. Anime became a style of film making spreading throughout Asia.

Where Walt Disney’s big breakthrough with animation occurred in 1937 with the release of ‘Snow White’ (a cartoon movie for children that adults could enjoy), the Japanese big breakout with ‘anime’ was with Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka would radically change the world of anime by fusing Disney-like animation techniques with what could be called Japanimation. Osamu was not just an animation for films, he really began his career as a ‘manga’ writer and illustrator. ‘Manga’ can be translated as ‘comic books’. Only in Japan, the comic book was a style of story telling with illustrations and some dialogue, just like our comic books.

The big difference between ‘manga’ and ‘comic books’ is that ‘manga’ was not limited to children’s stories. Manga could be dark story telling that could involve sexual overtones and violent acts. Anime became the perfect avenue for manga to expand and grow … just like comic book heroes today have expanded into movies. In Japan, Osamu Tezuka became known as the ‘father of manga’ AND the ‘godfather of anime’. For Tezuka, both manga and anime were methods to help be understand and care about the world. His story telling could be for children, or, he could use manga and animate to bring people more adult themes. These themes may be spiritual, may have sex, may have violence … whatever was required to tell a story.

In the US, cartoons are for kids. Or, use to be. With the appearance of the TV shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama and Archer animated ‘cartoon’ shows have increasing pushed the boundary. The boundary is "cartoons are only for children" and therefore cartoons should only have simple stories and be children friendly. This formula was how Disney built an entertainment industry. You might say that the U.S. is just now catching up with Japan and Asia in terms of using animation and comic books as an art form that can contain adult content (or at least content for grown-up that kids wouldn’t appreciate).

The U.S. counter culture of the 1960’s into the 1970’s experimented with using comics and animation for more adult themes. Artist like R. Crumb and the release of the X-rated animated films like Fritz the Cat pushed against the boundary that ‘comics and cartoons are only for children’. These counter culture cartoons and comics in the 1960s and 70s were considered ‘underground’ materials. So, it is not surprising that many people in the U.S. have never even heard that adult comics and animation were being made in the U.S. over 40 years ago. Why? Because it was all ‘underground’ and something only those strange hippy-like people were doing. The model of Disney-type cartoons which are ALWAYS kid friendly has ruled the U.S. for decades. Keep in mind, too, that in the U.S. the comic book industry was regulated for years to insure comics were ALWAYS kid friendly and politically correct.

From the very beginning of anime many Japanese producers would rather turn a story idea into an animated or cartoon-like show than a live-action program. That means there is anime out there aimed for the adult audience. Equally as true is there is anime out there that is targeted for kids and is kid-friendly. Yes, some anime do contain high levels of violence and nudity. But, that does not mean ALL anime contain adult material. For example, the anime film Spirited Away won an Oscar for best animated film in 2002. It was suitable for children even though the story was very intricate and detailed. Anime is a style of making a film and it uses animation. But because a film uses animation does not mean it has to be a ‘cartoon’ in the classic, American sense.

A way to think of anime is that it is the Japanese/Asian equivalent of American movies rather than cartoons. Movies have different ratings. Some movies are for a general audience, meaning kids can watch. Other movies are for older teens and may contain mild violence and sexual overtones. Other movies are only for more mature audiences and may contain strong violence and sex scenes. It is the same with anime. Some anime films are made specifically for kids. Other anime are made for older audiences. There is a sub-category of anime called ‘hentai’ which is specifically pornographic.

The mistake many American parents make is they generalize that all anime is somehow related to sex and violence. This is an understandable mistake since several generations of Americans have grown up with cartoons always being for kids and comic books being regulated. The appearance of adult ‘cartoons’ and adult themed comic books has come as a shock to many U.S. parents.

Most parents will find there is nothing wrong with letting their kids watch an age appropriate fun filled anime adventure movie or TV show. However, let’s be clear: With anime there are cultural difference which can be questionable to both conservative and libral parents. Showing a nake body or revealing some nake body parts is not offensive to Japanese, especially when used in a humorous way.
For example, a boy showing his rear end or ‘mooning’ someone is considered acceptable in a cartoon. There is no puritanical attitude about showing some forms of nakeness in Japan since there never were any Puritans in their culture. Also, the Japanese are believers that kids may need to spanked or grabbed by the ears and taken to their rooms. Gental physical punishment of kids has a long history in Japan and Asia as a whole. However, having said all that, most U.S. anime shows from kids have edited this material out for U.S. audiences. Often the same is done with anime movies seeking age appropriate ratings in U.S. so they may be broadcast or released in theaters.

Typical, kid friendly anime offers important moral lessons about friendship, determination and/or caring about other people (or even the planet). Of course, no parents want their kids watching anime hentai just as they would not want their kids watching any x-rated film. The same applies to allowing children to watch extreme violence be it in an action film, documentary or anime.

If your kids want to watch anime cartoons just make sure they are rated for kids. If your teens should take an interest in manga, no problem. Just as long as the manga is age appropriate. It would be historically and factually incorrect to say ‘all anime is about sex or violence’. It isn’t. Remember that Pokemon, which was a craze with kids for a time and still has it’s appeal, is considered anime. It is anime created for children. Just as with movies or books, parents need to make sure the anime kids see is age appropriate. As a parent, you might even discover that you enjoy this new anime art form of story telling … the bottom line is that anime, animations and cartoons are not just being made for kids anymore.

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