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The Soft Power in the Globalization Success of Anime

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3336 words Published: 12th Aug 2021

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Different people have different perception on Anime. The young generation could see anime as a medium of entertainment, meanwhile the adult might appreciate anime because of the art in the drawing itself. In Japan, the word refers to any kind of animation at all, but the rest of the world has adopted it to mean animation specifically from Japan (Lisa Marie Cooper, 2016). Fusanosuke Natsume stated in his paper (The Asian Face of Globalisation Reconstructing Identities, Institutions and Resources) that the period when anime was recognized in the global market began in 1980s. The acceptance of the global market towards anime is growing rapidly in the 1990s. One of the articles in the Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, written by Amy Shirong Lu stated that in 2003, anime had contributed approximately one-third of the total revenue of the world media market. Nowadays, there are more than 30 languages of anime translation around the world. In addition, the Japan Consumer Marketing Research estimated that the global anime market will continue to grow. What is the success factor of the globalization of anime? Most people feel that the major reason of the success of anime globalization is because, most of the anime characters are culturally odourless, which means that it does not really look like Japanese. For instance, people in Europe and America enjoyed watching Power Rangers without noticing that it was originally created from a Japanese series, Super Sentai. However, most researches argue that only a certain amount of anime genre that that have successfully penetrate the global market and most of it consist of a specific cultural perspective. Apart from the culturally odourless approach of anime, this paper will explore the cultural politics sentiment behind the success of anime which are de-politicized internalization, Occidentalised internalization, and self-Orientalised internalization.

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There are several reasons why western animation became the major influence towards the development of anime during the early days. Most of the pioneer of anime cartoonists in 1910s were inspired by the American and German artists such as John R. Bray, Lotte Reiniger, and the Fleischer brothers. In addition, it was the American animation that introduce cartoon and animation to the world. Some of the famous western animation companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers’ cartoons had influenced the local Japanese cartoonist to draw anime by using those Western animation as reference. It is reported that this trend ended till the Second World War (Lewis, 2000; Natsume, 2000). As time passes, anime began to find its original drawing style, storyline and theme. It is reported that the globalization approach in anime had started since 1960s through the plots, character and narration, and it is still evolving till now. One of the examples of the internalization approach in the anime narration is Princess Tutu, an anime series that used a European suburb as the background of the story. For the literature aspect, the anime such as The Knights of the Zodiac used Greek and Roman gods as their references. Other than that, most of the anime that have successfully penetrate the global market featured Western-looking characters or characters that used Western names. Tsukino Usagi and Aino Minako in the Sailor Moon anime were drawn as women who have blonde hair. Besides, on of the phenomenal anime in this millennial, Naruto is one of the examples of a culturally odourless anime. The protagonist, Uzumaki Naruto has yellow or blond hair, light skin and blue eyes. It is hard to distinguish Naruto nationalities based on his appearance.

Most of anime are universal and not specific to any culture. If there are some cultural approach, it will be simplified and make the audience to focus toward the universal theme such as family and friendship. For instance, a western character may be drawn by wearing traditional western clothes.


 There are many theories that explains the trends of anime’s globalization. Sato, in his journal titled More Animated Than Life, argued that the globalization approach in anime is because of the Japanese hatred towards their own cultural background. However, Jiaxin Xu written in her master thesis that the globalization of anime is a new form of Japanese cultural colonization. Although it might be true, I believe that the hatred of Japanese people towards their own culture and the new form of colonization are not the best explanation or the major reason that contribute to the globalization success of anime. It is because, Japanese people are well-known with their spirit of nationalism. For example, it is essential for foreign business to understand and respect the Japanese culture during business meeting or to develop trust for a business agreement. Besides, if culturally odourless approach in anime is a form of cultural colonization, why would strong power countries such as the United States of America (USA) does not block anime from entering their country?

To develop a deep understanding behind the globalization success of anime I prefer the argument of Amy Shirong Lu that explains there are three kinds cultural politics that contribute towards anime globalization. The ability of anime to mix variety of culture and become culturally odourless can be classified as de-politicized internationalisation. The Occidentalised internalization can be explained as the dehumanising of the Western culture and promoting the Eastern culture. On the other hand, self-orientalised internationalization defines the potential for anime to orientalise the Asian countries in unethical ways.


De-politicized internationalisation can be simply understood as cultural mixing or culturally odourless that help to detach a product from its own cultural element. By become culturally odourless, anime has successfully gained audiences from different ages and nationalities. In addition, there must be some unique element of anime that can be shared among the audiences from different nationalities. I believe that the Japanese cartoonist used glocalization strategy to penetrate the foreign market. Craig Stroupe, the Associate Professor of Information Design of the University of Minnesota explains that glocalization is the global corporate strategy of adapting product to local market for the branding strategy such as when McDonald introduced the Maharaja Mac, a chicken burger to replace Big Mac for the for the Hindus who does not eat beef. As anime continued to penetrate the Western countries, it started to adapt more and influenced by the Western culture. As an example, we can observe that Square Enix produced the first Final Fantasy video game in English. However, Square Enix have gradually produced the English version of the video game and developed more characters that are Western-looking from time to time. One of the characters in Final Fantasy VII which is Cloud Strife, has a western name, light skin and spiky blond hair. The Western consumer could accept and feel very passionate towards the video game although it has 15 series nowadays, is because the series does not represent any Japanese culture. Another good example is Pokémon. The main character, Ash Ketchum has a western name and were presented as a young boy with a spiky hair and light skin. In addition, the name of the monsters in Pokémon does not sound Japanese. In contrast, Pokémon main competitor which is Digimon, used Japanese name for the characters and monsters. As the impact, we can observe that Pokémon have gained more popularity in the global market compared to Digimon when there are still able to gain consumer of their latest product, Pokémon Go.

The cultural discount theory introduced by Hoskins and Mirus explains that an exported product that represents any culture will reduce the attraction to foreign consumer. It is because, common people will not feel the need to appreciate or understand foreign culture. The worst case is, most of the millennia’s does not even attract to learn and preserve their own culture. That is why it is better to separate anime from any cultural element to ensure its success in the global markets. Therefore, we can observe that anime creator that do promote Japanese culture in an undirect way will tend to focus on the theme of love, action and friendship that could be appreciated by most of the people. In conclusion, de-politicized approach of internalisation is one of the major reasons that help to promote anime globally as it causes people to develop their own perception based on their own cultural origin.


Occidentalised internalization is the cultural politics element that include a major involvement of the Western culture. To have better understanding regarding Occidentalised internalization, we need to understand what is meant by orientalism and Occidentalism. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines orientalism as the western idea regarding the Middle East, East Asia and Southeast Asia that are usually too simple and not very true. The orientalist often describes those societies as mystic, traditional and could not develop without the help from the Western. In contrast, Occidentalism explains the non-westerner’s perception towards west countries. It develops a stereotype that linked the western people with some negative behaviours such as greed and arrogance.

The Occidentalism might influence in the production of anime because of Japan history itself. Jason G. Karlin (2002) explained that since the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Japanese people had condemned the government approach to westernize the countries through fashion and the western definition of masculinity. I believe that the spirit of nationalism that had developed among the Japanese since the Meiji period does influence the production of anime. Until today, we can observe many anime series and movies showing Japanese heroes defeating western-looking enemies such as Eyeshild 21 and Tekken. In the Tekken game series, a video game series produced by a Japanese owned company, Bandai Namco Entertainment, The Japanese character such as Jin Kazama is the hero of the Tekken series who have muscular body and fighting to preserve his family legacy. Meanwhile, most of Jin Kazama enemies such as Paul, Brian and Nina have western names, blond hair, very arrogance in characteristics and often look down to the local fighters. We could also see this kind negative characteristics of Western people in Asian live-action movies such as Ip Man, which the opponent is an American boxer who is also looked down to Chinese Kung Fu. Most of the action or martial arts anime would have the similar storyline. The local hero will be defeated at first before making a major comeback and defeat the Western enemy at the end.

Most of the anime in the early days were not intended for Western consumers. I am sure that the Western colonization on Japan have caused the Japanese people to hate Western people and eventually had become the major factor that influenced anime to promote hatred towards western character. If we observe most of the anime characters, it is the light skin with blond hair characters who have the arrogant and hot-tempered characteristics. In some cases, the cartoonist indirectly links a demonic character with the Western attribute. In the anime named Devil May Cry, Dante, who is half human and half demon was created with grey hair, an English man face and wears a long English coat.

However, as time passes towards modernization, the Occidentalising of anime were decreased and simplified. Apart from explicit demonization towards the Western, there are also implicit approach of demonization. Anime usually describe the western countries as the evil conqueror of the world, meanwhile Japan is the saviour and the leader of the unfortunate countries. Surprisingly, during the second World War, the Japanese armies had colonized the countries such as Malaysia from the campaign “Asia is for Asian people” which represent Japan as the hero to fight the British.

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Self-orientalised internationalization is another form of Orientalism that developed because of the cultural exchanges among the East and the West countries. It can be understood as the group or nation personal construct of their self-image (Dirlik, 1994). It is different from Orientalism as it provides the power or idea on how Japan can be a lot better than other Asian countries and become a part of Asian and different from them at the same time. It can also be explained as making Japan as the clone of the West countries. In some aspects such as technology and economy, Japan considers itself as the leader country in Asia. In other words, Japan wanted the Asian countries to idolize them just as the world idolize the Western countries. As Japan actively growing themselves globally, the self-orientalised internationalization has been adapted in the production of anime.

Some of the famous Japanese comic books such as Hating the Korean Wave and Introduction to China, describe the Korean and Chinese as the low status people (Onishi, 2005). The negative description towards the Korean and Chinese characters might be developed because of the Japan rivalry with China and Korea government. The Second World War had caused a major impact that caused Japanese self-orientalised internationalisation. The colonization of some parts of Korea and China by the Japanese armies did influence the negative presentation of the characters. In some episodes of Detective Conan, there are murderers who are Chinese. Besides, the with the help of Conan, Kogoro Mauri had become a very famous detective. Because of his reputation other countries highly adore him and describe him as the best detectives in the world. Indirectly, it portrays that people rely on Kogoro Mauri, who is Japanese to guide them and at the same time, the anime belittles the Chinese by presenting them as murderer. Another example of self-orientalised internalization of anime can be seen in Square Enix game that they collaborate with Disney called Kingdom Heart. The game is about a Japanese hero named Sora, who is also known as Roxas in the dream world. Roxas collaborated with the famous Disney cartoon which are Mickey mouse, Goofy and Donald duck to save other Disney characters from evil forces. Some of the characters that they helped are Mulan and Aladdin. The dual identity of Sora or Roxas could be understood as Japan is the imitation of western among the Asian countries. The collaboration of Sora (Roxas) with the Disney character could be interpreted as the Japanese are responsible in developing the growth of other countries. Meanwhile, the existence of Mulan who is Chinese and Aladdin who is Indian portrays the needs of undeveloped and developing countries needs for Japanese help and assistance.

However, the self-orientalism approach used by the Japanese conclude that they do not have enough power or influence to developed itself as the leader of the world nations. It is because, the approaches caused the Japanese to promote their country and cultural identity while a strong nation such as the West were already well-known without having to extremely promote themselves in their own stories and animations.


It would be unfair if people only view anime only from the animation perspectives. From my understanding regarding the development of anime, the most essential component as anime is its ability to attract people from different cultural background and indirectly promote them with the Japanese culture. Besides, the globalization of anime in the borderless world nowadays proves that people have become more open minded to celebrate the differences of cultures around the world. In a way, it explains that people were not racist as before and are willing to learn and understand other cultures so that they can learn to respect and avoids any actions that could possibly offense the people from other cultures.

The cultural politics approaches that I have explained before concluded that popular culture of a nation is more than just a national identity. It could be the medium of globalization and become very political that develops soft power, especially in this era of globalization. Anime is unique compared to Western animation as it has constantly changed from time to time. Anime might be the used to spread the message of war or nationalism propaganda during the early days. After a few years, people might watch anime for entertainment purposes. Surprisingly, as stated before, it could be the medium to spread indirect political agenda without people realizing it.

Personally, I believe that are the reasons why anime is differ from the Western animation. We could observe that anime is consumed by the group of people from different ages. Meanwhile, the Western animations such as Disney is consumed by a specific and small group of consumers such as kids and families. Although anime was originally from Japan, today, most of anime’s consumers never said that anime was part of Japanese cultural colonization. The popularization of anime is a global cultural phenomenon and it should not be identified according to any Japanese culture. The globalisation of anime should be understood as a cross-cultural success between its global approach through cultural odourless approach, and the culture of Japanese itself.


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