Five Picks for Western Cartoons Inspired by Japanese Anime
If there’s any lingering doubt that anime isn’t mainstream yet, then let that doubt be silenced. This week, Disney released its new anime anthology series, Star Wars: Visions, on Disney+. Teaming up with half a dozen animation studios in Japan, this series of shorts will merge one of the most enduring epics in modern culture with the Japanese cartoons that are now prevalent in Western culture. However, the road to this match-seemingly-made-in-Heaven was a long one. For decades, western animator’s have derived inspiration from their Japanese counterparts, and it shows in a lot of their work. Don’t believe me? Here are five picks for Western Cartoons that were inspired by anime.
Full disclosure: for this article, we will focusing on shows that were wholly inspired by anime in terms of animation, genre, and overall themes. In other words, no using shows that simply contain references to anime
Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra
We’re just going to get the most obvious example out of the way. Avatar: the Last Airbender is considered (and rightfully so) one of the greatest animated series ever made. In fact, it’s probably so well known at this point (thank you, Netflix), that I’m not even going to bother explaining the plot to you. Instead, I’m just going to touch on the anime influences abundant in this legendary cartoon.
Firstly, series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have made it no secret that they got much of the inspiration for the world of Avatar from the work of Hayao Miyazaki. Nicknamed “the Walt Disney of Jap+an,” Miyazaki’s renowned for his unique, often otherworldly animation style. Avatar took Miyazaki’s work to heart, with the creatures making up its world being the kind that Miyazaki would create. In addition, the show’s main protagonist embodies many of Miyazaki’s ideals of peace and balance with nature.
While not as widely regarded as its predecessor, The Legend of Korra continues the themes found in Avatar, while also expanding into other anime genres. They have steampunk mecha’s now! MECHAS!
Steven Universe is one of the most important cartoons to come out in the last ten years, and everyone knows it. This Emmy award-winning series has garnered fans from all over the world, and received praise for its representation of the LGBTQ+ community and overall themes of love and acceptance of oneself. It’s also not really a secret that it gets a lot of inspiration from anime.
There’s Steven Universe himself, a young boy trying to learn how to control his magical powers. He’s basically a boy version of the magical girl that you find in a lot of anime, with all the kindness that comes with it. As far as the action goes, the show’s fighting sequences take influence from the ever-popular Shonen genre, with examples like the Dragon Ball franchise coming to mind. But beyond the surface-level influences, Steven Universe takes inspiration in another, more subtle way. Much like Avatar: the Last Airbender, Steven Universe wasn’t afraid of shying away from concepts that a lot of kid’s shows wouldn’t touch. War, racism, discrimination, and abusive relationships were all given focus in Steven Universe, and you’d be surprised how many Shonen anime deal with these kinds of concepts.
Keep in mind, Shonen anime is aimed at young boys. They’re teaching boys about this kind of stuff!
Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Get ready to get a little weird and a little wild with Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Airing on Disney and Disney XD from 2015 to 2019, Star vs. is, essentially, a western magical girl show. The show follows the titular Star Butterfly, who can sum herself up with this one, hilarious sentence.
While the show had its ups and downs at times, there’s no denying that Star got its inspiration from anime. Series creator Daron Nefcy admitted she was a big fan of Sailor Moon growing up. In fact, the original concept of the show had Star as a girl so obsessed with Sailor Moon, she thought she had actual magical powers. As the series progressed, it also began to tackle high-level concepts such as institutionalized discrimination and repression. In other words, the kind of stuff that a lot of anime wouldn’t be afraid to deal with. As for Star Butterfly herself. she would fit right in alongside the magical girl that inspired her. That, and she might be able to go toe-to-toe with her in a fight.
Star Wars: Clone Wars
Fun fact: when creating Star Wars, one of George Lucas’ biggest influences were the samurai films like that of Akira Kurosawa. In addition to George, these films also served as an influence on Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Sym-Bionic Titan, and Primal. It thus seems fitting that these influences would play a role in this now non-canon micro-series created by Tartakovsky.
Taking place in the gap between Attack of the Clones & Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Clone Wars merged the best of Samurai Jack with the space opera setting of Star Wars. There was minimal animation necessary, the animation did most of the talking over the dialogue, and the fight scenes were good enough to rival the best of anime. I mean, look at the introduction to General Grevious! Tell me that that doesn’t make scarier than he ended up being in the canon?
If you’ve read any of my work on this blog, then you’ll know that I’ve talked to death about Amphibia. This story of a human girl being trapped in a world of sentient amphibians is one of the best cartoons out there right, and I urge you to watch it. However, instead of gushing about the plot, I now want to discuss how anime seemed to influence this show.
Firstly, there’s the premise of the show itself. In Japan, there exists the concept of the isekai. Basically, it’s a genre of fiction where a normal person ends up finding themselves transported to another world, often against their will. Thus, they end up doing everything from just living in this new world to ending up becoming its savior. Amphibia has the same basic concept to it.
Secondly, there’s the visual style. A well-known hallmark of anime is the emphasis on exaggerated facial expressions. Amphibia has this in abundance, with several characters making over-the-top facial expressions that remind me of both classic Spongebob and anime. Either way, it’s hilarious.
In addition, and while this may not count, Amphibia takes a lot of cues from RPG’s like The Legend of Zelda. Series creator Matt Braly is a huge fan of Zelda, and he wears that love on his sleeve.
Lastly, there’s what happened in the final moments of the season two finale, “True Colors”. When Anne’s driven to new levels of despair, she ends up unlocking a magical transformation that looks a lot like that of a Super Saiyan from Dragonball. Some fans have even dubbed this form “Super Sai-Anne Blue”.
Look me in the eye and tell me that this moment doesn’t scream “anime” to you?