What’s the difference between anime and cartoons to you? Which is better for story-telling?
The challenge when comparing two visual mediums is that there will always be proponents for either side that are more than willing to stand up and disagree with your opinion. Usually, they are so well versed with their visual flavour-of-choice that they can easily refer to an examples of shows and franchises that counterpoint any generalizations made. Thankfully, that doesn’t make any observations of the visual media landscape any less valid. With that in mind, I’ll ask both fans of anime and cartoons to calm their hormones while entertaining my commentary.
The first difference between the two visual mediums is that cartoons have their origins in print media (19th century newspapers and magazines) and anime has its origins in Western cartoons (seriously, the earliest known piece of Japanese animation is a 1917 two-minute cartoon of a samurai testing a blade on a target – eleven years after the first Western animated cartoon, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces). So while the Japanese may have “mastered” visual animation, they certainly didn’t invent it. A terrifying notion to Otaku, I’m sure.
Things become more distinct between the two forms of visual media once we hit the 1930s, when animated cartoons entered their “golden age” and Japanese animation (often shortened to anime, due to the japanese pronunciation of the english world “animation”) becomes a more prominent alternative format to live-action storytelling in Japan. With time, both forms would evolve. Western cartoons were mostly relegated to serialized short stories until Walt Disney moved into the feature film space with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. The success of that film profoundly influenced many Japanese animators and artists like Osamu Tezuka would even go on to adapt and simplify many Disney classics as animes in Japan. These advanced Western cartoons would eventually lead to feature length Japanese animes, with realistic human features and an exaggerated form of the whimsical humour typically associated with cartoons.
Looking at the modern landscape, the common stereotype regarding cartoons is that they are extremely short, often cheaply animated television shows. These cartoons are usually coupled with video games and/or toys and have little character or plot progression. To contrast, modern anime often bears the stigma of proportionally large eyes, unrealistic hairstyles and hair colours, character immaturity, excessive violence, and female oversexualization. Generalizations about both mediums are hard to swallow as there are many examples for and against them.
Personally, I view anime as having very beautiful characters and environments, usually set alongside more serious plots. To contrast, I view cartoons as being fairly lighthearted and fun, with plots that are easier to pick up and put down. It’s almost impossible to say for certain which one is better for storytelling purposes, as they often tell very different stories. For instance, I love Neon Genesis Evangelion because of the depth of its narrative and the melodrama that accompanies its beautiful animation. However, I’d be much more inclined to watch Adventure Time on a regular basis because it is fun and doesn’t require that you adhere to every aspect of the plot. Both anime and cartoons offer something different and awesome; comparing them just seems wrong.