Anime isn’t a medium

Kaiji (2007)

‘Anime is a medium, not a genre’, they say. But the word doesn’t normally mean a medium in English.

Animation is a medium, and so is television, in a different sense. In English, anime usually isn’t identical with ‘animation’ and is never identical with ‘television’.

Granted, English-speakers do choose among several competing senses when they use the word anime. None of the typical senses, however, describes a medium:

  • ‘Japanese animation’ isn’t a medium.
  • ‘Animation for people over the age of eight’ isn’t a medium.
  • ‘Animation with a style of character design like that in the light novel adaptation du jour’? Still not a medium.
  • ‘Animation which Netflix wants to sell to teenagers and younger adults’ is totally not a medium.

Of course, people should feel welcome to use anime in the Japanese sense within English sentences if they desperately want to: no one pays me to tell others what to say.

Those who do so ought, however, to expect to confuse their audiences, much as they would if they invited someone to a mansion which turned out to be a flat. (Or, as some other varieties of English have it, an ‘apartment’.) Plus, to be honest, if someone sets themselves out as a fan of animation in general, they must prepare to own it. I will expect opinions on Fehérlófia.

Anime is neither a genre nor a medium.

7 thoughts on “Anime isn’t a medium

  1. I like to think that if a time comes in which people get serious about these distinctions, I’d rather have Anime’s definition widen, and overtake “animation” as the name for the medium. Purely in the interest of representing the most culturally dominant force in the medium currently known as “animation”.


    1. Thank you for the comment! Meanings tend to change organically through mass use, rather than through people gathering to make choices about what words should mean. (That only works with specific terms used in very small speech communities, such as a group of scientific experts who can feasibly meet to agree a strict definition for a word which only they use.) So in practice it’s likely that if the sense of ‘anime’ changes in English it’ll never be because people made a set of conscious choices about it. You can see tensions arising in practice in the now longstanding tradition of people fencing over whether someone in (e.g.) Beirut can draw/animate in ‘an anime style’, and if they do so whether what they make is ‘anime’.

      For what it’s worth, I have some hesitations over the idea of ‘anime’ simply replacing ‘animation’ in English. It would represent an impoverishment of the language, because we would go from two words usually meaning two different things to just one word with one meaning. I don’t know whether anime’s dominance is uncomplicated (the work of computer games animators based in the US might reach more eyeballs, for instance), and it’d be legitimate for someone to adopt the position that, dominant or otherwise, anime isn’t the most /interesting/ part of world animation. I would disagree with them, but I would sympathise with their instinct not to make popularity a stand-in for value.

      But of course I don’t get to decide these things. We’ll have to see how language develops in the coming decades!


      1. lol, I’m just kidding around. I obviously don’t think anything that I’ve proposed will happen, just as I don’t think enough people are ever going to get worked up enough about Anime being called a medium to seriously try to get others to stop saying that it is. To call it a medium is off the mark, but calling it a medium gives it the respect it deserves and often doesn’t get. Better it to be considered a medium than a genre, I say.

        If you would so indulge me, In this hypothetical situation in which you or I had executive dominion over the definitions of these words; when I say that Anime (hypothetically) would be a better term fit to represent the medium as a whole, this means that the legacy term would have it’s definition shrink. “Animation” would mean specifically American cartoons, of a more antiquated sensibility, a small subset of the medium which no longer has dominance in the way Anime does.

        Additionally, if we’re considering the media art that is the most popular, surely the blockbuster films loaded up with CG “Animation” integrated into live action would have to reign supreme, dwarfing video games, would they not?


    2. Anime and western animation have totally different frame rates and creation procedures. Conflating the two is just a disservice to both


    1. In my own usage—which, as you’ve correctly picked up, I carefully avoided putting into the main post—‘anime’ is something for which English has no general noun: a culturally-geographically delimited slice of a medium. That makes it roughly equivalent to ‘Chilean sculpture’ or ‘Iranian architecture’. Obviously it has fuzzy edges, but that’s not a problem for the concept itself: the fact that ‘Is Samuel Beckett a French writer?’ is a viable question doesn’t mean there’s no useful category of ‘French writing’.

      Liked by 1 person

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