No Otaku can claim not to have been plagued with this question at least once or twice. Of course, Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest anime series ever to grace our screens. But the question that begs to be answered still hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
Over the years, we have witnessed the evolution of animation. We have seen Traditional animation, 2D animation, 3D animation, Motion Graphics, and Stop motion. Anime adopts 2D animation. There have been a few calls for animes to be created in 3D, but faithful anime viewers have gotten used to being entertained in 2D.
First off, isn’t anime just animation? What is the difference between the two? Well, anime is simply the Japanese word for animation. Japanese call all kinds of animations anime. However, transporting this word to non-Japanese natives, they simply call all animation productions made in Japanese anime.
So, technically, the answer to Avatar: The Last Airbender being an anime is no… and yes. From the non-native Japanese perspective, it has all the characteristics of the average Japanese anime. However, it was not made in Japan, so it fails the ‘right to be called an anime’ test. But from the Japanese standpoint, any animation, irrespective of the nation it was created, is an anime.
However, we understand that the animes (we call Japan-made animation that from now on) have a few characteristics that make them distinct from other anime kinds. We discuss some of these characteristics below.
Is Avatar Anime? Understanding What Makes Anime!
COMPLEXITY IN ITS PLOTS
We know animes have a distinctive plot type that takes some time for their viewers to grasp. These plots are not like normal animation plots. Typically, it could take 50 to sixty episodes in order to properly exhaustively develop a storyline. Plot development itself takes dozens of episodes before it is adequately developed before the viewers catch a whiff of the direction that the anime is taking.
Also, the anime characters tend to be complex as well. Contemporary animated movies have their characters develop a personality trait or two and lay emphasis on these personalities. On the other hand, the design of anime characters is more complex. They tend to develop these characters in a way that they have different layers. This helps them to present the viewers with a person with various personality traits.
For instance, Yagami Light in Death Note is a very complex character whose character was so complex, a faction loved him so much and wished there was someone like him in reality, while another faction out-rightly condemned his actions and said the world does not need a human being having such powers.
Also, different characters are also introduced to the storyline to make it rich and fascinating. This causes the length of the story to be satisfactorily stretched without it being too excessive.
FOCUS on Adults
The traditional animations are usually made for both young and old to enjoy. It is the same with anime. There are even anime specifically made for kids. However, the characteristics of the plots in the world of anime reach the adult populace better than the children.
If we take into consideration the attention span of children, they will find it difficult to complete some anime. For instance, the length of the likes of ‘Naruto’ and the almighty ‘One Piece’ (which is yet to be completed, by the way) makes even a few adults grumble. Only adults can easily keep up with the lengthy episodes and engage the plot twists encountered in various arcs properly.
Most anime storylines are adult-themed. Most anime have the ability to reach different kinds of people of various age ranges and cultures. However, anime often places its focus on adults. The humor incorporated into it is majorly enjoyed by the adult populace as it is mostly injected to lighten up the dark theme that only adults can comprehend.
EXAGGERATED PHYSICAL FEATURES
Another distinctive feature of anime is the character’s physical features. While most of the characters may have a normal body outlook, there are a few exaggerations and peculiarities of their facial expressions or reactions. Facial expressions, actions, and the colors used are exaggerated to show the state of mind of a particular character at that moment.
For instance, in some animes, one way to know if an anime character is thinking about something rated 18+ is the blood running down the nose of the individual without physical violence inflicted in them. Another instance is the use of a large teardrop to depict embarrassment.
One of the most visually noticed physical exaggerations can be found in the eyes of the character. Sometimes, these eyes can be depicted on the character’s face larger than usual. To show more emotion, the eyes are the main outlets to depict what the character is going through or what is going through his/her mind.
Another physical feature that anime have that separates them from other animation types is the wide variety of hair types of their characters. Most of the characters have unnaturally wild and colored hair types. For instance, Naruto has spikey orange hair that fits well enough with his outfit, Yuji Itadori from Jijutsu Kaisen has pink hair, Khun Aguero from Tower of God has rowdy blue hair, among others.
One last characteristic of anime is something known as limited animation. Amines are 2D animation productions, so they are created with certain techniques. Unlike other animation types, anime uses Limited animation. The limited animation technique is the utilization of certain pieces of a scene that are reused in the next scene.
This way, all the artiste needs to do is to draw new elements in the former scene instead of creating a new scene every time.
One of the advantages of using limited animation is that it basically reduces cost. It also takes lesser time, unlike other animation techniques.
Having learned what an anime is and what it is not, so we ask the question once again…
Is Avatar an anime?
Even though Avatar tends to have a sprinkle of a few of the characters above, and it borrows a lot of cultural connotations from the Asian culture, it cannot be categorized as what the West calls anime. It is obvious that Japanese anime heavily influenced the creation of Nickelodeon’s Avatar. Here are a few similarities it has with the traditional anime that makes people think it’s anime.
As stated earlier, Asian culture heavily influences the creation of Avatar. It didn’t adopt one particular culture. For instance, the Earth Kingdom has its roots in Chinese culture, and the Southern Asian Cultures are sources of inspiration for the Fire Nation.
Most animes come from Japanese culture, so it is no surprise that people think of Avatar as an anime also.
ARCS AND STORY ELEMENTS
Anime has this similarity in their storylines that their main characters have to go through great trials until they reach the peak of their strengths and stand above all else. Avatar has the same walkthrough as Aang had to overcome a lot of fears and obstacles and to develop into a person strong enough to overcome the fire nation, and of course, not forgetting the place of the power of friendship.
Anime is known for diving into various story arcs that seem of the trajectory of the actual storyline. However, these serve as a sort of a reveal of certain personality traits that will make the viewers understand a few decisions that a character might make that seem out of character. Avatar has that also, and an example is in Book Three, where Zuko, Azula, Tai Lee, and Mai had a whole episode dedicated to them chilling at the beach.
So Why is Avatar The Last Airbender Anime?
The fact is Avatar is extremely similar to anime as it checks most of the boxes. However, people need to understand that anime is an industry. The Avatar franchise was not made in the anime industry. It’s almost like saying an Indian Super Hero movie like Krrish is a Hollywood movie simply because of its similarities to Marvel or DC comic movies. This can be said in the case of Avatar: The Last Airbender.