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Impact Of American Comic Book On Culture In Japan

Impact of American Comic Books on Japanese Culture

America is constantly linked to Japan with this relationship tracing as far back as the Second World War with these two countries either being friends or foes. When discussing Manga, the Japanese comic, it often traces its history to the American comics. Even though Japan does have its own superheroes such as Godzilla and Astroboy, it is hard to deny that American comics have impacted the creation of Japanese superheroes and also that it has had a distinct impact on the Japanese culture as a whole. This essay will examine this influence through analyzing how American comic books have impacted on Japanese culture.

Whereas artists all over the world have brought together images and narratives throughout history, the development of the American comic strip had a significant impact on Japanese culture. These strips were largely published in newspapers as well as magazines and when they first arrived in Japan, they were published in English as well as Japanese and artists including Rakuten Kitazawa and Ippei Okamoto travelled to the United States in order to study cartooning (MacWilliams 14). The presence of American forces in Japan throughout World War II gave the Japanese the chance to interact with characters including Blondie, Krazy Kat, Popeye, and Superman. It was in this time that artists such as Osamu Tezuka began to both draw and publish his own works drawing inspiration from both American culture as well as the experiences that he had growing up in Japan (Ito 460).

Early examples of Japanese comic books are significantly impacted and in some instances exact adaptations of American comic art. They mirror strong American influences with regard to aspects including design of the characters, angling and layout of the panel. Tetsuwan Atomu or Mighty Atom is a character that was first introduced by Osamu Tezuka considered as the most popular comic artist in Japan was significantly influenced by American comic strips and animation, especially Walt Disney, and much of Tezuka’s work bears a close resemblance to that of Carl Banks, an American artist, who is well known for animal comics (Black 23). In much the same way as American comic books, many of the early artists in Japan modeled their characters in a simplified manner that as essentially meant to convey a sense of humor to the younger readers. In this instance, simplification meant to capture the essence of emotion and therefore create a stronger emotional link with the reader (Evanier 34).

When he made his first appearance in Captain Atom, Atom had a pointy and plastic hairstyle that was seen as a reflection of Mickey Mouse’s ears while his briefs and red boots bore a similarity to Superman. Inspite of attempts to later change the design of Atom, he became well known as the Japanese form of Superman (Gabilliet 29). The presence of American comic books led Japanese to view comic books as a product of culture to be enjoyed by all market segments, especially boys and girls, and animation to be viewed as a cultural product that could be read by anyone. This was a critical turning point since it meant that from then on fans of animation could begin to actively deal with any type of opposition. Fans of comic books became more willing to support the reading of comic books as is evidenced by the growing popularity of Manga, Japanese comics (Gravett 39).

At present, animation is deeply integrated into the daily lives of Japanese playing a critical role not only in emotional development but also education (Gravett 40). American comic books were largely about superheroes striving to save the world and while subsequent Japanese animators did use this as a basis, they moved on to incorporate aspects of tradition and actual depictions of the lives of ordinary Japanese. Consider as an example the use of comic books during World War II to call out on instances of government corruption, an aspect which would not have been possible had not Japanese animators already been taught by American comic book creators on the power of animation and how it can be used in the real world (Ito 456).

In Japan, American comics and animation still enjoy some form of popularity among young artists as well as consumers. However, Japanese artists do have mixed feelings regarding these comics since, on one hand, they learn from these comics and, on the other hand, they face extreme pressure from the government as well as publishers to cut down on American influence in order to actively develop Japanese style comics as well as animation (Meadows & Marshall 48). Japanese animators have become familiar with the American style not only by studying it themselves but also through job training. Hundreds of Japanese animators work for Americans in creating American animation in Japan. Under American supervision as well as guidance, they are often tasked with such work as doming up with details and backgrounds as well as coloring and digitalizing. Indeed the large majority of Japanese cartoons shown on television are made in the United States. Japanese animators still continue to learn from the Americans through this division of labor with regard to production of animation (Phillips 23).

American comics and animation while declining in their impact over the years still continue to show a presence on Japanese popular culture as well as its entertainment industry especially on movies and television dramas (Power 41). In Japanese comics, the clearest impact is the continued adoption of American comic book superheroes. For instance, Wolverine is one of the most popular figures of the American X men franchise who has been re-imagined in Japanese and given a storyline that takes him back to Japan to search for a woman he loves (Power 42).

It is however important to note that some Japanese producers and directors have often ignored copyright when they adapt American comics into Japanese movies. They can do so because they make use of titles that have been translated into Japanese as opposed to the American original titles (Schodt 34). American artists as well as companies often only own the copyrights of American titles and not the titles that have been translated. In an effort to avoid legal liability, Japanese directors and scriptwriters often make changes to the story in some instances turning the American background to a Japanese one and the protagonists in the story into Japanese (Schodt 35).

Moreover, some Japanese movies adopt names from titles from Japanese titles of popular American comics and animated series such as what was done with Spiderman which was changed to Spider-Man: The Manga. Elements and expressions of humor expressed in American comics as well as animated series such as falling on the ground when one is surprised have become popular in Japanese comedies (Phillipps 32). Some American comics and animated series such as Blade, Iron Man and the X Men have all been turned into Japanese anime. Even though the settings and characters have been changed, individuals who are familiar with American comic books can easily tell that they are editions of American comics (Meadows & Marshall 50).

American cartoons help to boost Japanese pop which is the reason why Japanese artists continue to make covers of American theme songs for popular television cartoons such as Ben 10 and the Japanese version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some of these versions such as the Japanese version of  Transformers Animated  whose theme song by JAM Project  still remains one of the most popular songs to date (Ito 462). The influence of American comics and animation is especially felt in Japanese television dramas as in the example of the Spider Man series which was produced for television in 1978. Another follow up was made of a counterpart of Captain America that was referred to as Battle Fever J (Ito 463).

Seemingly, language does not pose as a barrier to the adoption of the elements of American comic books. This is attributed to the fact that American mass culture still continues to be a mass phenomenon and as Japan increasingly develops into a society that is highly urbanized and well educated, its people increasingly make use of American comic books to expand on its own culture in an effort to be more globalised(MacWilliams 16). The impact of the American culture has been met with a large amount of concern especially regarding how it affects its young people. This culture has a global phenomenon that has a wide number of values that are in direct contrast with those of Japanese society especially when one considers that as a part of the globalization of media, American comics as well as animation have long had a distinct history of exporting their works (Gravett 459).

As a result of the presence of American comics, Japanese were encouraged to come up with their own comics referred to as Manga. This market has grown and the genres have become even more diversified. Even though it was based on American comic book influences, the Manga market has grown to such an extent where it has spread to Japans’ neighbors (Meadows & Marshall 52). However, in making an analysis of the level of exportation of Japan’s cultural products including its comics have not had the level of penetration globally as American comic books did. Undoubtedly, Japanese Manga is deeply ingrained within American culture but it has essentially remodeled its production and consumption to the extent that it cannot be thought of as a second rate copy of the American comic book industry. What Japan has done is ensure that its comic books are both global and Asian at the same time (Black 25).

To Japanese readers, American comics were a representation of a culture that was exotic in nature however, it was Japanese artists who undertook to learn from these comics and adapt them in a manner that would appeal to their readers.  Indeed Japan has relatively been more isolated which meant that it was a bit more restricted in the foreign influences that it was subjected to (Phillips 26). This is the reason why the flourishing of the Manga in the 1950s and 1960s was seen as an active reflection of the change that Japanese culture was making towards adoption of a mass culture and the distinct impact that the American culture had on the Japanese and more importantly how this led to a rise of Manga within modern Japan (Schodt 38).

In a similar nature to American comic books, Manga sought to provide a release from the school or work environment that was often controlled since it was a silent activity that could be carried out in isolation. In this regard, comic books served a social function for many Japanese providing them with information concerning the beliefs, values as well as practices of their own culture (Power 45). This is the reason why Japanese publishers of Manga enjoyed a large amount of success after World War II since they were viewed as having both Western and Asian influences. Unlike American comic books, Japanese Manga provided the chance for modernity to be infused within an Asian image and for the Asian audience to be exposed to a culture that they could easily identify with and that was far more accessible. This is what ensures that audiences, especially those from Asian countries to both only understand but also empathies with the characters (Evanier 37).

Presently, the presence of Japanese comic books is even more widespread than that of American ones attributed to perceptions of cultural similarity or proximity. Japanese culture has been heavily impacted by American comic books and media as a whole. However rather than being overtaken by American products and therefore be colonized by America, Japan quickly moved to ensure that these influences were integrated and localized and only appropriating some of the original (Gabilliet 35). As a whole then, Japanese producers of comic books are driven by the belief that the American influence in their products will in the long run be integrated into the products that are produced locally. In this regard Japanese Manga in much the same way as other Japanese cultural products have become a distinct hybridization of aspects of modernity and brought together with traditional attitudes and also a distinct reflection of modern living. In this regard, even though Japanese as a whole were wary of American presence in the country and what was perceived as the cultural imperialism, they did embrace the influence that American comic brought especially as it encouraged their own writers to come up with their own distinct creations far from what was brought into Japanese culture by American soldiers during World War II (Black 27-28).


American comic books have had significant impact on Japanese culture creating a background for the rise of Japan’s own Manga culture. Moreover, elements of American comic books have been incorporated into Japanese television shows and movies although some of their aspects have been changed such as characters and settings have been changed. Japan has been able to incorporate elements of American culture and integrated them to be acceptable to their culture and this is seen as the reason for the growing popularity of Manga since audiences feel a sense of accessibility and familiarity with the characters. Influences of American comic books can clearly be seen in the early works of Manga artists who incorporated aspects of Mickey Mouse and Superman. While this evolved over time, Japanese culture still continue to incorporate American aspects into their animation while at the same time endeavoring to ensure that it still remains authentically Japanese. 

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