Subs or dubs?
If you understand that question, you’re probably a fan of anime. This Japanese animation style has caught on across the globe. But just how popular has anime grown?
Streaming giant Netflix doesn’t often share viewer statistics with the public. But the company recently announced that half its subscribers watch anime. That’s about 111 million people.
So Netflix plans to expand its anime offerings. It will release 40 new anime shows—and that’s not counting new seasons of the shows Netflix already makes.
Netflix is tapping into a growing cultural trend. Over the last decade, anime’s popularity has exploded. To watch anime, fans used to hunt down physical DVDs or visit clunky websites. But today, streaming services like Netflix and Crunchyroll make it easy to find animated movies and shows from Japan. One no longer needs to search for anime to find it. It already pops up on the home screens of most favorite streaming apps. Non-Japanese-speaking viewers can watch with subtitles (“subs”) or with re-recorded, overdubbed dialogue (“dubs”).
But what is anime? And how does this Japanese animation style differ from American cartoons?
In Western countries like America, people usually think of animation as something for families or kids. After all, the first full-length animated film to hit theaters was Disney’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Snow White’s influence would hit Japan eight years later, during World War II. At that time, Japan and America were enemies. The first Japanese animated film—Momotaro, Sacred Sailors—was a propaganda movie made by Japan’s navy.
America continued making animated movies for children. But in Japan, the medium evolved. Japanese artists and filmmakers used anime to tell all sorts of stories—stories for children, stories for grownups, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and more. So viewer beware: One must ascertain anime’s intentions—and some of its content—with care. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s for kids! Japan treats animated media the same way Western culture treats live-action media.
Like all artforms, anime offers a mixed bag. Some anime can remind us of God’s beauty and show us the value of virtue. Other anime might instead celebrate violence and evil. Fans need to use wisdom and discernment when choosing what to watch.
But for the growing number of viewers outside Japan, anime provides a window to experience and appreciate another culture. Audiences accustomed to Hollywood cartoons can find unfamiliar and exciting stories.
Why? Foreign art forms like anime offer a peek into other cultures, but we always need to use godly wisdom when choosing what media to consume.