For those who grew up in the ‘golden age’ of anime television during the 90s, the current state of the anime medium here in the West has become a sorry sight for sore eyes. Back in the day, the likes of Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were the sole reason children from across Europe and the USA would run home from school and park their noses about 3 inches away from the television screen ready to catch up on the latest adventures of their favourite anime’s. The bright colours, unique story-lines, detailed backstories and connected toys, games and cards turned anime from a small cult-like phenomena into an obsession for an entire generation. Now the anime genre has returned back to it’s relatively niche status in the Western hemisphere, with only the likes of Attack on Titan and One Punch Man holding up the baton of pure anime.
However, what if the legacy of the 90s golden age is a lot more prominent than may at first be apparent? What if anime’s influence has’t been reduced, just transformed? Notable works from a number of contemporary western animations have been subtly influenced by the anime genre. From The Simpsons, South Park, and of course,Adventure Time, all have been heavily influenced by Japanese anime; here’s how.
Expanding Dogs, Wingless Unicorns and Sailor Moon
The influence of anime on Adventure Time can be seen in the most obvious, and the subtlest of places. The most obvious easter egg might be in the series’ frequent use of ‘anime eyes’ as pictured above. This unique, overly expressive technique for drawing eyes, with a focus on their large, spherical shape, dotted with a number of smaller whitened circles around the pupil clearly originated from the anime genre. Also, the fact that Jake and his girlfriend; Lady Raincorn both speak Korean is another nod to the shows oriental leanings. In fact Jake and Lady have come to some what symbolise how much the Far East has influenced the series. Being set in a rural area where one of the main characters; Jake, can expand and shrink in size is clearly inspired by perhaps Studio Ghibli’s most famous film; My Neighbour Totoro.
Jake’s girlfriend; Lady is also a character partially inspired by another famous Ghibli release; Spirited Away. Despite being a unicorn with the ability to fly Lady Raincorn doesn’t have wings. This is a reflection of Japanese mythology where their dragons, despite having the ability to fly also, never had wings either. This is most famously shown with the fiery character; Haku in Spirited Away. However, dragons in Western mythology, for example in The Lord of the Rings, or St. George’s Dragon, did have wings. Even many unicorns in the West have wings. Therefore a key difference between Western mythology and Japanese mythology is that flying mythological creatures in the West do traditionally have wings, whereas in Japan they don’t. So the fact that the creators of Adventure Time specifically chose to draw a Korean speaking unicorn without wings cannot be an accident.
Another easter egg is in the Adventure Time episode ‘Fiona and Cake’. This is the episode where Jake and Finn are replaced by female versions of themselves. The dress Fiona wears to her prom in this episode is a replica of the famous Sailor Moon dress as pictured below. Yet another example of how the aesthetic appearance of characters are inspired by a wide variety of anime characters in Adventure Time.
Not Just a Pretty Face
Anime’s influence on Adventure Time transcends beyond the aesthetic however. They’re not just inspired by the look and feel of the genre, but also by it’s content. Many have cited that a lot of the actual stories told in the Adventure Time have been heavily influenced by writer/director David Lynch’s infamously unnerving and mind-warping works. However, the Adventure Time team weren’t the first animators to try introducing a ‘Lynchian’ quality to their work. Over in Japan, acclaimed writer and director Satoshi Kon released a number of films that were clearly influenced by Lynch’s films such as Blue Valentine, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. Although creator of Adventure Time; Pendleton Ward has never explicitly said that he has been influenced by Kon’s work, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to assume he is, especially given the already massive influence Kon has had on Western cinema. Satoshi Kon was the first to at least prove that Lynchian cinema can be converted onto the animated format.
An anime creator Adventure Time creators have explicitly admitted to being influenced by however is director; Massaaki Yuasa. This can be seen in the fact that he was asked to write and direct an entire episode of Adventure Time – Food Chain. This meant that for one episode at least Adventure Time not only drew influence from the anime genre, but arguably became an anime in it’s own right as well. This decision was also perhaps the clearest indicator of the shows love for anime.
Beyond the Land of Ooo
As earlier specified, Adventure Time hasn’t been the only contemporary animation to step onto the anime bandwagon. The Simpsons, perhaps America’s most famous animated series ever, devoted an entire sequence to their love for Studio Ghibli. EvenSouth Park, based an episode off the aforementioned My Neighbour Totoro and lesser known animated works such as Stevens Universe owes a lot to the anime medium in terms of it’s aesthetic, sound-effects, sound-track and light-hearted storylines.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Perhaps the most famous American novelist of the 20th century; Earnest Hemingway, always implicitly linked great art with astute honesty. He once said “all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know”. I think honesty has also been a key theme in Adventure Time as well. Perhaps the most obvious reflection of this was in the episode ‘what was missing’, an episode where the plot rested in the characters discovering the power of honesty in the songs they sing and the art they create. All aspects of the show have always been unapologetically honest. From the stories they tell, the characters they draw, the songs they sing, to the artists they are inspired by, the only connecting theme in a show that is all about variation, is it’s counter-balance of absolute honesty. Any episode Adventure Time releases is filled with a platitude of colour, a symphony of sound and a maze of plot twists and turns. However the undercurrent of truth is always there. As a result the emotions they convey resonate in a more meaningful way than any of it’s other contemporaries. This can also attribute why in a time where all western animations, not just Adventure Time, steal from anime’s of the 90s, their references still stand out. This is because they’re not just parading the design or look of the Japanese genre, they are drawing genuine inspiration from it’s content. Rather than anime’s influence on Adventure Time being in the form of a 10 minute sequence, or in an episode or two, anime’s influence of Adventure Time is marked in a more permanent form. It can be seen in it’s main characters, it’s most popular stories and even the creators themselves. In Adventure Time’s pursuit to convey absolute honesty, it is always willing to go one step further than the rest, and as such stand taller higher than the rest.
What I love most about Adventure Time is that it’s not afraid to look beyond, well beyond the animated genre in drawing inspiration for it’s style and content. This has been a theme common in almost all recent animated series. With Rick and Morty clearly being influenced by the Back to the Future franchise, Archer paradying pretty much the entire spy/thriller genre and Bojack Horseman being influenced by, well everything, Adventure Time also draws from a number of unconventional and unassuming works. And this can perhaps best be seen in it’s leaning towards the Japanese anime genre. As suchAdventure Time has managed to find new and inventive ways of using the animated forum to tell original, unique and inspired stories that work as well with adults as they do with children. And it is for this reason that I love Adventure Time so much.