The Daily Beast's recent article about how Hollywood is allegedly plundering anime for inspiration is one of the worst-written pieces I have read in a long time about the longstanding creative cycle that exists between anime and Hollywood — or for that matter, anime and everything that's not anime. It is badly researched, cites examples that do not support its own thesis, and exhibits a near-total lack of understanding of the material it's allegedly about: Her is a ripoff of CLAMP's Chobits; Transcendence steals from Serial Experiments Lain -- no, I'm not making this up. In the end, it's just the hand-wringing of someone with an axe to grind about how brilliant and inventive anime isn't outselling the inane crap filling multiplexes (we know, we know). But beyond the poor construction of the argument and the shallowness of its conclusions, there is a worthy discussion to be had about how anime and Hollywood influence each other.

Such a discussion is way beyond the scope of any one article; you could easily fill a whole book about such a thing. In fact, folks like Roland Kelts have gone to great lengths to do just that, at least in terms of how East came to the West. But one thing that can be said in a space this small about the whole West-takes-from-East thing is that it isn't a one-way street, and it never has been. East and West have been taking from each other non-stop since the two first met, for the benefit of both. This also isn't a "Japan thing": it's in every culture's nature to borrow from other cultures, to syncretize and crossbreed. Japan's own history of doing so only makes it one culture among many to follow that process, whether it be in Japan using a slimmed-down version of China's pictographic writing system or Hideyoshi showing an affectation for Portuguese dress while in his castle.

If Hollywood is going to anime for ideas, that's only because it's in Hollywood's nature to go where any ideas might be found in the first place. But it's not like Japanese pop culture hasn't done the reverse. Consider Osamu Tezuka using the look of Disney films as a starting point and a springboard for his own work, which could in no way be called a plagiarism of Disney — if anything, it's been argued there's a legitimate case for the reverse being true in re Kimba: the White Lion. Or look at Black Lagoon, which draws at least as much on Lethal Weapon as it does Full Contact and Hard Boiled. If they take from us, it's not so much that it's only fair that we take them from — it's that we're both demonstrating how creativity is cyclical. And then there's the way many Japanese (or Korean, or what have you) live-action movies pattern themselves after the Hollywood blockbuster model.

There may be a case to be made against specific people lifting specific things, but such things need to be case-by-case analyses; they do not lend themselves to being combined into a class-action indictment of a whole creative culture. Sure, the Wachowskis allegedly showed Ghost in the Shell to Warner Brothers as a sign of how they wanted The Matrix to feel to audiences, and even dropped in a specific visual homage, but it does no one — certainly not anime fans or creators — a favor to call that greed or cynicism.

What I find most tiresome about these "who stole from whom" arguments is how they endeavor to miss the point. Taking an idea that someone else expressed and putting your own avowed spin on it is how creativity works; the only time it becomes problematic is when you rely that much more on specific details of the original expression. If Pacific Rim is an echo of Evangelion — something Guillermo del Toro has made no secret of — it's only because Del Toro drew on that as part of many other things, from giant-monster movies to giant-robot anime. He chose for flavor and variety, not specific ingredients: if our hero had been sullenly listening to a DAT Walkman, and his superiors had been only visible as blanked-out screens with the label AUDIO ONLY, etc., that would have been a legitimate complaint. But Rim didn't work that way, to everyone's benefit. And neither did Spike Jonze, or the Wachowskis, or anyone else that sees in anime something exciting and worth emulating.



About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@GanrikiDotOrg) is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.
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