People around the world are most likely familiar with Japanese animation and know that it comes from Japan. Some people are really into it and others are not. Regardless, it has spread all over the world. However, let’s take a moment to think about the reverse. What about American animation in Japan? What shows are available and what do people like? You might be surprised by the results.
Scooby Doo, where are you? Not in Japan!
A friend of mine was teaching some middle school students English and within a presentation, he had a picture of Scooby Doo and the other characters from that show. He was really stunned when there was no reaction from the students. They didn’t know who or what Scooby Doo was! How could that be? Scooby Doo is one of the most recognizable characters in American animation! (Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave to you)
So why is Scooby Doo unknown in Japan? It’s actually not only Scooby Doo, but most North American animation is unknown. This could be a number of reasons, but I’d say it’s due to three reasons:
First: Domestic animation is, of course, the status quo. Sometimes foreign animation might make it on Japanese television, but it’s not very common.
Second: Scooby Doo is not cute enough. In the world of Japanese characters and animation, you’ve gotta have characters that are cute or make you remember them. Scooby Doo is sort of bland and not very memorable. For anyone that is a fan of Scooby Doo, you might say that the environments and mystery in the show is a key point. Yes, you might be right, but it’s characters that are the most important in Japanese shows. If viewers aren’t interested in the characters, you don’t really have a show.
Third: Scooby Doo is not from Disney.
It’s well known that when Disney animation/movies were first introduced to Japan a long time ago, it had a huge effect on the comic and animation industry. Japanese people love Disney-related characters and movies. However, most animation that is outside of the Disney sphere is largely unknown.
Sure Scooby Doo is not popular, but what about stuff like Spongebob Squarepants? You sometimes see shirts or other goods with his face on it. Looking at it from an American point of view, you would maybe think Spongebob is known in Japan as well.
The difference here is Japanese consumers are known to buy goods with licensed characters based on cuteness or appearance. It’s not important if they’ve seen the show or not. Yes, you might see a girl walking down the street with a Spongebob shirt, but has she actually seen an episode of the show? There’s a good chance she has not, but the character seems cute!
How do Japanese watch American animation in Japan?
Back in the 80s and 90s, a few shows from the US were somewhat popular in Japan. This included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Inspector Gadget. They were broadcast on Japanese TV in the evenings, but I don’t know which TV networks aired them.
What about young Japanese people?
Japanese animation has increased to the point where the market is really saturated. There is almost no room these days for networks to show foreign animation.
There are a few ways that Japanese people can watch foreign animation if they are looking for it.
1. Subscribe to Cartoon Network Japan or another specialty channel.
Did you know there is a Japanese Cartoon Network? It has nowhere near the content that the North American one does, but it features shows such as Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, and some modern shows that I don’t know. I just looked through this month’s schedule on the Japanese website and the lineup of shows looks awful.
2. Go to a video rental shop.
Video rental shops are huge in Japan. You’ll have to make a bit of an effort to ignore the Disney/Pixar aisle, but you can find SOME non-Disney, non-Japanese animation. For example, I managed to find ONE animated Scooby Doo movie as well as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
There’s only one problem, though. If you’re a young Japanese kid, how would you even know about these characters/series in the first place? If people never get exposure to the shows, then they don’t know about it. If they don’t know about it, there won’t be demand for video releases and video rental shops won’t stock it.
3. Hit up NicoNico or YouTube
The young generation in Japan is all about web video, and a good way to catch foreign shows is through either YouTube or NicoNico. YouTube has become more strict about copyright and what shows are on its service, but it’s well-known among Japanese that NicoNico does not really care what videos are posted on its site if it’s foreign and not popular.
What am I basing this on?
A lot of my statements are based on my observations and conversations with young Japanese high school students. I also notice what airs on Japanese TV and what foreign animation is available in rental shops. I’ve also talked with several Japanese people my age to see what animation they know and how they were first introduced to it.
American animation in Japan – Final Thoughts
I’m a little sad that American classic cartoons such as Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo aren’t known at all in Japan, but that’s life. Maybe that’s how Japanese people feel when they find out that Doraemon is unknown in the US.
I didn’t address all the shows or series that are available in Japan, but if you want to share your opinion or observations, by all means leave a comment below! As a fan of both American and Japanese animation, there’s no reason why we can’t all be friends!