Your average Otaku should know one thing: art is never made in a vacuum.
It’s an old saying (you can tell by the dusty language) that basically means artists have to take their inspiration from everything and everyone, including cultures outside their own. The best artists will take make it their own, putting a unique spin on a well-loved thing, while a hack will just repackage it sloppily and hope no one notices.
But I do. It’s a sickness; I can’t help it.
Can’t…. stop… watching!
Thankfully, today’s specimens are strokes of genius. For one of the favorite inspirational hotspots of anime and manga artists the world over is “The West”, or Western Culture as a whole. The morality of this cross-culturing aside, the results are some of the funniest, most interesting anime you can find, and these suckers deserve a spotlight.
In no particular order, here are my four favorite anime that successfully integrate some western candy into their Halloween bowl, and add their own personal stamp on it. As always, this is just my current list and can be updated at a later date. Should you know any better, or disagree with my reasoning, please feel free to comment.
Honorable Mention: Avatar The Last Airbender
The only thing keeping this one from the list is that it’s not an anime, technically. But it’s so good at crossing cultural barriers, we have to at least give it the silver riceball or something.
Avatar Aang, the peace-keeper between four elemental nations, returns after vanishing for over 100 years. In that time, the Fire Nation has declared war; the Air Nation has all been wiped out, and chaos seems imminent. But if Aang, the last of the airbenders, can master the other three elements, he and his friends have a shot at stopping the Fire Lord and restoring balance to the world.
As I said, the reason I insist on including this show is how many cues this western animation takes from anime. The art style alone is a nod to traditional anime, alongside its heavy dramatic themes, shonen-esque band of young heroes, and inspiration from both Chinese and Japanese culture. These guys did their research and brought the two mediums together into one beautiful piece. I tip my cat-ears to you, sirs and madams.
The Big O
Now I’ve mentioned this one before, but she bears repeating. Because how often are you gonna find a show that’s Batman mixed with Giant Robots?
As I said in my Top Ten Toonami Shows, The Big O was a show from the 2000s that took place in post-apocalyptic Paradigm city, where the amnesiac population is under the protection of master negotiator and mech-pilot, Roger Smith. Together with android R. Dorothy Wayneright and his butler, Norman, his job is to protect the city and solve the mystery of why everyone lost their memories.
Big O was inspired primarily off of shows like Batman: The Animated Series over in the states, adopting the same art aesthetic alongside the usual anime designs. There’s lots of film noir inspiration going around, and Roger’s name also aligns with the name of an American Actor/Writer who starred in an old Detective series in America, 77 Sunset Strip. It’s a very cool, very sophisticated action show that only suffered when the second season had less polish. There’s also an argument to be made about Roger being Anime Batman.
So what happens when anime and Tim Burton have a baby? You get an anime that bounces between spooky and crazy with gleeful abandon, and some genuinely moving storytelling.
Welcome to the Death Weapon Meister Academy, run by Death himself, Shinigami-Sama. Here we follow three different groups of misfits, each consisting of a weapon master and a weapon (or two) that can change into a human. The goal is to capture 99 evil human souls, such as serial killers and sinners, and the soul of one witch. If they do this in order, the weapon becomes a “death scythe” to be wielded by Shinigami-Sama. If they fail or go out of order, they have to start all over again.
Soul Eater always felt like the Japanese love-letter to Halloween and horror. When Maka isn’t swinging her scythe like a schoolgirl grim-reaper, or when you’re not wondering why that moon is giving you the crazy eyes, we’re chasing down pumpkin-throwing witches and famous serial killers. When we aren’t adoring the spooky things in life, we’re also making several nods to the Western pop culture at the time, such as the band Pink Floyd and the TV show Twin Peaks.
Much like how the west fantasized about the “good old days” with their western movies, the Japanese had a good old time with Samurai Cinema, otherwise known as Chanbara. These period pieces, which got more action-oriented after World War II, are insanely popular in Japan but never really got past B-movie, cult-classic status in the states. Thus, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense that they would mix so smoothly with underground hip-hop culture.
Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, Samurai Champloo is a Chanbara style anime infused with the soul of hip-hop and rap. Amidst an anachronistic version of Edo-Period Japan, Teahouse Waitress Fuu convinces two wandering samurai to help her: Jin, the traditionally stoic Ronin and Mugen, a free-roaming vagrant. Together this very unstable trio travel Japan in search of a man who, according to Fuu, “smells like sunflowers.”
This little gem loosened up the strict, historical standards and replaced it with a spectacular mesh of western hip-hop culture. It won’t be uncommon to see Edo-period folk walking around in sports kimonos, speaking in modern gangster slang, and sporting attitudes that bring the phrase “thug life” to mind in flashing Neon lights. It’s a grizzly, violent and yet funny piece that takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to its anachronisms, proving that all things are possible with good writing.
Yes, it’s the same guy. Obvious? Absolutely. Sorry? Not even close.
Every once and awhile you find a show that earns its praise, and BeBop earns every single accolade it gets. It takes us into yet another space dystopia where crime runs rampant, and police often pay bounty hunters to do their dirty work. Of these hunters, often called Cowboys, former Yazuka style outlaw Spike Spiegel is doing his best to make a living alongside his partner, Jett Black. As our story unfolds, their deep scars float to the surface; they begrudgingly pick up more misfits to join their merry band, and the setting around you becomes all the more consuming in its bleak, but stubborn atmosphere.
The references and homages in BeBop fill this show to bursting. It takes cues from American action movies, old westerns, John Woo Yakuza films, British pop music, Lupin III, Bruce Lee, and so much more. If you want a good chunk of what this show took tidbits from, check this website out here because, when it comes to crossing some cultures, these Space Cowboys will always deliver.
And all it took was an almost dead cowboy…
Do you have a favorite cross-culture anime? Is the very idea of cross-culture bad to you? Feel free to discuss or comment below, and don’t forget to like and follow for more content.