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The Differences Between Western vs Eastern Animation 

ben marvazi 2020

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"Western and Eastern animation are two different lenses through which the world of storytelling is viewed, each with its own rich cultural heritage."


Dive into the fascinating world of animation, where creativity knows no bounds! There is no better way to appreciate this universal art form than by exploring the captivating contrasts between Western vs Eastern animation. 

As creators and enthusiasts alike, understanding these differences helps us appreciate the diverse storytelling techniques, unique styles, and cultural nuances that make the animation industry such a versatile realm

In this exploration, we'll delve into the aesthetic differences, storytelling approaches, audience perceptions, and industry techniques that characterize both Western and Eastern animation styles.

Cover GIF by Amway Europe

Unveiling the Mysteries of Western vs Eastern Animation

1. The Charm of Style: Aesthetic Differences in Western vs Eastern Animation

a scene from my My Neighbor Totoro and the cat bus Nekobasu walks behind Totoro

Studio Ghibli GIF via GIPHY

The most apparent difference between Western vs Eastern animation is their aesthetic style. Western animation, generally characterized by fluid movement and lifelike characters, often reflects realism. Studios like Disney and Pixar are renowned for their emotive characters and eye-catching settings. 

Think of the enchanting landscapes of Frozen, the idyllic town in Coco, or the retro-futuristic metropolis in Big Hero 6. The style is often geared towards realism, from anatomically correct characters to detailed backgrounds that mirror our world.

On the other hand, Eastern animation, predominantly Japanese anime, tends to be more stylized, playing with exaggerated character features and expressive color palettes. Take the enchanting worlds created by Studio Ghibli, which transport viewers to rich, detailed landscapes, often fantastical yet with a touch of familiarity. 

Or consider the kinetic action sequences of One Punch Man and Attack on Titan, which use dynamic lines and impactful frames to convey powerful action scenes. These unique elements of anime offer a distinct artistry that sets it apart from its Western counterparts.

2. Storytelling: Cultural Narratives in Western vs Eastern Animation

a scene from Finding Nemo where Dory says something and then frantically swims away

GIF by Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory via GIPHY

Western vs Eastern animation not only differs in their visuals but also their narratives. Western animations are frequently structured around the hero's journey, a classic narrative structure where characters overcome hurdles and evolve. 

These stories often have a moral lesson and end on a positive note, aligning with the cultural preference for happy endings. From Toy Story to Finding Nemo, Western animation utilizes these story arcs to create emotive narratives that resonate with their audience.

Conversely, Eastern animation, particularly anime, delves into a broader spectrum of themes. From exploring complex societal issues like in Death Note and Psycho-Pass, to existential philosophies in Neon Genesis Evangelion, or intricate character developments in Naruto, anime encompasses a vast range of narratives. 

The narratives can be thought-provoking, evoking a range of emotions, and do not always guarantee a happy ending, reflecting the complex nature of life itself.

3. Audience Perception and Approach: Who is Watching Western vs Eastern Animation?

a scene from Moana where she is standing on the beach in front of plants and sighs and runs toward a boat that is beached on the sand

GIF by Moana via GIPHY

Another key distinction in Western vs Eastern animation is the intended audience. Traditionally, Western animation is perceived as children's entertainment, with most mainstream animations like The Lion King, Incredibles, and Moana targeting younger audiences. 

However, recent years have seen a shift, with animations like Rick and Morty and BoJack Horseman targeting adult viewers, expanding the scope of Western animation.

Eastern animation, however, has a more segmented audience approach. The Japanese anime industry, for instance, has genres ranging from children’s cartoons (Kodomo), and teen dramas (Shōnen and Shōjo), to mature themes for adults (Seinen and Josei). 

This inclusivity allows a wide age range to engage with and appreciate anime, reflecting the medium's diverse storytelling potential.

4. Industry Techniques: The Production Behind Western vs Eastern Animation

an anime of a dragon with blue glitter and ice like spikes coming out of it and a dog and goat like face

Studio Ghibli GIF via GIPHY

From production techniques to schedules, the Western vs Eastern animation industries operate quite differently. Western animation, with high budgets and long production timelines, focuses on creating high-quality animation, paying great attention to detail. Studios like Disney and Pixar spend years on research, development, and production to bring their stories to life.

In contrast, Eastern animation, particularly anime, often operates on tighter schedules and budgets. The industry frequently utilizes techniques like limited animation to produce content more quickly. Despite these constraints, Eastern animation studios deliver visually stunning and thematically complex content, demonstrating the creators' resourcefulness and dedication.

5. Historical Influence: The Origins and Evolution of Western vs Eastern Animation

a scene from Snow White and the 7 Dwarves where the evil with gives Snow White the red apple and closes her hands around it

GIF by Disney via GIPHY

The history of animation unfolds distinctly in Western and Eastern parts of the world, each contributing to the Western vs Eastern animation dialogue in a unique way. Western animation’s roots trace back to the early 20th century, with pioneers like Walt Disney and Warner Brothers. 

Disney’s Steamboat Willie introduced synchronized sound, while Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pioneered full-length animated feature films. These milestones have shaped Western animation into the dynamic, story-driven form it is today.

Eastern animation, on the other hand, began to flourish post World War II, with the work of Osamu Tezuka, often hailed as the God of Manga. Tezuka’s innovative storytelling and art style greatly influenced anime. His work on Astro Boy in the early 1960s paved the way for the anime industry's growth and global appeal.

6. Artistic Expression: A Study of Symbolism in Western vs Eastern Animation

Sin from Spirited Away running through a thick hedge with pink blossoming flowers growing all over it showing the difference in style compared to western vs eastern animation

GIF by Tech Noir via GIPHY

Symbolism forms an integral part of the Western vs Eastern animation conversation. Western animation often utilizes symbols that are easily recognizable to its audience. This straightforward symbolism, like the apple in Snow White, helps deliver the intended message clearly.

Eastern animation, specifically anime, is renowned for its nuanced use of symbolism. From the cherry blossoms symbolizing the ephemeral nature of life to the complex visual metaphors used in movies like Spirited Away or Akira, Eastern animation makes profound use of symbolism, inviting viewers to dive deeper into the narrative.

7. Evolution and Influence: The Impact of Western vs Eastern Animation on Each Other

a scene from Avatar of a warrior holding a spear on a flying dragon and sea like creature

GIF by Avatar via GIPHY

In the grand scheme of Western vs Eastern animation, it's essential to note the influence they have exerted on each other over time. Western animation has seen the influence of anime in series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, which combines Western narrative style with anime-inspired aesthetics.

Conversely, Eastern animation has been influenced by the West too. Shows like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt or Heroman reveal a clear Western influence in their animation style or narrative structure. This cross-cultural influence enriches the animation industry, fostering creative diversity and global appreciation for the art form.

Celebrating the Diversity in Western vs Eastern Animation

a diverse bunch of people in different shapes and colors turn into water drops that fall into water against a black background

GIF by Mighty Oak via GIPHY

While the Western vs Eastern animation styles have distinct differences in aesthetic, storytelling, audience approach, and industry techniques, both forms contribute richly to the global animation landscape. 

Appreciating these differences can inspire us to explore new narrative techniques, styles, and ideas in our animation journey. It enhances our understanding of this art form and reminds us that animation, in its many forms, is a universal language that transcends cultural boundaries.

No matter where you come from, if you're an animator striving to hone your craft or an animation studio owner aspiring to expand your horizons, the Animation Business Accelerator program by the Business of Animation can help you navigate your journey. 

From mastering business skills to refining your animation techniques, this program offers comprehensive resources tailored to your specific needs. And don't forget to check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio” for more invaluable insights!

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