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Anime's Obsession With Europe: A Brief History

May 03, 2024
In 1974, a program called Heidi, the Girl from the Alps, was broadcast on televisions around the world, creating an instant global sensation that is still considered a masterpiece today. The show told the story of a young girl named Heidi who is sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, here she embarks on all kinds of adventures with Peter, the herd of goats, her dog Joseph and her rich friend Clara, all as he works his way into the heart of his grumpy old grandfather and in turn us, the audience if you're old enough but not familiar with the show you probably live in the UK or the US, two of the few places where the show was not successful, but throughout Europe, the Middle East, South America, South Africa and Asia, this show was a huge hit for someone who grew up in India.
anime s obsession with europe a brief history
Before moving to the UK, I have incredibly fond memories of watching this show, even in the 90s, and my family is still nostalgic for the days of watching innocent shows about little farm girls and not violent


featuring ladies with big tits. for free, but what not even them. Neither I nor most viewers realized at the time that this was an


, one of the first truly global anime and one of the main figures involved in its creation was a then unknown Hay Miyazaki, who would later create a animation house. Called Studio Jibli, the creators were so interested in telling this story authentically that Miyazaki himself went on a scouting mission to Switzerland and across Europe to ensure they depicted the setting and characters as accurately as possible. possible, but why this anime from the 70s?
anime s obsession with europe a brief history

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anime s obsession with europe a brief history...

Made in Japan, I am very interested in retelling an old Swiss children's novel. I mean, the original story is from the 19th century and why do so many anime from then until now and especially now, like Attack on Titan Vinland Saga and freen, seem to have such a fascination with Europe, I mean, it's not like we in the West do Lots and lots of shows, in Japan just the odd movie or TV show here and there and they are almost never based on retelling authentic Japanese literature or folklore, they are usually just a white man ends up in the stories of Japan, but in anime, Europe or fictional places that are substitutes for Europe is such a common setting that you probably didn't even think about how normalized it is until you mentioned it, so what's going on?
anime s obsession with europe a brief history
Where did the Fascination of anime come from? and maybe the


with Europe comes from there, well I'm about to tell you, but it's a bit of a long story, so settle in today. When we think of whiners in the West obsessing over Japanese culture and fetishizing Japan's charm, we often make the mistake. You might assume it's a one-way street, but Japan. Japan itself has also been fascinated with Europe in its own way. Before talking about anime, we should talk about some important historical context for those who don't know that Japan went through a period. of isolation from the rest of the world called sakoku, which means closed country and lasted more than 200 years during this time that extended from the early 1600s to 1850.
anime s obsession with europe a brief history
Japan did not allow any Europeans or, in general, foreigners to enter the country, except for some limited. trade with China and Korea and a unique Dutch trading post at Nagasaki, while this was a time of great cultural growth for Japan, sakoku ended in 1853 when the United States arrived with warships and demanded that Japan open its borders and then forced them to sign the hilariously named Treaty of Peace and Friendship after this time, in what is known as the Mei period, Japan once again opened its borders and set about furiously catching up with the rest of the world, realizing how far they had fallen behind the Western powers with this In Japan came an influx of technological literature and science, particularly from Europe European fashion became fashionable and European culture became a point of fascination.
It is in this context that many of Japan's prominent media outlets developed, particularly their films and eventually their comics or mangas. A mistake to make would be to assume that World War II is the cause of anime's fascination with Europe, but no evidence from the literature I read and I've been researching this topic for about 2 months supported that idea. It is obvious to draw the conclusion that Japan being allied with Germany would somehow fascinate it with German culture, but if you stop to think about it a little you will understand why it is not true, Germany did not suddenly become fascinated with Japan After the world war, why was the alliance purely militaristic? there was no exchange of cultural ideas and there was no time for it there was a global conflict living in the UK suddenly we were not much more interested in French culture thank God just because we were allies in the war nor Russia, cinema and the media Japanese developed during and after the war, with C Caron animated films being used for war propaganda as well as entertainment, they were massively influenced by works from across Europe, particularly France and Russia. but it had its own style and Japanese bases and influences, the medium slowly evolved towards styles and aesthetics that resemble what we would now recognize as anime, eventually they became a commercial product, thousands of people bought manga and with television those stories began . became television shows, which is when the anime boom really happened in the 1960s and beyond into the 1960s, is when anime began to find a lot of commercial success both in Japan and abroad, in the US and Europe, first with Astro Boy which was the first anime film to be released in the US and later in the 1970s with Space Battleship Yamato, this is where we start to see the establishment of a certain trope that would follow in many animes there after the adventures of young male protagonists in conflict-oriented worlds. which we now see as a staple in anime like Naruto One Piece or My Hero Academia, but it's actually Joo's anime, where our interests lie in stories about young women aimed at a young female audience, while little boys enjoyed space operas about young women of the Intergalactic War.
In Japan they were much more interested in stories about people's everyday interactions, love, jealousy and friendship, and this is where Europe comes into the picture from the beginning of the Mai period I talked about earlier. Young women in Japan were already fascinated with European fashion and aesthetics. and the early shjo animes reflected this: the vast majority of them took place in European settings, but a fascinating and surprising reason why the early shjo animes set their stories in Europe was that it allowed them to explore topics that would otherwise be forbidden, such as homosexual love and female empowerment, as legendary themes.
Critic Frederick SCH writes that foreign settings create an exotic quality with storybook scenes and fashions and allow heroes and heroines to act in ways that are not always socially possible in Japan. A notable example of this was The Rose of Versa, a manga that was eventually turned into an anime and is set in the French royal court just before it suffered the French Revolution. Initially, the show follows the biographical story of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, but soon turns to Oscar François Dejaj's fictional real-life title character and this is the point. You would recognize that I am pronouncing words in four different languages, so forgive me if any of my pronunciations are seriously off.
Oscar is a young woman who was raised as a boy and a soldier by her father who longed for a male Oscar heir. She becomes captain of the Queen's guard and, although she openly identifies as female, her masculine demeanor and androgynous aesthetic were created for several homoerotic and gender-defying subplots. Oscar's first romantic entanglement, for example, is with a female character named Rosalie, who falls in love with Oscar after she saves his life. several times, but Oscar rejects Rosal's advances stating that she wanted to have a relationship with a man, not a woman. In shjo anime, it was very common to explore romantic interests between women to the point that it had its own term.
They are usually not sexual in nature, but are still romantic friendships between women with intensely strong emotional bonds or mutual admiration after this failed situation. Oscar then encounters two different male suitors, one who sees her only as a man and another who sees her only as a woman. Both prove extremely frustrating for Oscar, who wants to be recognized for herself. Eventually, Oscar falls in love with her long-time partner, Andre, who is an androgynous figure and at the end of the story he cuts his hair to look like Oscar and in fact, at the end of the show they look very much alike.
Oscar even describes Andre as her Shadow and the fact that they are both basically the same person is again a diss to the homoerotic elements that were a normal part of the genre. The ability to play with the dynamics of sex and gender that made shjo anime so popular among Japanese girls of the time, who were able to project themselves into situations they would not otherwise be in, in male homosexual love , for example, was quite common in shjo anime because the idea of ​​men having sex was considered much more normal than thinking about women's sexuality. Furthermore, Vera's Rose was also very politically bold and inspiring, as the main character, Oscar, became so disillusioned with the corruption of the French aristocracy that he joins the republican rebels and fights to overthrow the monarchy and eventually dies in the battle for the cause.
These progressive and transgressive messages made the Versa rose so popular at the time that, according to critic Deborah Shamun, when the main character Oscar died, teachers were forced to suspend classes because all the students were crying and one angry fan sent a letter containing a razor to the artist who wrote the manga Akid Rioko, so we see here that at the beginning of the anime Europe represented a foreign setting where characters could behave differently than the norms in Japan allowed and , at the same time, they addressed the Japanese public very directly. This is a theme that would continue into the '70s as we approached the Miyazaki era.
In the 1970s, a new type of anime subgenre began to emerge, series that directly retold traditional European series. stories Heidi, the show I mentioned at the beginning of this video was one of the pioneering works in this field and was part of a larger series called World Masterpiece Theatre. This was a Japanese television show that would take a classic piece of literature and spend a year airing it as a serialized anime, the series adapted everything from the Finnish Moomin to the British classic Peter Pan and, although it was not originally part of the series, Heidi was later usurped as part of the broader umbrella of the global Masterpiece Theater in almost all of these series Europe is shown as a magical, idyllic land where adventures can take place and children in particular are free to discover themselves and to the world around them.
If you're wondering why that was, critic Kobus Vanon Staden sums it up well. very few anime representations of contemporary Europe, mostly Europe is treated as an unchanging Rania where the use of historically European details and landscapes designates the setting as beautifully past. What Von Staden is saying here is that for the anime Europe becomes an almost fantastical fictional land trapped in that Era when cute little towns were hidden in some lush green part of the world, far from the corruption of the world. modern industrial era and the evils that accompany it. This also followed in the footsteps of classical European literature and the trend of constructing roman, meaning coming-of-age stories along the lines of what Charles Dickens wrote, where children face a cold adult world and learn lessons intended to teach the viewing or reading audience valuable life lessons, plus the European setting allowed the filmmakers to tell a different type of story as opposed to the types currently being told to Japanese audiences at the time in more entertainment-oriented anime. action talking about his time working on Heidi there Miyazaki wrote that we wanted to create a work for children that was not frivolous and we wanted to break with tradition.
Engaged and slapped on Dash's television animation shows of that era, in fact, this desire was so strong that he actually ended up taking over the animation company that Heidi zuo ISO made and ended up sinking it financially. Heidi's animators were so determined to make sure there was lasting quality in everyCell and every second of Animation who spent much more time making each episode than was the norm in the industry. Miyazaki refers to making Heidi in a state of emergency that lasted a year and said that it was the lessons they learned from making the show that steered him away from television and toward film, it was only then that we understood the danger of television.
He writes. Television repeatedly demands the same thing. His cruelty makes everything banal. We realized that television required our state of emergency to become a state of emergency. Under normal conditions, the only way to have a long-term relationship with television is to reduce the level of production quality to one that can be sustained, although this was obviously tragic at the time, it is also something we can perhaps be okay with. grateful now because, ultimately, it is what abandons the creation of the jibli studio in 1985, founded by the legendary figures of hay Miyazaki and isau takahata, who had worked together on the Heidi program, as should be evident by now, Miyazaki in particular had a great personal fascination with Euro and made several research trips across In various parts of the continent, from Wales to Stockholm and various locations in Germany, it is these varied influences that would eventually become Studio Juilee's iconic style that Most of us can now recognize it at a glance and it influenced so many animes since then, but unlike Heidi.
Where Switzerland was a relatively specific but rural utopia, in Jibli's films we began to see a shift in emphasis. Miyazaki uses all these places that he had visited and taken photographs and turns them into a beautiful amalgam, for example if we look at Kiki's Delivery Service which is one of my favorite movies of all time, we can see that the locations in the architecture do not they particularly coincide with none. The European location, on the other hand, is a mix of various European aesthetics, but also some fantastical and anachronistic elements that make it difficult to locate exactly where or in what time period the film is supposed to take place.
The same can be said for how Moving Castle is, which in addition to Having Magic, of course, also has things like gliders and various steam mines that have greatly influenced steampunk and basically created another subgenre in which a lazy hodg Podge Europe is often the setting. Critic Danny Cavalaro writes that this all comes from the Japanese concept of akogare. not Paris, the Paris of our dreams, which refers to an elaborately fantasized Europe seen through Eastern eyes. It's actually quite funny because this idealization of Europe driven largely by Miyazaki, among others, has actually resulted in a specific phenomenon called Paris syndrome, which is a term. coined by a Japanese psychiatrist to refer to the culture shock that tourists, particularly Japanese and other Asian tourists, feel when they arrive in Paris and realize that it is not as magical as they imagined and can apparently cause some pretty serious mental health problems. problems, but going back to jib's films, we can see again the use of Europe as a fantastic and exotic setting that allows new stories to be told, but it is also something new that is being done: the idyllic European setting is often corrupted by the advancement of technology.
Films like Moving Castle and Jibli's early work Castle in the Sky are explicit warnings about the dangers of technology and, in particular, militaristic technology, while both films begin with healthy, idyllic settings, which are quickly destroyed and the peace ruined by people who use the fruits. of human advancement for their own selfish gain, our main characters, Sophie and Pazu, respectively, have their lives turned upside down by these bad actors. These, of course, have strong parallels with Japan's own militaristic


, dating back to what we talked about earlier after the end of isolationism. Once sakoku ended, Japan was quick to modernize its technology but also its empire and, taking a leap from its European influences, began to invade and conquer various parts of China and East Asia instead of necessarily setting these films in Japan. and make the message stronger, but Furthermore, a possible more antagonistic reason for setting the anime in Europe is that it allows social criticism to be more widespread and also more universal, and with much of this militaristic behavior originating from the powers Europeans, it made more sense to tell these stories.
Also in a European setting, this is an important theme that continues in the steampunk genre, where the dangers of technology are often central to the story and even outside of steampunk, the European setting can still offer a great window into those same critiques. . Full Metal Alchemist, which is often listed as one of the best anime of all time, touches on these same themes. It follows the story of two brothers, Alons and Edward ELC, obviously Germanic names in the fictional country of Amestris, which is clearly intended to portray a militaristic Germany in their world. Alchemy is a science that allows the alchemist to transform objects from one form to another as long as they follow the law of equivalent exchange, which is that they must provide something of equal value to transmute an object as they do with older brother Edward.
The government will become a state alchemist, which he hopes will allow him to conduct research to return him and his brother to their original bodies that were lost during the reckless pursuit of scientific advancement, but the government simply uses his alchemist as human weapons to militaristic expansion. and the brothers soon discover the Dark World they have been dragged into, disturbed by what they see, they begin to work to end the current regime and right the wrongs they see in the world as we get closer and closer to the present day of the anime. The reasons why European environments are becoming more and more diverse, as we see in examples like this, but the influences of their origins are also very clear.
Today we live in an era in which the world is much more globalized and it is easy to access absolute dominance of the Internet. our lives and the ability to travel around the world much more freely has gone a long way toward demystifying Europe and Japan and vice versa, so depictions of Europe have begun to become even more common, although many of the same inspirations still remain. than us. I've already talked, let me break down some of the different types of anime we've seen, like Vinland Saga, which is a beautiful exploration of violence, slavery, and the evils of war.
The anime takes place mainly in England and Denmark, but also. A historical account of the actual events of the Danish conquest of England. It features real characters like King Canut and Thorine, but takes creative liberties with the details of their stories. The show plays a lot with the various traditions we just talked about in this video. Like Miyazaki's works, the European setting of the Vinland saga allows for scathing critiques of armed conflict and dehumanization, but it also deviates in that it is very concerned with the realism of the place where it takes place. Europe is not a fantastical magical land but rather a brutal land and unforgiving place where murder, war and slavery are commonplace, there are real world events that the story must incorporate and stay faithful so as not to lose those aspects in this sense. , it is much more like the Versa rose it is inspired by. equal parts by actual Norse folklore, but also just by author Makoto Yukimura's personal fascination with the culture, so overall we can say that a show like Vinland Saga represents the Japanese desire to tell stories inspired by the local tales of European cultures, more traditionally we have anime. like Attack on Titan, which although clearly not as wholesome as jilee's films essentially follows the same tradition, follows the same rhythms of the European setting and is a mix of various European countries with Germanic names like Arin Jer and the clear Nazi parallels in all the time. to the Nordic influences of the Titans, but a different reason for the European setting in modern anime is really just the exoticism of Europe in the popular anime One Piece, for example, we have an entire arc set in the fictional setting of Dress Rosa , which is an island.
Inspired by Spain and Spanish culture, the main villain of the Ark, Don Flamingo, should tell you everything you need to know just from his name, which is inspired by the Spanish epic novel Don kyote, there are even performances of paa and flamenco dancing, but here we still see the A general mix of European aesthetic with a major part of Rosa Arc's dress taking place in a Colosseum which of course is of Italian origin, so sometimes it's no deeper than just Europe being a place fun and exotic to set an anime. Finally we have something that is actually relatively new in terms of the reasons for European influence in video games.
A lot of anime are set in a medieval European world of adventures and quests, whether digital like in Sword Art Online or real like in Freen Beyond Journey's End. It's pretty easy to explain, so I'll keep it


, since the reason so many video games are set in this type of environment is that they are all inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, which is the whole point of role-playing games, especially the ones. video game. games, if you want to see that topic covered, I actually have another video I made about it here and you'll find the link in the video description, but it's nothing new that video games are very popular in Japan, so it's only natural that with The action-adventure RPG genre is so strongly established in this type of period and aesthetic that many modern animes would also want to explore that type of world.
This is especially true in the isaka subgenre, which is a genre characterized by the fact that the main character is suddenly transported from the boring real world to a new, often literally magical, world of knights and dragons, as in the show Reincarnation Without work, which features a protagonist who lives in modern Japan as an incel-type loser and is deeply dissatisfied with his life, but one day when he ends up in an accident and thinks he has died, he actually ends up waking up in a magical European world full of adventures and monsters and here he is given a second chance at life and, as we have established, what better setting for a second chance in a more magical place than the Europe that loves anime, so this has been a long and an even longer personal journey for me to investigate something that has been on my mind for a long time, namely why so many animes are set in Europe, ultimately the relationship is complex and has a long origin story that I hope have done everything I can to develop, but it obviously has many more steps along the way than I have the time to address or even the resources to research, on top of that, something I haven't mentioned.
However, the marketing of anime since anime began to be turned into television products and potentially sold in European markets, its relationship with Europe obviously became more complicated, it makes sense that if you are making an anime and you want it to have broad appeal more global. We could set it in Europe or borrow from European aesthetics to make the show more visible to Western audiences, but how much we should read about that is a topic of heated debate among academics speaking of which I want to specifically mention Oscar's academic article Garcia Aranda. and Jonathan Clemens' gigantic book called anime of History, both of which were incredible resources for researching this video and I will provide all my references in the video description.
In my mind, there's a pretty clear line that runs through the development of the anime's relationship. with Europe starting with the general cultural fascination among the Japanese and then with the use of Europe as a place to talk about taboo topics in shjo anime, from there it evolves into the exploration of European folktales and children's stories up to the jibli model of a magical fantastic. Europe, which also leads to industrialized steampunk themes that offer the opportunity for social criticism, finally we have the modern era where all of these influences blend together and we also have the addition of video games that bring with them their own fascination with medieval Europe. particularly courtesy of Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, so there you have it.
I hope you enjoyed this video because it truly has been a labor of love and if you have please like, subscribe and share this video so it can also reach a wider audience, if you want to support me directly head to the link Patreon in the video description and you'll also be able to get some perks, like your name in the end credits. I want to thank my current sponsors. community and my editor Priscilla, without all of them this would not be possible, check out the other videos on this channel and if you have anytopic you would like me to cover, leave it in the comments section below, that's it for me, thanks. for looking one more time and I hope to see you very soon

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