Translation problems between two languages or cultures.
False Friends (French: faux amis) are translation problems where words in two different languages appear to be alike, but have different meanings. We use the term in reference to the growing number of animated works that look like anime, but aren't.
Our definition of anime is culturally inspired. We count a work as anime if it can reasonably be described as animation from Japan, with a high number of Japanese creatives working in the upper echelons of production: director, writer, designers, key animators, and music. That this is even an issue is not recognized among the general Japanese public, where anime refers to all animation. It is only within the industry itself that creators distinguish between animation from Japan and animation that is not. Some unscrupulous distributors choose to ignore the distinction, hoping instead that fans are stupid enough or uncaring enough to buy literally anything if it has the word anime daubed on it.
Outside Japan, the ethnic origin of anime creators has been an issue of some importance. In the first waves of anime abroad between the 1950s and 1970s, anime's Japanese origins were often deliberately occluded-Japanese credit listings were replaced with the names of "writers" and "directors" who had merely adapted preexisting Japanese material. Tokyo landmarks regularly appeared in Gigantor, but were renamed-a Japanese origin in the early days of TV often seems like something to be ashamed of, with evidence that should be removed as carefully and completely as possible. It is for this reason that one still meets French people who do not realize that Ulysses 31 was made in Japan and Koreans who think that Doraemon is a Seoul native.
However, the rise of anime on video in the 1980s brought a radical change to this perception. In the science fiction of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Japanesquerie became the new cool, and in the wake of the subsequent anime video boom, a Japanese origin became an actual selling point. It is at this juncture that false friends become an issue-the authors recall a dozen different meetings over the last decade with companies keen to get involved in "anime," which inevitably lead to the big question: "Does it have to be Japanese?" The rationale being, among the world's shallower producers, that if they can persuade a local artist to draw them a picture of a girl with big eyes who carries a gun, this will make something immediately "anime," and save them the messy business of having to deal with the Japanese.
Japanese companies, of course, have long farmed out their work to foreign companies in Korea, China, Thailand, and the Philippines-countries that not only have animation industries of their own, but also hope to profit from the sudden popularity of Asian animation abroad. So it is that several Korean cartoons have been released in the West by anime labels hoping that their ethnic origin would pass the average consumer by. Lee Hyun-se's Armageddon (Amagaedun Uzu, 1996) seemed deliberately designed to fool rights buyers at film festivals-presenting what was for the time an impressive CG opening, that fast collapsed into a dull sci-fi battle. Similarly, Sang Il-sim's Red Hawk: Weapon of Death (1995) was a crass and derivative Fist of the North Star pastiche. Other False Friends are built on connections and resources established by people in anime, such as Andy Orjuela's Lady Death (2004), written by Carl Macek, or Andy Chan and Tsui Hark's A Chinese Ghost Story: The Animation (Xiao Qian, 1997), which featured a lead animator poached from the bona fide anime business: Tetsuya Endo, director of Mojacko.
It is, of course, only natural that an art form as commercially successful as anime should inspire others. When hired to direct Grandma and Her Ghosts (Mofa Ama, 1998), Taiwanese director Wang Shaudi went shopping for inspiration, and did so at a time when several Studio Ghibli works had been released into the Taiwanese market, resulting not only in story elements but also a mood and an elegiac quality seemingly lifted from My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. A similar aspiration toward a Studio Ghibli style can be discerned in Lee Syong-kang's Korean movie, My Beautiful Marie (Mari Iyagi, 2002), particularly in its depiction of a modern world ignorant of nearby numinous nature.
Mainland China has its own strong animation tradition, particularly stemming from the Shanghai Animation Studio, the foundation of which can be at least partly accredited to the Japanese expat Tadahito Mochinaga. Recent years have seen Chinese attempts to learn from the commercial success not only of anime, but also of Disney cartoons, as demonstrated by such experiments as Chang Guang-xi's Lotus Lantern (Baolian deng, 1999). The acquisition of Hong Kong in 1997 also brought the vast labor market of the Mainland into more direct contact with the advanced technology of the former colony, leading to such hybrids as Toe Yuen's My Life as McDull (McDull Gushi, 2001), an avowedly Cantonese movie that still managed to recall Hello Kitty and My Neighbors the Yamadas. Meanwhile, Korean animation continues to aspire toward anime's status abroad, with movies such as Kim Moon-saeng's extended CGI pastiche of Akira, Sky Blue (aka Wonderful Days, 2003).
False Friendship can also extend both ways. Serials such as The Powerpuff Girls (1998), Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi (2004), and Kappa Mikey (2006) were conceived in imitation of anime, but then exported back to Japan. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Animatrix, in which the work of genuine anime creators rubs shoulders with high quality works in an anime style, by creators such as Peter Chung, whose earlier Aeon Flux (1995) was itself a homage to Japanese animation. Ultimately, a good film is a good film, regardless of where it came from. We hope that English-language distributors will accord non-Japanese creators the respect they are due, and hype them for what they are, and not for what they aren't-a "Korean anime" is an oxymoron. The debate over False Friends is likely to continue, as skill levels rise in non-Japanese countries, and increasingly larger amounts of animation work on supposedly "Japanese" films is farmed out abroad: even acknowledged "Japanese" classics like Ghost in the Shell feature extensive contributions from non-Japanese animators.