Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

Avatar is one of the most highly praised animated series of all time, with a strong sense of world-building and complex, realistic characters. It’s difficult to deny that a large part of Avatar’s success stems from its world, which is inspired by Asian cultures, and its style, which is heavily influenced by Japanese anime. Avatar’s art, fight sequences, character tropes, and overall culture all contribute to the series’ popularity as an anime, however, is Avatar: The Last Air Bender and The Legend of Korra really anime?

Despite it having similar storytelling elements and art style, Avatar; The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is not anime. The animation is a blend of Western, & Japanese styles. As it does not originate from Japan, or exclusively uses the Japanese style of animation, it is not considered to be anime.

As much as Avatar resembles anime style, referring a something as anime-only based on its art style and tone is wrong. Apart from the artistic aesthetic, The Last Airbender and its sequel, Korra, include some of the most intriguing tales for an animated series aimed at younger viewers. Being a fan favorite of Avatar and exclusively a great lover of Anime shows, you better not go away as I am going to fully explain and answer if Avatar is an anime and other puzzling questions regarding the same topic.

What is Considered an Anime?

Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

Starting from Wikipedia, Anime is a Japanese term for both hand-drawn and computer-generated animation. Anime is a broad term that encompasses all animated works, regardless of style or country. Outside of Japan and in English, however, the term “anime” is colloquial for Japanese animation and refers solely to Japanese animation.

Anime is a varied medium with unique production techniques that have evolved in reaction to new technologies. It is a synthesis of graphic design, character development, cinematography, and other innovative and unique approaches. In comparison to Western animation, anime production places a greater emphasis on location detail and the use of “camera effects” such as panning, zooming, and angle views. 

Jonathan Clements, an anime historian, acknowledges in Anime; A History that the situation can get more difficult at times owing to the traditions the world has grown to connect with. However, to make this debate approachable and not too academic, it should be sufficient to define anime as Japanese animated works made in anime studios and exhibiting several traditions and features typically associated with anime style.

Anime drawings are notorious for exaggerating physical characteristics. Generally, one can tell an anime from a cartoon by studying the characters’ physical characteristics. Anime characters have “huge eyes, long hair, and extended limbs,” as well as “dramatically formed speech bubbles, speed lines, and onomatopoeic, exclamatory typography” in the case of manga (anime comics).

Cartoons, on the other hand, are closer to reality and contain remnants of everyday life. Numerous cartoons bear striking resemblances to humans. However, because cartoon characters are caricatures, they frequently deviate from reality.

Cartoons are frequently classified as either adult animated comedies (such as American Dad or Rick and Morty) or children’s shows (such as Phineas and Ferb or Micky Mouse Club House). While anime has a far broader range of genres, including romance, action, and drama, among others. Cartoons are also heavily influenced by western society, with the majority of them focusing exclusively on the lives of Americans.

Cartoons also often have higher resources for production, whereas anime typically has a much smaller budget, resulting in considerably more constrained animation.

Anime characters frequently have facial expressions that differ from their equivalents in western animation. For instance, embarrassment or tension might result in a large sweat-drop (which has become one of the most widely recognized motifs of conventional anime). Characters who are shocked or astonished commit a “facial mistake,” displaying an excessive look. Angry characters may display a “vein” or “stress mark” impression on their forehead, with lines resembling bulging veins.

Occasionally, angry ladies may summon a mallet from nowhere and use it to strike another character, primarily for comedic relief. Male characters will frequently get a bloody nose in the vicinity of their feminine love interests to show excitement. Characters wishing to tease someone childishly may make an “akanbe” expression by dragging one eyelid down with a finger to reveal the crimson underside.

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Anime is not a Genre

Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

True, Avatar incorporates a plethora of anime features… but not all anime. Avatar, like other anime series, contains a magical system, choreographed combat sequences in an anime-style, unusual adversaries, and coming-of-age themes, with heroes wanting to improve their world and themselves.

However, an equal percentage of anime works lack the aforementioned traits. These stereotypes are commonly associated with fantasy anime, particularly those marketed as shnen. A shnen is intended for a young male audience, however, it is not usually seen exclusively by this demographic.

Naturally, because of the success of series like Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece, and Naruto, this is the default anime aesthetic for some. However, anime is not limited to fantasy shnen coming-of-age tales. Certain works with a slice of life sensibility tell basic stories that might simply be adapted for another medium.

Other, a horror film, portrays contemporary perspectives of small communities in darker, more subdued tones. Adult works with a harsher, more grounded animation style, such as Death Note, that lack fantastical magic or choreographed fighting are nevertheless classed as “anime” since they satisfy the requirement for works created in Japan noted previously.

This adds to the confusion around the question of whether Avatar is an anime. It cannot be claimed that the series makes conscious use of Japanese animation tropes. Rather than categorically asserting that Avatar is an anime just because it was influenced by them, it may be interesting to study which anime.

It’s impossible to say that any work was inspired by anime in general, considering that no complete list of anime characteristics exists. This is not true.   

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Anime is an Industry

Fantasy anime films such as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke can shed light on Japanese society at a particular point in time or as it evolves. However, this is far from their exclusive focus. While Kuroshitsuji (also known as Black Butler) has many of the clichés associated with anime, particularly its complicated antagonists, the anime is set in Victorian England and draws inspiration from gothic traditions.

This does not make them the protagonists of an anime. Western influences and distribution techniques (for example, the growing number of anime Netflix originals) mean that we can no longer think about anime exclusively in Japanese terms. However, they are still produced at Japanese anime studios, mostly by Japanese artists, and are initially voiced in Japanese, thus there is no reason to doubt their status as anime.

While Avatar is affected by anime tropes, being influenced by something does not imply becoming that thing. The visual style may be similar to anime, with the Nations evocative of South and East Asian civilizations.

However, much as anime is affected by non-Japanese cultures, Western animation may be impacted by Asian cultures on occasion. This is not always an issue, as long as it is done with respect and the required study.

However, assuming a Western, largely Anglophone work as an anime just because it appears to be one without examining all of these characteristics is to overlook the subtleties and complicated history of Japanese animation.

Why do people think Avatar is Anime?

Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

Naturally, the “is it an anime?” discussion may quickly devolve into a battle among the fanbase. However, fans of The Last Airbender and Korra cannot dispute that many parts of the program resemble those of Western animation. This creates a great deal of misunderstanding and is one of the reasons why many believe Avatar is anime. This has been attributed to:

Cultural Perceptions

Asian culture had a strong effect on Avatar. It is not explicit about the civilizations it references, but it is apparent that the show’s creators drew inspiration from a variety of South and East Asian traditions to create the many Nations.

For instance, many showgoers have seen connections between the Earth Kingdom and Chinese culture, as well as the Fire Nation and South Asian culture. The program makes no attempt to conceal this fact, and it is passionate about its representation of Asian culture. In other words, Avatar is an animated show heavily influenced by Asian culture.

Because anime is typically associated with Japanese culture, it’s natural for many people in the West to believe that Avatar fits the same mold.

Story Elements

Numerous famous shounen anime use combat choreography is akin to that found in Avatar. Not to add, Avatar follows a protagonist who must endure the hardships and tribulations of a perilous trip. Aang and Korra learn new skills and make new acquaintances along the way. To put it mildly, it’s a coming-of-age narrative.

To take it a step further, one might draw parallels between the way Avatar villains are portrayed and the way music contributes to establishing the tone for specific situations. Additionally, they have a recap and a beach episode. It’s really simple to classify Avatar as an anime!

Character Designs and Animations

Anyone who has seen an episode of Avatar will immediately notice the show’s distinctive “Westernized” character designs. However, astute viewers may note that a few modifications to Aang and the gang’s character designs and animation styles make them reminiscent of another popular anime: FLCL.

Despite its brief six-episode run, FLCL’s slice-of-life narrative and exhilarating action were enough to captivate the majority of viewers. In fact, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino confirmed that FLCL inspired Avatar’s animation and character design to some degree. Additionally, Avatar director Giancarlo Volpe stated that the team was required to watch FLCL throughout the show’s development.

Nature of Series

Another thing to consider is the serial nature of the series. The majority of cartoons produced in the West are far more episodic in nature, with each episode forming its own narrative arc. Popular series such as Jhony Bravo, the Flintstones, Justice League, Teen Titans, and the majority of other programs have this trait.

Avatar, on the other hand, does have a journey, a build-up to the climactic fight, and requires dedication to fully comprehend what is happening in the series as a whole, with the introduction of a slew of minor characters and arcs that serve as references later in the series.

This cartoon’s serial nature is sometimes mistaken for an anime. Though certain episodes, such as the Secret Tunnel or the Serpent’s Pass, retain their episodic aspect. While it bears a strong resemblance to anime, it still keeps its cartoonish aspect.

Is Avatar: The Last Airbender Anime?

Is Avatar an Anime? The Last Airbender and The Legend Of Korra

Even though Avatar: The Last Airbender has many characteristics with anime, it is not an anime. It possesses all of the characteristics of a single: action and art, character development, and travel. Anime, on the other hand, is more than an art form; it is an industry.

Avatar The Last Airbender was not produced by anime industry insiders. It appears to be one, and it operates similarly; nevertheless, it is not. For comparison, Parasite is not a Hollywood film as it comes from another film industry. Likewise, in the case of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Avatar The Last Airbender is an incredible animated series produced by Nickelodeon. While there is no disputing the impact of anime, it should not be mistaken for one. It should at the very least be referred to as an honorary anime.

If the live-action series being developed for Netflix is successful, ATLA may pave the way for more kinds of Asian media in America. This series may serve as a catalyst for increased social acceptance of the medium.

In some ways, it may also be viewed as a launching pad for programs that are comparable to it (i.e. Shounen). Avatar accomplishes a great deal in just 61 episodes, and it is deserving of all the accolades it has received over the years.

Avatar The Last Airbender shares a similar story structure to famous anime; yet, the two series are available on two distinct platforms. While it is not anime, it will always be considered a milestone in Western animation.

Is Avatar: The Legend Of Korra Anime?

Since Avatar: The Legend Of Korra was mostly an American production, it is not an anime. It is not drawn conventionally, and it was not produced in Japan to qualify as anime. Although it has elements of anime, the program was created in the Nickolodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, California.

Another disqualifier is their absence of lyrical discourse and metaphorical language. In both of those areas, Avatar falls short or underperforms. Second, because anime originates in Japan, it must be originally voiced in Japanese. However, Avatar The Legend Of Korra was not voiced in Japanese, but in English. The program is not even available in the Japanese dub.

Viewers must understand the difference between genuine anime and “influenced series” due to the way certain perspectives have contaminated the anime waters. This was ever so apparent in a recent Netflix documentary called Enter The Anime, which was a huge disappointment to anime enthusiasts like me.

Konietzko, one of the producers of the show, tends to agree that while it is not a true representation of anime, it tried to depict the anime styles and culture:

“Even the Avatar world isn’t monolithic. It is very multicultural,” he goes on to point out. “We are two white American dudes, but there isn’t one person who could represent the entire Avatar world. It’s very much about these different cultures coexisting, and the beauty and the pain that comes out of that. It’s just about a world that’s trying to find balance and trying to coexist. That’s our default attitude anyway.”

Is it always incorrect to refer to Avatar: The Legend Of Korra as an anime? Those who work in the Japanese animation business may be more equipped to describe whether such behavior is disrespectful of Japanese culture.

But what about those who object to the term “cartoon?” There is nothing fundamentally incorrect with the term, although it has been used in the past to refer to works other than what we now consider animated films and television shows, such as newspaper comics. There is the issue of the term “cartoon” being used derogatorily to refer to less-developed works. This should not be the case, yet some people continue to refer to complex, sophisticated animated works as “anime,” because many of these advanced works originate in Japan.

Avatar, in my opinion, is an excellent series that draws inspiration from anime works – many of which are also excellent. However, it is a Nickelodeon production, and Nickelodeon is an animation studio, thus it is not an anime.

  • Hrvoje Milakovic

    Hrvoje, based in Osijek, Croatia, with a Master's degree from the Zagreb University of Applied Sciences, is a co-founder of Incomera, a media company that has launched several entertainment sites including Fiction Horizon, Game Horizon, and Anime Horizon. He is also a co-owner of...