When it comes to producing animation for television, there are two differing approaches that are used. Go really cheap and make a lot of shows, or make one really good show with lots of actual animation. Neither approach is better than the other in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s hard not to notice that Japan produces a far greater variety of animation than the US, despite being a far smaller market.
The Western Approach
Of course, it is fair to say that animation does not enjoy near the obsessive following in the US that it does in Japan, but it is popular worldwide, and especially in the English-speaking world where a lot of common cultural values and traditions are shared.
The Western approach is to basically make a few, relatively expensive, but high quality shows. US production is dominated by the four main kids networks. International markets are slightly different. The BBC has a hand, but a myriad of independent producers also vie for airtime with their properties.
Such an approach is fine in most respects, but it does mean that the shows generally have to attract large audiences in order to be successful. In other words, they’re two expensive to serve niche audiences.
What that means in reality, is that a lot of western animated TV shows tend to be very similar, or are of a certain genre; namely comedy or pre-school.
The end result is that we get a lot of one or two genres, but not many more. There’s also a lack of depth to each genre. For example, the buddy comedy (SpongeBob, Billy and Mandy, etc.), or the superhero action show (currently dominated by comic book characters.)
The Eastern Approach
Compare that to the eastern approach. In Japan, cost plays a much bigger role, and the cheaper a show can be, the better. Besides being able to get them produced quicker (and hence, produce more of them), there’s also the ability to make a greater variety of shows.
The reason is simple, a cheaper show does not need to attract as large an audience as a more expensive one. With a lower demand for audience numbers, there’s a greater ability to create shows that only require an audience of a certain size. In other words, shows that appeal to niche audiences only need niche-sized audiences to be successful.
Ergo, in Japan, we have comedies, but we also have romantic comedies, buddy comedies, sporting comedies and so on. The same goes for action shows, horror shows, the list goes on.
The bottom line is that the animation output from Japan is far more varied than from the US and Europe. All displaying the unique traits of its country of origin.
There Is No ‘Right’ Approach to Animation
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong approach when it comes to producing animated TV shows; there are positive and negative benefits to both. That said, it would be nice to see even just a little bit more variety in US and European shows, and there would be no need to drastically lower budgets to accommodate it.
Should the US and Europe be creating more varied animated shows? How do network decisions play into this? Leave a comment with your thoughts!