Astro Boy-Marketing Japanese Anime to the World

Is the success of Japanese anime in countries such as the United States indicative of the emergence of a global youth culture?

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It is estimated that approximately sixty percent of the world’s youth reside in Asian counties. (Kahn and Kellner) However, the success of the Japanese anime phenomenon is not only limited to these countries but is also a huge success in Western countries like the United States. In fact, the success and popular appeal of anime is a global phenomenon and it cuts across national and cultural boundaries. This fact is indicative of the importance of the term global youth culture and its impact on the sharing of popular culture from different regions of the world.

Global youth culture is described as both hybrid and complex. (Kahn and Kellner) as the study under discussion indicates, the emergence of anime as a global phenomenon seems on the surface to have more to do with the spread of global youth culture than with marketing and branding.

The success of Japanese anime can be ascribed to a number of factors. The first and most obvious is the emergence of a popular culture among younger people that is not circumscribed by national or cultural boundaries. It is a phenomenon that tends to assimilate other cultural aspects and trends into the matrix of the globalized culture. Related to this is the development of communications systems that have facilitated this easy exchange of ideas and cultural symbols. This has occurred at an increasingly rapid rate since the 1980’s. Paramount among these developments is the Internet and the World Wide Web. This technology has made it easier to explore other cultures and, more importantly, to share ideas and cultures.

In more theoretical terms, the global youth culture is defined as follows.

Global youth culture” is the transdisciplinary category by which theorists and policy analysts attempt to understand the emergence of the complex forms of hybrid culture and identity that increasingly occur amongst youth throughout the world due to the proliferation of media like film, television, popular music, the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) in their everyday lives.

Kahn and Kellner)

This comprehensive definition of global culture therefore goes some way to providing an answer to the central question in this section. The success of anime in countries like the United States is largely, but not completely, a result of the dispersion of youth culture through the digital media and its acceptance as part of the global culture – which in turn has made in acceptable and popular to American youth and other Western youth cultures.

An important aspect that should also be considered in the understanding of what a global youth culture means is the involvement of global and multinational corporations and business. Corporations, especially those in America, have grown in the past few decades to become global players in the international markets. Global corporations are also part of the reason why cultural products such as anime have become so popular in the West.

Business and corporate interests have seen the lucrative possibilities inherent in the global youth culture and have realized the potential for marketing that influences the global youth. This is one of the reasons why executives at Sony pictures in both Tokyo and Los Angeles have decided to relaunch the superhero character of Astro Boy to global audiences. This view is supported by the high figures noted in the study; for example, the fact that in 2002, broadcasting rights for Japanese anime in the United States were close to $500 million and toys featuring anime characters amounted to an estimated $4.7 billion.

On the other hand, one cannot ignore the power inherent in global youth culture and the way that anime has entered into the mainstream of popular consciousness as both entertainment and art form. This is also related to the fact that the global youth culture has a momentum of its own that is related to the way technological developments are shared.

One can however state in response to this question that the success of Japanese anime in countries such as the United States is certainly indicative of the emergence and spread of a global youth culture. The interest that has been shown by the large corporations is also an indication of the importance of this global culture and the increased popularity of anime

2. What social and technological forces are making it possible for Japanese anime to transcend national borders?

The Internet is possibly the most important force in the popularization and acceptance of various cultural views, figures and styles throughput the world. The Word Wide Web has been for the past few decades an increasingly effective force in the creation and spread of the global youth culture, and in the dissemination of anime among the youth. The global youth culture is a unique phenomenon, characterized mainly by the sharing of different cultural aspects and ideas. This refers to the “information society’ which has created a dynamic and vital media culture. This media culture is described as a “… homogenizing and diversifying influence,” which merges “…lifestyles, performances, and sociopolitical practices of contemporary youth” (Kahn and Kellner).

This view is supported by the fact that many studies show that the youth are in general the most media literate sector of the society and the largest social demographic using the Internet to explore new ideas. Therefore, the proliferation of anime has been enhanced and in many cases facilitated throughout the world mainly by word of mouth, through the communications channels and networks offered by the Internet. The Internet can therefore be seen as both a social and technological force in the promotion of the culture of anime.

The global youth culture has become a major force to be reckoned with in term of business and commerce. This aspect can be seen in the way that commentators and theoreticians have upgraded the concept of a global youth culture from a subculture to a culture in its own right.

A the thoroughly mediated aspects of today’s youth culture, with technology like the Internet able to provide youth the world over with instant access to a wide diversity of cultural styles and artifacts, has led recent theorists to question the applicability of the concept of “subculture” in a global context

Kahn and Kellner).

This view therefore emphasizes the power and influence that is now ascribed to the global youth culture, especially in the light of their dominance in terms of technology and the new media.

On the other hand, there is another force that is almost equally responsible for the acceptances of the amine culture as part of the global youth culture. This refers to the multinational corporate and business forces that promote anime and other lucrative cultural artifacts.

While the rise of the popular youth movement culture has its own energy and impetus, yet this aspect has also been influenced by commercial and corporate interests. There is little doubt that in the contemporary world, the corporations and large commercial concerns also play a role as a central force in the promotion and dissemination of anime.

While the youth comprise the more media articulate section of the population, the “…multinational corporations that trade in global media commodities actively target young people as a consumer class… “(Kahn and Kellner). This involvement can be seen by the fact that business envisages an estimated $2 trillion in potential sales from global youth culture. (Kahn and Kellner)

3. How does the development of the new series of Astro Boy cartoons differ from the way Japanese anime has traditionally been developed? Why is this change being made?

In the past and traditionally Japanese anime has been produced only in Japan and exported to other counties. Anime was also previously dubbed into foreign languages. However, with the proliferation global youth culture, anime achieved a greater degree of acceptance. Astro Boy was originally produced in black and white and in slow and jerky four and five frames per second format.

However, this has changed with the resurgence on interest in the anime character. Animators in the United States are now producing the cartoon in color and in a more contemporary 24 frame per second format. Furthermore, the audio has been synchronized with both Japanese and English soundtracks. The content and storyline has also been adapted by the writers to make it more appealing to all cultural groups.

The reasons for these changes are not only related to the popularity of the anime culture. The Sony Corporation sees the character of Astro Boy and the amine culture in general as being an extremely lucrative product line. This can be seen in the way that it is commercialized, with all the marketing, licensing and advertising gimmicks that go with large-scale enterprise marketing. This also includes the rights that Sony has acquired for the film version of the anime production.

While some anime fans may see this commercialization as running counter to the innovative and free rebellious spirit that originally influenced the creation of anime, it cannot be doubted that anime has become big business because of its appeal to the global youth culture.

4. Do you think that Astro Boy will be successful? Why?

This is a difficult question to answer simply and unequivocally. On the one hand, it is relatively certain that the character of Astro Boy will be a success in a financial and commercial sense. Part of the reason for this is that the impetus and popularity of global youth culture is behind anime and characters like Astro Boy. The large companies like Sony have taken cognizance of this global enthusiasm and popularity and they are fully prepared to exploit it and to raise the character to the level of cult status through marketing, advertising and film.

However, there is a certain degree of danger in this commercialization. It may have the effect of alienating the hardcore fans and fan base. Anime as a global youth culture has been firmly rooted in the unconventional aspects of the medium and in the progressive style of the content and characterization. The danger is that an overly commercialized version of anime may not receive the positive acceptance among true anime fans and this may lead to a reduction in its acceptance among the youth.

However, having said this, the answer to this question is that in the short-term at least, the production of Astro Boy is sure to be a success due to the advertising and marketing forces that are promoting the character. What is of concern however is the extent to which the impetus of this popularity can be maintained. The advertising and marketing companies have to ensure that the mystique and the aura of the anime medium do not become too diluted by the commercial aspects.

Experts have commented on this important distinction. From one perspective, there is the criticism from within the youth culture of marketing Astro Boy as the attempt by capitalists and “imperialism” to undermine the unique and individualistic nature of anime. On the other hand, there is the view that global youth culture cannot exist or develop unless it becomes part of the global economy. This point-of-view is express as follows:

Others see global popular culture as promoting a progressive postmodern diversity, hybridized cosmopolitanism, and proliferation of voices, cultural forms, and styles. In this view, youth are being empowered by new cultural opportunities to question reactionary and regressive cultural and political attitudes in their respective societies.

Kahn and Kellner)

An imprecise and delicate balance exists between these two points-of-view.

There is therefore a fine line between maintaining this creative mystique and advertising and marketing, that has to be observed. The very aspects that have made amine such as a global success, such the Internet and networked sharing could also be the force that reacts against on overly merchandized and commercialized product.


Kahn R. And Kellner D. Global Youth Culture. November 12, 2007.