If you haven't heard the melodies of the young Porter Robinson yet, chances are you might very soon. After co-writing hits such as Zedd's "Clarity," the release of his 2014 album Worlds blended video game melodies with Japanese inspiration, and was well received by fans and critics.
Earlier this year the 24-year old dropped one of the smoothest electronic tracks of the year, "Shelter," in collaboration with French electronic music producer Madeon. After the single debuted back in the summer, it was followed up by a beautifully produced music video, which landed on Robinson's YouTube channel last month in partnership with Crunchyroll. If you haven't seen it yet, you can check it out below and pretend someone is cutting onions.
Currently the music video has racked up nearly 7.7 million hits, a pretty impressive feat given that Robinson's channel sits at just under 200k subscribers. "Shelter" received a fair amount of those views over its first 24 hour period, which saw it taken to Reddit's popular /r/anime thread, quickly topping the subreddit at a 98% upvote rate.
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It's a delicate piece of work, created by the animators at A-1 Pictures, a subsidiary company of Sony Japan's Aniplex. A-1 has an impressive track record, creating Black Butler, Sword Art Online, Fairy Tale and Blue Exorcist, amongst many more well known animes. They collaborated with Robinson for more than a year on "Shelter," with the short story used to create the music video narrative penned by the musician himself.
But — despite the fact it was created by such a prolific, Japanese based, animation studio — this didn't save the short film and any mention of it from being swiftly banned from /r/anime, igniting a storm on the board that boasts nearly half a million subscribers.
The thread is maintained with an iron fist by admins, in order to weed out spoilers and curb the posting of animated pornography, but according to said admins, "Shelter" did not meet their criteria for what constitutes anime.
Everything posted on /r/anime must be strictly related to the mod's definition of anime as laid out on the thread's rules page. Their definition reads thusly:
The specific definition we use to determine "Anime" is "An animated series, produced and aired in Japan, intended for a Japanese audience". We do not consider anime to be a "style".
Despite the fact that it was created by A-1 — a studio long associated with anime — the fact that it was produced in collaboration with an American artist and supposedly intended for an American audience means that it's not strictly "anime." At least, not in the opinion of the /r/anime mods.
This of course was met with some derision from the community, with mods reportedly receiving death threats over it. Ah the internet, you never fail to depress. Responding to displeasure from fans, one of the mods replied:
This is a music video by an artist that contracted out a studio that happens to also produce anime. If A-1 was contracted to produce episode of Spongebob, we wouldn’t allow that either.
It is upsetting, of course, to be removed from such a huge audience from which it received almost universal praise. Especially for an up-and-comer such as Robinson. Indeed Robinson himself took to Twitter to express his sorrow over the removal of the post.
The original post was eventually restored in response to the backlash, but the mods still maintain that "Shelter" doesn't qualify as anime. Long-time subreddit moderator Neito told Kotaku that the problem for them lay in the fact that some of the producers of the piece were American. He said:
While Shelter was animated by an anime studio, it was produced by Americans (Mr. Robinson and his label). This rendered it separate from co-productions (such as the upcoming Toonami/Production I.G. co-production of FLCL, where each side is an equally powerful creative force) and exactly like a traditional commissioned work, such as how Batman: the Animated Series was animated by Sunrise (more traditionally known for the Gundam and Code Geass series).
The whole Reddit fuss dredges up an old argument over how exactly anime is defined in opposition to animation. The dictionary definition tends to describe anime as "a style of Japanese film and television animation," and the genre certainly has distinctive style markers associated with it, though different studios tend to put their own spin on the style.
But is anime something more than just a style, and can Americans ever produce true anime? Off the back of this argument, Cecilia D'Anastasio over at Kotaku spoke to the Japanese-based Miyazaki International College anthropologist Debra Occhi, and Duke University cultural anthropologist Patrick Galbraith regarding the matter.
Both academics agreed that the music video falls under a traditional cultural definition of anime, although a couple of Occhi's students argued against this on the basis of the producers being American.
It's a tricky distinction to make, especially when you consider the fact that anime is so steeped in Japanese culture. This calls to mind debate over media such as Avatar: The Last Airbender which, despite its distinctly anime-like style, was a purely American production and so doesn't fall under the umbrella term of anime.
At the end of the day though, we can still appreciate "Shelter" for what it is: A pretty piece of animated art produced alongside a melodic blend of electronica with Japanese elements. As long as we avoid getting into death threat territory over the debate, we'll do alright.
What do you think? Is "Shelter" anime, or does a production need to be purely Japanese to qualify? Sound off in the comments, and check out our video examination of how anime has impacted Western animation below!