Avatar: The Last Airbender – Is it an Anime?

Searching around for an interesting peripheral figure or group to look at regarding anime, I came across the above video from the PBS Idea Channel, hosted by Mike Rugnetta, a successful YouTube show that “examines the connections between pop culture, technology and art.” The YouTube Channel, and it’s videos boasting millions of views, demonstrate how many people are interested in these niche investigations. Furthermore, the video brought to my attention the discourse about the genre classification of anime, and the question of, is “Avatar: the Last Airbender” an anime?

As Mike Rugnetta informs us, anime is simply the Japanese word for animation. Outside of Japan, the term specifically only refers to animation from Japan, although in Japan, it refers to every type of animation. With this applied logic, “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” can be classified as American or Western Anime. Chris O’Brien from the Escapist leads an interesting argument, stating that “anime has been around and popular for so long, its influence now stretches far outside the confines of the tiny island country in the Pacific from which it originates.”  Thus certainly, this information surely calls for the discussion and perhaps a rethinking of our often rigid genre classification system.

The question, I think, is what is gained by excluding works that meet major stylistic criteria from a genre?

Are we maintaining the usefulness of the word anime, having it mean a very specific thing?

There is a usefulness in having anime communicate equality or a set of qualities, but is a disservice done when it starts excluding things that admirers of the form might appreciate regardless of it’s “authenticity?”

Or speaking of which, maybe it’s about protecting the sanctity or quality of the genre itself?

– Mike Rugnetta, The Idea Channel

Personally what I’d like to find out by investigating fandom communities, is how fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and it’s sequel series, “The Legend of Korra” feel about Anime. I personally find the two shows to be extremely fascinating, as not only do they combine the styles of anime and American cartoons, they also communicates cultural imagery, adult intellectual themes, mythology, and theology of various East Asian, Inuit, Southeast Asian, South Asian and New World societies.

What are your thoughts on the subject? I’d love to know!


– Rugnetta (2014,) “Is Avatar: The Last Airbender Anime?” PBS Idea Channel, Accessed 28 Aug 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRfv5a9QFu8

– O’Brien, (2012) “Can Americans Make Anime?” The Escapist, Accessed 28 Aug 2014, http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/features/9829-Can-Americans-Make-Anime


  1. Hi there!

    Thanks for your post this week. So I have a confession to make, i actually have watched the whole entire series of Avatar: the last airbender after my boyfriend downloaded the whole series and watched it every night. I had actually thought that Avatar was from Korea when I first was watching it but it was interesting to find out that it was actually made in America, and that this is actually American anime.

    I had never really thought about the genre classification system and the way that this different tv shows are classified. I would personally be more inclined to say that this television show is influenced by anime and japanese cultures, however there is a lot of influence from other western societies and cultures and also as you have stated above, this show also communicates “cultural cultural imagery, mythology, and theology of various East Asian, Inuit, Southeast Asian, South Asian and New World societies.”
    very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think now the lines are so blurred between what is considered anime and what is not. I have recently started watching The Boondocks, which definitely has the ‘Anime’ style of artwork, but the content itself is so incredibly not. So can we call that anime because of the actual animation style? I don’t think so. As you’ve said “anime is simply the Japanese word for animation”, but I think the term ‘anime’ has morphed into it’s own genre and has it’s own culture. I think your plans to investigate what fans of Avatar think on the topic. It would be cool to maybe talk to people who both think it is anime and those against this. It would definitely aid in creating a clear definition of what classifies as anime.


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