If you really want to understand anime, first you need to know about manga. Why?
In the U.S., animation for TV or for movies is very different from comic book art. Animation by companies like Disney or DreamWorks focuses on movement – lots of movement. Characters move, scenery moves, the background moves… most people think the more movement there is the “better” the animation is. (That’s why a lot of people were surprised when SouthPark became popular – the characters hardly move at all, much less the scenery.)
Since Western animation normally requires a lot of movement to be considered “good,” if a comic book is adapted to become an animated cartoon or movie, most of the time the characters are simplified so they can be drawn more easily when they have to move. (The more detail a character’s clothing has, for instance, the more an artist has to re-draw when the character moves. If a sleeve doesn’t have any stripes, there are no stripes to re-draw as the arm moves.) That’s why, for instance, Batman’s costume looks pretty simple in a cartoon, instead of having all the detail, shading, highlights, etc, that it has in the comic book. The creators of the cartoon don’t want to spend too much money on re-drawing his costume every time Batman moves.
Anime characters are also licensed from comic books, but the animators take great care to make sure the style of the original comic is kept. They try to keep as much detail and accuracy in their drawings as they possibly can. As a result, the characters just don’t move as much.
By the way: the difference in style also has to do with money. Budgets for animation in Japan tend to be lower than in the U.S. What does that mean? Here’s an example: It costs money to create each episode of Inuyasha: stories have to be written, storyboards created, scripts written, voices recorded, drawing and animation completed, digital files created… dozens and sometimes hundreds of people work on each episode. It all costs money – lots of money. Each episode has a “budget,” or a limit, on how much money can be spent.
In order to save money, anime tends to have less movement, and what movement there is tends to be less fluid or smooth compared to Western animation. (That’s not always true, of course, but it is as a general rule.) Anime makes up for that by paying more attention to character design, telling great stories, and creating scenes that seem to be full of action even though the actual movement is pretty limited.
So, when you see Spike attack in Cowboy Bebop, you’ll notice most of the time he doesn’t actually move – the background moves, making it seem like he’s flying across the screen. Sometimes it’s scenery, sometimes just lines that indicate movement… but either way it’s a lot cheaper to make the background move than to make Spike move.
Speaking of costs, most of the animating itself – drawing one pose after another, with really small differences, so that when put together the sequence shows motion – is done in the United States or in Japan. Labor costs, or what the artists have to be paid, are just too high. Artists in Korea, the Philippines, China, or Indonesia do most of the animating. The artists aren’t paid as much in those countries, so making the episode is a lot cheaper. Usually the storyboards, character designs, and voice recordings are done in Japan or the U.S., though.
If some of what I just discussed didn’t make sense, don’t worry: we’ll talk more about the process of creating a typical anime episode later.
As you can probably guess, many of the artists who work on manga also work in anime. Great drawing is great drawing, and while there are some differences to the styles used, a good manga artist can easily work on drawings for anime. While most of the top artists don’t do a lot of the actual drawings for each particular episode, they’re often used to create new characters and designs for anime and for video games.