The question of whether Japanese or American animation is the better medium is a rather broad one, and we'll be looking at a number of aspects of this entertainment type, its history, purpose and product in order to draw our conclusions.
As Spike points out, if there is an iconic American animation figure, it would be Mickey Mouse. He wasn't the first animation, of course, but he would be a character upon which an amazing success story was built. From Steamboat Willie to the American media empire that is Disney is a century long path, but that road was paved with technical advances in animation that have impacted studios around the world, including Japan.
Through it all, though, Walt never wanted to lose perspective…
"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."
Prior to 1937, animation was a bit of a joke in the industry. Whether Betty Boop, Felix the Cat (little known fact -- he was the first balloon in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, in 1927!) the characters of the Disney Studios, or the fledgling Warner Brothers studios' "Looney Tunes", animation meant "cartoons" and that meant a seven minute farcical short that preceded "real" movies.
Then, Disney took a huge gamble, including mortgaging his own home to finance production, to create the first full length cel animation movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. With little comedic content, the film was a complete departure from what animation was assumed to be. A critical and commercial success in its own time, it has continued to be so, named in 1997 as one of only two animated films to the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Films of all time.
Building on the success of that, Disney embarked on a series of animated features that have spelled "quality animation" for untold millions, both in America and around the world.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Pinocchio (1940)
- Fantasia (1940)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Bambi (1942)
- Cinderella (1950)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Lady and the Tramp (1955)
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
- One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
There are others in that timeframe, of course, but these are significant releases, all prior to Spike's Astro Boy in 1963. In addition, beyond Disney, Warners Brothers Studios released a massive amount of shorts featuring Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd and the rest of the Looney Tunes, though even Bugs wasn't above a bit of "highbrow entertainment":
The question arises as to what was the difference between typical animation and Disney's classic works, which caused not only children, but adults, to flock to the theatre to see a film that was drawn, rather than acted. While the animation of Japan often depicts impossible to present situations (such as a witch flying on a broom, or a post-apocalyptic nightmare,) Snow White or Sleeping Beauty were stories that actors could have done.
It turns out that no small part of that was the technical advancements that Walt and his studios were making. Chief among them was the multi-plane camera, which allowed animators to create fascinating scenes, never before seen.
Please take seven minutes and watch this video, where Walt himself describes the technique:
Does Japanese animation owe a huge debt to American techniques, such as the multi-plane camera? Hardly. Japanese animation is famous for its lazy use of fixed backgrounds and even fixed characters. Compare the animation shown in the Disney clip to that used here, in the extremely popular Dragonball Z anime series:
Notice that almost all of the animation is simplistic and crude -- repetitive drawings, or a static drawing with only the character's mouth moving. This is not an art form, such as that developed by the American animation studios, but rather a simplistic rendering. And it is not merely indicative of the one series -- it is endemic in Japanese animation, a point that my esteemed opponent will find difficult to refute.
And, with that, over to Spike...