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Anime-ted Japan

Japanese culture vibrates with the energy of anime, an art form that's giving American pop culture a run for its money.

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As taxi driver Osamu Nozawa waits for his next fare, he often reaches for his favorite manga to pass the time - a small graphic magazine about a sniper called GoruGo 13. While a grown man reading a comic book might seem unusual in other parts of the world, in this small island nation Mr. Nozawa is only one of millions of consumers of anime (as animation is known here). "I've been an anime fan since I was a child," says Nozawa with a laugh as he navigates the busy midday traffic. "So is everyone I know."

What began as a distinctly Japanese style of visual storytelling has gone global. As culture watchers from Tokyo to London point out, anime is far more than Pikachu and PowerPuff girls. The art form has achieved what no other indigenous cultural expression has managed to do: become widespread enough to challenge America's stranglehold on entertainment.

"It is one of the only true rivals to American pop culture," says Kaoru Mfaume, vice president of acquisitions for Manga Entertainment.

"Westerners tend to look at the style and think it's simple," says Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, the firm responsible for launching the worldwide Pokémon craze. "But that's the secret to its success, especially with young people, because the Japanese [value] the story and writing more than the style."

The form emerged nearly a half-century ago from a war-torn Japan that was struggling to make sense of its losses. Japan has a long pictorial tradition and pictographs were a natural form of popular entertainment for artists, says Mr. Mfaume. "They began expressing all their fantasies about the future," he adds, pointing to the Japanese manga, or comic books, which became the foundation for the film and TV incarnations. "Everything they feared about death and war and life and peace after nearly being annihilated in the war, went into anime," he says.

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