For those who are not completely familiar with the term; Anime (in the Western hemisphere) typically refers to a highly stylized and detailed form of entertainment that was first popularized in the Japanese animation industry. With fans of the genre further classifying the term to refer to animation that was orignally created for viewing by a primarily native Japanese audience.
However, in Japan the term is more generally used in reference to all forms of animated entertainment;
including animation created in and for American and European viewers. In fact some of the first inspirations for the character designs and background elements made popular in Anime came in response to the early works of animators such as Walt Disney (Steamboat Willie), and Max Fleischer (Betty Boop and the 1940s Superman cartoons).
Animation became more widely adopted as a tool for creating stories in Japan during the 1950s and early 1960s, in part as a cost savings measure over live film creation during reconstruction from World War II; and in large part because it was able to draw from the rich heritage of visual and theatrical arts carried over in Japanese culture. It allowed for a visual representation both of consistently common themes in Japanese society, and for the melodramatic depiction of popular cliche's and emotional outbursts, as well as representation of movie effects and a scenery that would have been impossible to create with the motion picture technology of the time. At the same time, animation in Japan and the Far East did not come under the same social stigma and regulation that occured in American comic book publishing during the same period, which fostered an attitude of viewing cartoons and comic books as being media aimed solely at children. Without that creative hold, Anime was able to branch out much
further in its use as a method of storytelling, much in the way black and white film became popular as an avant garde filmmaking tool.
Thus, when works of Anime started to filter over to the West, mostly as souveneirs of people stationed in Japan as part of the foriegn service, it was welcomed by a small but tight knit society of animation fans as a stark alternative to the "kids stuff" cartoons that were popularized on American Televison and Film of the time. That interest grew over time into an underground community of fans sharing in the collection and display of imported works of animation, and to many going on to learn the language and culture of Japan as a means to further enjoy anime as a form of entertainment, to assist other new fans in understanding and translating the animated works, and, for some, to lead to business opportunities in helping with the import and distribution of such works from overseas.
As the ability to distrubute anime, and the quality of the translation work improved, the ability for fans to share and purchase anime titles came closer and closer to mainstream acceptance. Many early anime shows were repackaged and renamed for an American audience (Voltron, Astroboy, Battle of the Planets, Robotech, and Starblazers among others), to the point that a second generation of anime fans were first exposed to Japansese animation in the form of a new kind of American cartoon. This further
interest led to the creation of many new Cartoon/Fantasy Organizations around the country as public faces of the growth of organized fandom. This coincided with the early fandom surrounding such shows and the original airing (and syndication) of the Star Trek series, and resulted in similar efforts surrounding fan-sponsored conventions and public gatherings of common interest.
The state of anime fandom maintained itself at this counter-cultural level for several years, until several events came together in the mid-1980s/early 1990s. The advent of nationwide cable television service created many opportunites for specialized channels to seek out alternative forms of video entertainment as broadcast content. The widespread sales of the VCR and Laserdisc units in the USA created the foundation for a home entertainment industry similar to the one in Japan. And a period of recession in the Japanese economy, caused many of the animation studios producing content primarily for Japanese consumption, to become more serious about seeking revenue thru re-distrubution of new and existing titles in thier video libraries.
Those events led to the boom in popularity of Japanese created animation that we have seen today. It has also led to a form of reverse inspiration on the part of American cartoonists and animators, to the point that many new cartoon creators have learned to adopt artistic styles from anime designs, or found a new audience ready for more mature themes and greater detail in hand drawn, and computer generated, graphic novels and animated stories. To the point where even the Walt Disney corporation became interested in redistrubuting anime titles to other markets, and visual effects artists at studios
such as Pixar and Rythm and Hues sought to gain new ideas from the genre.
It has also led to new ideas for live action filmmaking, where efforts to create situations and specials effects for such films as the Matrix are credited as having been largely inspired by anime influences. So what was once a method to represent what could not be shown in live action films,
and that has come to represent a style of filmmaking in its own right, also helps to provide the ideas that now push the boundaries of mainstream movies and television.