Tomb Raider ‘anime’ on Netflix sparks intense debate for one particular reason

Anthony McGlynn
Tomb Raider: The Legend of Lara Croft on Netflix

A Tomb Raider animated series is coming to Netflix soon, but the project being considered anime in marketing has opened a large can of worms on social media.

Netflix recently announced that the Tomb Raider anime show would arrive on the streaming service on October 10, 2024. Lara Croft, the main character, is voiced by former MCU star Hayley Atwell, with Powerhouse Animation Studios making the series.

Earmarked as an anime on X/Twitter, many onlookers disagree with the moniker, sparking a debate on the evolution of the term in English-speaking territories.

“I am once again stating how much I dislike ‘anime’ just being a catch-all marketing term to sell adult animation in the west and how the very idea of everything being ‘anime-inspired’ feels increasingly more like weird appropriation,” comments one account.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t anime, and neither is this Tomb Raider. Would be better to call it animation inspired by Japan styles, but just that,” says another user.

“In the span of 30 years I’ve seen the discourse go from ‘cartoons are for children’ to ‘Japanese cartoons are inferior’ to ‘Japanese cartoons are awesome’ to finally, ‘Western cartoons are calling themselves anime to let you know they’re good’,” adds another X/Twitter account.

This is something that’s been going back-and-forth for some time. Since the early 2000s, we’ve been getting more and animated shows taking clear influence from anime. The likes of Jackie Chan Adventures and Xaolin Showdown very much took inspiration from the medium, and the aforementioned Avatar: The Last Airbender was something of a watershed moment for American animation’s adoption of Japanese stylings.

Netflix has taken this a step further by labeling franchise spin-offs such as Tomb Raider, Castlevania, Blood of Zeus, and Terminator Zero, as anime. These are predominantly American and British-made productions, and if you want to take a purist perspective, anime is merely animation from Japan and other Asian countries, so these series can’t be that in a literal sense.

The use of anime as a signifier of quality seems to be stoking the cynicism, since that could possibly be seen as some form of cultural appropriation. Netflix is perhaps trying to avoid the idea of Tomb Raider being considered as just a cartoon, but labeling it as an anime is creating a different kind of negative publicity.

Ultimately, anime is a medium, not a brand, and this discussion might be an indicator that Netflix can’t just let the baggage of a single word do the positive advertising for them.

In any case, Tomb Raider: The Legend of Lara Croft arrives in October, and we have a list of the best anime movies on Netflix for your viewing pleasure, as well. Elsewhere, check out our list of all the best TV shows of 2024.