Ask John: How Did Anime Start?

How did anime start ? What were the influences on it ?

Books could be written in response to this question. I’m going to attempt to provide a brief yet thorough answer, focusing mainly on simply the history of anime. Please excuse me for any omissions; although it’s probably inevitable that some readers will think of the following as either including too much or too little information.

It could be said that some of the earliest influences on anime are traditional Japanese art forms bunraku theater (puppet theater) and ukiyo-e woodcut illustrations. From the earliest days of Japanese culture, illustration art, and moving illustration art has been an integral part of Japanese life. The earliest example of cinematic Japanese animation dates back to 1917’s Neko to Netsumi, created and filmed by Oten Shimokawa, Junichi Terauchi and Seitarou Kitayama. The film Momotaro, an animated version of a traditional Japanese fairy tale, earned worldwide recognition in 1918. The animated movie Chikara to Onna no Yononaka from 1932 takes credit for being the first Japanese animated movie to feature spoken dialogue. And the first animated film to began to germinate the roots of what we now know as anime was the 1944 film Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei. During W.W.II, Japan produced many animated pro-war effort short films, in the same way the United States did, to rally public support from the home front.

In the 1950s, young Osamu Tezuka, influenced by Disney animation and the American occupation of Japan, began to draw cartoon characters with distinctly Western features, most notable large, round eyes. Tezuka’s early animated works, including Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), Jungle Emperor (Kimba the White Lion), and Ribbon no Kishi (Princess Knight) became some of the first examples of what is now recognized as contemporary anime. Otogi Manga Calendar, which premiered on June 25, 1962 is technically the first Japanese animation broadcast on Japanese television, but it was Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom that premiered on January 1, 1963 that was the first regularly scheduled weekly television animation in Japan, and essentially the beginning of anime as we know it today. In 1958, the animated movie Hakujaden (also known as “Legend of the White Snake” and “Panda and the Magic Serpent”) became Japan’s first color film.

The 1960s saw the premiers of Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer) and Tobor the 8th Man, both of which also later appeared on broadcast television in the US. The 1970s is probably the decade in which anime truly came into its own. The early 1970s were virtually dominated by three names: Tatsunoko, Go Nagai, and Leiji Matsumoto. Tatsunoko Studios introduced the seminal super-hero and super-hero team series like Robot Hunter Cashan, Hurricane Polymer, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and Space Knight Tekkaman. Go Nagai brought a new degree of exploitation (violence & nudity) to anime through his Devilman and Cutey Honey TV series. He also virtually single-handedly created the giant-robot genre through series like Great Mazinger and Grandizer. Leiji Matsumoto, heavily influenced by Star Wars, introduced the space-opera with titles including Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Millennium Queen, Galaxy Express 999 and Uchuu Senkan Yamato (known as Starblazers in the US). Yoshiyuki Tomino then revolutionized the anime industry in 1979 with the introduction of Mobile Suit Gundam, the first giant-robot series to present giant-robots as mere machines instead of giant, the robotic guardians of justice and evil mechanical fiends of Go Nagai gave way to heavily political and more realistic stories.

The 1980s are considered by many fans to be the golden period of anime. Japan’s economy was one of the most prosperous in the world, and studios had the money to sponsor experimental, stylistic shows including Angel’s Egg, Twilight Q, Amon Saga, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Ai City, and long-running TV series like Dragonball, City Hunter, Fist of the North Star, Urusei Yatsura, and St. Seiya. In 1984, Dallos became the first anime film released directly to home-video, ushering in the era of the Original Video Animation (OVA or OAV)- anime made for direct to home-video release. OAVs allowed studios to produce animation of higher production quality than TV shows, and with stories aimed at small niche markets. The 1990s, especially the early 1990s, saw a decrease, relative to the 80s, in overall quantity of anime produced. But while there may have been less anime produced, the quality of anime released surpassed virtually anything that had come before. I believe that from this point on, most readers will be able to piece together the continuing story of the evolution of anime on their own.


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