If you’re new to manga and have been researching the subject, you’re likely getting frustrated as your searches keep turning up Web sites dedicated to anime rather than manga. Anime and manga are two peas in the same pod. Many anime are adaptations of manga, and similarly, although less common, some manga are adaptations of anime. comicreaders.com, therefore, has decided to shed some light on anime, exploring its history, its connection with manga and some of the best productions this art form has to offer.
Anime is Japanese animation. As defined by its North American fans, anime is simply animation made in Japan. In Japan, however, the word anime is used to denote animation made anywhere in the world. Anime is often incorrectly referred to as a genre. It is, in fact, a medium that includes a variety of genres. Anime, like its counterpart manga, are mainstream media in Japan. Here in North America, anime and manga enjoy a cult following. It should be noted, however, that both are continuing to gain wider recognition in mainstream North American pop culture.
In Japan, anime is released in three ways:
1. TV Shows – often later re-released on video.
2. Theatrical Films – often later re-released on video.
3. OVA – Original Video Animation. These are anime released directly to video. You will often see this spelled OAV in English works.
The 1960s marked the arrival of modern anime. Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “The Father of Modern Manga”, is also responsible for a new age for anime. This modern age begins with his Tetsuwan Atom television series.
The roots of anime, however, lie back in the early 1900s. The earliest Japanese animations were created by film hobbyists. Inspired by the American and European animation pioneers, these Japanese animators created the first three Japanese cartoons. The animations were one-reel endeavors, each somewhere between one and five minutes long. These were created in 1917.
In the 1920s, anime got a little longer in length, now running as long as three reels. A few were imitations of foreign cartoons, but most were dramatizations of Oriental folk tales in traditional Japanese art styles.
During the 1930s, folk tales gave way to Western style animations with fast-paced humour. These gradually, but quickly, started to reflect the growing influence of Japanese militarism. After Japan went to war with China in 1937, animation productions needed to be approved by government censors. This resulted in a stream of propaganda cartoons touting militaristic ideals. Interestingly enough, it was the military that spearheaded the production of Japan’s first animated feature. In 1943, the Imperial military government assembled the team of animators that would produce the 74-minute Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors. This was a juvenile adventure tale that showed the Imperial Navy as brave, cute anthropomorphic animals. It was released in 1945, shortly before the end of WWII.
Individual filmmakers were given the freedom to once again make their own animations once the war was over. Productions were, however, hampered for the next decade by the weakened Japanese economy. Japanese animations also had to compete with the high quality American cartoons pouring into Japan with the Occupation forces. Japanese animators soon realized the future of anime lay in adopting the North American studio system.
Getting ready for modern anime…
The first successful anime production studio was Toei Animation Co., which was organized in 1956. Yasuji Mori directed the studio’s first notable short cartoon called Doodling Kitty, which debuted in 1957. The general public, however, wouldn’t come to know Toei until 1958. It was that year in which Toei released its first anime theatrical feature: Panda and the Magic Serpent. This feature, and the first few that followed it, copied the Disney formula very closely. These anime were even released in the U.S., although a couple of years after they were first shown in Japan. None of these features were a success on Western shores, and so theatrical anime disappeared from America for the next two decades.
One of these feature-length anime, Alakazam the Great, was based on a popular 1950s manga. That comic was by Osamu Tezuka, an adaptation of the ancient Chinese Monkey King legend. Tezuka was Japan’s most popular manga-ka during this period, and since the movie used his plot and visual style, he was consulted on its adaptation. This involvement caused him to switch his attention from manga to animation. Modern anime was about to be born.
Thank you (again), Osamu Tezuka…
Tezuka was now interested in the production of anime. He decided he could produce anime television series for Japan. He also realized the popularity of his manga could very well translate into popular anime. This is a tradition that continues even today. With such a diverse and large amount of manga available, popular manga is usually adapted into anime.
Anyway, Tezuka put together Japan’s first television animation studio. Mushi Productions, as it was called, released its first television series on New Year’s Day 1963. That series was Tetsuwan Atom. Its success was immediate. Soon there were three more television animation studios, and even Toei opened up a television division. By the end of the 1960s, the popularity of television science-fiction and action-adventure anime was overwhelming.
Television animation is much more popular in Japan than it is in North America. The 1960s was the beginning of this trend. Tezuka also brought sophisticated adult animation to movie theatres in 1969. A Thousand and One Nights was an adaptation of Arabian Nights with the eroticism intact. Indeed, over time, Japanese theatrical anime has become some of the highest grossing movies in Japan. Over here in North America, animated features are still considered kiddie fare, but in Japan, anime is enjoyed by all ages. Theatrical anime wouldn’t gain its true mainstream appeal, however, until the 1980s.
Television anime in the 1970s was dominated by giant-robot and outer space adventures. One of the most influential of this style was Toei’s adaptation of the manga Mazinger Z. This was the first series to feature a gigantic flying mechanical warrior controlled by a human pilot. By the mid-1980s, there had been more than forty television anime series based on a giant robot premise. In the late 1970s, these shows would be sub-titled and shown on Japanese community television channels in America, thereby starting the anime cult following in the Western world.
Another popular genre at this time was futuristic outer space adventures. The hottest of these shows was Space Battleship Yamato, which debuted in 1974. There were several Yamato television series and even a number of theatrical sequels.
Anime had been dominated by television productions for two decades by the time the mid-1980s rolled around. It was now time for television anime to move aside. Theatrical anime was about to get an influx of new talent and popularity. The two names most readily identified with this shift are Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
In the early 1980s, Miyazaki began his manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The popularity of this manga led to a feature film directed by the manga-ka himself. Released in 1985, the feature-length anime was a huge success. This resulted in the creation of a new animation studio called Studio Ghibli. This studio formed to produce the theatrical features of Miyazaki and his friend and collaborator Isao Takahata.
Studio Ghibli would release, on average, a feature a year, alternating between the productions of Miyazaki and Takahata. From Miyazaki, Japan received Laputa: The Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and The Crimson Pig (1992). Takahata released Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991) and Pom Poko (1994). Many of these titles became Japan’s top grossing theatrical films. Takahata’s Pom Poko was submitted as Japan’s candidate for an Academy Awards nominee for Best Foreign Film. Miyazaki would receive a similar honour in 2002, when his Spirited Away anime feature was awarded Best Animated Feature Film.
The 1980s also marked the arrival of another influential anime feature. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was another smash success for Japan, and when it arrived on North American shores, many eyes were opened to the storytelling and visual power of anime films.
Another remarkable development occurred in the 1980s; the emergence of the home-video market. Beginning in 1984, anime began to be produced especially for home video. The home video market created a glut of anime because its production costs were so much cheaper. Amid all the forgettable pap, however, are true gems such as Patlabor and No Time for Tenchi, which became so popular they spawned their own anime television series and theatrical films. Regardless of where your opinions fall, home video anime is important to note because its sheer volume of titles has opened the doors for many new viewing opportunities. The home video market is the main source for the anime being released in North America today.
The 1990s and beyond…
The 1980s are considered the golden years of Japanese animation. The greatest diversity of anime was being produced during this time because a great deal of money was flowing into the industry. Today, animation in Japan is considered to be in a creative slump by its critics. A common trend these days is the production of home video remakes of anime favourites from the golden eras of the 70s and 80s, adopting the same basic plots, but adding a flashy modern artistic style.
Criticism of anime from the latter part of the 90s and into the 21st century is perhaps a bit jaded, however. Considering the amount of fresh ideas coming out of manga, anime will always have a high quality orchard from which to pick the best apples. It is also worth mentioning that many of the concepts that have grown stale in Japan are still fresh to North American audiences. This accounts for the continuing growth of anime’s popularity in our neck of the woods. The Cartoon Network has really helped put anime in front of the uninitiated, adding many anime series to its programming line-up. This surge of interest on our shores might even eventually result in a new golden era of anime as Japanese animation studios strive to please both Japanese and North American markets.