What is Anime?
The term anime (read aH-nee-may) refers to a Japanese style of cartoon animation and comic book famed for its large doe-eyed characters. Dozens of websites are dedicated to anime, the predominant Japanese comic book style of animation. Comics are extremely popular in Japanese society, providing great entertainment for the young and adult audiences alike. Comic story lines are usually fascinating tales with complex twists and turns that keep audiences glued. Unsurprisingly, most stories extend into complete series divided into several episodes. Popular anime genres include the supernatural, science fiction (such as space ships and robots), horror, Ninja, and martial arts. Normally, foils for the leading characters do not have doe-like eyes.
Anime also has sexually oriented variations known as ecchi and hentai. In addition, there are comics authored and distributed by independent anime enthusiasts, and these are known as Doujinshi.
Japanese comic stories – also known as manga – have a fascinating history, tracing their origins to the pre-World War II period and evolving after the war due to several influences of that time.
The period during World War II was sort of a turning point in Japan, and although anime industry predates this period, the best place to start its history is during the war as this is when it greatly evolved.
World War II was some sort of turning point for the Japanese people. The entire nation was forced to oblige with government’s demands or face the consequences. Punishment for failure to conform included social ostracism, writing bans, and preventive detention. But people who recanted received rewards from the military elite, such as integration in rehabilitation programs as well as community support. Such incentives led to many people who had formerly been at loggerheads with government turn around and offer their full support and loyalty to the same military elite they used to criticize.
Many cartoonists and artists’ organizations had sprung up by 1940, including the Shin Mangaha Shudan (the ‘New Cartoonists Faction Group’) and the Shin Nippon Mangaka (‘New Cartoonists Association of Japan’). At that particular time, the elites in government tried to use animation to sway people to their side by using artwork created by cartoonists that were free to work or those that weren’t in the military. Unsurprisingly, themes in such comic were full of government propaganda that hit out at its enemies.
Anime had, in fact, started way back in the early 20th century. As several animation techniques were being experimented in the West, filmmakers in Japan decided to go further with those techniques. It wasn’t until the 1970s that amine truly distinguished itself from Western influence with its own distinct genres like mecha.
The 1980s saw a boom in anime production in Japan as it became fully accepted in the mainstream. Genres such as Dragon Ball, Macross, Gundam, and Real Robot defined this period and set a boom as well. Akira was another record setting anime film released in 1988 as the film with highest production costs at that time for an anime film. Later, other films such as Steamboy would break that record.
Borrowing From U.S. Animation
Before World War II, another artist in a different part of the world had been trying to make it as a cartoonist. His name was Walt Disney and had already started out in the cartoon world as early as the 1920s with works such as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland. When Mickey Mouse was released in 1928, it instantly became a hit in the United States. Disney ventured into more projects, creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an animated feature film in 1937 which became another big hit in the U.S.
Disney continued with his streak of successful projects and things were pretty smooth for the studio up until World War II begun. Still, there were more projects to come, and Fantasia and Pinocchio were both released in 1940. However, at this time, the Disney studio made huge losses due to the loss of the foreign market as a result of the war. On the other hand, Fantasia and Pinocchio were technically big hits. Although there were a couple of low budget releases made by the studio in the early 1940s, its influence started to decline seriously due to other expensive releases the studio had made during the war.
Like the pro-government artists in Japan, Disney focused on creating propagandist films for the military. Consequently, the studio struggled to get back to its feet but was back to making profits by the 1950s.
Meanwhile back in Japan, a new aspiring cartoonist called Osamu Tezuka was working on his first release that would be known as ‘New Treasure Island’, or Shintakarajuma in Japanese. Disney’s early animations had a great influence on Tezuka as he was a huge fan of Disney’s works. Although Tezuka’s original style was impressive, his first work wasn’t that big a hit. However, he was catapulted into prominence with his hit called Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu). Consequently, his work earned him the tile of ‘Father of Anime and Manga’.
Tezuka’s production company was created in 1962 and was behind his hit release Astro Boy. Tezuka’s work was particularly lauded for its originality of style and approach that hadn’t been seen before in the industry. He borrowed ideas from German and French cinema for his characters. Tezuka’s story lines were powerful and his characters exploded with emotion and by the early 1960s, Astro Boy was gripping audiences around the world.
Tezuka released another anime called Jungle Taitei after the unprecedented success of Astro Boy. Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ would later stir up controversy when it was released because of the film’s similarity with Tezuka’s Jungle Taitei.
Tezuka’s production company would later go bankrupt but he continued his work with a new studio, releasing works such as Hi no Tori, Buddha, and Black Jack.
Later, other Japanese artists joined the anime and monga craze, including names like Hayao Miyakazi, Akira Toriyama, Isao Takahata, and Rumiko Takashi, among others. Hayao Miyakazi particularly became famous during the 1970s that are regarded as a defining period for Japanese anime. To date, amine and manga continue to be hugely popular not only in Japan but around the world as well, especially in the U.S. and Europe.