Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anime 101 Part 4 - Pre-Tezuka History

Since the development of manga and anime follow many of the same patterns, I find it necessary to include both when researching anime’s history. The technology for animation is only a little over a century old, so manga’s development comes first. With a little research, I found the history to be satisfyingly rich.

Robin Brenner’s helpful book, Understanding Manga and Anime, notes, “although it is difficult to identify the exact date when manga emerged, many credit the beginning of sequential art in Japan with the creation of scrolls of illustrations by Buddhist monks in the twelfth century” (Brenner 1). In her article, “Manga in Japanese History,” published in Mark MacWilliam’s collection Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Kinko Ito mentions a particular monk, Bishop Toba, who lived from 1053 to 1140. Toba illustrated a set of scrolls that Ito says became “the most famous early caricature that many scholars consider a prototype of the manga form” (MacWilliams 26). This humorous four scroll set, called Chojo giga, or “The Animal Scrolls,” depicts animals “parodying the decadent lifestyle of the upper class” (26).

The ancestors of manga weren’t always as lighthearted as “The Animal Scrolls.” Many contained serious or religious themes. One example Ito brings up consists of what were known as “Hell Pictures,” meant to “teach children basic Buddhist doctrines and ethics” (MacWilliams 27). These scrolls and pictures of the medieval time period contributed to the visual culture that developed manga. However, unlike today’s manga, they were only available to “a handful ef elites” (27).

The advent of woodblock printing during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867) made it possible for the common folk to acquire and distribute the pictures (MacWilliams 27). One example of this era’s art was called Toba-e. This name indicates that a similarity was found between Toba-e and the work of Bishop Toba. The Toba-e were especially noteworthy because, “during the eighteenth century, their publication in Osaka marked the beginning of a commercial publishing industry that was based on woodblock-printing technology” (MacWilliams 28).

In the later third of the 1800s, Western comics influenced Japanese artists and merged with their styles. These cartoon hybrids made their way first into newspapers, then magazines (Brenner 4). Brenner writes, “by the end of the 1920s, numerous cartoon strips were read across Japan.” At first, they were published mainly in children’s manga magazines, such as Shounen Club, which is still in circulation (4). Mark MacWilliams notes the next step, manga published in the form of a small red book, called akahon. This red book was “a cheaply made comic for children that had evolved from newspaper comic strips of the 1930s” (MacWilliams 12). The dimensions of these seven inch books are still used in modern volumes of manga.

Western comics and Japanese manga soon gained a relative in the visual world. Animation was pioneered in the U.S. by people like Max and Dave Fleischer, creators of Betty Boop, and Walt Disney, who brought in sound, color, and the first full-length animated movie, Snow White (Drazen 4). Still, writes Patrick Drazen, early U.S. Animations “were often just a sideshow,” shown as shorts before the main feature at the theater (4). In 1909, Western animations began to be shown in Japan, and by 1915, the Japanese produced their own animated creations (Napier16).

In Japan, animation of the early 1900s was not considered separate from live-action productions. Daisuke Miyao states, “animation was not defined as distinct from cinema in terms of social regulations or production concerns. As a result, animation was largely treated in the same way as cinema under similar historical conditions” (Miyao 194). Both anime and live action came under the critical eye of educators, government, and censors (194).
At this point, animation was not an economical hotspot, though its potential was certainly acknowledged. Animation studios were often no more than an animator’s home, with family and friends as the staff (Miyao 204). Then, Miyao writes, “the unhappy financial situation of animation changed dramatically with the advent of the Fifteen-Year War (1931-45).” The government employed animation with frequency, giving the industry financial support and a market, though, naturally, the government took a large part in choosing the subject matter (Miyao 204).

The Japanese government’s involvement in animation helped with its technological growth as well. In Miyao’s words, “Technical advances and military advances went hand in hand” (205). With the start of the Pacific War in December of 1941, Japan’s government increased their use of animation as a tool for propaganda. “In sum,” concludes Miyao, “the wartime government laid the basis for the post-war development of animation – indeed, for the subsequent emergence of anime” by “encouraging technical experimentation, training animators, creating the conditions for teams of animators” (205). The Fifteen-Year War may not have been the pleasantest of times, but it played an important role in the development of anime.

At the same time, manga continued in its own growth. At first, its target audiences consisted of children. Around the 1950s, this audience grew out of juvenile plots, but not out of the medium, and so teen and adult themes and stories came into demand (Brenner 7). At the same time, both manga and anime were on the verge of another stepping stone – this time, in the form of a medical student.

Sources for this section:

Brenner, Robin E. Understanding Manga and Anime. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited,

Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion!: The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation.
Berkeley, Calif: Stone Bridge Press, 2003.

Macwilliams, Mark Wheeler. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and
Anime. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2008.

Miyao, Daisuke. "Before anime: animation and the Pure Film Movement in pre-war Japan."
Japan Forum 14.2 (2002): 191-209. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 May 2010.

Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary
Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave, 2000.
1. From The Animal Scrolls, found at
2. From the early Japanese animation Issun-boshi: Chibisuke Monogatari (Tiny Chibisuke Big Adventure)

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