If American animation had Disney and Mickey Mouse, then Japanese anime and manga have Dr. Osamu Tesuka and Astro Boy. Dr. Tezuka (1925-1989) studied, enjoyed, and was influenced by Disney’s animations, and proceeded to contribute enormously to the next age of manga and anime (Drazen 5). He incorporated styles inspired by Western cartoons, such as large eyes, with his own style. Patrick Drazen affirms, “His forty years as a cartoonist saw massive changes in the form and content of Japanese comic books, changes that usually traced back to innovations by Dr. Tezuka himself” (5). Almost every one of my sources mentioned Tezuka at some point, so that I found there was no choice but to include him in any writing on the development of anime. Robin Brenner, a librarian and researcher, writes, “Tezuka influenced every manga creator that came after him, whether following in his footsteps or reacting against his style, and he single-handedly defined many of the major characteristics of modern manga” (6).
In 1952, Tezuka’s Astro Boy set out in the manga market on its journey to become one of the most famous and iconic Japanese manga and anime characters of all time. Later, in 1963, Tezuka modified Astro Boy into Japan’s first animated television show (Brenner 7). In the same year, an English version appeared on American TV screens (Patten 22). Another of Tezuka’s acclaimed animated TV series, known in the West as Kimba the White Lion, premiered on Japanese screens in 1964. By the late 1960s, animation secured its place in Japan’s entertainment industry, and with no small thanks to Dr. Osamu Tezuka (Napier 16).
Tezuka and many of his contemporaries admired Disney. “But,” comments Napier, “virtually from the start, postwar Japanese animation has tended to go in a very different direction, not only in terms of its adult orientation and more complex story lines, but also its overall structure” (17). Napier notes that weekly TV series enable “certain narrative structures, most notably serial plots,” allowing long plot lines that cinema can’t present. This weekly structure works well with manga-based features, since manga, too, tend to have long plot series (Napier 17).
Anime quickly became a central fixture in Japanese pop culture. By 1988, about forty percent of the features produced in Japan’s studios were animated, and by 1999, the numbers rose to at least half (Napier 15).
This growth meant that anime made its mark in more places than TV. In the 1970s, anime joined the cinema world (Napier 17). Since the early 1980s, OVAs have also gained ground in the market (18). These OVAs, or Original Video Animations, consist of features that were distributed in video form first, rather that originating on television or the big screen. “Also,” writes Napier, “by the 1990s, intellectually sophisticated anime were increasingly appearing.” Shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and movies such as Princess Mononoke stirred thinking and “scholarly articles” (Napier 18).
Animation didn’t always have center stage. “For a long time,” says Napier, “it was overshadowed by Japan’s superb live-action cinema and existed only as a fairly marginal and largely child-oriented alternative.” Japanese live action is more than noteworthy: it was among the best in the world during the 1950s and 60s (Napier 16). But American films became so popular, Japanese live action found it difficult to compete. Anime, on the other hand, does pretty well. Napier attributes its success to the fact that anime “does not directly compete with Hollywood behemoth but that still appeals to a broad audience” (19).
Of course, a media this diverse and entertaining, not to mention rich in culture, can’t be contained in one country. In the past few decades, anime spread throughout the world. Simon Richmond points out in his Rough Guide to Anime that “every minute of every day some 600 Japanese animated videos are downloaded from the Internet” (Richmond v). This is in addition to any anime watched on television, home video, and online without downloading. Talk about popular!
The next and final segment of Anime 101 expands on anime’s worldwide popularity before concluding with some of my thoughts. I hope you’ll join me as I wrap this series up.
Pictures from Astro Boy and Princess Mononoke
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.
Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary
Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave, 2000.
Richmond, Simon. The Rough Guide to Anime: Japan’s finest from Ghibli to Gankutsuo.
London: Rough Guides, Ltd., 2009.
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