The History of Japanese Anime

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In 1854, with the opening of Japan to foreign trade, the technologies developed in the West were introduced to and quickly adopted by many in Japan. That ushers in the era of Japanese animation in 1914 with the earliest anime being first screened in 1917 with a two minute clip of a folk tale and comedy about a samurai warrior.

By the 1930s, the anime industry has gained a significant amount of interest in Japan. Unfortunately, the local Japanese animators had to deal with a lot of competition, both from foreign and local animators. As a result, Japanese animators were forced to work cheaply and therefore, they opted for the animation technique called cutout animation, instead of the more expensive cel animation. However, with cutout animation, Japanese animators such as Yasuji Murata were still able to create wonders. Later on, animators such as Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo improved the Japanese animation industry, among others, by using cel animation and by introducing sound.

In 1933, Masaoka has produced the first talkie anime called “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka”. This was succeeded in 1945 by Seo’s direction of “Momotaro’s Devine Sea Warriors”, which was the first anime film with feature length. The achievement of these Japanese animators was even more commendable because it was difficult to survive commercially. They also had to rely heavily on the support of government, which entails an obligation to include educational and militaristic propaganda. Besides, Japanese animation was greatly influenced by the success of the 1937 feature film by the Walt Disney Company, called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. For instance, Osamu Tezuka started to mimic American style cartoons to reduce costs and limit the number of frames in production and with that created the popular graphic novel known as “Shintakarajima” in 1947.

In the 1970s, the Japanese film market shrunk due to the increased competition from television which eventually led to the bankruptcy of Mushi Productions. However, the work of Osamu Tezuka was able to survive this competition. In fact, his work was so impressive that he was often credited as the “god of manga”. His distinctive “large eyes” style in animation still remains as one of the fundamental elements of anime today. During this difficult era, a genre known as Mecha has also been introduced whose animation films include “Mazinger Z” (1972-74), “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” (1972-74), “Space Battleship Yamato” (1974-75) and “Mobile Suit Gundam” (1979-80).

Other notable milestones for the Japanese animation industry include the release of “Akira” in the 1980s that has found huge success in both the Japanese and foreign market, and the boom in production in the 1990s due to the release of “Ghost in the Shell”. Furthermore, in 2008, Doraemon has been officially appointed as the first Anime Ambassador by Japanese government in order to promote anime worldwide. All these led to the success of the animation industry of Japan that we know today.

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