Toei Animation and Mushi Productions

 

Japanese animation has stood on the foundations of several prominent studios. In 1948, Toei Animation was established which made the first color anime feature film in 1958, Hakujaden, The Tale of the White Serpent (1958). This movie had a more Disney-like tone, filled with musical numbers and animal sidekicks. Yet it is generally regarded as the first “anime” ever.  It was then released in North America in 1961 as Panda and the Magic Serpent. From the period of 1958 to the middle of the sixties, Toei constantly released these Disney-like films until creating the three of the most famous anime series ever, Dragon Ball in 1986, Sailor Moon in 1992 and One Piece in 1999.

The distinctive style of Toei Animation was also characterized by the conscious effort of every animator to bring his/her own ideas to the production. The most extreme instance of this idea is Isao Takahata’s movie Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968). This movie is usually regarded as the first main breakaway from the usual anime style and the birth of a later movement of “auteuristic” or “progressive anime.” This genre would eventually include directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii.

Hols: Prince of the Sun

One of the significant influences of Toei’s style to contemporary anime was the development of the “money shot”. It is a cost-cutting method of animation that enables the emphasis to be directed on imperative shots by animating these shots with greater detail than the rest of the work. An animator of the studio, Yasuo Ōtsuka started to experiment with this style and furthered it as he entered the world of television. In the eighties, Toei Animation would eventually lend its talent to companies like Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, DiC Entertainment, Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Ruby Spears and Hanna Barbera which lead to the creation of numerous animated cartoons for America during this time. Other studios like TMS Entertainment, were also being utilized during this period and this has caused Asian studios to be regulars in animating foreign productions.

Eventually, Osamu Tezuka’s contract with Toei Animation ended and this has led him to the creation of Mushi Production in 1961. This studio was a significant contributor to anime by pioneering TV animation in Japan. This was the studio responsible for hit TV series like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Gokū no Daibōken and Princess Knight.

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Studio Ghibli

One cannot talk about Japanese animation without mentioning the legendary Studio Ghibli, Inc. It’s a Japanese animation film studio which is most known for its anime feature films. Ghibli also has created several short films, television commercials, and one television film. It was established in June 1985 after the success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Ghibli is led by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and the producer Toshio Suzuki while the funding was from Tokuma Shoten. Before the founding of the studio, Miyazaki and Takahata were already veterans in Japanese film and television animation. Both of them had worked together on Hols: Prince of the Sun and Panda! Go, Panda! On the other hand, Suzuki was an editor at Tokuma Shoten’s Animage manga magazine.

The great Hayao Miyazaki

The great Hayao Miyazaki

It goes without saying that the studio enjoyed plenty of success. Ghibli’s first real box-office success is Kiki’s Delivery Service. In 1991, their work Only Yesterday was the highest-grossing film in Japan. There’s also: Porco Rosso, the highest-grossing film of 1992 in Japan and Pom Poko, the highest-grossing film of 1994 in Japan. Eight of Studio Ghibli’s movies are included in the 15 highest-grossing anime films made in Japan, with Spirited Away (2001) which has grossed over $274 million worldwide being the highest. This particular film was their first one that had grossed over $200 million worldwide even prior to in North America. It is also the film that bested Titanic at the Japanese box office, becoming the top grossing film ever in the history of Japanese cinema. Aside from this, Spirited Away also was the only winner created outside the English-speaking world and the only traditionally animated winner, so far, of an Academy award for Best Animated Feature. Other accomplishments include the first Miyazaki feature to utilize computer graphics, and the first Studio Ghibli film to use digital coloring. They also created the first animated feature in Japan’s history that grossed more than 10 billion yen at the box office and the first animated film ever to win a National Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year which was Princess Mononoke. Also, the first Studio Ghibli film ever to be shot using a 100% digital process was My Neighbors the Yamadas.

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Super Robot Genre

The world of anime has a genre called the Super Robot and it is characterized by the protagonist piloting a colossal, mechanized, or golem-construct humanoid robot. It is complete with an arsenal of outrageous super-powered weapons and it is usually extremely resistant to damage unless it is needed by the plot. Sometimes these robots can transform or from the combination of two or more robots. Characteristic of this genre are the pilots who are young, brave heroes, and usually come from supernatural or legendary origins.

Getter Robo

The anime series of the Super Robot genre are typically titled after the name of the robot like Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, Combattler V, etc. They are also inclined to use the “monster of the week” arrangement where the antagonists bring in one villain or monster at the start of every episode which the heroes usually beat at the end. Usually, the minor villains are shown all the time while there is some development of the main struggle between the heroes and the major villains. The bad guys also usually come from either outer space or ancient civilizations and the things they have in common are their monstrous appearance. A lot of the antagonists have robot or cyborg henchmen, whom they always sent against the heroes piloting their robot. What these antagonists want vary but usually they are megalomaniacal or outright genocidal in their goals.

The concept of a robot being controlled by a young hero was first used in 1956 with Iron Man 28 or Tetsujin 28-go and it was dubbed and released in the US as Gigantor. It introduced a massive robot controlled through a remote-control by a young boy named Shotaro Kaneda who used it to fight against evil.  On the other hand, the very first anime to use the phrase “Super Robot” and the standard setter for the entire genre was Mazinger Z. It was created by Go Nagai and it had debuted in manga publications and TV in 1972. The one thing that’s different between Mazinger Z and previous robots was that the protagonist, Koji Kabuto, would control the robot from inside the robot itself, very much like one drives any vehicle. Mazinger Z enjoyed immense popularity as it lasted several sequels and imitations during the seventies, as well as revivals during the next two decades.

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Partial History of Anime

 

Anime was conceived to the world at the turn of the 20th century, when Japanese filmmakers tried the different animation techniques being experimented on in the West. The 1st generation of Japanese animators emerged during the late 1910s comprised of Ōten Shimokawa, Jun’ichi Kōuchi and Seitaro Kitayama and they are recognized as the “fathers” of anime.

An image that will never be in propaganda materials

During the Second World War, Japan was a superpower and had control over numerous countries. In order to control the occupied and even their own people, the Imperial army made use of  heavy propaganda. Several films with propaganda motifs were created films and these included the Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) and Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei (1945). Although these films show a light side to the ongoing war at that time, there are a lot of events that can be considered counter propaganda such as the reports about the comfort women system of the army. Chinese, Filipino, Korean comfort women were used as sex slaves by the army in order to “release steam.” Such things are never mentioned and are seldom admitted by those at fault.

 

Momotarou No Umiwashi

In the dawn of the seventies, anime grew bigger and was able to branch off from its Western roots and manifestations of this was the birth of distinctive genres like mecha and its Super Robot sub-genre. Usual shows during this time include the iconic series Lupin III and Mazinger Z and it is also during this period that numerous film producers gained immense popularity, especially Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii. Despite the obvious growth of anime, the Japanese film market suffered because of the rising competition from television. The augmented competition from television saw the reduction of Toei animation’s staff and the transfer of numerous animators to studios like A Pro and Telecom animation. Mushi Production suffered bankruptcy but fortunately it was revived 4 years later. The employees from this studio moved on to establish currently prominent studios like Madhouse and Sunrise. These changes pushed young animators into the position of director before actually being promoted to it. The elevation of young talent enabled a wide diversity of experimentation and innovation. One of the successful products of seventies television was Tomorrow’s Joe (1970), a boxing anime which has become iconic in Japan.

The dawn of eighties saw anime becoming part of mainstream Japan, and this was the period when the anime production boom happened. This decade was the period of the rise of numerous classical anime series such as Gundam, Macross, Dragon Ball, and the Real Robot. Aside from these series, the genres of space opera and cyberpunk boomed too. One of the biggest milestones for anime during this period was the film Akira setting records in 1988 for the production costs of an anime film and becoming a big success all over the world.

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Tokyo Ghoul

One of the hottest and newest anime today, Tokyo Ghoul started as a manga series created by Sui Ishida. It was serialized in Shueisha’s seinen manga magazine Weekly Young Jumpfrom September 2011 to September 2014. As of August 2014, the manga series has been compiled in fourteen tankōbon volumes. The sequel titled Tokyo Ghoul:re started serialization in the same magazine in October 2014 and a prequel titled Tokyo Ghoul: JACK can be found online on Jump Live. The Tokyo Ghoul series received a 12-episode anime television series adaptation by studio Pierrot. The anime first aired on Tokyo MX and ran from July to September 2014 while a second season is in production. The licensing of the anime series for streaming and home video distribution in North America is owned by Funimation.

Tokyo Ghoul

The world of the series is set in Japan where humans are preyed on by ghouls, creatures that appear human but only consume human flesh. The plot of Tokyo Ghoul revolves around Ken Kaneki, a college student who encounters a woman named Rize Kamishiro in a coffee shop called Anteiku. The two of them share a common interest in books and this had lead to a date. While walking Rize home, Kaneki is suddenly attacked by her who turns out to be a ghoul. As she is about to finish him off, Rize is crushed by falling steel beams. Kanuki is rished to the hospital where the doctor transplanted Rize’s organs into Ken in order to save him. This has caused him to be half-human-half ghoul and forced him to live as such. This meant interacting with the apparently organized ghoul society and its conflicting factions.

The prequel series, Tokyo Ghoul: JACK revolves around Kishou Arima and Taishi Fura who are characters from the main series. They became acquainted when they had decided to join forces to investigate the death of Taishi Fura’s friend by the hands of a ghoul. The investigation eventually leads to Taishi following the path of Arima by joining the CCG or Commission of Counter Ghoul which is the federal agency in charge of dealing with grisy crimes related to ghouls.

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Anime and the Seventies

The seventies saw a lot of changes in the world from grass-smoking hippies to the emergence of robot anime. During this decade, the Japanese film market decreased in size due to the competition from television. The greater competition from television caused a reduction in Toei animation’s staff and the animators who were laid off transferred to other studios like A Pro and Telecom animation. Another casualty was Mushi Production that went bankrupt but it was revived 4 years later. The employees that were lost during this time were the ones who established several prominent studios today like Madhouse and Sunrise. The shift of animators from one studio to another caused the rise of young animators that became directors of new studios. This emergence of young talent enabled a massive movement of experimentation. One of the earliest successful television series produced in the first half of the seventies was Tomorrow’s Joe (1970), an anime about boxing that has become an iconic classic in Japan.

Tomorrow’s Joe

Another part of this massive experimentation is with Isao Takahata’s 1974 television series Heidi, Girl of the Alps. The anime initially was hard to sell due to it being a simple lifelike drama that caters to children. The majority of the TV networks in Japan believed that the series would flop because children required excessive fantasy and lore to be attracted to a show. Much to their surprise, Heidi became an international success after showing in several European countries and gaining intense popularity there. Locally, it was so successful that it enabled Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata to create a series of literary based anime. Miyazaki and Takahata left Nippon Animation towards the end of the decade. Two of Miyazaki’s critically-acclaimed creations during this time were Future Boy Conan (1978) and Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979).

Another genre that emerged during the seventies was the Mecha genre. Some of the first series of this include Mazinger Z (1972–74), Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972–74), Space Battleship Yamato (1974–75) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979–80). These series highlighted a movement in the science fiction genre in anime. Shows started to shift from more superhero-oriented and fantastical plots found in the Super Robot genre, to the fairly more convincing space operas that are line with progressively complex plots and blurred definitions of right and wrong that is characteristic of the Real Robot genre.

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Early Japanese Animation

The world of Japanese animation today may be full of the typical doe-eyed damsels, awesome mech robots, and large-eyed hero archetypes but it usually showcases a certain degree of depth and creativity that is normally omitted in mainstream American animation. Some testaments of Japanese animation’s greatness include the masterworks from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira to Mamoru Oishii’s Ghost in the Shell and to about everything that Hayao Miyazaki has ever created.

Anime has had a longer history than most people might think; as a matter of fact, it was at the frontline of Japan’s manic efforts to modernization during the early 20th century. The oldest surviving sample of Japanese animation, Namakura Gatana is dated back to 1917. Yet the majority of the earliest animated movies were never found after the colossal earthquake in Tokyo during 1923. Like most of Japan’s cultural output during the first decades of 1900’s, animated work from this period show the artists’ attempt to integrate traditional stories and themes into a contemporary form or medium.

Oira no yakyû (1930)

One of the old animations, Oira no Yaku from 1931, portrays rabbits competing against tanukis or raccoon dogs in baseball. This animated short is a straightforward slapstick comedy that is expressed elegantly with clean and simple lines. The Rabbits and tanukis are mainstays of ancient Japanese folklore yet they are shown here playing a sport that was fairly new and was only introduced to the country in the 1870s. Similar to the majority of silent Japanese movies, Oira no Yaku used a benshi , a performer that stood by the movie screen and narrated the movie. During those days, people were attracted by the benshi and not by the movie itself.

Another example of early Japanese animation is Ugokie Kori no Tatehiki (1931), which roughly translates into “The Moving Picture Fight of the Fox and the Possum.” This 11-minute short animation by Ikuo Oishi revolves around a fox that veneers himself as a samurai. This fox spends the night in an abandoned temple which was occupied by a bunch of tanukis. This animated short combines all the wonderful grotesquery of Japanese folklore to the screen, illustrated in a style resonant of Max Fleisher and Otto Messmer.

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2nd Generation of Anime

The second generation of anime was spearheaded by the likes of Yasuji Murata, Hakuzan Kimura, Sanae Yamamoto and Noburō Ōfuji who were apprentices of Kitayama Seitaro while they worked at his film studio. Another significant animator was Kenzō Masaoka who worked at a smaller animation studio. The Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 demolished majority of the Kitayama studio and this caused the animators who worked for the studio to branch out and establish their own studios.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

The animators before the Second World War had several challenges. First, it was difficult for them to compete on the same level with foreign producers like Disney, which were influential on both audiences and producers. Due to foreign movies already making profit outside Japan, they could be sold cheaper than the price local anime producers need to ask for to break even. This caused Japanese animators to work for only small compensation, in little companies that have few employees. This also caused difficulty in competing in terms of quality with foreign products which were rendered in color, with sound, and produced by exponentially larger companies. For instance, Japanese animation prior to the middle of the thirties usually made use of cut-out animation instead of cel animation because of the price celluloid being too expensive. This resulted in their produced animation to appear derivative, flat and lacking in detail. But like post-war Japanese animators being able to turn limited animation into positive outputs, so too did masters like Yasuji Murata and Noburō Ōfuji were able to do miracles in cut-out animation.

The prominent animators like Kenzō Masaoka and Mitsuyo Seo also tried to raise the bar of Japanese animation up to the level of foreign products through the use of cel animation, sound, and new technology like the multi-plane camera. Masaoka produced the first talkie anime, Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka, in 1933 and the first anime completely using cel animation, The Dance of the Chagamas in 1934. On the other hand, Seo was the first Japanese animator to incorporate the multi-plane camera in Ari-chan in 1941. Unfortunately, these breakthroughs in Japanese animation were difficult to back up financially and commercially. This meant that pre-war animation had to depend mostly on sponsorship, as animators usually focused on creating PR films for companies, educational films for the government, and finally propaganda works for the Japanese military.

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