Anime (アニメ) is a shortened version of the word “animation” and is an animated offshoot of Japanese manga. In Japan, the term itself refers to any form of animation regardless of its source while in the US and other countries, it refers to animation produced in Japan. Most anime is hand drawn but recent trends have started to introduce more computer assisted drawing techniques into the genre, while the genre itself has gone beyond animated television shows and become a source for films, video games, music, and much more.
Anime’s history can be traced back as far as the early 1900s when the first known Japanese animation was produced in 1917. The clip, consisting of fifty frames and drawn on a strip of celluloid, depicts a young boy drawing the kanji for “moving pictures” on a board before saluting the audience.
Most of the early animations produced in Japan have been lost, largely due to being dismantled and sold. However, there were some prominent animators in the early 20th century including Shimokawa Oten who created five films, including Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki. Another well known early animator was Kouchi Jun’ichi who created 15 movies.
Kitayama Seitaro was a major player in the field of animation in the 1920s with animators such as Kimura Hakuzan, Yamamoto Sanae and Murato Yosuji working in his studio. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 much of the studio was destroyed and most of the young animators at the Kitayama Studio left and started their own studios. Early laws were also put into place during this time protecting youth, leading to the censorship of many early films and the growth of an educational film base.
During the 1930s and into the 1940s when Japan was leading up to and involved in war, there was a strong push for nationalism which led to extensive censorship. During this time, animation became much larger as it was shown in front of or after newsreels promoting the overall nationalistic mood of the country. Most films in this era were funded by the Japanese military as funding from private sources was hard to find.
In 1948, the formation of Toei Animation marked the beginning of what would later become known as the origins of mainstream Japanese animation. In 1958, Toei produced and released Hakujaden, or The Tale of the White Serpent in English, following many of Disney’s cues and including bright colors, multiple musicals, and talking animals. During the next two decades Toei would continue to release these Disney style films to Japanese and international audiences as the company grew larger and Japanese animation started to find a base from which to grow.
Directors such as Isao Takahata became well known in this time as well for his willingness to break with the newfound conventions of the genre in Hols: Prince of the Sun. Another frequently used style in early anime was called “money shot” animation where a single shot was animated with much more detail for intense or dramatic scenes.
When Osamu Tezuka opened its rival Mushi Productions studio in the early 1960s the country was ripe for animation success and when the second broadcast anime television series (after 1962’s Otogi Manga Calendar), Mighty Atom, was aired in 1963, the studio took off. The show was the first anime series to feature regular characters in recurringly themed plot and was later syndicated and adapted for American television in 1964 under the name of Astro Boy. Following Mighty Atom, Tezuka’s studio released many more anime titles including Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor), Jungle Emperor (Kimba the White Lion), Yoshida’s Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer) and many more.
The 1970s saw a massive increase in anime due to the growth of the television market, affordability of the technology, and a larger audience base. Toei, which was still largely focused on film animation was forced to scale back productions and size and Mushi Productions went bankrupt before revival. However, new studios rose from the shrinking of these two, including Sunrise and Madhouse. New animators were given the chance to direct and new talent meant many new, experimental shows such as 1970’s Tomorrow’s Joe focused on boxing.
Another substantial success that few expected in this time was Isao Takahata’s Heidi, Girl of the Alps, a 1974 drama for young children that almost never got aired. However, it drew a large audience and became an international phenomenon. This led to the introduction of Hayao Miyazaki in collaboration with Takahata on World Masterpiece Theater with similarly themed productions. Later, the two left their studio and produced their own works including Miyazaki’s 1978 Future Boy Conan and 1979 Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.
Also developing in the 1970s was the mecha genre of anime. It’s roots went back to Mighty Atom and Gigantor in the 1960s but it did not truly find traction until the slew of realistic super robot space operas were aired in the 1970s. Examples include Mazinger Z, Gatchaman, Space Battleship Yamato, and Mobile Suit Gundam.
Following Star Wars and its international success, space operas became even more popular with Space Battleship Yamato receiving a revival in the form of a theatrical release and the two year run of Mobile Suit Gundam drawing huge TV audiences. This early 1980s success is seen as the precursor to the decade’s boom, precipitating the golden age of anime that continues today.
The development of an anime fanbase and subculture also developed in the 1980s, often known as otaku (though not exclusively) and pronounced by the launch of anime and manga focused magazines like Newtype and Animage. Anime also spread abroad in the 1980s with the release of Gatchaman as G-Force in 1986, Space Battleship Yamato as Starblazers in 1979, Macross as Robotech in 1985 (though Macross only represented one third of the total Robotech story arc).
Mamoru Oshii burst onto the scene in 1982 with his adaptation of Urusei Yatsura. The growing fanbase for anime also allowed other new companies to get a foot hold including Daicon Films, a company that was into the mid-1980s producing films for the Daicon Sci-Fi conventions in Japan. Later renaming themselves Gainax, their popularity eventually landed them with a massive budget and the chance to create Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise in 1987.
Another major starting point in the 1980s was the 1984 release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a film created by Hayao Miyazaki with help from Isao Takahata in an experimental, risky move. The film was incredibly successful though and later led to Miyazaki and Takahata opening Studio Ghibli and following up with Laputa: Castle in the Sky in 1986.
Further experimental films were released in the late 1980s as well, following Miyazaki’s major successes. Work such as Oshii’s Angel’s Egg in 1985 jump started a movement. Major literary successes were soon translated to anime as well with Tale of Genji in 1986 and Grave of the Fireflies in 1987. The decade was capped with major productions with record setting budgets for films like Honneamise and Akira. Ironically, these films were not able to recuperate their cost in Japan and many anime studios that had been spending too much money or experimenting liberally soon shut down. Studio Ghibli was the lone exception with Kiki’s Delivery Service, released in 1989, making $40 million at the box office (the top film of the year in Japan).
However, despite Akira’s box office flop in Japan, it was the root of a massive expansion of anime popularity overseas and soon the symbol of anime in other countries.
During this time, television series continued to flourish with shows like Dragonball running during the mid-1980s (followed by Dragonball Z’s initial run in 1989 through 1993) and multiple other major hits developing. The trend continued until the mid-1990s.
Anime was changed forever by the release of Neon Geneis Evangelion with a massive otaku and mainstream popularity. Produced by Hideaki Anno, the show was incredibly controversial, leading to a crackdown of censorship on television anime, but it endured and today has had a substantial impact on multiple shows including those such as RahXephon, Gasaraki, Serial Experiments Lain, and many more. Soon, experimental, controversial anime found a home in the late night slots for the genre and even films started to develop such as the 1995 Ghost in the Shell which took on more complex concepts.
Starting in 1989 with the release of Akira, anime has had a substantial following in the United States and other western cultures. However, it was not until much later into the 1990s and early 2000s that the popularity began to truly take off. Certain shows can be attributed for the genre’s growth including the introduction of serialized Shonen such as Dragonball Z in the mid-1990s and the launch of Pokemon in America in 1998. Shows like this represented a younger, mainstream audience, but older audiences still drew great attention to the genre and films such as Ghost in the Shell and the work of Hayao Miyazaki gained international acclaim.
It was not until the 2000s though that what could be called mainstream success was accomplish. The advent of digital media and DVD made it cheaper and more possible to produce anime and release it America without incurring massive losses that previous home releases on VHS could represent. In addition, channels such as Cartoon Network began airing multiple anime shows to high ratings in 2000 and beyond, bringing new shows and concepts that had once been popular in America such as the later seasons of Dragonball Z and the newer revivals of the Gundam franchise stateside. The 2002 awarding of Best Foreign Language Feature to Spirited Away marked a high point for international success in the anime industry and opened the flood gates for anime productions reaching America with multiple films set for release each year and DVD releases being announced regularly after initial Japanese theatrical runs.
Today, even western animation has been influenced greatly by anime with shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Teen Titans, IGPX, and many more using common themes and design choices made popular in anime. Collaborations between western and Japanese production studios have increased as well with shows in American and Japan being worked on across both sides of the Pacific.
In recent years, Internet exposure has only further increased western popularity with anime information and discussions becoming freely available online. For a long time fan subs, which are fan created subtitles for foreign language programs, were released online for free as the shows had not been licensed outside of Japan. However, in recent years, the massive increase in popularity has made it so that many programs are licensed out of Japan immediately upon release, legally limiting the availability of fansubs.
There are countless genres of anime with many shows and films not fitting into any one given subset. However, over the years, many specific types have developed that represent the trends of the programming.