The Origin and History of Anime: Part 1

Boundaries of all forms, from geographical to cultural boundaries are nonexistent when it comes down to anime, for it is a worldwide phenomenon that has touched almost every nation across the globe. The 20th century saw both the significant beginning and the innovation of aesthetics found within current day anime amid its fast-paced development. Within a century, the anime industry has innovated, cultivated, produced, and distributed works that largely attracted the attention of a global audience, which resulted in the popularity of anime to escalate at an unbelievably fast rate during the late 20th century. As time rewinds, you will find the prosperity and success of anime as the fruit of dedicated individuals and their contributions to the anime industry, starting as early as the late 1900s.

Oldest Surviving Piece of Japanese Animation

First, to help clarify the term anime, anime are animations specifically produced in Japan. Therefore, if a Japanese animation does not possess the more recognized style or characteristics you would normally find in current day anime, it is still considered anime. This is one of the reasons why many referred to the Katsudo Shashin as one of the oldest surviving pieces of anime when it was discovered in a home projector at Kyoto, Tokyo in 2005. Although the film’s initial release date has been unclear, evidence has suggested that the Katsudo Shashin was created between 1907 and 1912. With an anonymous creator, the approximately three-second film depicts a boy writing the characters 活動写真 (“Moving Picture”) and then doffing off his red cap. Within the three-seconds, fifty frames of the Katsudo Shashin drawing will quickly flash before your eyes, with each second composed of an estimate of sixteen frames.

Lost Films

Amid World War I, the year 1917 witnessed the production of approximately eighteen to twenty-one short yet professionally created films. Unfortunately, only one of the approximately twenty-one films were actually recovered. The oldest of the discovered films was known as Dekobo shingacho – Meian no shippai (Bumpy New Picture Book – Failure of the Great Plan), and was directed by Oten Shimokawa (下川凹天). Shortly after the release of Dekobo shingacho – Meian no shippai, Oten Shimokawa released Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa) in April of 1917. However, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed both of Shimokawa’s works making them not only unrecoverable but also a great loss to the anime industry. The only film that was actually recovered was Namakura Gatana (なまくら刀; An Obtuse Sword), which is a creation of Kouchi Jun’ichi (幸内純一). This four-minute silent film relies on its animated illustrations and a small percentage of text to tell a story of a samurai who was foolish to have purchased a dull-edged sword.

Furthermore, Japanese animation director, Seitaro Kitayama (北山清太郎) also produced numerous films in 1917, all of which have been declared as lost films. A few of his more well-known works include Monkey and Crabs (猿蟹合戦), and the 1918, 2-minute film, Urashima Tarō (浦島太郎). Oten Shimokawa, Kouchi Jun’ichi, and Seitaro Kitayama are all accredited as pioneers of Japanese animations for their works were considered the first batch of professionally-made anime within the industry.

Firsts in Anime

The 20th century was a real turning point when it comes to technological advances and the anime industry was no exception to the rapid technology development. The first animated film that uses the sound from the live narration of Benshi (Japanese performers who delivered live narration for silent films) was the Hare and the Tortoise (1924). Though this particular innovation was not of technological advancement, it revolutionized anime by integrating narration and sound into animated films.

The first film to feature talkies was a 1933 short anime film directed by Kenzō Masaoka called Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (The World of Power and Women). This now lost film was released in neutral colors and has a story revolving around a male protagonist who accidentally told his wife of his affair in his sleep.

Following up on March 19, 1934, Chagama Ondo (The Dance of the Chagmas) would become the first of Japanese films to be fully cel-animated. Cel animation is the traditional, hand-drawn animation technique that involves cels, which is the abbreviated form of celluloid, a transparent sheet that could be drawn or painted on. The importance of this innovation lies in its many techniques that were transferred over to 2D digital animation as technology continues to integrate into the anime industry.

Eleven years later, in the year 1945, the release of Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei (桃太郎 海の神兵, Momotarō: God Warriors of the Sea) would earn for itself the title as the first Japanese feature-length anime film. This 74-minute, neutral-colored, propagandistic film was directed by Mitsuyo Seo, under the orders of the Japanese Naval Ministry with the intention of lifting the morale and commitment to the war efforts of World War II. The Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei is also a sequel to Momotarō no Umiwashi, a 37-minute film that was released in 1943 under the same director.

The Influence of Osamu Tezuka

The artistic style which is commonly found in both classic and modern anime, originates from an influential and prolific manga creator named Osamu Tezuka, who is also widely regarded as the “God of Manga”. Since childhood, he adored the works of Disney, most notably the 1942 film, Bambi. The enthusiasm and devotion in Disney’s works inspired Tezuka to emulate the distinctive characteristics of Disney’s artistic style amid his own creations during the beginning of his career as a manga artist. As Tezuka advanced in his career he innovated much of the techniques and styles found in current day anime and fused these innovations within his new works while also retaining some of the features found in Disney animations, including the large eye feature most commonly found in anime today.

Eventually, Tezuka would go on to find his own studio by the name of Tezuka Production after his contract with TOEI animation expired in 1961. Tezuka Production would proceed to release a large number of successful anime films including one of Tezuka’s most infamous work, The Mighty Atom (1963). More commonly known as Astro Boy, this work is an anime adaptation of its manga counterpart. Furthermore, the anime version of The Mighty Atom largely contributed to progressively exposing Japanese animation to countries internationally by becoming not only the first serialized anime to be aired in domestic territories but also the first to be broadcast overseas. In his 40-year career, Tezuka created an estimate of 700 manga and 60 anime, with some of his most notable creations including the Jungle Emperor (1945), Princess Knight (1967), and Dororo (1969), all of which have been adapted into anime series. As a matter of fact, Dororo has been adapted into anime series two times, one in the year 1969 and the other recently in 2019. By leaving a lasting mark of impact within the anime industry, Tezuka has also inspired and influenced a large number of other well-known manga artists namely Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Toriyama, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

TOEI Animation

As a leader of the anime industry, TOEI Animation is a Japanese animation studio responsible for the production of innumerable amounts of classic and influential anime series by many legendary manga artists, including Eiichiro Oda (One Piece), Naoko Takeuchi (Sailor Moon), Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), etc. The studio was originally founded by pioneering Japanese animators Kenzo Masaoka and Zenjiro Yamamoto on January 23rd, 1948, and was first given the name Nihon Douga Eiga.

The roots of the anime industry tie closely to TOEI Animation as this studio was the starting point in the career of many mangakas (manga artists) and animators. When some mangakas and animators left TOEI Animation due to an expired contract and founded their own studio, the roots which began from TOEI Animation grew in length and branched out even more. These creative minds took with them their experience from TOEI Animation and founded their own unique style and techniques in which they will integrate into the works of their own studio. Beneath the surface, the network of roots continues to expand, composed of both individuals and studios that shared a direct/ indirect relation to TOEI Animation with a few mentions including:

  • Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli)
    • Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most renowned figures in the anime industry and co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 along with two Japanese producers and one entrepreneur. Notable works of his include Spirited AwayPrincess MononokeNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, etc. As seen in the animated films in which he directed and created, his unique artistic style enjoys the combination of soft and painterly sceneries along with simplified yet expressive characters. The many successful and celebrated works of Miyazaki have led Studio Ghibli to become one of the most acclaimed animation studios in the world and also as one TOEI Animation’s biggest rivalry.
  • Osamu Tezuka (Mushi Production and Tezuka Production)
    • A well-respected and dedicated manga creator, Osamu Tezuka introduced the style most commonly found in both classic manga and anime today. Having dreamt of opening his own studio, Tezuka’s goal became a reality when he ended his contract with TOEI Animation and founded Mushi Production in 1961 and Tezuka Production in 1968.
      • Film producer, Yuji Nunokawa was a former employee of Mushi Production before he founded Studio Pierrot, one of the legendary animation studios known for the following anime series: Naruto: Shippuden, Tokyo Ghoul, BleachBlack Clover.
  • Daikichirō Kusube (Shin-ei Animation)
    • Daikichirō Kusube, a former TOEI Animation animator, founded Shin-ei Animation in 1976. This anime studio is most known for two of its anime series, Doraemon, which was written by Fujiko Fujio, and Crayon Shin-chan, which was written by Yoshito Usui.
  • Eiichiro Oda (TOEI Animation)
    • Eiichiro Oda is a professional mangaka who is most known for being the creator of One Piece, an internationally recognized work that sold over 488 million copies as of 2021. As one of the longest-running anime and manga, the animated version of One Piece currently consists of 957 episodes while the manga has surpassed 1,000 chapters.

From Japan’s recovery period after World War II (Sep 1, 1939 – Sep 2, 1945) to the present day, TOEI Animation still reigns as one of the largest and most well-known Japanese animation production studios of all times. World War II resulted in a huge loss for the anime industry because of the many anime films that were destroyed during this period, causing the industry to start over from scratch. However, it was also during this critical time when TOEI Animation gave the industry the push it needed by recruiting the most brilliant minds behind some of the most well-known, influential animation studios and of those who created masterpieces known worldwide. Brilliant individuals who greatly influenced and inspired those following them, and who all have innovated, dedicated, persevered, explored, and loved the works in which they put forth into the world. The roots of the anime industry remain steadfast underneath the surface and the minuscule seed which was hidden beneath has finally received its first dose of sunlight in the midst of anime’s international support and the devotion of the countless individuals working within the anime industry.


The origin and a small section of anime’s history is proudly discussed and reflected upon within this short article and the time period from the 1970s to the present-day of anime’s history will be covered in the upcoming writing.

References:

The History of Anime. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2021, from http://www.rightstufanime.com/post/global-history-of-anime.

The Evolution of the Japanese Anime Industry. (May 30, 2020). Retrieved January 10, 2021, from http://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00043/.

What is Cel Animation & How Does it Work? (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2021, from https://conceptartempire.com/cel-animation/.

Behind the Scenes: Top 10 Japanese Animation Studios. (May 12, 2020). Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://jpninfo.com/35318.

Brief History of Anime. (April 27, 2019). Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.liveabout.com/brief-history-of-anime-144979.


6 thoughts on “The Origin and History of Anime: Part 1

  1. Nice history lesson with anime. I wasn’t aware of the pre-Tezuka era of anime. Major props for mentioning Jungle Emperor Leo/Kimba the White Lion. We know what Disney movie literally wouldn’t exist without it. Hahahaha! It was also cool that you mentioned the origins of various studios and their connections.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Man, I remember playing Blood will tell on ps2 and watched the live-action movie of the same story. I didn’t know they had an old anime of it. I came up at a time where Sailor Moon and Ronin Warriors was hot and dragon ball was slowly turning into an iconic series. I have a question. What is the root of Japanese story-telling that gave it its world-wide appeal? What do you find in Japanese story-telling that you won’t find in western stories?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hmmmm although there is not a definite answer for this, I would say Osamu Tezuka was responsible for the start of incorporating more mature and tragic themes in anime and manga. Unlike Disney that always has a perfect happy ending, Tezuka was willing to explore more of a darker side and the darker elements of life into his works which influenced a lot of other artists to take his steps. This is perhaps the beginning of the complexity behind Japanese storytelling, rather than the all general happy ending there are more plots and twists, creating a more exciting and thrilling experience for its audiences. As for the second question, I would say the art in general really grasp onto my attention, and moreover, the storytelling is unlike other animations because there are times the ending took a turn I didn’t expect, and in thriller anime (I’m a big fan of thriller) like Death Note, the complexity of the character, the suspense and the constant feeling of wanting to know what will happen next is something I really enjoy in anime.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s