History Of Anime And Its Influence On Western Culture

When people in the United States think of Japanese animation, they usually come up with shows like Dragonball or Naruto as their first example. However, the industry is a whole lot more diverse than some people may believe. People tend to stereotype anime as “for kids”, when there are many Japanese animation films and TV series that cater to adult audiences as well as children. There are even some out there that are inappropriate for children to watch. It has won awards, influenced western animation, and exposed others to Japanese culture. The medium went through many stages throughout its history, but it continues to grow as time goes on. The first commercially released Japanese animation was a short film called Dekobo Shingacho - Meian no Shippai (Dekobo’s New Picture Book - Failure of a Great Plan), which was released in 1917. However, animation did not pick up much until World War II, when Western animation was banned, and Japanese animation was used as war propaganda. Momotarō no Umiwashi (Momotaro’s Sea Eagles) and Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei (Momotaro: Divine Sea Warriors) are two examples of Japanese animated films that were used as war propaganda. After the United States nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war ended, the country had a lack of moral that the animation industry slowed down. Disney was releasing more animated films at this time, meaning that Japanese citizens would enjoy Disney animation as a form of entertainment for children. As time moved on, and regulation was loosened on Japan’s entertainment industry began to move further.

Japan Animation Studio was founded, but it was bought out in 1956 and renamed Toei animation. The first ever Japanese animation in color, Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent), was released in 1958 and released in the United States just three years later. What really boosted the industry would have to be the release of Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) in 1963. This show started the anime television industry, which is still going strong today. When Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) was released in Japan, Todd Ferson had seen the show on a trip to Japan and pitched the show’s release in the United States to NBC when he returned home. The show went on the be released in 1963 with an English dub and a rename of Astro Boy. The show was censored to appeal to American audiences and continued to have 104 episodes released. The censorship did happen to make people question censorship, causing many future anime releases to become heavily censored and edited for the audience. “A group called Action for Children’s Television censored any cartoon that contained cartoon violence, homoeroticism, gender ambiguity, and anything that shows the protagonist in a less-than-positive light”. This censorship continued further into the 1970’s and 80’s, though less prominent in the 80’s. The 1980’s and 90’s was when Japanese animation began to really pick up in the States. Anime had become very popular among American audiences, despite what many believed due to cultural differences. In the late 1980’s, Akira had gained popularity, as well as Sailor Moon and Pokémon in the 90’s. Some people like Holly Kolodziejczak, a former magazine editor for Anime Fringe, described anime as “no mere cartoon” and wanted to see more of that back in the States. When time went on into the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many fan clubs began emerging along with conventions and fansubbing. Although many shows were still getting official English dubs, many fans took it upon themselves to translate and dub the shows themselves to distribute online. It wasn’t until Cartoon Network started Toonami that it began to slow down, meaning that fans had easier access to the official dub of their favorite shows.

Toonami was very popular on Adult Swim up until 2008, when the network shut it down. In 2012, the program started back up, and is going strong even now every Saturday night. Big Hero 6 was heavily influenced by the Japanese animation industry, even as far as citing Spirited Away, The Wind Rises, Pokemon, Gurren Lagann, and Evangelion. There are many elements in the film that show different things you may see in a Japanese animation such as, the names, character design, and background design. Western media has also managed to influence the anime industry as well. Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia) creator Kohei Horikoshi has said that he is heavily influenced on the Marvel Comics and Star Wars when he was creating the series, specifically the characters of Spider-Man and Darth Vader. In 1968, Tezuka Productions was founded, and Mushi Pro closed its doors in 1973. Many people involved in Mushi Pro went on to create their own companies: Madhouse and Sunrise in 1972. Heidi of the Alps was released in 1974 and shot off Hayao Miyazaki’s career. The company that released Heidi of the Alps was in debt and managed to receive funding from an animation company called Nippon Animation. The term ‘otaku’ was coined in the late 70’s, solidifying anime as part of popular culture. Mobile Suit Gundam was soon released in 1979 by Sunrise and Doraemon in 1973 by Shin-Ei Animations. The 1980’s is what some might describe as the ‘Golden Age’ of Anime. They call it that because of how quickly the industry improved and the amount of success shown in what was being released. This could be because of the new VHS tapes that were released in the decade. Although founded in 1979, Studio Pierrot did not start releasing anything or getting popular until the 80’s. This era saw the beginning of the sports anime genre with the release of Captain Tsubasa in 1983. Another big development in the 80’s was the introduction of OVA’s. The first successful OVA was Megazone 23 in 1985 after Dallas’ unsuccessful release in 1983.

Lolita anime along with Hentai became popular in this era, as well. The development of hentai was possible because of OVA’s, due to the fact that OVA’s did not release on television and went straight to VHS. Golgo 13 was also a milestone in this era because it was the first significant use of CGI in any form. Another milestone for the anime community would be the fact that anime was now able to be distributed for fans to take home and watch, made possible through VHS tapes and VCR’s. A big name in the anime film industry is Studio Ghibli, who has released a number of successful films over the years. In fact, the studio itself was founded during the Golden Age of Anime by Hayao Miyazaki. The company was founded in 1985 and continued on with the releases of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), Howl’s Moving Castle (2005), and the Oscar winner for Best Animated Film of 2003 Spirited Away (2002). Other sources began to receive anime adaptations, like light novels and video games. Although only really released in OVA’s during this era, yaoi or BL (boy’s love) became popular with members of the female audience, portraying gay relationships between characters. Also, the increase of popularity in the industry allowed for the release of Dragonball in 1986 and Akira in 1988. After the Golden Age of Anime in the 1980’s, the Japanese economy had crashed, resulting in less funding and the closure of many companies of the industry. However, despite the hardships, Studio Ghibli and Toei animation both managed to survive. Toei animation even managed to release Sailor Moon in 1992, right after the crash. As time went on, more shows were developed and successful. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) was successful, even though some say the ending was less than ideal. Pokémon’s release in 1997 showed the first ever successful adaptation of a video game ever, with even more video game releases, card games, mobile games, and even Hollywood films like Detective Pikachu (2019). Cowboy Bebop (1998) was also seen as very popular, though it is said that its success was seen in more Western countries than in Japan. The 2000’s was the true beginning of the digital era of anime, with the reduction of drawn animation, and the increase of digitally drawn shows and films with aspects of CGI. Shows like Naruto (2002), Bleach (2004), and One Piece (1999) started releasing and boosting the industry even more.

Conventions became even more popular among fans of the industry, even as far as hosting them on college campuses and throughout the United States. AnimeExpo started out in 1991 but has been boosting and is now considered the largest anime convention in the United States. Some say it even rivals San Diego Comic Con. Anime has become so popular in the United States, that there are companies that are specially licensed to release the products to the public with an English subtitled and English dubbed version of the show or film. Funimation and Crunchyroll are two of the biggest companies in the United States to release the licensed product to the public. Funimation is also partnered with Toonami for the release of many English dubs of certain series. Currently the shows airing is My Hero Academia, One Punch Man, Dr. Stone, Fire Force, Food Wars, Demon Slayer, Black Clover, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, Naruto: Shippuden, Lupin the 3rd Part V, and Attack on Titan. With the rise of the industry comes some hardships as well. Some companies that were once around are no longer here today. Even some that are still around may seem some struggles. Kyoto Animation, the studio who brought Violet Evergarden and the Free! series, was caught up in an arsonist attack on July 18th, 2019. The fire killed 36 people and injuring another 36, including the suspect. It has been described as one of the deadliest massacres in Japan since the end of World War II. The suspect was named as Shinji Aoba and was injured badly by the fire that he set. Even through this tragic event, the community continues to stick together. Many who would consider themselves as fans of the industry have been stigmatized over the years, to the point that some would have to hide their interests. Lately, though, the idea of enjoying Japanese animation in western cultures has become more commonplace and mainstream, that the earlier stigmas have either died out or have been accepted by other “otakus” or “weebs” as some would call them. The anime industry has been evolving throughout the years.

From the early ages, the golden age, the fall, and the digital age of anime. From the way things are going, it is likely that the industry will continue to grow and thrive in not only Japan, but in many countries as well. With the continued releases of popular shows, merging of industries, and growing interest in the culture, it will for sure prosper over time.

10 December 2020
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