A Short History of the Anime Industry

The anime industry has expanded from Japan to around the world. It is a unique form of animation known for its big eyes, stylistic expressions, and the huge worlds that it creates. Anime has been produced in Japan for nearly a century and has been airing in the United States since the 1970s, with hits such as Astro Boy and Speed Racer. Back then, most Americans did not realize that what they were watching were not American cartoons. Anime is the Japanese word for animation. Most of this animation medium is based on manga which translates into ‘random pictures’.

The anime boom in the United States started with the creation of VHS tapes, and then an even larger anime explosion happened with the creation of the internet. Anime and manga is a $5 billion a year industry in Japan alone. Publishers print hundreds of manga titles a year. Anime companies are unlike American companies such as Disney which focus on a much lighter tone that is based around defeating villains, finding love, living happily ever after, etc. Anime can show far darker tones with complicated heroes and not everyone living happily ever after.

Japan’s tradition of telling stories through pictures dates back to the 12th century with a 54 chapter story titled Tale of Genji. The epic is about Prince Genji, a noble warrior who goes on many adventures. Tale of Genji is still in publication today. Manga and anime would not be the way it is today without Western influences. Trade routes between the Western world and Japan showed the Japanese how great their stories could become. Miyazaki’s movies were inspired by Disney.

Modern manga, after Tale of Genji, started taking place in the 1800s with cartoon art published in Japanese versions of American publications. The first professional association of Japanese comic book artists was started in 1886, named Nippon Mangakai. The first anime film produced was 5 minutes long and was released in 1917. The short film was titled Mukuzo Imokawa, The Doorkeeper.

The pictures drawn by early anime creators were not even close to the quality they are now. As the Japanese prepared for war in the 1930s, the quality of animation changed. A military regime in Japan wanted stories of Japanese heroes who save Japan from foreigners. In a 1933 anime film titled Black Cat Banzai, the Japanese army defeats bombers who closely resembled Mickey Mouse.

After Japan’s defeat in 1945, the publishing industry was hit hard along with many other industries. No new anime was produced and hardly any manga was available. Osama Tezuka, the ‘Walt Disney of Japan’, left medical school to focus on comic art after the war. He was influenced by Disney animation such as Bambi. He even received permission from Disney to create a manga version of Bambi. He started the theme of manga and anime artists telling the story through facial expressions as much as words.

Tezuka created many genres for manga because the audience of manga is for very young children to adults. Genres include romance, mystery, drama, action, etc. Manga for young kids, starting in the 1950s by Tezuka, were fairy tale style adventures. Many Japanese artists working in anime were influenced by Disney and they started adaptating Japanese folk tales into film. Alakazam the Great was a work by Tezuke that was adaptated into an anime film in 1960.

Astro Boy was the first anime released in the United States. It was a black and white anime that was shown on American television. The American viewers coined the term Japanimation. Anime then developed a following in the United States.

In anime, the eyes are drawn big and round. The reason for this is because Tezuka wanted to show a variety of emotions appropriately. Anime today is far more detailed and with better quality animation than Astro Boy was. Anime stands out from animation produced in any other country.

Manga can be separated by the target demographics. Boys between the ages of six and eighteen are likely to read titles known as shounen, which are specifically aimed towards them. Shounen Jump publishes many shounen manga and there is an American version of the manga magazine. Girls can also enjoy shounen. Popular shounen titles are One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, and Fairy Tail. Young girls read shoujo, which is based around things that appeal to girls. Popular shoujo series include Fruits Basket. Men over the age of eighteen often read seinen, which are more graphic. Anime is now a major form of media around the world.