A Short History of Anime

The first accredited Japanese animation, A new picture of the Mischievous Boy (Chamebo Shingacho) dates back to 1917. However, it would take over a decade for animation to fully reach the mainstream. Cartoons did not really start coming into their own until the early 1930’s and even these were probably reworkings of fairy tales or simple collections of sight gags. With very few exceptions, these early experiments into animation came from low-budget companies and the first Japanese full-length feature; Mitsuyo Seo’s, Peach Boy’s Sea Eagle (Momotaro no kaiju) was not made until 1943.

Director Mitsuyo Seo

Despite major technological advances in animation during the 1940’s, for the duration of the Pacific War it was the fate of all (Japanese animations) to carry a hate-the-enemy message, thus, many Japanese animators creations were being delayed to create propaganda. As the war grew increasingly desperate, an endless stream of young men trooped out of the studio labs to the front. In the end, cartoon features became virtually impossible to produce.

Japanese wartime animation

As the conflict finished Japanese animation quickly outgrew its wartime compromises, becoming a major box office draw by the 1960s and the amazing commercial success it is today and looks to be for the foreseeable future. Many contribute its success to the fact that animation is no longer stereotyped as the domain of talking animals and Disney princesses and instead appeals to a broad audience of adults and children alike; in fact animation, more than any other form of film-making, offers the opportunity to operate in a safe space and create auteurist cinema outside the constraints of patriarchal norms, both with regard to the means, and the models of representation.

Today, the animated film, known as anime in Japan, has earned the respect and admiration of viewers worldwide and at present the Japanese animation industry is not only the largest commercial animation industry in the world, but also a powerhouse of skills and inspiration. Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux (1991), is of the same mind, declaring that Japanese animation is ‘film-making first, animation second’.

Aeon Flux


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