History of Anime (Part 4) (アニメの歴史)

In the preceding part of this article, I have written on the history of anime spanning through the post-War era in the late 1940s right up to the late 1970s, when animes started taking a more definite and appealing form of art. In this final portion of the article, I will now be covering on the expansion and developments of the anime industry in general, from the early 1980s right up to the present times.

Well, if any of you reading this now is an anime fan, surely you would know the popular anime cliché “kawaii” (可愛い), which is used ever so frequently in modern anime fan communities. However, for the benefit of those who don’t know, “kawaii” in Japanese refers to cuteness and adorability of someone or something in terms of appearance, mannerisms and actions. As far as anime is concerned, it is used to refer to characters or things which are adorable, highly appealing and cute in nature, be it in terms of their appearance or the way the characters behave. The “kawaii” culture has become an inseparable part of anime nowadays.

An anime depiction reflecting the "kawaii" (可愛い) culture

The “kawaii” or cuteness culture amongst Japanese youngsters began in the 1970s, when many teenage girls started creating a new pattern of writing using mechanical pencils. They modified Japanese characters (writing) by writing them in large and more rounded shapes, adding extra details to them, such as smiley faces, hearts, stars and other patterns, making such writing quite illegible. Consequently, these forms of “kawaii” writing were banned in schools, but they were later modified and utilized in comic books and magazines in the 1980s, thus popularizing such “kawaii” writings.

“Kawaii” writings later became linked to childish or extremely girlish behaviour, thus they were later incorporated into products and TV serials specially tailored for teenage girls and young children. One of the very first few products and animes to have pioneered the usage of the “kawaii” culture in them is none other than “Hello Kitty” (ハローキティ, Haro Kiti). Since then, many products and animes up to now frequently incorporate elements of “kawaii” in them.

Hello Kitty (ハローキティ, Haro Kiti)

As the anime industry slowly shifted into the 1980s, it entered the decadal era which many dubbed the “Golden Age of Anime.” This golden age saw a significant shift in the focus of mecha genre, of which I have mentioned before in the preceding part of this article. From the dominance of gigantic superhero robots attempting to save the world, the mecha genre gradually shifted its focus onto space opera themes, featuring space explorations and adventures, sophisticated and futuristic spacecrafts as well as intergalactic battles.

Examples of such space opera animes include “Space Battleship Yamato” (宇宙戦艦ヤマト, Uchuu Senkan Yamato) and “Mobile Suit Gundam” (機動戦士ガンダム, Kidou Senshi Gandamu) which I’ve mentioned before in the previous part of this article as well. Initially made in the 1970s, these two anime serials were later remade into theatrical anime films in the 1980s, which succeeded in garnering much more attention and reception in the world of anime.

Alongside these space opera animes, another renowned space opera anime serial, known as “Macross” (マクロス, Makurosu), started making its debut in 1982 to 1983, under the title “The Super Dimension Fortress Macross” (超時空要塞マクロス, Chou Jikuu Yousai Makurosu). Since then, numerous productions of “Macross” were made, some being sequels of this pioneer “Macross” series, while others having separate storylines from the other “Macross” versions. So many productions has it gone through, and so widespread has its popularity become, that the “Macross” anime has succeeded in establishing its own franchise and has become one of the most frequently spoken household name within the world of anime.

Macross Frontier (マクロスF (フロンティア), Makurosu Furontia), one of the animes belonging to the "Macross" franchise

Another notable thing that occurred during the Golden Age of Anime is the creation of one of the most successful anime of all time, followed closely by the emergence of two other anime household names, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The 1984 anime film, “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (風の谷のナウシカ, Kaze no Tani no Naushika), directed by anime master Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿, Miyazaki Hayao), attained wide acclamation and influence in Japan. Subsequently, in 1985, Miyazaki and his colleague Isao Takahata (高畑勲, Takahata Isao) went on to establish one of the most prominent anime studios of all time, that is Studio Ghibli (株式会社スタジオジブリ, Kabushiki Kaisha Sutajio Jiburi).

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ, Kaze no Tani no Naushika)

Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿, Miyazaki Hayao)

Studio Ghibli is currently widely acclaimed for the animes that it has produced, most of which are directed by Miyazaki or Takahata, who are also widely applauded as masters of anime. Released in 1986, Studio Ghibli’s first ever anime film production was “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” (天空の城ラピュタ, Tenkuu no Shiro Rapyuta), a work inspired by Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels.” Other famous productions of Studio Ghibli up to now include “My Neighbour Totoro” (となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro, 1988), “Grave of the Fireflies” (火垂るの墓, Hotaru no Haka, 1988), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (魔女の宅急便, Majo no Takkyuubin, 1989), “Pom Poko” (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko, 1994) and “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” (崖の上のポニョ, Gake no Ue no Ponyo, 2008).

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ, Tenkuu no Shiro Rapyuta)

My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro)

As the years went by during the Golden Age of Anime, more and more funds were actively invested into the anime industry in order to produce better quality animes, up to the extent that many significantly expensive animes were produced during this era. In fact, two of the most expensive anime films ever produced during this era were “Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise” (王立宇宙軍オネアミスの翼, Ouritsu Uchuugun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa, 1987) and “AKIRA” (アキラ, 1988). The former costs about ¥800,000,000 (approx. US$8.5 million), while the latter costs about ¥1,100,000,000 (approx. US$11.6 million). Sad to say, however, that these two anime films failed to earn back the expended amount of money from the Japanese box office at that time due to their lack of reception and popularity.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (王立宇宙軍オネアミスの翼, Ouritsu Uchuugun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa)

After going through its Golden Age, the anime industry subsequently entered the era of which many dub the “New Age of Anime”. The New Age of Anime, commencing from the early 1990s, witnessed several remarkable and notable developments, many of which gave rise to some of the most popular and celebrated animes in the world of anime. These include, amongst others, “Pokémon” (ポケモン, 1997), “Digimon” (デジモン, Dejimon, 1999), “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” (美少女戦士セーラームーン, Bishoujo Senshi Sera Mun, 1992) and “Detective Conan” (名探偵コナン, Meitantei Konan, 1996). Such animes received international reception and acclamation from fans all over the world.

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン, Bishoujo Senshi Sera Mun)

Detective Conan (名探偵コナン, Meitantei Konan)

Most animes released before the 1990s largely utilized hand-drawn cels in their productions. However, this trend began to change in the New Age of Anime when computer-generated animation became increasingly popular amongst animation companies. The first ever anime to utilize computer-generated animation techniques on a considerably large scale is “Ghost in the Shell” (ゴーストインザシェル / 攻殻機動隊, Gosuto In Za Sheru / Koukaku Kidoutai, 1995). This anime paved the way for a major shift in animation techniques – from traditional hand-drawn cel animations to more sophisticated computer-generated animations. Many anime companies at that time learned quickly the benefits and beauty of computer-generated animation right after the release of “Ghost in the Shell”, thus they wasted no time in making tremendous revamps in their animation departments to maximize the utilization of computers in animation.

Ghost in the Shell (ゴーストインザシェル / 攻殻機動隊, Gosuto In Za Sheru / Koukaku Kidoutai)

Nevertheless, the New Age of Anime also witnessed the production of one of the most controversial animes of all time. “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shin Seiki Evulangerion, 1995) garnered considerable popularity from anime circles, but it also received widespread criticisms for the themes which it is based on. Many elements of this anime are derived from teachings and traditions of both Judaism and Christianity. Based on mecha and post-apocalyptic genres, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” revolves around the efforts of a paramilitary organization in waging battle against evil beings called Angels via the utilization of giant robots called Evangelions, which are piloted by elite teenagers, one of whom is the main protagonist of the story.

Well, now that I’ve mentioned that this anime is surrounded by controversy, some of you who have not watched it before might be wondering as to what exactly is the controversy behind it. Let me put it this way: what one might initially expect from a mecha and post-apocalyptic anime like this is the portrayal of battles between good and evil forces. But what if these evil forces are substituted instead with the forces of God? A battle against the forces of God? Exactly! There’s where the controversy stems from in this anime. Angels of God are portrayed as evil beings attacking and destroying Tokyo-3, the capital of Japan in the story. Depicted as progenies of Adam bearing appearances ranging from the most bizarre forms to perfectly human looks, these “Angels” possess destructive positron beam attacks and massive-energy weapons used for mass destruction. These “Angels” bear various angelic names derived from angelology, a branch of Christian theology concerning the study of angels, besides being referred to as Shito (使徒), the Japanese word which means “apostle.”

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shin Seiki Evulangerion)

In addition to all these controversial elements in the anime, many other such elements are also seen throughout the entire series. For example, Christian crosses are frequently portrayed as energy beams shooting skywards or appear whenever an Angel is destroyed. Many other allusions of Judeo-Christian terms are also found throughout the anime, such as the Wall of Jericho; Melchior, Balthazar and Casper (the traditional names of the Magi from the Gospel of Matthew); the Lance of Longinus (the name given to the lance that was used to pierce Jesus’ side during His crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) and the Tree of Sephiroth (the Tree of Life, a mystical symbol in Kabbalah Judaism). Indeed, this anime succeeded in garnering attention from both extremes – acclamation from fans and criticisms from religious viewpoints – besides being one of the rare animes with a deep plot and meaning due to its infusion with religious teachings, traditions and symbolisms – something you don’t normally expect of in a seemingly ordinary but actually extraordinary mecha anime.

Entering the whole new millennium, the anime industry has progressed by leaps and bounds to achieve popularity and acclamation not only within the confines of the Japanese island nation, but also throughout the whole planet. This is proven when the anime industry made history in the year 2002. “Spirited Away” (千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001), directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, became the first Japanese anime and the first non-English speaking animation to ever win the Oscar Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002, beating other famous animated films such as “Lilo & Stitch”, “Ice Age” and “Treasure Planet.” “Spirited Away” also won the Golden Bear award (the highest prize awarded for the best film) in the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.

Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) - the first ever anime to have won the Oscar Academy Award in 2002

Another significant international achievement of the anime industry occurred in 2004, when the anime film “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” (イノセンス, Inosensu) was nominated and featured for the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award in the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. It, however, did not succeed in garnering the prestigious award, as the award subsequently went to another film which was nominated alongside it.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (イノセンス, Inosensu) - featured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004

In this new millennium, many animes produced are frequently adapted from existing mangas (Japanese comic books) and light novels. Examples of such animes include “Rozen Maiden” (ローゼンメイデン, Rozen Meiden, 2004), “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱, Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuu’utsu, 2006), “Naruto” (NARUTO -ナルト-, 2002), “Shakugan no Shana” (灼眼のシャナ, literally meaning Shana of the Burning Eyes, 2005), “Birdy the Mighty Decode” (鉄腕バーディー DECODE, Tetsuwan Badi DECODE, 2008) and many, many others as well. In fact, a vast majority of animes nowadays have their origins from mangas and light novels.

Shakugan no Shana (灼眼のシャナ i.e. Shana of the Burning Eyes)

Naruto (NARUTO -ナルト-)

It is also worth noting that there are animes produced nowadays that have crossed the borders from the world of animation into the realm of live-action shows, acted out by real-life casts. Examples of such animes / live-action shows are “The Prince of Tennis” (テニスの王子様, Tenisu no Oujisama, 2006), “Great Teacher Onizuka” (グレート・ティーチャー・オニズカ, Gureto Tiicha Onizuka, 1999) and “Nodame Cantabile” (のだめカンタービレ, Nodame Kantabire, 2006).

The Prince of Tennis (テニスの王子様, Tenisu no Oujisama) - the anime

The Prince of Tennis (テニスの王子様, Tenisu no Oujisama) - the live-action movie

In a nutshell, animes have gone a long way in Japanese culture and modern history. Starting as a modest form of art early in the 20th century, the anime industry progressed gradually to extend its influence all over the Land of the Rising Sun and eventually to the whole world. The anime industry has played varying roles at different periods throughout its history, including being used as tools of Japanese cultural spread and war propaganda. Nevertheless, from its modest roots early in the turn of the century, the anime industry has now progressed tremendously to become one of the most inseparable parts of modern Japanese culture, besides being able to garner fans, reception and acclamation from every corner of the world. This has led to the decision of the Japanese government to appoint Doraemon as the first Anime Ambassador in 2008 in order to promote this unique form of art known as anime to the entire world.

"Doraemon, I hope you will travel around the world as an Anime Ambassador to deepen people's understanding of Japan so that they will become friends with Japan." - Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura to Japan's first Anime Ambassador Doraemon in 2008

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