Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Brief History of Anime

The subject of Anime has held a certain fascination with me for a long time now. I grew up with the 1980s revision of Astro Boy and Sailor Moon was a guilty pleasure. In 2000 I had a false start and pretty much wrote off the whole thing as animated soft-porn with action. A couple years later, at the urging of my Anime-nut roommate, I gave it another go.

And I discovered an entirely unique approach to movies that blew my mind. Animated movies aimed at adults? With intelligent writing and strong thematic exploration? Why the hell don't more people know about this?

Anyways, here's a quick rundown of the history of Anime.

1947-Tezuka Osamu publishes his first comic book, New Treasure Island. It’s a runaway success. Unlike his predecessors and peers, who mostly drew in a two dimensional perspective and approached the stories almost like a stage play, Tezuka uses cinematic techniques such as dynamic angles to more effectively tell the story. Oh, and this version practically had nothing to do with the original, save for loose inspiration.

1947-1956-Tezuka is the most popular comic book artist in Japan. He radically and forever changes the look of all comics in Japan. Due to the sophistication of the themes and stories in Tezuka’s comics, many people now read them well into adulthood.

1956-Seeing Disney’s success in America, Toei Productions founds Toei Animation to make animated theatrical features. It follows the Disney formula closely, using old Japanese folk tales as source material and giving the protagonists cute and funny animal companions.

1962-Tezuka Osamu (Remember him? Yeah, he's totally a name you should remember.) founds Mushi Productions to make modern, fast-paced fantasy animation for TV.

1963-Mushi Productions’ first series, Astro Boy, is an instant success. By the end of 1963, three more television animation studios are in production and Toei Animation opens a television department.

1963-1988-Anime in Japan continues to climb in popularity. Some children shows like Astro Boy and Transformers (Yeah, those robot guys are Japanese. And you thought that "It's probably Japanese." line from the '07 movie was nothing more than a cheap gag.) reach North American television to a warm response, but Anime aimed at more mature audiences is only available as bootleg copies.

1984-Nausicaa is a smash success in Japan. Isao Takahata, the producer, and Hayao Miyazaki, the director, found Studio Ghibli for the production of their personal theatrical features.

1988-Akira is a financial and critical success not only in Japan, but also in North America. It introduces mature anime into mainstream America.

1992-In response to the highly successful Super Sentai port (the Power Rangers franchise), North American networks port over Sailor Moon for the young female audiences.

1994-Studio Gibli’s Pom Poko is submitted as Japan’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the Academy Awards.

1995-Perfect Blue, the film set having been destroyed by an earthquake, is made instead as an Anime. It is met with critical acclaim. Ghost in the Shell is released simultaneously in the States and in Japan. It is initially more successful critically and financially in North America than it's home country. Actually sounds like a good article, come to think of it...

1999-The Matrix, conceived as a live-action Anime, becomes a smash success in North America.

2000-Darren Aronofsky buys the remake rights to Perfect Blue so he can reproduce the underwater screaming scene for his film, Requiem for a Dream.

2003-Spirited Away, the highest grossing film in Japan (animated or otherwise), wins the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. As a companion piece to the upcoming Matrix Revolutions, The Animatrix is released, and is kind of a big deal in certain circles.

2004-The highest budget Anime to date, Steamboy, is released. This also marks the return of Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo. Sadly, the film is a financial and critical disappointment.

2005-American produced Avatar the Last Airbender bears a striking resemblance to Anime stylings. Of course, this isn't the first to use this style, but it is certainly among the most prominent.

2009-Ponyo, the latest film by Hayao Miyazaki, is released. This is despite stating his intent to retire after Spirited Away.

Well, that's about it for now. Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

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