Animation has evolved
greatly since it's beginnings with Walt Disney back in the 1920's through
early 1930s. America was awed at the time, when Disney combined
animation, with sound, to create memorable characters that seemed lifelike,
yet were totally drawn and voiced by a team of writers, and animators.
Japan also saw it's
animation beginnings before World War II, however, they were minimal, and not
well known, if at all known, to America at that time.
After WWII came and
went, Japan's economy went into a downward spiral. While animation in
America was cruising along with more Disney classics, and many animated shorts
by Disney, Paramount, and Warner Bros., Japan's animation output was at a bare
minimum, due to it's economic state.
Enter, TOEI Animation
Co. Founded in the early 1950s, one of its early goals was to become the
'Walt Disney' of Japan. Most of their early output had many
qualities that Disney's feature films had. However, it again, failed to
dent the general Western people, because we still had our own animation that
was well accepted with the public.
Boy - The First 'True' Anime:
We skip ahead into the
1960s......1963 to be exact. This is when Dr. Osamu Tezuka, created what
is hailed by many as the first 'true' animated TV series to be classified as
'anime'. That series......Tetsuwan Atomu or "Astro Boy"
as it was known to American kids back then. When producer for NBC
Studios, Fred Ladd, looked at the series, he knew it had potential to be a
hit. Thus, he picked up rights to the series, and NBC did a little extra
work on it to make it look better (e.g: adding more animation cels). They then syndicated it instead of
running it on their own network. Although, it had it's edits, and the last episode was never seen
initially, "Astro Boy" became a smash hit across the ratings boards
in America. Tezuka would follow this up with a tale about a young lion cub
who has to strike it out on his own....but not without the help of
friends. "Kimba - The White Lion"....although not as
successful as "Astro Boy", still had a fairly decent following.
Other series found their
way into syndicated TV. 2 of the better remembered titles were 'Gigantor"
and "Marine Boy". Perhaps, the anime
series that will best be remembered from the late 60's though, is a title
which came out of, then, fledging Tatsunoko Studios. Mach Go Go Go....better
known here as "Speed Racer" was even bigger than "Astro
Boy" especially with young boys, and has remained a classic since then.
It stuck around in syndication through the early 80s, earning it the crown of
being the only anime series to survive the longest on American TV.
Effects of Editing Anime For U.S. TV:
Anime didn't make its
second wave into the USA until the late 1970s. Among the titles issued
here, was one that was the first true test of editing, and getting around
things that seemed a bit too 'risqué' for Western culture, and to tone down
violence levels. The title in question, is Science Ninja Team
Gatchaman, or "Battle of the Planets", as it was known
here. Producer Sandy Frank, decided to fill in the holes left after
editing was finished, by adding a totally new character for the American
version, that had nothing to do with the series. Also, some elements of
certain characters were changed (like this one character that could change
from a male into a female and back), thus affecting the story greatly.
Despite a talented cast
of voices for "Battle of the Planets" one being Casey Kasem (of
'America Top 40' fame), the series didn't do as well as many hoped it
would. When the series was just starting to get good, it got
canned. A later series in the 'Gatchaman' realm would be dubbed for TV
in the future. More on this later though.
Another genre in the
medium of anime was to come into veiw in 1979. This would be the 'mecha'
anime, and it got started with the series "Mobile Suit Gundam".
It didn't grow on people at first, thus it failed in Japan, but it's
successive TV shows, movies and OAVs would prove to be more successful.
(Sidenote: The first Gundam series to make it to U.S. shores was 'Gundam
Wing', and took the ratings wins in it's respective timeslots during its
original run on Cartoon Network)
1980s -- The "Golden Age" of Anime:
The 70's went into the
80's....what many anime otaku consider the 'golden age of anime'. This
was when the highest volume of anime was coming out of Japan, and airing on TV
here in the States. Several series worth mentioning were Urusei
Yatsura, a smash hit in Japan from manga artist Rumiko Takahashi.
Unfortunately, it would end in 1981, but not in an abrupt way, like some series tend
to do. Her later manga/anime series Ranma 1/2 would prove
to be successful worldwide, not just in Japan.
Anime continued it's
push into mainstream markets in the Western part of the world as well in the
80s. The best known, and a fan favorite from this period, was "Robotech".
One series embedded within "Robotech"....."Macross" was
too short for syndication at that time.....36 episodes wouldn't cut it for TV,
as it had to be at least 40 to get syndication. Enter, Harmony Gold, and
it's head, Carl Macek. They took "Macross" and 2 other anime
series TOTALLY unrelated to Macross, and called it "Robotech".
Once it hit the syndication round (produced by Harmony Gold, and distributed
by Macek's new company 'Streamline Pictures'), it took off....literally, and became a hit
in America. Merchandise for the series was tough to come by at the time,
and bigger things were to come for the Macross series.
That bigger thing
happend in Japan in 1984, with the release of the first Macross movie.
It pushed box office numbers through the roof in Japan, and it was the first
anime to really give a hoot about characters' mouth movements being in-sync
with the voice track. (no anime I have seen has taken this into
consideration). A second movie was also released, and faired
well. However, the biggest thing for Macross was it's VERY expensively
produced OAV series, "Macross Plus". Sales for that were high,
and it is one of the more detailed anime OAVs of its time.
Dawn of a New Medium - OAVs:
Movies, like with the
Macross movie, were getting better and better, but by the mid 1980s, they were
also getting ridiculously expensive....to the point where animation companies
were paying more to make the film, than what they were making from it at the
VCR's were just coming
into the Japanese market in the late 70s, but they were few and far between at
the time. They were big and expensive, and the blank tapes were also
expensive. By the mid-80's, this kind of stuff finally got cheap enough
for much of the public to have at least one VCR in the house.
Companies in Japan who
released feature films, looked into this new medium. They created
feature-length films that would be released directly onto video....not even
seeing a theatre release. Megazone 23, was the first success
story for what was to be known to many anime otaku as the 'OAV', or Original
Animation Video.....a direct-to-video issue of a feature-length film.
With this medium, animation companies finally were able to get back on their
Turnaround for Anime -- Akira:
As one may expect, the
'golden age' of anime wouldn't last forever. Despite 2 fairly successful
Miyazaki flicks, one being dubbed later by Buena Vista in the mid-1990s called
"Kiki's Delivery Service", the economy of anime in Japan was falling
fast. Anime as we knew it, would have died out as fast as the 8-track
tape had it not been for one late 1980s feature film entry.
Katsuhiro Otomo, who
already had a successful manga series titled Neo Tokyo, decided that a
section of the popular manga was good enough for a full length movie.
That movie, which came in 1988, was "Akira". Now, many
previous movies in Japan, were super-hyped up by critics, but
anime fans in the past, were usually let down by the finished products.
"Akira" was anything BUT a failure, despite the opinion at the
time. In fact, it was a box office smash all across the world, including
in the USA, when it hit theatres in July of 1989, thanks to Carl Macek's
Streamline Pictures (mentioned above), and Orion (now a defunct branch of MGM/UA). It has
remained a classic ever since.
Starts Hitting the Mainstream...But Not Without Controversy:
TV run anime, however,
was still on the downward spiral at the time of Akira's success. It
looked as if it would die out, right then and there. However, when the
80s pushed onward into the early 1990s, there was to be a series from a
company, little known at the time before it, that would change anime again and
turn it upside-down.
The series in question...."Neon Genesis Evangelion". A
masterpiece in both artwork and in it's story, it redefined TV series anime to
be a successful medium....provided it was popular with enough fans and caught
Also during this part of
the 1990s, anime distribution companies started forming in the USA, so
anime could be more easily obtained by fans. One of the older companies
still in business today from that period is US Manga Corp's. 'Central Park
Media' branch. Another worth mention is AnimEgo.
However, thanks to news
coverage at the USA's first 'true' anime convention in 1991, dealing with the
series Minna Agechau or "I Give My All", which was to be the
first release of the newly formed anime distributor USMC, mentioned
above. Somehow, Fox News got inside info on this title, and they dubbed
it...."Japanese pornography". The media attention this title
got was so high, that it got the general public worried about what was coming,
which probably explains why anime from that point onward, gets a bad reputation
in the USA as being 'sick' 'violent', and 'full of nothing but
pornography'. Of course, these days, this isn't totally true at all, but back in
the early 1990s, anime wasn't as mainstream as it is now either.
Future of Anime:
Anime has continued to
evolve and flourish in both Japan, and the USA. It would go through 2
more waves in the 1990s, one in 1995/1996, then again, in 1998/1999.
When it will die down again, we'll never know, but at the rate the medium's
popularity is growing, I doubt that will happen any time soon.
I hope you have enjoyed
this lengthy dip into anime history. I also hope that it has given you,
the newcomer to the medium, a better sense of where anime has come and gone,
and where it stands today. If you wish to read more about anime in the
USA, and my own history of anime, please go to the 'My
Anime History' Page.
Aside from a few added
and/or changed things, the majority of titles, dates, and details in this
article were taken from "The Right
Stuf Intl.'s" pages on "A Global History of Anime" and
"A History of Anime in the US". I claim no ownership
whatsoever of those articles.