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Anime:  The Past, Present, and Future....    
Animation's Beginnings | The First True Anime
| Effects of Editing | The 'Golden Age'
The Dawn of OAVs | Akira | Companies Get Organized....and Criticized | The Future

Animation's Beginnings:

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.

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Astro 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.

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The 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)

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The 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.

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The 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 box-office.  

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 feet.

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A 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.

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Anime 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 company.....Gainax.  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 on.  

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.

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The 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.


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