I’m sure you’ve heard of a little event in world history called World War II. It was a politically complex and morally horrific grease-stain of a struggle that involved a lot of bad things happening to people who wanted nothing to do with it. And as with most tragedies of this scale, once the ashes and bombshells finally settled, human beings needed a way to cope with the subsequent reality.
From the darkness came an uncertain glimmer of light, tenderly kindled to combat the broken emotions and veil of fear which settled over post-war Japan–a flicker of imagination which would eventually grow into what we now globally consider manga (mahn-gah) and anime (ah-nee-may).
To celebrate the one hundred year anniversary of anime (according to famous Japanese broadcasting station, NHK, as the exact beginnings are indeterminable), Geeks Under Grace is going to feature a three-part series that explores how manga and anime came to pierce our public conscious. There will be discussion of people, concepts, tragedies, and victories. Manga and anime are often improperly received in our modern world, and I’m convinced a large part of this is due to misunderstanding. If audiences don’t understand these forms of pop culture, or worse, only possess half an idea (usually the wrong half), then of course they are going to be standoffish to these mediums of art. (That’s right: I said mediums, not genres. That’s the first misunderstanding debunked, and I’ll explore the details later.)
This is a subject which could easily be exhausted beyond the scope of what I will be covering. Manga and anime are a global phenomenon right now, even being adapted by entertainment juggernauts like Hollywood and Netflix to reenvision popular stories for our current cultural climate, such as the recent Ghost in the Shell and Death Note films.
Manga and anime both herald from Japan. The former could be equated to Western comics, while the latter to cartoons, though the nuance and target audiences are completely different from what we presuppose when we think of those things. Released first, manga (and by extension anime, eventually) was targeted not only at children but also teenagers and adults. Anime exploded in the early 40’s as creative types bundled together into various cartooning organizations which spun stories to alleviate the stress of war, while whoever did not belong to these organizations was commissioned to make cartoons to spread military propaganda.
In the meantime, the West had Walt Disney and Disney Studios, which was releasing such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi, both prior to and during World War II. Each film was a masterpiece of the craft and very expensive, lending a nearly crippling blow to the young animator and studio. Disney continued to struggle and take odd jobs for the next decade until the release of Treasure Island and Cinderella around 1950, when his films began to pick up momentum again.
The influence that Disney continued to have on the overall narrative of anime in this era cannot be understated (and could be an entire article unto itself). If nothing else, it’s important to note that Disney was growing in popularity at the same time as manga and anime were beginning to find their foothold.
Cue an important character: Osamu Tezuka. In his formative years, Tezuka was a big fan of Disney’s many animations, and applied principles and styles he learned from those films into his own cartooning aspirations. Tezuka, as with most giants, began his adventure from humble roots, and did not truly find his pace until the early 60’s. In 1962, he began his own production company (Mushi Productions) and introduced the world to what would henceforth be a cornerstone of anime–the legendary Astro Boy–altering the course of the medium forever and earning himself the titles “Father of Manga and Anime” and “The Godfather of Anime.” Astro Boy possessed a uniqueness of style and respect for the craft which distinguished it not only from Western animation, but also from its own contemporaries. The very next year, Astro Boy would even see international success, being the first anime to breach the divide between cultures on such a scale.
Astro Boy would be followed by many other products of global appeal: Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Phoenix, New Treasure Island, and Black Jack. In the meantime, when Tezuka wasn’t being the most renowned pioneer of an industry, other exciting breakthrough events were happening in the world of manga and anime. An anime known as Otagi Manga Calendar was the first series to earn a slot in broadcast television (even if that slot was only three minutes long). The “mecha” genre of anime stirred into existence out of thin air in the 70’s, spearheaded by a gallery of noteworthy titles such as Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers. A beloved little manga named Doraemon started influencing a generation.
But perhaps most importantly were the things happening on a microscopic level. Anime and manga were not trivial entertainment for some viewers, they were catalysts. They saturated young minds and hearts, baptizing them in a fresh and untamed imagination. Those young minds and hearts would eventually grow up, clinging to and thriving on these creations from their childhoods…
And they’d become men like Akira Toriyama and Hayao Miyazaki, the next generation of juggernaut artists who would impact an industry and change the landscape of the world.
Stay tuned for the next installment, coming soon.
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