If you haven’t yet, you should go check out the first installment of this series, which covers the roots of manga, anime, and some of the names that helped generate the medium’s earliest waves of influence.
I’m going to start breaching the era where the repercussions of manga, and especially anime, could be observed in a generation. While Astro Boy and other cornerstone franchises were propped up in terms of critical feedback, most of the audiences that took to pre-70’s animation were starting to flourish under the umbrella of their imaginative forefathers, and would carry the momentum of the industry to new heights in various ways–inventing techniques, narratives, and characters which live on today.
In this installment, I’m going to take a bird’s-eye view of manga and anime throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I will do my best not to dedicate too much space to Hayao Miyazaki, as I intend to write a piece specifically catered to him in the coming months.
That said, I can’t not talk about him a little bit.
Nowadays, Hayao Miyazaki and the animation juggernaut, Studio Ghibli, are household names, but neither of them started that way. Directly inspired by the works of Tezuka and Disney, Miyazaki started small as an assistant for Toei Animation, working on projects that he felt neglected the potential of animation and quickly expanding his repertoire of skills to include directing and key animation. Before long, he founded Studio Ghibli and began cultivating the Ghibli library, chock-full of instant classics that would break box office records over the next few decades. Some of the notable films he developed include Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. All of these were received with critical success and helped bring anime overseas in a way that was unprecedented on an international scale. For a long time, Spirited Away was Japan’s highest-selling film ever. It was impossible for the rest of the world not to notice.
With Miyazaki leading the charge, other strong artists and writers were able to breach the gap of animated success. But the rest of the world was not merely static in the meantime.
In 1977, a film of tantamount importance emerged–the one and only Star Wars. The repercussions of Star Wars could be felt the world over, and opened a gateway for Japanese science-fiction to get a fresh breather in the film industry. Space operas took up a new level of prestige, with Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam cementing itself as the first true success of its kind. With anime now revitalized in cinema and Miyazaki making waves, it was officially time to start flexing the limits.
Cue a starry-eyed supernova named Akira Toriyama. While Toriyama worked on many projects, he is far and wide known as the creator of Dragon Ball, a flagship series in the manga production company, Shonen Jump. Dragon Ball saw resounding, unheard of degrees of popularity over its lifespan, and continues to carry on that legacy today. Because of Toriyama’s achievements–showing that a whimsical adventure story about martial arts could succeed–the remaining walls of hesitation came tumbling down. Droves of new creators brought forth different styles of narrative, genre, and art, while older series that hadn’t gained as much traction (i.e. Fist of the North Star) started finding their place in the wider sphere of manga and anime. Berserk, One Piece, Hajime no Ippo, Initial D, Detective Conan, Yu Yu Hakusho, Cowboy Bebop, Sailor Moon, Ghost in the Shell… hundreds of series which would each stand at the top of their respective genres found life in these years, and would penetrate the public consciousness for decades to come.
It’s frankly impossible to cover all bases with the slope of industrial growth in this era. Anime became more marketable than ever before (thanks, Pokémon), and the most popular series were translated, dubbed, re-dubbed, and distributed in dozens of languages to just as many countries. While there remained a cultural stigma associated with the medium in some parts of the world (which has still not fully evaporated), the sheer force of ambition and quality were making anime a reckoning. It spun off commercialized toy lines, video games, card games, and conventions. It created new genres like the Magical Girl. It created controversy.
It brought people together…
…and continued to inspire the next generation, just as these creators were inspired by those who came before them. The turn of the millennium would see a technological world unlike the century which preceded it, and with those advancements, anime would swell into its current form: a living, breathing, artistic identity with millions of people at its back.
Thank you for reading. Please keep your eye out for the third and final installment of our series, coming soon.
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