Today Japanese animation is largely referred to as Anime; however, this term wasn’t coined until the middle of the 20th century (Clements, 2013, p. 1). There were many other terms that referred to Japanese animation, such as senga, kuga, or shin gachō. Japanese hobbyists were the first to experiment with anime in the early 1900s, however, during World War ll anime became a source of propaganda for the Japanese government. With the implication of the 1939 Film Law, Japanese animators had huge restrictions on what they were able to publish, and each film could not be notably inferior to the previous production. The government interfered directly in the production process of animated films. Instead of doing post-production approval by the government, films needed to pass a pre-production approval. Each film had to meet specific requirements in order to be broadcasted, and because of this many animations were directly geared toward national spirit. Also there were huge restrictions of foreign entertainment, but for many Japanese animators this wasn’t a bad thing. With the disappearance of foreign cartoons Japanese animators gained many opportunities to entertain audiences with their work. After the war in 1962, Tezuka Osamu released his master piece Astro Boy which marked a new age in anime. According to Marwah Zagzoug, “by 1963, Astro Boy crossed international borders and was premiered on NBC stations all over the US and was still successful with American audiences” (Zagzoug, 2001). Through the 1980s, and 1990s, other shows such as Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and Sailor Moon grabbed the spotlight in the United States and set the stage for modern anime.
Today anime and manga has become a mainstream source of entertainment in the United States. Most video stores, gaming magazines, or video streaming websites contain at least some form of anime. Toei Animation, Mushi Productions, and Studio Ghibli were among some of the first great production companies producing amazing color films and exporting popular shows all around the world. Toei Animation released Dragon Ball, which introduced the martial arts style of anime, and became a huge hit in Japan. Many of these shows began to catch the attention of western cultures leading to the formation of American production companies. Companies such as Funimation are responsible for producing and translating anime for English speaking audiences. One of the strongest assets for the popularization of anime was Toonami. Toonami is a late-night animated programming block on Adult Swim that broadcasts action-oriented programming. Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball Z, Rurouni Kenshin, One Piece, and Naruto were among some of the first and most popular shows to air on toonami. Another reason anime has become popular is because it is an industry that markets its products with manga (Japanese comics), video games, and anime related merchandise. Debbi Gardiner once said, “Japanese anime, a genre once reserved for the TV dens of Star Trek-types and reclusive teenagers, is now super-hip in the States” (Gardiner, 2003). Since the late 90s, anime has been increasingly growing in popularity. Anime is also responsible for influencing many different American live-action series and animated cartoons. The cartoon show Transformers was greatly inspired by many of the popular mecha anime that feature fighting robots, such as Gundam, Mazinger Z, and Zoids. Other big influences on American media came from productions such as Paprika, which inspired Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio. Darren Aronofsky purchased the rights of an anime film titled, Perfect Blue and it is thought that he made an adaptation of it with his movie Black Swan (Stuckmann, 2014). While those are just a few examples there are many other cases where Japanese anime has inspired American media and pop culture. Anime has built a huge worldwide fan base and has established itself as a mainstream form of entertainment in the United States.
Since the early days of anime the industry has made remarkable advancements in technology. In comparison between anime from the 1980s, to the current generation there is a huge difference in production quality. In the early days of anime the production process was done in a 2D format, it was all drawn by hand using cels. The word cel is short for celluloid, which is a transparent sheet on which artist draw characters or other animations sense (The Evolution of Graphics, 2014). These sheets are then laid over top of a static background to create the animation. This process was developed to reduce the amount of times it was needed to draw characters and it also enabled the studio to create an assembly line system. Using these strategies made the production process much more cost effective. This style of animation was used through most of the 20th century until around the 1990s, when most companies abandoned this form of animation for digital animation programs. The digital age has transformed the anime industry and has pushed it further into the global market. However, many anime production companies weren’t too quick to abandon their traditional cel form of animating. Production companies such as Studio Ghibli continued using hand painted cels for their films for a little bit after the creation of digital animation (Fenlen, 2014). It wasn’t until the film Princess Mononoke that they made the transition to digital animation. However, this film was also the last to contain hand painted cels. However, it did incorporate both digital and traditional animation techniques. As animators began utilizing digital inking and painting in the late 90s and early 2000s, studios turned computer generated Images (CGI) technology to help cut production costs (Fenlon, 2012). With the use of CGI technology animators could replace certain parts of the animation such as, characters, buildings, or vehicles with 3D animations. While combining both 3D CGI and 2D digital art is both cheaper and more efficient, animators have to be careful when using CGI because it lacks the detail that 2D digital art has. This can lead to the CGI looking out of place with the surrounding scenery, but with the right blend 3D CGI can be very cost effective and create stunning visuals. Advancements in technology have really transformed the way viewers experience anime and as anime continues to grow in popularity, the technology will only get better.
While technological advancements have helped improve the production quality and costs of anime it has also led to many struggles in the industry; if anime is to continue to grow many changes need to be made. Technology is one of the main factors that are leading to the decline of anime. The anime industry has been strained ever since computers and the internet have become readily available to just about anyone. Illegal pirating and streaming through the internet is also taking a stab at the production companies, because instead of going out and buying a copy of the DVD people can stream it for free online. Unfortunately illegal pirating and free online streaming is almost justifiable, because production companies in Japan charge tremendous rates for a copy of a DVD or Blu-Ray disc. With a decrease in DVD sales productions companies aren’t able to pay animators with the high paying salaries they deserve. Low paying salaries and a lack of benefits for animators in Japan, has caused many talented employees to quit their jobs within months of taking them for higher paying jobs in other industries. While the internet is a main factor that is causing the anime industry to struggle it is not the only cause of the potential down fall of anime. Another potential threat to the industry is the fans themselves. According to Lauren Orsini who is a professional journalist “if anime is dying it’s because fans feel a need to be gatekeepers. To say certain kinds of anime or anime fans aren’t legitimate. By using words like “Narutard” or “Fake geek” to keep people out of our cliques” (Orsini, 2013). Many fans like to dictate who views what show and attacks those who don’t enjoy certain shows. This has lead to many people who haven’t been exposed to anime or show a potential interest in it to turn away from it because of fans trying to police viewers. If the anime industry is to survive changes need to be made. While anime is not cheap to produce the cost of a DVD or Blu-Ray is often completely unreasonable. In some instances an anime movie on Blu-Ray can cost up to 100 dollars. These prices are just too high for many fans so they turn to free online pirating or online streaming. Also fans need to be more open to other anime series, because all of the animosity geared towards other shows seriously deters people from viewing anime for themselves. Finally fans should also focus less on getting their content for free and start buying their favorite series legally. This doesn’t mean go out and buy everything you want to watch. Free online streaming is excellent for trying out a new series, but if you really love that series don’t continue to watch it for free. Go out and purchase it so you can support your favorite show and the industry as a whole.
The history of anime isn’t a long one but it its story is interesting and inspiring. Anime has been around for over half a century and since its first big hit with Astro Boy and many other great series it has come a long way. Many amazing anime have inspired some of America’s most popular TV shows and Movies. It has also begun to make many strides in technology while maintaining its artistic cinematic style. While anime has become a cultural phenomenon in the United States it is also facing many struggles, but if the industry can adapt to the changing audiences and technologies anime will continue to spread not only in the United States but worldwide.
Works Cited (MLA)
Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
"The Evolution of Graphics in Anime Movies." Age of Innovation. N.p., 21 July 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Fenlen, Wesley. "2D Animation in the Digital Era: Interview with Japanese Director Makoto Shinkai - Tested.com." Tested RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Gardiner, Debbi. "Anime in America." J@pan Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
"How Japanese and American Animation Differ." About. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.
"The "Japanese Invasion": Anime's Explosive Popularity in the U.S." Asian Avenue Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
Orsini, Lauren. "Maybe You’re the Reason Anime Is Dying." Otaku Journalist. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Sevakis, Justin. "The Anime Economy - Part 1: Let's Make An Anime!" Anime News Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
Stuckmann, Chris. "Why Anime Is Important." YouTube. N.p., 13 July 2014. Web.
Zagzoug, Marwah. "The History of Anime and Manga." The History of Anime and Manga. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.