The History of Anime & Manga



How has Japanese animation evolved since World War II? Who were the people who contributed to its change and how was it influenced by the war?

Background on Art and Animation (Manga and Anime)

The Invasion:

Many people in the U.S. probably heard of cartoons like Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Voltron, Gundam Wing, Speed Racer, Digimon, and the ever so popular Pokemon; Famous cartoons that have bizarre character designs: female characters with beautiful round eyes, hair that is incredibly big, and gorgeous figure and physique. Male characters would usually have enormously huge muscles (as seen in Dragonball Z and GT), powerful bodies and maybe, on occasion, have gigantic robots as seen in cartoons like Robotech and Gundam Wing.

Where did all these cartoons come from? To find the answer one must look no further than in Japan, the birthplace of Japanese animation, the main source for all of this madness.

Japanese animation, also known as anime (pronounced “ani-may”), is a popular form of animation in Japan which is quickly spreading in the U.S. The major difference between anime and American cartoons is that unlike American cartoons, which are only watched by children, anime is popular among the Japanese adults and is watched by millions. The audience is not merely directed to children but to teens and adults as well. The same applies to Japanese comics known as manga.

In order to understand anime and its invasion into the US, a look into its history would be most appropriate. The best place to start is around World War II, since that was the time when the anime and manga (Japanese comics) industry evolved significantly.

During World War II the entire Japanese nation was mobilized. The people were forced to conform to the government’s demands or pay the ultimate price. According to Frederik Schodt’s book, Manga Manga: The World of Japanese Comics, those who failed to cooperate were punished by “preventive detention, bans on writing, and social ostracism, while those who recanted were rewarded with rehabilitation programs and support from the community…artists who had spent most of their lives criticizing the government did an about-face and offered wholehearted support to the militarists” (Schodt, 55).

Around 1940, many organizations for artists and cartoonists were formed. Among them were the New Cartoonists Association of Japan (Shin Nippon Mangaka Kyokai) and the New Cartoonists Faction Group (Shin Mangaha Shudan). During that time, the government used the few remaining cartoonists, who were not banned from working or who were not in the army, to influence the people through their artwork by creating comic strips filled with propaganda to use against the nation’s enemies.

Animation in the US:

In another part of the world, an influential artist who went by the name of Walt Disney was struggling as a cartoonist. Long before Mickey Mouse, he started out with Alice’s Wonderland and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in the 1920s. Then on November 16, 1928, Mickey Mouse was born and became an instant hit in the US. Disney decided to work on other projects and started on an animated feature film called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film, released in 1937, was a spectacular hit. Things went smoothly for the Disney Studio until World War II came along. Nevertheless, Disney continued to work and released Pinocchio andFantasia in 1940. Although the two were technical masterpieces, the studio was losing a great deal of money since they were losing the foreign market due to the war. Disney then released Dumbo,on a very limited budget, in 1941 and Bambi in 1942. As a result of releasing many expensive and costly films during the war, Disney began to diminish in influence.

During the war, Walt Disney Studios released two more films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros in South America. Throughout the war, Disney concentrated on making propaganda and training films for the military. After the war, Disney Studios struggled to make it back to top as they released several “package” films containing groups of short cartoons packaged together. Among these films were Make Mine Music andMelody Time. By 1950, Disney Studios regained success with the live action film, Treasure Island, and the animated feature, Cinderella.

With all the success, Walt Disney felt there was still something he had not yet accomplished. It was not until he found his intriguing attraction to amusement parks that pushed him to build his own theme park, one that children, parent, and people of all ages could enjoy. Thus after many years of planning, construction, and development, Disneyland was built in 1955. It became a monumental park that brought visitors from around the world.

Though Disneyland kept Disney rather busy, he, along with his studio and team, continued releasing quality entertainment. Disney released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Shaggy Dog, the popular TV series Zorro,and Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, the 1960s brought the end of an era: in December 15, 1966 Walt Disney died. However, the Walt Disney Studios managed to survive under the plans that Walt left behind and under the guidance of his brother Roy Disney. Disney remained under Roy’s leadership with further releases of The Jungle Book in 1967, The Love Bug in 1969, and The Aristocrats in 1970. By 1971 Roy Disney died and for the next decade, the company was led by a team who was originally trained by the Disney brothers. The team included Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller.

The Master Brings Life to Animation:

Back in Japan, after World War II, a young aspiring artist named Osamu Tezuka became a cartoonist and released his first work Shintakarajima(known in English as “New Treasure Island”). As a child, Tezuka was a fanatical fan of Walt Disney’s early animations. Many were impressed by Tezuka’s original style. However, it was not until Tezuka released his ultimate work Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) that he achieved success; he was pronounced “the Father of Manga and Anime”.

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