To begin with, one of the major problems that has hindered American animation is budget and time constraints. On the other hand, in Japan, anime has been allowed to flourish all over. When it comes to animation, it seems that Hollywood simply does not take it seriously and would rather throw its millions into “live action” films and TV shows. There is only one company in Hollywood which devotes a significant amount of its resources to advancing our heritage in animation, and that’s Disney. Comparatively, its Japanese cousin has hundreds.
This is a real shame considering that animation itself was originally pioneered by us. The American form of animation has not had its techniques advanced through as many stages or been perfected as much as Japanese anime has. This would lead some to the conclusion that Japanese animation is inherently better than American animation; a false conclusion that I will dissect piece by piece as we go on. Still, there are some examples where the qual! ity of American animation really shines through for what it was meant to be.
Take another perspective, and you’ll see that the cut-throat constraints which American animation producers face can actually help the quality of their animation, because they are always forced to work under the constant threat of being “canned”. Any animation project cannot be a flop or else (as in showbiz terms) so-and-so “will never work in this town again! ” Compare this to all that garbage floating around in Japan. However, to gain the popularity and respect that the form deserves, we need to make some big changes.
Fortunately, it seems that some of the big-shots up there have finally started to take notice of what has caused the likes of Disney to become very successful and make billions of dollars for years. Of course, it will be a while before animators are given the freedom and creativity that have made the Japanese successful for the last decade. But we cannot simply play catch-up by copying ! their inferior anime style (even though that’s what they did to us a long time ago). Then we would be giving away our pride — selling out one of the few proud things that we can say was made in America.
No, we must do things our own way! Few people, including those obsessed anime fans, have a clear understanding of how Japanese animation came to be or how it relates to the American form of animation. So, let’s take a little look at its history. First, let’s figure out what element of Japan’s society has caused the proliferation of anime. Well, in Japan there is a distinctive connection between the animation industry and the comic book (called “manga”) industry. In fact, many animes are based off of manga.
The actual word “manga” was coined in 1814 and roughly translates into “humorous pictures”, but cartoonish art had existed in Japanese culture for centuries prior to that. The crude drawings were used by the Japanese leaders and social elite, usually for political purposes. One of the earliest known collections of these drawings were drawn by a Buddhist monk named Toba in the 12th century.
The need for these drawings was probably brought about by a certain trait in Japanese culture, which modern-day psycholog! ts might call an “attention deficit disorder”“. The solution for this was to entice their people with certain visual stimuli. This became a useful tool for those in power, since they could use it to leverage control over the public. The effect could be described similarly to the “media saturation” which has plagued America in recent times. Flash forward to 1989 — only 12% of published material in Japan were books, whereas the majority (38%) were manga! If this does not show anything about Japanese society and literacy, then I don’t know what does.
All of this may suggest that the Japanese had a unique style of their own long before the Americans came along, but the truth is that today’s anime and manga does not really bare any resemblance to the prehistoric art form of the ancient Japanese. After World War II, Japan went through an identity crisis; they began stealing stuff like mad from our Western civilization — which still continues to this day. It seems that they have become the “United States wanna-be”. This is fantasized through their animes where they often show Japan as a culturally diversified nation where everyone accepts each other.
In reality however, Japan is almost entirely populated with ethnic Japanese. They seem to find fun by taking things from our culture and playing around with it — perhaps, pretending that if they were a large country like the US, and not a small little island country, they could run things better than we are. Dr. Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the real father of the anime-style and gave birth to the commercial industry of anime and manga as we know it today. Some people call him the Disney of Japan, which is sort of ironic because he copied many ideas from Disney and other American animators of the time.
The classic “big eyes” which many people associate with anime were actually popular at one time in American animation and were used a lot by the Max Fleischer studio. Tezuka himself said: “My career as an animator began when at the age of four. I copied a picture of Popeye. My house was full of comics when I was a schoolboy. Because we were able to obtain a projector and several films, I was able to see Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Chaplin, and Oswald Rabbit at home. ” As you can see, it is obvious where he got his inspiration from. Tezuka’s first success was a manga called Tetsuwan Atom.
Before Tezuka came along, most manga were short humorous comic strips similar to what one finds in the newspapers. However, Tezuka used techniques similar to those he had seen in foreign movies when he made his manga. He simulated the fancy camera angles seen in movies as well as giving his manga more complex storylines. The result was a comic book series with cinematic quality. It became an instant hot seller, mainly because it was a cheap way for common folks (who were struggling with a bad economy) to provide entertainment for their children.
The generation of children who grew up on this would be hooked on manga and anime for life. When did animation come to Japan? Probably when Toei Production started its animation division in 1958. They hired Dr. Tezuka to make animated films for them. Later, in 1962, Tezuka would leave Toei to start his own company called Mushi Production and produce one of the first animated television shows in Japan. Of course, both animated movies and television shows had already been firmly in place for quite a while in the US.
In fact, the first animated film was made by James S. Blackton in 1906, only four years after Thomas Edison had invented the movie projector. That was many years before Tezuka was even born. But the art of animation is even older than that. In fact, an invention called the magic lantern, which projected animation by moving a strip back and forth, was invented in 1645 by Althanasius Kircher. Around 1915, a technique of using celluloid sheets in animation was established. By painting on these clear plastic cels, they could then transpose more than one cel on a static background.
This technique is still used by some animators today. Walt Disney made several breakthroughs by making the first animation with sound (1928) and the first animation in color (1932). It was on December 21, 1937 that Walt made history again with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” — it was the first feature-length animation! Snow White was the top grossing film for its time. Those are the important details to the history of animation, although I have not done justice in explaining the many great works created by the many very talented animators of the time.
Japanese anime seems to be this new fresh breed of animation, even though it has its roots in American animation. It boggles my mind how many Americans today prefer a cheap imitation over something that is real and genuine. They say that Japanese anime is of better quality and looks better than our own animation. In doing so, they have overlooked a pearl that is much closer to home. The truth is that American animation has so much more to offer, that anime simply pales in comparison.