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A Brief History of Anime


A Brief History of Anime

This Paper is not to champion a certain belief in moe or dismiss any ideas on the subject. This paper is written to further the knowledge base of a community that is heavily invested and that may be unaware of the almost 60 years of history that has brought us to this point. By looking into Anime's past we may be able to explain its present state better. Which brings us to the question “What is moe?”, but that will come later as we have 57 years to cover. Don't worry the Sixties fly by, more than likely the Hippies doing.
-End Disclaimer-

The start of Anime on TV is found with a show called Otogi Manga Calendar that began airing in 1961. It would be the first stepping stone into what would evolve into a multi-billion dollar industry that the Japanese government would hope to turn into a valuable export. Otogi Manga Calendar had a simple plot based on historical events, much like Peabody’s Improbable History from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Just 3 years before in 1958 only 8% of Japanese Households had a Television Set (The Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick W. Galbraith). We know the culture at the time was striving for their own “Three Scared Items” a Washing Machine, a Refrigerator, and a Television. This was a time of growth for Japan as a whole, a time when they were reestablishing themselves. Anime as we know it didn't arise until a few years later with the God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka’s Animated adaptation of his popular Astroboy manga. Even though Astroboy would have a few screens to air on in 1963 the show would have a ravenous following. Frederik L. Schodt would write the English language adaptation of the show. Mr. Schodt would later go on to note that Tezuka went on to make Astroboy more cute and modern to appeal to the school age audience (Introduction to Astroboy by Frederik Schodt)

As we see Astroboy’s popularity grow and anime as a media introduced, we begin to see other shows. We already began to see the seeds of moe planted with Astroboy, that cute is marketable, which didn't come as a surprise to Japan. The Japanese culture has always had a fondness for things that are cute or charming (Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis 1913). Astroboy would soon be joined by Gigantor the same year. Super Robots will soon become a genre unto themselves.

In 1966, households across Japan tuned in to see Speed Racer race across the globe. By this point, 95% of Japanese households could now wonder how the monkey got in the trunk of the Mach 5 on their family TV in the comfort of their own home. Then in 1969 we see the moe seeds finally take root with Himitsu no Akko-chan, the first Magical Girl genre broadcast series. At this point in the Japanese community we have almost an entire nation tuning in to watch the magical adventures of Akko-chan, A cute girl, doing cute things.

In 1967 we see Princess Knight. A show about a Princess that must pretend she is a prince. Set in Quasi medieval setting, Princess/Prince Sapphire would put on a mask to fight crime in the kingdom. The plot for this show could be to a new show coming out this season. Gender bending? Crime fighting? Cute girl? It’s been less than a decade of broadcast anime and we already see the major genres.

I know I was influenced by the shows I watched and the stories I read at a young age, imagine having a whole generation growing up watching Astroboy, Gigantor, Speed Racer, Himitsu no Akko-chan, and Princess Knight in a culture that already cherishes cute! Now the first pieces are in place that will lead us to moe.

See the Sixties flew by! Now we are watching Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Mazinger Z! 1972 is a year that helped pave the way for the Super Robot Genre that Astroboy and Gigantor started. This is the decade of the war drama. We do have the debut of Cutey Honey in 1973. Cutie Honey, the TV Series would be tamer than the manga but still maintain the crush Alphonne’s (Female) had for Honey (also Female). We will see the themes used in Cutie Honey used again to great effect in many future shows.

In 1974 we would see Space Cruiser Yamato and Getter Robo, more war and combat. The next stand out Magical Girl show was Majokko Tickle in 1978. Majokko Tickle is of note, because most of the episodes have a slice of life feeling to them. They dealt with bullies and school situations instead of monsters. A lot of the show was about how Tickle’s perspective from being a fairy from another world was different than normal girl Tiko’s perspective.

Now we come to it! 1979! 2 anime productions released will change anime forever, Mobile Suit Gundam and the film Lupin the 3rd and the Castle of Cagliostro. Mobile Suit Gundam would go on to become a genre in it of itself, with Lupin the 3rd and the Castle of Cagliostro helping spring board Hayao Mizayaki to incredible heights.

Japan’s economy is starting to grow as we move into the Eighties, which means more money can be spent on entertainment endeavors. Animation studios are popping up more than ever before, like Kyoto Animation. On TV we see the fur bikini clad alien demon girl Lum in Urusei Yatsura(1981). The formula of this series would go on to be the foundation of many serialized shows based on popular long running manga. Then in 1982 the SDF Macross launches. Super Dimensional Fortress Macross took a Sci-fi Action/Drama and added a level of moe with the character Lynn Minmay. Minmay would be the main love interest as well a Idol singer in the show. Minmay was voiced by Mari Iijima who later became a popular J-POP artist based largely on her success with SDF Macross.

I know, I know! It’s 1982 and all we have for moe is Minmay and Lum? All of these seemingly unrelated shows are about to be put together. Things really start to come together when the Economy Bubble Bursts. First we have a few more items we need to set the moe stage with.

In 1983 we would see the first OVA with Dallos. A Sci-fi Drama that would prove that anime doesn’t need to be made for TV or as a Film but instead can be marketed directly to the audience thanks to VHS. This would make companies start to look at different ways to bring their ideas to the public. Building on this we see the first Dating Simulator Game as we now know them with the game Tenshitachi no gogo this is the start of the driving force behind modern Anime.

We also see a little OVA by the name of Minna Agechau released in 1986 that will come back to spell havoc for the American Otaku community in 1991.

On the TV Series side we would see Transformers, Voltron, Ranma ½, Bubblegum Crisis, amongst many more. Shows of note are Maison Ikkoku, an excellent Slice of Life story by Rumiko Takahashi who’s Urusei Yatsura was still on the air. We have Akira and My Nieghbor Totoro in theaters in 1988 followed by Kiki’s Delivery Service. Gunbuster, though released in 1990 is often associated with this era of Anime. This is commonly referred to as Anime’s golden age.

The early Nineties was an amazing time for Anime on TV! Crayon Shin-chan (1990), Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990), Sailor Moon (1991), otaku no Video (1991), Devil Hunter Yoko (1991), and Tenchi Muyo (1992).

The Japanese economy at this point isn’t looking so well, the Economic Bubble is bursting after the free following money of the mid to late Eighties. Companies want to make more shows but money to fund productions is getting harder to find. Despite the rough waters we still have some great shows coming out. In the mid Nineties we see Clamp’s Magic Knight Rayearth (1994), G Gudnam (Gundam’s 1994 entry into the Super Robot genre), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Gundam Wing (1996). The biggest genre changer was 1995’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Within it we see elements of War Drama, Slice of Life, Super Robot, and existentialism.

Also Rei Ayanami. Rei single handily changed the face of marketable characters. She took what worked for all the characters before and perfected it. “Garage Kits used to only sell a few thousand, but when Rei was introduced she sold 30,000” (The Otaku Encyclopedia, Patrick W. Galbraith). Now the moe seeds are beginning to bloom!

The late Nineties would see what would become the Keystone of the Toonami Generation of shows. Outlaw Star (1998), Big O (1999), Cardcaptor Sakura (1998), and Cowboy Bebop (1998). As these shows would be licensed by Cartoon Network for Toonami they would become extremely influential to the American market. 1999 was also a big year for Kyoto Animation finally evolving into a full corporation.

The late Nineties wasn't all Cowboy Bebops though. Suddenly, during Japan's recession economy a glut of money was being poured into animation projects. Nearly 70 new shows a season! All the money wasn't there though, even Evangelion famously suffered from a budget short fall towards the end of its run. Every production committee was looking for the next big hit. Work began to be farmed out at an alarming rate, quality was nearly random from episode to episode. This was a scary time for Anime as a business. Even though we see a vast amount of shows, very few of them were making the money back for their investors. Anime was in a real danger of burning itself out.

The early 2000’s see Love Hina(2000), Mazinkaiser (2001), Aria(2001)Ground Defense Force! Mao-chan (2002), Tokyo Mew Mew (2002), Shrine of the Morning Mist (2002), The Cat Returns (2002), Godannar (2003), Mmotte LoliPOP(2003). Already we see an increase in shows that would be deemed moe. The major anime releases for this point in time would be the Academy Award winning Spirited Away and the next existentialist robot show Rahxephon. All the sudden after coming out of the rocky late Nineties companies are starting to see what works for their market. Thanks to the success of the early 2000 shows, series that can be marketed on multiple levels were making the investors money back. We also start to see a disconnect between the American Fanbase and the Japanese fanbase grow larger. More on this later.

As we move closer to the present we do see a rise in Magical Girl shows. Jubi-chan: The Ninja Girl (2004) and the massive otaku show Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (2004). We finally see KyoAni’s first major hit with their adaptation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006). GAINAX once again shows up with an amazing work in 2007, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. We also see KyoAni again with their adaptation of Lucky Star (2007). Studio Ghibli also chimes in with Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008). We follow up the current era with K-ON! (2009) and Durarara!! (2010).

This is an extremely brief history of a media that has been going strong for over half a century. Hundreds of incredibly important shows are missing, Dragonball being one of them. This brief history only gives a barebones framework for further discussion. .

So where does the moe we see permeating anime now come from? First to dispel some myths.

“I'm not criticizing moe anime but making it on purpose and categorizing it isn't good. Anime as anime is just fine and we should leave it that way” -Yamamoto Yukata, Director of Lucky Star from an Interview for The Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick W. Galbraith..

This is the difficult part about moe is that it is nearly indescribable. By placing a definition to moe the only thing achieved is a rift between those that agree and disagree on the definition.

Moe in Japan

Moe comes from the term in Japanese for “Budding” like a flower. It is expressed to show interest in a certain character. In Japan if a character is moe then that means that the character is interesting. In example, most people find Tsundere (Strong willed Character type) to be moe, because they are interested in the character. If you are not interested then a character is not moe. “What makes a character interesting to a Japanese viewer?” In most cases beautiful or cute teenage women that may have interesting personality flaws or traits. Do companies make characters like that to make moe? I doubt it, more than likely they make it to get viewers interested in the show. Moe then comes in to play by default. By the American Fanbase definition, it is now a moe show. The American equivalent of a default classification would be a show that features a cop and a friend or partner, the Buddy/Cop type story. A story where there is more than likely far more to it than just a cop and his buddy. In example: A Certain Scientific Railgun is to a Moe show as the American show Castle is to a Buddy/Cop show.

Moe in America

Moe in America as been adopted to mean “cute”. A popular term adopted for moe shows is “moe blob”. Using the Japanese version of moe, would make it to mean a blob of interesting. With the American usage means it is nothing more than transport device for cute.

The Great Disconnect

We have nearly 3 generations of American fans that have grown up with anime being marketed to them as something that is violent and edgy. While in Japan, they have had almost 6 full generations of Anime being marketed to them as something that contains things that are cute and charming.

The big reason in America that anime is marketed as such is that the driving consumer force in the American market is the Male 18-25 Demographic. As having just left that demographic, I can say that the market is focused on Macho expectations, Boobs, and Explosions. See just about anything from Michael Bay for reference. Companies like ADV after the Minna Agechau “Anime is Pornographic” controversy, sparked at the AnimeCon '91, jumped on the idea and marketed violent/adult oriented shows to great effect. By far the biggest reason companies have helped to propagate the myth that anime should always be more adult oriented is because they know that the 18-25 demographic has the money to burn and that is what they have been trained to want.

Meanwhile in Japan, the Moms and Dads that grew up watching Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, Himitsu no Akko-chan, etc... are then letting their children grow up watching anime. Then those children have grown up and watch anime with their kids. Through the natural media evolution, we see a much stronger acceptance of animation as medium then in America. In Japan we see that the driving consumer force isn't the purchasing of shows, most of anime couldn't be purchased for home entertainment until the 80's. That's 20 years of shows that were driven by ratings and commercial sponsorship. We begin to see the generation of the late Nineties start spending money more and more on tie-in products and the dating sim type games of the time, thus altering the paradigm. We start to see the rise of figures. Companies see what the consumer wants and it seems to be characters the viewer wants more of in whichever format they can get. Just like the American market, the consumer dictates the trends.

Is marketable anime characters bad? Are shows that are nothing but Boobs and explosions bad (If you are Michael Bay, yes they are awful)? Can one culture dictate to or pass judgment on what another culture wants?

The divide in expectations is also exacerbated by the difference in cultural storytelling. The English storytelling paradigm is based on a beginning, middle, and end. Character motivation is clear cut. While the Asian storytelling paradigm if focused more on the environment and less on fleshing out every aspect of a character. Stores often start at what would be deemed the middle. We see a lot of earlier Japanese works that contain a rich world and rich characters, but by a western storytelling paradigm lack a driving force in the story. In example, the folktale “The Maiden of Unai” (Myths and Legends of Japan, F Handland Davis) is an excellent story about a woman and the 2 men that fight over her that picks ups in what feels like the middle. The story has a rich setting but the motivation of the main characters are never detailed.

Asian story telling has had a long history of only telling a part of a story. It makes for an interesting story when all the questions are not answered (See the end of Baccano!). Moe (Japanese usage) can be seen as an extension of that. A character is created that we don’t have the whole story about but we want to know more. Take Rei Ayanami, she is intriguing because for the majority of the show we have unanswered questions about her. A more recent example would be Mio Akiyama from K-ON! On both sides of the Pacific her character made viewers want to see more of her and were fascinated by her. Viewers are never given the characters whole background, only snapshots. I imagine this level of sub-conscious intrigue is one of the elements that have made her such a popular character.

Moe isn’t just reserved for mysterious characters, but any character that makes the viewer interested. Why I believe American audiences have attributed moe with cute is cultural difference. The framework of American Animated shows starts with early childhood and then tends to drop-off and/or to be marginalized. We are trained from an early age that Cute equals Younger Audience. One of the big reasons why Anime in America is seen as adult is due to the OVA Minna Agechau that was shown at AnimeCon ’91. When this softcore title was shown ABC and Fox news Affiliates took the title and ran with it. Reportedly proving that only Pornographic and violent animation comes from Japan. What is worse is that no one associated with Minna Agechau or AnimeCon ’91 did anything to dispel the misconception. Companies like ADV then went to great lengths to specialize in violent and sexually explicit Anime series. The myth that Anime is supposed to be dark and sexually charged was propagated. We see at this point in Japan a almost straight line in the perception of anime. That like most things in the culture anime will more than likely be cute and charming, exactly what the viewer expects and wants. While in America our perception is a little distorted, that anime should be more adult.

We barely touched on the other driving force in anime, the Gal Game. The Gal Game/Dating Sim/Visual Novel has more in common with Anime and Manga than a video game. The Visual Novel genre uses mostly artists an writers to produce a game. The driving force of the Visual Novel are the characters, as most have little to no animated characters the only way to bring in players is to have designs that appeal to the market. With that market being Japanese Men, we see cute women. The methodology is similar in America put pretty women on a product aimed at men and it is sure to sell. The big differences is that the character types of Visual Novel games follow a set of almost predefined traits. Having read some Japanese literary works, I’ve found many of the archtypes rooted in Japanese culture and storytelling. I believe we are just seeing the natural evolution of a cultural storytelling tradition.

For the first time in almost 60 years we are seeing anime without a filter of American companies or a delay. We are seeing anime as it's being marketed to Japanese audiences.

When we look back at the last 60 years of anime we see more shows that championed cute and the early idea of moe than we see of violence and sex. It also doesn’t help that both cultures have varying definition of Violence and Sex, but it can be agreed on that it is not the only thing anime has.

Now as we come back to the present and the American and Japanese communities are now closer than ever, the differences in the definitions of terms used has become more apparent. In Japan, the term Otaku still has a significantly stronger negative connotation than that of the American usage.

We know the Japanese Culture has an affinity for things that are cute, it permeates every faucet of their media. Is it that moe sprang up from nowhere? We still didn’t answer what moe is! I like to think we are knocking on the door to the answer. Elements of moe can be found throughout the last 60 years of anime. The only answer we can come to is that moe isn’t anyone's to classify. What we do know is that despite appearances, the last 20 years of anime has been a little rocky, which explains why we see so many shows hoping to achieve a sense of moe in audiences. The reason is, it pays the bills and it is what Japanese audiences want to see. As American fans all we can really do is ride along. When we reach a point where we see more simultaneous releases and North America being marketed to like Japan then our 18-25s will start helping to dictate the trends.

In the mean time the weather calls for 100% chance of moe. So can we stop using blanket statements on something that is more of a cultural phenomenon than a shady marketing ploy?

For those that read through the paper Thank You! For those that skimmed it, Thanks for skimming!

Further Reading:
The Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick W. Galbraith. An incredible read that goes into every aspect of Otaku culture on both sides of th ocean.

Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis. Originally printed in 1913 this book is an English study of Japanese myths and is fascinating. It was reprinted in 1992. It is a tough read due to the changes in English over the last 100 years, but well worth it.
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About The Lost Horizonone of us since 10:03 AM on 09.24.2009