Anime: The Emancipation of Japanese Culture

Although one may conceive anime as modern art, its origin dates back to 1906. Back in then, magic lanterns, similar to modern-day projectors, were used to project moving illustrations. After the advent of the film industry, the first generation animators gave the world, Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki, the first professional Japanese animated movie and thus began the era of a genre of entertainment that both the kids and adults adore. But this wildfire of anime culture became what it is today only due to that one black swan event that changed the course of history!

It all started on June 28, 1914. The travel itinerary had been published which included both the route and the timings of the visit of Archduke Franz Ferdinand along with his wife, Sophie through Sarajevo, a low-lying valley town.

The Bosnian nationalists saw the visit as an opportunity to strike at the Austrian Empire. Teaming up with their neighboring country Serbia, they recruited and trained assassins to execute the Archduke. They were a part of a terrorist group that called themselves the Black Hand.

On the route to the Town Hall, the first attempt of assassination took place. A man named Nedeljko Cabrinovic lobbed a bomb into the car with the Archduke. To their surprise, the bomb bounced off the car they were in and landed under the next car in the motorcade. Archduke’s vehicle was able to make its way safely towards the Town Hall.

This wasn’t the last though. On their way back from the Town Hall, the motorcade took a wrong turn. By the time the driver had realized and was backing up, another assassin named Gavrilo Princip was found right next to the car. stepping into point-blank range, he seized this opportunity by opening fire. His aim was at the mark as he got both the Archduke and his wife.

The crowd sprung upon Princip and he was taken in custody by the police. The car sped in the other direction. It wasn’t noticed by others in the car that both were shot. The Archduke in anguish, kept whispering to his wife, telling her to live for their children but all was in vain as eventually, his voice faded and everything became still.

This is considered the trigger that started a war between the major European military powers.

Events that took place in 1914 were watched closely by the East Asian countries wherein people believed that war was the key to the future of their continent. To assist its allies in securing the Pacific sea-lanes, Japan declared war against Germany and began operations within the German territory. This gave them access to Germany’s island possessions in the Pacific. During this time, Japan made use of the absence of the war-torn European competitors on the market to advance its economic growth, generating a trade surplus for the first time since the isolation during the Edo period.

World War I had set the terms under which World War II would be fought by cementing further Sino-Japanese conflict as a result of increasing interest in the invasion of the mainland by the Japanese. World War I as such shook the grip that the European empire had over their Asian possessions, at least in moral terms.

Japan followed an emperor-based ideology during World War II which rose due to the efforts of Meiji oligarchs in order to unite the nation against the Western challenge. At times it gets difficult to accept the sacrifices the Japanese made in the name of the emperor. Extreme patriotism-Japanese were taught to give their lives in the name of the emperor if needed. This wasn’t entirely different from the Western way of living wherein the citizens  gave their lives for their nations in the same war.

Just like the United States, struggling to emerge from the Great Depression by the end of the 1930s, Japan too emerged from its period of depression which had begun around 1926. The young soldiers of the Japanese army consisted of those who were greatly affected and saw nothing but poverty and devastation around them. Their commitment towards serving their nation was in the hopes to achieve economic stability. Due to the existence of limited resources, the Japanese had to stick to cutthroat trade practices to sell their textiles and other industrial goods in the East Asian and U.S. markets.

The United States and her people were outraged by the surprise attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and decided to stop the Japanese army and navy at all costs. When President Roosevelt stopped the shipments of steel and oil to Japan, he hoped that the lack of resources at their disposal would result in economic pressure which would limit their expansion in East Asia. What then followed crippled Japan. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

With the end of the war and jobs becoming hard to come by, the New Japan Animation Company, formed by the General Headquarters of the Allied occupation, was able to bring in an outstanding team of young talent who were happy to work for low starting salaries. This initiative by the company was just the beginning of something special.

History has shown us how governing bodies always turned to artists when they wanted the nationalist ideologies to resonate through the commoners. Japan did the same and urged its animators to produce animations which can help them to spread cultural nationalism. Even the military had commissioned movies centered around war, to show how Japanese people used their brilliance and quickness against enemy forces to win the wars.

Not only did Japan and America clash against each other in warfare, but their animation industry also faced stiff competition from each other. America’s own Disney had produced numerous animated movies such as Alice’s Wonderland and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the instant hit Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which received great appreciation, but soon after the war hit, Disney started losing its foreign markets and didn’t regain its influence after almost a decade till they released their live-action film, Treasure Island and animated feature Cinderella.

During the same period, a talented aspiring soul, Osamu Tezuka became a cartoonist and illustrated his first manga Shin Takarajima (known in English as “New Treasure Island”). Tezuka’s originality was appreciated amongst his peers but it wasn’t until he released Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) he got his deserved fame. He also had the chance to work under Toei Animation, which had produced the first color anime feature Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent, 1958). After parting from Toei Animation, Tezuka formed his production company, Mushi Productions, which was responsible for successful TV series such as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Gokū no Daibōken, and Princess Knight, and was also the first company to broadcast in the United States.

The Japanese film market hit its low due to the popularity of television. Mushi productions almost went bankrupt, its former employees started their own production house, due to which Mushi promoted its junior artists as directors. This stirred up the animating style and a new wave of animation began.

During this period, anime gained its popularity in continental Europe with series such as ‘Heidi, Girl of the Alps’, ‘Vicky the Vikings’.  Fans started calling themselves Otaku and became a subculture due to the increasing fan base of manga such as Animage and Newtype.

 The 1980s also saw one of the most influential anime ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’ (1984), after which the director of the film Hayao Miyazaki along with his colleague Isao Takahata created their own studio, Studio Ghibli.

Dragon Ball(1986) kicked off the martial arts genre and influenced the industry, due to which more action-centric anime and mangas such as One Piece(1999), Naruto(2002), One Punch Man(2015), My Hero Academia(2016) flourished among the fans.

With ever so increasing growth in technology, animation styling also developed.  Animation being a multimedia art form, involved graphic art, cinematography, character art, and other creative methods to make the anime/manga look more appealing.

Before critiquing any anime, one should appreciate the efforts that go in while making a 2D animation. Animators usually make 8, 12, or 24 frames to make up a single second i.e. it would take up to 14400 drawings to make your standard 20-minute episode.

Even after 75 years of the bombing, the world hasn’t forgotten about the trauma and suffering the Japanese had to go through, thanks to the multiple animes and mangas that have reflected this through their story lines. ‘Hotaru no Haka’ (Grave of the Fireflies,1988) a war-tragedy, produced by Studio Ghibli, weaves its story through the life of siblings who try to survive after the bombings, after the loss of their parents. The story excels at explaining the repercussions of wars on society and its emotional tone leaves one speechless. Not just war-tragedies but fantasy/fictional animes and mangas such as Astro Boy, Akira, Space Battleship Yamato, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind metaphorically explain how the radiation due to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings caused a mutation in the progenies.

The art made by these animators has helped citizens to heal from the after effects of the wars and created a long-lasting love for anime and manga across the globe.

The Japanese philosophy Wabi-Sabi inspires us to focus on the blessings hiding in our daily lives, and celebrate the way things are rather than how they should be.

“No matter how deep the night, it always turns to day, eventually.” – One Piece

-Rohit and Smeet

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *