06 April 2015

My History of Japanese Anime - The Early Years

Unico!!
Apparently, there's a debate over the quality of anime (when has there ever not been a debate?) and like this Kotaku author, I believe that we are currently in one of the best eras for anime. Author Dexomega discloses that he watched a lot of it in earlier years, but in the late aughts, walked away from it because he was "sick of some of the crap that was being ported over here and that led me to swear it off and revert to western media." I kind of went through the same thing, and if I have any complaints about anime, it's pretty much this, no matter what the era.

So here's a multi-part post about anime; one, to give more context to my Epic Anime Watchlist posts, and two, because I believe anime is awesome and worth checking out. It can be a gorgeous art form, but even more so, it's full of compelling characters and intricate plots that don't have an equivalent in Western storytelling, in my opinion. (To be fair, a lot of Japanese anime takes its plots from manga, so I amend my statement: Japanese animation and comics are full of compelling characters and intricate plots that do not have an equivalent in Western storytelling).

A lot of people have different definitions as to what constitutes anime. To Westerners, the term anime is a generalization that means animation from Japan (although, the reality would also include South Korea, Vietnam, and India); the truth of the matter is that anime is simply the Japanese abbreviation of the word "animation." Therefore, any and all animated work, no matter its origin, is anime. Throughout my blog, I've used "anime" as a generalization; for this post and onward, I will try to remedy that.

There was a time when I was an avid viewer of Japanese anime, and didn't know it. To me, it was just another cartoon I watched, because the movies and series were presented in English on channels like Nickelodeon and Disney. These early productions shaped my views on animation and storytelling overall, and played a major part in my childhood and growing up. It even planted the seeds to help me determine what I wanted to be when I grew up.

The truth: it was directly through anime that I was introduced to Western classics and mythology, American literature, and German fairytales. Kind of mind-blowing, isn't it? Of course I would run into these subjects eventually in school and in books, but these stories were a part of me when I was in preschool and elementary school. I often wonder if they were the reason I knew as early as six that I wanted to be a writer.

My original golden age of anime: The 80s

Little Women (1980)

Excerpts from my favorites...


Little Women -Toei Animation (東映アニメーション株式会社)loved this show and watched it maybe a thousand times growing up. I think this aired as a part of Nickelodeon's Special Delivery lineup...Anyway, this special introduced me to Chopin's music, Civil War and slavery; plays and playwriting; and above all, Josephine March, my literary heroine for the longest time in my life.

The opening of "Little Women"

Unico in the Island of Magic - Madhouse (株式会社マッドハウス). This might've been one of the scariest animated movies I saw as a child. But I was obsessed with it because I loved anything that had to do with unicorns, no matter how wackadoo it was. I think this might've played a weird part in developing my fascination with puppets, robots, and artificial intelligence. I actually purchased the DVD of this a year ago entirely based on nostalgia, and when I watched it I couldn't believe all of the stuff I missed when I watched it as a kid. Lord Kuruku still creeps me out. At least there's Toby's flute @ 3:14.

 "Toby...Tooooby...what are you doing, Toby?"

The Last UnicornTopcraft Animation (トップクラフト) Yes, this is a Rankin/Bass production, but this is Japanese animation, and the best of the best from the 80s. And I love this movie to death. Still. Love love love.  Interestingly enough, when Topcraft shuttered, Studio Ghibli took its place. Hmm...

The famous opening sequence, based off the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries

The Flight of Dragons - Topcraft Animation. Another Rankin/Bass film with Japanese animation. This was my sister's favorite, and I liked it, too, but some of it also scared me. It was the first film to introduce dragons to me, and my first glimpse of Eastern dragons (which reminded me a lot of lions). About ten years ago or so I watched it again with my sister to see if it held up over time (it was a bit awkward). But this song still rocks.

In the sky...or in my miiiiind....

Additional mentions from the 80s:

Animation of Japanese characters by an American studio: 

The Legend of Zelda (1989) - DIC Entertainment. This appeared on the Super Mario Brothers Super Show which I watched every time it aired. But my favorite episodes were when they aired The Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, because this is an American production, there are stupid American jokes and trends that date the show terribly/are annoying ("Excuuuse me, Princess!"); however, this was my first introduction to Nintendo and to Link, who, despite being a total airhead, was my first cartoon "crush."

"For you Zelda? Anything." Link is totally tubular, bros.

Japanese anime from the 80s that I discovered after the 80s:

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) -  Studio Ghibli. Watched this as an undergraduate in college with my friend Aly. The first animated film to have me bawl my eyes out uncontrollably from sadness. This was also the first anime I viewed in its original language dub. Up until then, I'd only watched English dubs because that's pretty much what I was raised on. Now, I always try to watch anime with both language tracks.  

Barefoot Gen (1983) - Madhouse. The second animated film to have me bawl my eyes out uncontrollably from sadness. I watched this after it being referenced in the HBO documentary White Light, Black Rain. The film was sad, but it also horrified me. It depicts Hiroshima being bombed, as experienced by the young boy Gen. The anime as well as the manga is autobiographical, so what the audience experiences is what the creator,  Keiji Nakazawa, experienced when he witnessed and survived the aftermath of Hiroshima. The family that suffers in the film is his family. It's one of the most powerful war films I've seen, ever. 

Both of these animated films reminded me that war is terrible for everyone and that despite what teachers and history books have told me, I really wish nuclear weapons were not a thing. Ever.

~*~

Stay tuned for part two: the 90s and the aughts--when I walked away from anime.

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