According to Eiichi Yamamoto, the years 1970-1971 represented Mushi Pro’s “second golden age” . There seems to be some truth to this statement: the number of new productions was at its highest, and the quality of some of these is undeniable - Ashita no Joe, in particular, stands as one of the studio’s greatest achievements. However, just as had been the case during the “first” golden age - the time of Jungle Taitei - artistic excellence developed in a context of frustration, hostility and hardships.
The History of Mushi Pro – 3 – The beginning of the end (1967-1969)
With the huge debt left by its former acting director and the end of Mushi’s partnership with NBC Enterprises, the studio found itself in an increasingly difficult financial situation from the second half of 1967 onwards. Things would only get worse from there, and every attempt to resolve them ended in failure as Mushi failed to produce any success. By 1969, the signs were clear: the studio's downward spiral could not be stopped.
The History of Mushi Pro – 02 – Anime business (1965-1966)
While I’m hesitant to speak of “golden ages”, if Mushi Production had one, it was certainly the years 1965-1966. Still riding on Tetsuwan Atom’s prodigious popularity, the studio considerably expanded its personnel and activities. It launched production of new, ambitious TV shows, notably the first color TV anime, Jungle Taitei, and seemed to reach unprecedented artistic heights. But at the same time, the atmosphere at the upper level was getting worse, as Osamu Tezuka started realizing the situation was getting further and further away from what he originally envisioned for Mushi, and the anime industry knew its first deaths. Mushi’s success was not just built on the vision of ambitious and passionate creators, but also on frustrations, failures, and human lives.
The History of Mushi Pro – 1.5 – Atom through its storyboards
In the previous article of this series, I stated that Tetsuwan Atom’s production was “centered on one document, the storyboard”. Although the production pipeline of anime has changed a lot with time, the storyboard’s central place has remained constant. It is, alongside the layout, the lifeline followed by most of the staff, the central document which has to be both adapted and interpreted. It is therefore very important to understand the history of how anime storyboards, or ekonte, appeared, evolved and were used.
The History of Mushi Pro – 01 – The Road to TV Anime (1960-1965)
Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, is also the father of modern anime - not only did he coin the word, his Tetsuwan Atom was the first animated TV serial in Japan, and pioneered the “limited animation” techniques still associated with anime. Or so the story goes. In actuality, things are far more nuanced: the goal of this first article is to show that, and narrate the events that led to the completion of Atom in all their complexity. I hope to achieve that in mostly two ways: avoiding teleology - that is, the idea that Tezuka’s goal was to make TV, “limited” animation from the start - and shifting the focus away from Tezuka as an individual.
Anime background art: Takamura Mukuo, Katsumi Handô, Hiroya Yamura, Shûji Konno roundtable – Translation and commentary
A 1981 roundtable focusing on anime background art, featuring Takamura Mukuo and his colleagues Katsumi Handô, Hiroya Yamura and Shûji Konno. Followed by a commentary on the sociology of background artists and the changing roles of anime background art through time.
The Weathering Continent staff interviews – Translation
A series of interviews on the 1992 movie The Weathering Continent, featuring character designers Mutsumi Inomata and Nobuteru Yûki, director Kôichi Mashimo, animation director Kazuchika Kise and art director Shûichi Hirata
Japanese Animation, 1937-1958: or, more notes on Akira Daikuhara
The origin and core of this piece is my personal interest in Daikuhara, but it will not be another biographical piece like my previous one. I will rather explore the area which I wrote the least about last time: Daikuhara’s pre-Tôei work. More generally, this will therefore be an exploration of Japanese animation production from the time of the Sino-Japanese War to Tôei’s first animated feature film, The White Serpent - that is, an exploration of roughly two decades of animation in Japan, from 1937 to 1958.
Studio Z: An in-depth interview – Translation and commentary
A translation and commentary of Yoshinori Kanada's first ever interview, published in OUT in 1978.
The World Masterpiece Theater as a “production model”
What is it that makes Japanese animation unique? What is it that makes it stand out from other traditions of animation, such as animation as it is or was practiced and made in the United States, Western or Easter Europe, other great countries or regions with a long and rich animation history? Many answers have been offered to this complex question, but for me, one of the most appealing is the one arguing that commercial Japanese animation, or anime, has a specific “production model”. By that, I meant that anime is made, sold and distributed according to specific methods that differ from how animation is made, sold and distributed in other parts of the world. However, when one investigates anime history more deeply, this answer quickly seems overly simplistic: indeed, there is no singular “anime production model” which has existed since the 1950s and has stayed the same until today. Some elements have remained the same, but there are just as many variations. There is not one, but many production models which have coexisted through time.