The History of TMS – 1 : The Birth of Anime

If you’ve been watching a lot of so-called “retro” anime, you’ve probably encountered one of these names : Tokyo Movie, Tokyo Movie Shinsha, or TMS. All these refer to the same company, established in 1964. From this date to the middle of the 80’s, this was one of Japanese animation’s most important studios, which produced works by some of the most famous artists in the industry like Hayao Miyazaki, Osamu Dezaki and Katsuhiro Otomo. The aim of this series is to retrace the studio’s “golden age”, from 1964 to 1980, and with it, offer a history of the anime industry during this period.

The goal will be to study the industry in “anime industry” : while I will offer some commentary on some of the works cited, I will focus on the history of production and careers. This way, I aim to see how anime became anime, that is, how the style and production process we know today have evolved and taken a somewhat definitive form.

This is the first part in a series. Part 2 is available here.

While today we speak of “the anime industry” like it’s something obvious, that wasn’t always the case. When animation started in Japan around the 1910’s, it was still very much a rudimentary process ; and even after WWII, with the creation of the first major Japanese studio, Toei Animation, things were still very different from now. In this first essay, I will show how anime became the “industry” we know today : an entire sector sharing common business practices and production processes. As I’ll do during the entire series, I’ll mostly focus on TV animation : the starting point will therefore be 1963, the generally accepted date of anime’s birth.

Toei University

Toei Animation, established in 1956, is famous for being the first big Japanese studio and for producing, in 1958, the first Japanese colour animated feature film, The White Serpent. There were animators in Japan before Toei, but they were few and working in small studios like Otogi Pro, nicknamed “Tatami Pro” because the animators had to draw on tatami mats on the ground [Clements, 2013, p.88]. Moreover, many of Japan’s ex-professional animators had gotten involved with propaganda works during WWII and were just lying low. Considering this, it can be said that even though it didn’t create Japanese animation ex nihilo, Toei was the birthplace of an entire generation of animators.

Basically, starting with the production of The White Serpent, Toei put a lot of effort into training its staff, many youngsters straight out from art colleges. It was because of this system that, from “Toei Doga”, the studio was quickly nicknamed “Toei Daigaku”, Toei University [Clements, 2013 ; Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014]. The production pipeline, centered around teaching new animators the ropes, was quite different from how it is today.

Toei’s two star animators : Akira Daikubara (left) and Yasuji Mori (right)

In 1958, the studio only had 2 relatively professional animators : Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikubara. They each did most of the key animation, and had their own team of novice in-betweeners : among those in-betweeners, we find Yasuo Otsuka (working under Daikubara) and Daikichiro Kusube (under Mori), both of whom I’ll cover in length in the course of this series. This enabled the experienced animators to teach directly the newer ones. As the years went by and Toei produced more movies and expanded its staff, this “seconding system” [Pruvost-Delaspre, 200] became a tier more complex : at the top of the pyramid were still Mori and Daikubara, who checked and corrected cuts, playing the role of modern animation directors. Under them, they had chief animators with their own teams of 4-5 key animators. Under all those were the in-betweeners. To give an idea of the numbers, by 1962, along with Mori and Daikubara, there were 6 chief animators, each with a team of key animators [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.202]. In 1963, Toei numbered a staff of 450 animators [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.401].

This system would change in 1963, during the production of The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, mostly under the influence of Yasuji Mori. This change had a name : animation director. Mori introduced the post in the production pipeline, and it drastically changed the way movies were animated. Before that, even though an individual cut moved from hand to hand, supervision was still kind of sloppy ; having only one person in charge of it made it more systematic, and helped the movies get a more uniform style. Moreover, this sped things a lot, since the cuts didn’t have to move around the complex hierarchy, and helped reduce the number of animators working on a single project.

It also changed the work of the individual animator, in two ways. First, having a single animation director also meant the introduction of the settei, that is setting sheets with character designs and other kind of important things, that were distributed to all the staff. Whereas before, the main reference used by the animators was the storyboard, made by the director, it would become the settei. Then, even though corrections were more heavy, animators gained more freedom, because with the simplification of the pipeline, each individual animator could now do himself the layout of his cuts. Basically, the introduction of the animation director took away creative influence from the director and redistributed it between the animation director and animators. This system is still the one around in anime today.

There’s another reason why Toei was aptly nicknamed “University” : that’s because among the people it trained, many would leave it to become rivals of the studio and key figures in the development of anime.

The most famous among them is without a doubt Osamu Tezuka. In 1959, the famous mangaka signed a contract with Toei that stipulated that he would storyboard three Toei movies. In fact, he only storyboarded the first, Saiyûki, and only wrote the other two (Sinbad the Sailor and Wanwan Chûshingura). Tezuka was very slow and took an entire year to complete his storyboard, but took the opportunity to visit Toei often with two assistants, Shôtarô Ishinomori and Sadao Tsukioka [Clements, 2013, p.113]. According to Yasuo Otsuka’s memoirs, Tezuka’s storyboard was met in a contradictory manner. On one hand, the pacing was too irregular and the plot too complex – which meant that it had to be significantly re-written. But on the other hand, Otsuka recalls that “Tezuka’s drawings were modern to start with”, which made animating much easier [quoted in Clements, 2013, p.113].

Tezuka was very dissatisfied with the modifications to his original storyboard, which is why he only wrote the two other movies. But the production of Saiyûki was capital : Tezuka could see how an animated movie was produced and made a lot of contacts, but also discovered the already very difficult working conditions of animators. Indeed, the director of Saiyûki, Taiji Yabushita, was hospitalized at the end of production, and was probably the first victim of what Yasuji Mori called the “anime syndrom” [Quoted in Clements, 2013, p.103].

These difficult working conditions caused many tensions that exploded in September 1961, with the first strike at Toei. At the time, most staff received a monthly salary, but at the start of the 60’s, Toei’s management started to recruit part-timers that were paid hourly, and did not receive any bonuses. This inequality created tensions among the animators, but also in the rest of the staff, as all the more technical workers (shooting and editing staff, colorists, etc.) were paid significantly less than animators. The studio’s union started pushing for a raise in salaries and bonuses, but the studio’s management refused to give as high a raise as expected. In early December, animators held three two hours strikes, which led to a lockdown of the studio from the 5th to the 9th of December [Clements, 2013, p.104 ; Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.466]. Negotiations ensued and some demands were met, but the ringleaders of the strike were asked to leave. The most prominent among them were two young animators, Gisaburô Sugii and Shigeyuki Hayashi, who would later go by the name Rintarô.

A 1968 caricature by Yasuo Otsuka of the Toei union. Speaking with his arm forward is Otsuka himself, and on the far right, with glasses, is probably Hayao Miyazaki

Paradoxically, this strike accelerated the deterioration of working conditions at Toei : the studio started relying more and more on cheaper (and less revendicative) independent part-time staff. In 1965, they stopped paying those hourly, but by the number of cuts, which is now the industry standard practice [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.460]. In 1970, the studio went even further and fired 43 animators, which provoked another massive strike and another series of voluntary departures. 

The first TV anime : Mushi Pro

We’ll probably never know how much of it was premeditated [Clements, 2013, p.114], but in June 1961, after his disappointing experience at Tôei, Osamu Tezuka established his own animation company, with only 7 employees. But by the end of the year, he had benefited from the runaway Toei strikers. He also did his best to recruit people from another studio, Otogi Pro. At the start of 1962, Mushi had around 30 animators [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.404]. Tezuka put these people to work on a short film, Tales From a Certain Street Corner ; among the staff, there was Eiichi Yamamoto from Otogi Pro (future director of Space Battleship Yamato), and from Toei, Rintarô, Yusaku Sakamoto, Kazuko Nakamura and Motoaki Ishii. What’s interesting is that, except for the first one, all of these people were already experienced animators who had started their work at Toei as early as 1958’s The White Serpent. There was, however, one person who made exactly the opposite move : one of Tezuka’s assistants, Sadao Tsukioka, who moved to Toei in 1962 and who would direct over there.

Recruiting experienced animators like that wasn’t just because of the Toei strike : Tezuka had made contacts, but most importantly, he offered very attractive working conditions. For example Rintarô reported that, while his salary at Toei was 8,000 yen, Tezuka immediately offered him 21,000, while Eiichi Yamamoto’s pay was doubled [Clements, 2013, p.114].

However, as time went on and Mushi started producing TV series, the recruitment became more diverse. Tezuka’s charisma and celebrity as a mangaka helped the studio recruit established mangaka like Masaki Mori and Shingo Araki (in 1963 and 1964 respectively), or just fledgling artists such as Osamu Dezaki (1963) and Akio Sugino (1964) [Sugino, 1998]. Sugino even said that “Many of my Mushi Pro colleagues were people who knew nothing of animation but liked drawing manga” [Sugino, 1998]. A notable exception to this is Yoshiyuki Tomino, recruited in 1964 straight out from a prestigious art college, Nichidai. 

Tezuka’s ambition wasn’t just to do animation, but also animation for television, which he would accomplish on New Year’s Day 1963 with the airing of the first episode of the series Astro Boy. That wasn’t quite the first Japanese animated TV series : this title had been claimed by Otogi Pro’s Instant History, a series of short 3-minutes episodes dedicated to historical events that started in 1961. However, Astro Boy’s weekly 25-minutes episodes were still an achievement and made its mark on anime history.

The major inheritance left by Astro Boy, aside from the well-known limited animation techniques, has received the nickname of “Tezuka’s curse” : it was its very small budget of 550,000 yen per episode (to give a reference, the cheapest program on TV at the time, live-action TV films, cost 500,000 yen at the time [Kaczorowski, 2017, p.89]). This was the result of a hard-fought negotiation between Tezuka, the broadcaster Fuji TV, the chocolate company Meiji Seika and the advertising company Mannen-sha which had agreed to sponsor the show. This wasn’t quite a production committee, since there was no new company established and Fuji TV directly paid Mushi for each episode ; however, the cheapness of the episodes and the necessity for the anime studio to rely on multiple sponsor companies paved the way for the production committee system which would flourish from the 80’s until today. Tezuka was also saved by the American broadcasting company NBC which bought episodes from him and sold them to American stations. However, this involvement changed the nature of the show : most notably, it banned adult themes, nudity and ongoing storylines [Clements, 2013, p.124].

Despite that, Astro Boy was stylistically innovative. Because of the weekly schedule and the tight budget, the animation was very bare : despite Tezuka’s claim to animate on threes, it was mostly on fours and had an average cel count of 2,500 cels per episode [Clements, 2013, p.120]. This meant an extremely heavy use of pull-cells and bank images, but also the introduction of directing techniques that are still used today. First, there’s the extremely rapid editing : for example, the first episode’s opening scene, which lasts one and a half minute, covers more than 200 frames but actually uses around 20 images [Clements, 2013, p.118] and very short cuts. Then, the show made good use of black-and-white with an emphasis on lighting and shading. Finally, while it’s not always the case, some shot compositions are very meticulous, whether because of geometry, or the characters themselves emphasizing movement or depth. And, while it does get repetitive at some point, the gags are inventive, and use a lot of cartoony animation that has disappeared from anime : most notably, squash and stretch is everywhere.

Examples of Astro Boy’s prominent stylistical traits : geometrical compositions, lighting contrasts, superimpositions and character movement creating depth

Astro Boy ran for 3 years and 192 episodes, and was a formidable training ground. While understaffing was also probably a factor, it enabled those that only started as in-betweeners, like Dezaki, Rintarô and Tomino, to end up as episode directors and storyboarders by the end of the series. It’s notable that, while very general, all the stylistical traits that I just highlighted are all a major part of the three men’s style and have, thanks to them and their talent, become even more engraved into anime’s aesthetic.

Outsourcing Astro Boy : Studio Zero’s ep. 34

Astro Boy’s production was pretty chaotic. The memory it has left is that of Mushi as the place where everything had to be invented on the spot and where improvisation reigned supreme. We must be wary of this view, because it plays right into Tezuka’s popular image : that of the creative genius who didn’t care much for the down-to-earth aspects of production and led it to disaster, until Mushi’s bankruptcy in 1973. In truth, considering the importance and genius many of Mushi’s members would later exhibit, and the sometimes contradictory nature of many testimonies [cf. Clements, 2013], it’s hard to get a precise image of who did and invented what. Therefore, what’s really interesting when studying Mushi is not so much the individual names behind each new technique, but the fact of their development and apparition.

To get a clear picture of how the production went at Mushi, I think it’s best to take a step back and see how Astro Boy was made outside of Mushi and then compare. Indeed, even though Tezuka managed to recruit new animators pretty fast, it wasn’t enough for TV’s weekly schedule and he had to resort to outsourcing. The studios Mushi relied on had been created just before or after Mushi : for example, Studio Zero was established in March 1963, three months after the first episode of Astro Boy aired. Moreover, they were extremely small companies : Onishi Production only had 6 employees, and Zero 7. Jonathan Clements [2013, p.123] refers to them as “start-ups” but they were in fact makeshift enterprises by people who had never animated before.

Studio Zero was created by a team of mangaka : Jiro Tsunoda and his brother Kiyozaku, Shinichi Suzuki, Shôtarô Ishinomori, the manga duo Fujio Fujiko (Masao Abiko and Hiroshi Fujimoto). They were later joined by a seventh member, Fujio Akatsuka. Among them, only Suzuki had any experience in animation, since he had done some work at Otogi Production. The studio, located into an ex-boxing gymnasium in Tokyo, was only occupied at night : during the day, the mangaka worked on their own weekly series and met in the evening where they worked until midnight on their animated works.

Since Tezuka personally knew some of the members of Zero, it’s there that Mushi did its first outsourcing, on episode 34 of Astro Boy, which was to air in August 1963. Reportedly, Mushi’s employees had asked for a summer break, and Zero started working on the episode in mid-June : production took approximately a month and a half. Things wouldn’t go as smoothly later on, as Otogi Pro was later asked to make an episode in only a month [Clements, 2013, p.123]. Production progress was supervised by Mushi’s manager, Arashi Ishizu, who came to check on Studio Zero once a week. But the planning was handled entirely by Zero.

The production pipeline went as follows : Mushi gave Zero a script, and let them handle storyboarding and animation. After that, the cuts were sent back to Mushi, which did all the more technical work : lining, coloring, shooting. Moreover, Ishizu served as a production assistant and negotiated with Zero regarding which bank cels to use. In the end, Zero was paid 250,000 yen, which was approximately half of an episode’s cost.

Studio Zero worked without any settei, and it was apparently the case even in Mushi ; moreover, there was no animation director. Zero’s animators used Tezuka’s manga as reference, but each artist’s style is pretty obvious, and the characters often go off-model because of the lack of any corrections. This means that Mushi’s production model was quite different from Toei’s : as I’ve said, Toei went from a director-centric model until 1963 to an animation director-centric model. However, this model was for feature-length movies, and not for TV series. One of the consequences of the change in format was the absence of a series director : while Tezuka was given the role, since he was the original creator, each episode was handled individually by a different person. And since Mushi doesn’t appear to have used layouts, the storyboard and eventually the manga were all the animators could rely on : this was therefore a storyboard-centric model.

Since the animation was so limited, in Zero and probably also in early Mushi, there was no distinction between key animator and in-betweener : the same animator did the keys and the in-betweens for his cuts. The division of cuts followed what Suzuki called a “character allocation system” : after the storyboard had been made, Suzuki handled the planning and allocated the cuts. They were given following each animator’s speciality in the kind of characters or scenes that were on-screen : for example, a cut featuring lizards was given to Ishinomori because he was reportedly better at drawing animals, whereas Suzuki, since he was a veteran animator, was given the cuts that involved the most movement.

While it’s true that Mushi Pro made Japanese animation undergo a complete revolution, I think what I’ve just said about Astro Boy’s production shows that it just didn’t “create anime” ex nihilo : the production process that I think defines anime was still far from what it is now and would keep evolving in the years to come, as new studios were being created, among them Tokyo Movie.

The birth of Tokyo Movie and the multiplication of anime studios

After Astro Boy’s first episode aired, the reaction was pretty fast : by the end of 1963, four new animated series hit the waves. Out of these four shows, three were produced by Tele-Cartoon Japan (aka TCJ), that had been doing commercials up till then, which meant that they already had experience with animation and were able to quickly get to production. However, the speed of their reaction tends to make me think that they weren’t completely unprepared to go into TV animation and had maybe even toyed with the idea. This confirms Hayao Miyazaki’s opinion that even “without Tezuka, the industry might have started two or three years later” [Miyazaki, 2009, p.196].

Moreover, TCJ’s shows weren’t just an imitation of Astro Boy : they created two capital genres for the history of anime. The first is late-night, adult anime : the first TCJ show was Sennin Buraku, a series of 15-minutes episodes that first aired at midnight on the 4th of September 1963. According to various accounts, it targeted adult audiences and had somewhat erotic content, something that Tezuka himself would imitate in his movies The 1001 Nights and Cleopatra. The other breakthrough was the very first mecha anime, Tetsujin 28-Go, that first aired on October 20, 1963.

The other studio that quickly took up the pace was Toei. At the time, they had 450 employees and were able to send some of them to work on the studio’s first TV show, Wolf Boy Ken [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.401]. Among them were young artists like Isao Takahata who directed his first episodes (most notably ep. 6, the series’ pilot) and Hayao Miyazaki who did his first cuts, and more experienced ones like Yasuo Otsuka, Yôichi Kotabe and Reiko Okuyama. While there was no series director, something unusual for Toei, the main figure behind it was Tezuka’s former assistant, Sadao Tsukioka. But there was no rivalry between the two, as Tsukioka sometimes visited Mushi to ask his mentor for advice. Unlike its rivals and many other TV anime, Ken wasn’t a manga adaptation : it was inspired by an original idea by Yasuji Mori [Romero, 2006 ; Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014].

It was in the middle of this new anime fever that yet another studio was established, Tokyo Movie. Its founder, Fujioka Yutaka, had been the leader of the Hitomi-za puppet troupe since 1948, and in 1961, he created the New Tokyo Puppet Cinema Corporation, which adapted manga series for TV [Clements, 2013, p.140]. In 1964, when Astro Boy’s slot was moved just at the same time as Yutaka’s own show and obtained overwhelmingly higher ratings, Fujioka was asked by his TV station, TBS, to produce an animated series. Despite his colleagues’ grumbling, he agreed, and created a new studio, Tokyo Movie. The team quickly got to work on another Tezuka adaptation, a giant robot series similar to Tetsujin 28-go, The Big X, which started airing in August 1964. Among the staff, we can find one famous name : Osamu Dezaki, who made his debut as a series director here. He was still one of Mushi’s employees then, so I can only imagine that Tezuka “lent” some of his staff to Tokyo Movie, since they were adapting one of his works. That would be very probable, since the studio’s staff must’ve been very limited at the time and reportedly delivered some very low-quality work at first.

This reputation was especially established in the studio’s second anime, Obake no Q-Tarô. It was Tokyo Movie’s first adaptation of mangaka Fujiko F. Fujio’s work, and one of anime’s first comedy shows : all other series, aimed at kids, featured some comedy, but most had SF settings. For example, 1965 saw three shows with very similar titles : Space Patrol Hopper, by Toei, Space Boy Soran, by TCJ, and Space Ace, Tatsunoko Production’s first work. Q-Tarô went on for 2 years, but was the first show to be cancelled “because managers assessed its toy-selling potential as exhausted” [Clements and MacCarthy, 2015, p.668]. 

This show was where the tensions between animators and producers first emerged, thanks to a series of so-called “swindles” [Clements and MacCarthy, 2015, p.668]. Indeed, animators were paid by the number of cuts : Toei implemented the same practice in 1965, but I believe it must’ve been first established at TCJ or Tokyo Movie in 1963 or 1964, since Mushi’s animators received a monthly salary. However, Tokyo Movie’s staff deemed their pay too low, and partitioned frames in as many cuts as possible to be paid more and ask for a bigger budget [Clements and MacCarthy, 2015, p.668]. But the producers quickly realized what was going on and put an end to those practices. What this reveals is that the working conditions in the industry have, in the end, not changed that much :overworked and underpaid animators were already an issue, and said animators already did what they could to alleviate such conditions.

I mentioned Tatsunoko Production’s first work : in fact, everything moved very quickly. In 1969, 13 new shows were being produced. And in 1963, there were only 3 major studios producing TV anime, with some other minor outsourcing studios. By the end of the decade, 10 new studios had entered the game, some of them who quickly disappeared, some others becoming major actors in the industry. It’s also during this time that many of anime’s most important directors made their debut inside or outside of Mushi : that’s the case of Osamu Dezaki (Big X), Eiichi Yamamoto (Jungle Taitei), Yoshiyuki Tomino (Tatakae ! Osper), Noboru Ishiguro (Ogon Bat) and Rintaro (Wanpaku Tanteidan). Most of these shows have either been completely lost or just forgotten (maybe for good reasons), but they were central and made anime what it is today. 


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