The History of TMS – 2 : A Star Is Born

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 second part in a series. Part 1 is available here.

By the middle of the 1960’s, the anime industry had reached a somewhat stable structure : there were three main studios, Mushi, Toei and TCJ, and other, minor ones like Tatsunoko or Tokyo Movie. To all these, you can add all the smaller outsourcing studios that were about to make their own works, like Studio Zero or P Production. But until 1965-66, most of these programs pretty much looked the same : they were SF manga adaptations aimed at kids. The genre and audience diversity that’s so characteristic of anime today was still far from being implemented.

There were, obviously, exceptions : in the first part of this series, I mentioned the first late-night anime, Sennin Buraku. Another notable case in 1964’s Zero-sen Hayato, a war drama about a team of Japanese pilots in WWII. It has some anecdotal relevance because one of its two directors, Tomio Sagisu, had been one of the members of the legendary “Shadow Staff” – a team of animators that had worked for the Japanese military during the war [Clements and McCarthy, 2015, p.954]. But, as I’ve said in the last essay, real change came in 1965.

1965 was the year color came to anime, with Mushi’s Jungle Taitei. Tezuka had already tried the experiment the year before with a special episode of Astro Boy, and it was an astounding success, with the highest rating of the series (40%). But this time, every episode would be in color, which obviously meant that the coloring process would take more time and that Mushi’s team had to expand. In terms of genres, 1965 saw Tokyo Movie produce anime’s first real comedy, Obake no Q-Tarô. Another important work was 1966’s Little Witch Sally, by Toei, heralded by many “the first magical girl anime”. It is in a way, but doesn’t yet involve all the staples of the genre, most notably transformation : the heroine, Sally, comes from “Magical Land” and has to hide her identity as a witch while both having and resolving problems in the human world. The show also has a pedagogical message, since Sally has to learn to do “feminine” tasks like housework or cooking by herself, without relying on her magic.

From what I’ve seen of Sally, it’s not only interesting as the first magical girl anime, or the first anime aimed explicitly at a girls’ audience (something Tezuka would follow on in his own Ribbon no Kishi in 1967, another contender for the title of “first shôjo anime” and much more revolutionary with gender dynamics) (1). First, the stylistical differences with Mushi’s Astro Boy are striking : the direction is much more functional, and there’s nothing of the composition or lighting techniques that I talked about. On the other hand, the animation is notably better, in the sense that it’s much more fluid. Considering Toei had the most experienced animators in the industry at the time, that comes as no surprise, but I believe that the rise in quality was general and natural, as the amateurs from 1963 slowly became professionals. Finally, what’s worth noticing in Sally are all the references not to Japanese fiction or animation, but to American cartoons : the opening contains a clear Tom & Jerry easter egg, for example, and the plot seems to be heavily inspired by the American sitcom Bewitched.

An obvious Tom and Jerry reference in Sally‘s opening that Japanese audiences might not have been able to catch up on

During this time, Tokyo Movie, still a small studio, laid low and only produced one new show in 1967, the SF-manga adaptation Perman. But they were working hard behind the scenes and made their first two historical moves : overseeing the creation of a new studio, A Production ; and a new revolutionary anime in 1968, Star of the Giants.

Daikichiro Kusube and A Production

Let’s go back a few years. I mentioned that during the production of their 1958 movie, The White Serpent, Toei only had two experienced animators, Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikubara. They taught many animators ; among them, the most famous would be Yasuo Otsuka, under Daikubara, and Daikichiro Kusube, under Mori. Whereas Otsuka had joined Toei before it was called Toei, when it was just Nichidô Animation, Kusube was a completely new recruit and joined in 1957. But that didn’t stop him from making himself a reputation.

Very quickly, the talented young man started not only doing animation, but correcting in-betweens or modifying the timing of the cuts that he was meant to draw, which he wasn’t supposed to be doing. At some point, people stopped handling him cuts, but that didn’t stop him : one day, he went to see Daikubara and Mori, the only two people who had the storyboard of the movie. He ticked 5 cuts, and asked Mori to animate them. Aghast, the animator went to see the company president, who said they might as well try it : if it worked, it would be for the better ; if this rookie failed, Mori could always redo it [Ettinger, 2007 ; Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.596]. Kusube had only been in the company for two months, but already did uncredited key animation, just like his talented colleague Otsuka. 

Most of their time at Toei would be spent together : alongside each other, they animated the climaxes of three Toei movies, Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke, Saiyûki and The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon. As you can see from these cuts, they made their mark as talented action animators. The duo kept working on Toei’s TV shows, and Kusube went up the ranks for 1965’s Hustle Punch where he handled the roles of character designer and animation director. Unlike Otsuka who stayed in Toei until 1969 to help his two protégés, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, on their movie Hols, Prince of the Sun, Kusube left the studio as early as 1965, once he was done with Hustle Punch.

The reasons for his departure are pretty easy to understand considering his rebellious attitude, not very suited to Toei’s strict hierarchy. Moreover, Kusube wasn’t just disrespectful of it, but encouraged others to be. For example, he allowed one of his assistants, Gisaburo Sugii, to do key animation under him when he was still supposed to be an in-betweener [Ettinger, 2007]. He also took under his wings two future major figures, Keiichiro Kimura and Yoichi Kotabe, and forcibly integrated them in the studio, even though they had failed its entrance exam. This kind of behaviour, which clearly opposed Toei’s highly hierarchical system, may reveal that the studio’s organization wasn’t that great, and that it might even have been “in shambles internally” [Miyazaki, 2009, p.320]. 

With this team of rebels, he contributed to create the studio’s union, but the direct cause of his departure was his work on the TV show Kaze no Fujimaru. For the series, he worked intensely and apparently soloed two entire episodes in just a month (and these might be anime’s very first solo episodes). With all the overtime work he did, his salary for this month ended up reaching 1,5 million yen… which was more than Toei’s director earned ! [Pruvost-Delaspre, 2014, p.597] This caused an outrage when the direction lowered his pay and, with most of the team he had trained on Fujimaru, Kusube left Toei.

At the time, the main place where Toei exiles could go on doing animation was at Mushi. According to Benjamin Ettinger, “the day Kusube quit, he received a phone call from Tezuka as soon as he got home, inviting him to join Mushi Pro” [Ettinger, 2007]. Whether or not the exact chronology is true, it goes to show how small the industry was, and especially how close-knitted it was : staff moved from studio to studio, and information got around very quickly. Kusube declined the offer, but was contacted not long after that by yet another studio : that was from Yutaka Fujioka, the founder of Tokyo Movie, who offered him the direction of his animation department. Their first show, The Big X, had been a disaster, and the studio was in great need of experienced animators with a lot of contacts, like Kusube. However, he was still as independent as ever and made another offer : he would create his own studio, and do animation work for Tokyo Movie that would handle all the production and management aspects. We don’t know about Fujioka’s reaction, but he must have been pretty desperate and that wasn’t that bad of a deal : so he accepted.

That was the birth of A Production, which immediately set to work, along with Studio Zero, on Tokyo Movie’s second show, Obake no Q-Tarô. Considering Kusube’s personality, I wouldn’t be shocked if he was the one behind the idea of artificially raising the show’s budget by using as many cels as possible. But more than just this anecdote, this was a watershed moment in anime history. For the course of our series, it’s capital, because it could as well have been titled “The history of A Production” : until 1976, Tokyo Movie and A Pro were basically having a symbiotic relationship with A Pro animating and Tokyo Movie producing. Moreover, Kusube had brought with him all the talent he could from Toei, like Osamu Kobayashi, Tsutomu Shibayama or Yoshio Kabashima, that Benjamin Ettinger calls the “first genuine geniuses of limited [animation] in Japan” [Ettinger, 2007]. A Pro would keep being one of the most attractive places in the industry, with ex-Toei animators joining their ex-master Kusube, most notably Yoshifumi Kondô, or Tadao Nagahama, that left Tokyo Movie to join A Pro, and who would direct many of their first genuine successes.

Finally, Kusube’s contacts probably played a large role in the very content of Tokyo Movie’s earliest shows. Starting with Obake no Q-Tarô, the studio massively adapted comedy manga from Fujiko F. Fujio : Kaibutsu-kun in 1968 and Umeboshi Denka in 1969. As I’ve mentioned, the two members of Fujiko F. Fujio were in fact animators at Studio Zero, whose staff he knew since 1963. Maybe Kusube helped secure the adaptation deals, but he also probably allowed for a larger collaboration : all these shows would be animated by both A Pro and Zero, under the direction and management of Tokyo Movie. This system was a more complex form of Mushi’s reliance on outsourcing studios, and would only become more and more elaborate as years went by : nowadays, no single studio ever works on an anime, and you have separate companies doing compositing, background art or in-betweening. Some major actors of the industry, like Dogakobo or Kyoto Animation, started out like that.

Gekiga anime : Star of the Giants

In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games, which ended up being one of the great moments in Japanese post-war history. For the anime industry, the Tokyo Olympics had two major consequences. First, they boosted the television market, as many Japanese who had now the means to buy a TV did so in order to follow the games and contests. That obviously helped the budding anime market, as more TVs meant more viewers, more money, and in the end, more shows. The other consequence was that it kindled mass appreciation for sports and sportive events.

The first anime studio to catch on the new trend was P Production, with their show Harris no Kaze that started airing in May 1965. However, it wasn’t the first real “sports anime” yet : according to Jonathan Clements, “it was still a school drama that featured a lot of sports” [Clements, 2013, p.137]. Indeed, unlike most of shows that fall under the category, Harris no Kaze didn’t portray the career and evolution of a single athlete : it was just a drama in which the main character tried out different sports at school, which helped him and his comrades to grow.

It was therefore in 1968, 4 years after the Olympics, that Tokyo Movie produced the first sports anime, Star of the Giants. The show follows the story of Hoshi, son of an ex-baseball player whose career has been tragically cut short by the war ; the father put all of his hopes and dreams on his son and trains him intensely until he’s recruited by one of Japan’s most important baseball teams, the Giants. This synopsis alone shows how much Star of the Giants would have spoken to a young Japanese audience, who were growing in a period of reconstruction and economic growth after a period and a generation that was devastated by 15 years of war. The show completely spoke to those issues, most notably economic problems : Hoshi starts life in a slum with an alcoholic father, but becomes one of Japan’s most famous baseball players. 

By confronting such themes, the show wasn’t appealing to a children’s audiences, but to that of young teenagers, or even adults : that’s even more so the case when we consider that it was sponsored by the actual Yomiuri Giants baseball team and an energy drinks company [Clements, 2013, p.139]. Focusing on character drama, realistic, contemporary settings and appealing to adults was an artistic revolution that had already happened in the late 50’s : that was gekiga, initiated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and a group of other artists [Dunham, 2019]. What Tatsumi wanted was to portray “real Japan”, and not make sprawling SF stories like that of early Tezuka – which meant speaking about poverty, alcoholism, sickness, etc. And Star of the Giants also talked about all those things. In large part because of this, some Japanese critics have said of it that it was “the first gekiga anime” [quoted in Clements, 2013, p.139].

But as many would point out, Star of the Giants wasn’t the first anime aimed at an adult audience, and gekiga wasn’t just a change in topics : it was also a stylistical revolution. Star of the Giants was also one, and in many ways. The character designs, by Daikichiro Kusube, were arguably more realistic, and most importantly more mature than the Tezuka-inspired round and cheerful faces that were populating children’s anime. Moreover, the show stood out thanks a lot of innovative stylistical and technological traits.

An example of Star of the Giants’ designs : they have more lines and are less round and sympathetic than that of previous anime

The first among them was the use of xerography. Xerography is a process first used by Disney animators in the late 50’s that enabled one to directly print an animator’s pencil lines onto a cel, thus making the tracing process, which was done by hand until then, entirely automatic [Clements, 2013, p.142]. This saved a lot of time, but also allowed for new uses of technology. In 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, the Disney team used xerography to just “copy and paste” three or four puppies instead of having to draw them all by hand, which obviously sped up production tremendously : instead of drawing a hundred dogs, the animators only had to draw less than ten.

A shot from The 101 Dalmatians featuring xerography : if you look closely, you can see that all the dogs’ faces are identical and that just a few different images, following the angle, are original images

What’s interesting is that Japanese teams used it completely differently. Called “machine tracing” in Japan [Clements, 2013, p.143], the technique was used to ignore the tracing process, completely modifying production hierarchies. Indeed, that meant getting rid of all the tracing staff, which was mostly comprised of women, thus cementing anime as a dominantly male industry. On the other hand, it meant that the animator’s drawings were directly transferred onto the cel, with more precision and less interference : this was yet another step towards what I call the “sakuga system” in which individual animators can freely express their own style (2). But that wasn’t just a new step for animators to express themselves : it allowed for more visual diversity, like using paintings as actual images or just filling up the frame with as many lines and information as possible to make it more striking – as Osamu Dezaki would do with his famous “harmonies” or “postcard memories”.

In Star of the Giants, which was the first anime to use xerography [Clements, 2013, p.143], this translated to rougher and more organic drawings that contrasted heavily with the very simple style of previous anime. This new kind of drawing style encouraged more and more exaggeration and a complete plunge into the irrealism now characteristic of anime and especially sports anime : see, for example, how this cut makes an intense use of speed lines, strong poses and perspectives, and the now classical deformation of time in which the ball seems to stay put on the bat for a few seconds before the batter finally sends it away. This wasn’t the only experimentation : for example, in the first episode, there’s a scene in which a character runs with live-action footage from WWII in the background. Or, during the matches or most intense scenes, it would switch to abstract backgrounds reminiscent of those later used by Osamu Dezaki or Yoshiyuki Tomino.

In episode 1, the flashback is portrayed by having live-action footage projected behind the character

Most of these innovations were due to the show’s director, Tadao Nagahama, who also had a strong team of storyboarders, among which Yoshiyuki Tomino, Hiroshi Saitô and Satoshi Dezaki (although far less talented than his younger brother Osamu, he was still one of the most prolific directors of the 70’s and 80’s). But the writers were also instrumental in Star of the Giants’ revolution.

Like almost every anime at the time, Star of the Giants was a manga adaptation. But the production team at Tokyo Movie was quickly faced with an unprecedented problem : the anime was starting to catch up with the manga. That hadn’t been an issue until now, because most of the mangas adapted were open-ended, episodic stories : that was the case with Astro Boy. When Mushi’s anime had caught up with the manga, they just kept going with new stories and even new characters. But that wouldn’t do this time, since there was an ongoing plot.

Add to this the fact that the writers, Seiji Matsuoka and Mamoru Sasaki [Clements, 2013], were starting to be fed up with having to single-mindedly adapt the manga and divide each episode into a three-act structure. In yet another conflict between creative staff and production, the team wanted an occasion to be more original, not just visually, but also scenaristically. The consequence was an unexpected one. On one hand, the producer Keishi Yamazaki replaced the two rebel writers with a new one, Haruya Yamazaki, apparently refusing to hear his staff. But the new writer ended up creating one of the most innovative and infamous episodes in anime history : he managed to stretch out the passage of a single ball on the field on an entire episode, by using stream-of-consciousness techniques in which the point of view switched at a rapid pace from player to viewer to a flashback, etc. [Clements and McCarthy, 2015, p.784 ; Clements, 2013, p.144] This was, apparently, anime’s first “filler”.

While I may seem to be following this narrative, I hope this shows that anime’s production dynamics aren’t just visionary artists having to fight against heartless, profit-hungry producers. There certainly was and still is a lot of conflict between those two, but this case also shows that the demands of production also fueled creative experimentation. Anime series are never pure shows of artistic freedom or searches for profit : they are the product of negotiations and always stand in between the two. Haruya Yamazaki’s stroke of genius was precisely to be in this in between : on the one hand, he resolved production problems by inventing the filler ; but on the other, in the case of the one-ball episode, he did not resort to the tired three-act structure that was one of the sources of conflict.

To sum things up, whereas Astro Boy set up the foundations for anime as we know it today, it’s Star of the Giants that built up on them and definitely set up anime not just as a production process, but as a distinct kind of audiovisual storytelling. The show hasn’t been licensed anywhere out of Japan, and only the first episode is available online, which makes it hard to have an opinion on its intrinsic quality. But it can at least be acknowledged for both its direct and indirect influence on many of anime’s masterpieces.

Indeed, many tried to emulate Star of the Giants’ huge success. In 1969, there was Toei’s Tiger Mask, another drama centered this time around pro wrestling that notably featured some of the best work of TV anime’s first star animator, Keiichiro Kimura (notice, here too, the heavy linework made possible by xerography). Two months later, Tokyo Movie would strike again with another sports anime, this time aimed at girls : Attack No.1, featuring a girls’ volleyball team. But both Star of the Giants and Attack No.1 have the right to be remembered as major inspirations for Osamu Dezaki’s Ashita no Joe (Mushi, 1970) and Aim for the Ace ! (Tokyo Movie, 1973). With these two shows, TV anime had produced its first immortal masterpieces : it had truly become an industry wide and productive enough to give birth to artistic genius, and not just entertainment for kids.


(1) As a side note, this shows that your perspective on the magical girl genre can vary considerably depending on what series you take as a starting point. If it’s Sally, you’ll be insisting on magical powers and the young girl audience ; but it gives, as I’ve said, a pretty conservative view of gender and femininity. If it’s Ribbon no Kishi, you’ll be on more political ground and focusing more on hidden identities and fairy tail roots – even though I’d argue they aren’t the most essential aspects of the genre. Finally, you can take Cutie Honey for the transformation and fighting evil aspects, but the original Honey is herself a highly sexualized figure which necessarily confront the possible male gaze and/or agency at play in magical girls.

(2) To get a bit more theoretical here, the case of xerography is a good occasion for me to come back to the definition of anime as relations of production that I’ve offered here. Indeed, xerography is a good example of a technology that has been used in a specific way by Japanese animators – that has been harnessed animetically, Thomas Lamarre might say. It’s a good case study to see what’s the role of technology in the production process : here, as I’ve said, it ended up pushing away a part of the non-creative staff (in this way, it might be compared to Flash animation and automatic in-betweening). The consequence of that was putting more means of creativity in the animator’s hands. But that also shows that technology is open, because xerography, while it allows for new kinds of animation, doesn’t actually determine which kinds of animation will end up being used. Though I don’t have much to back it up, I might even be tempted to say that in this case, the relations of production preceded the technology, which only confirmed them instead of creating them : if the anime production process didn’t already give so much freedom to the individual animator and focus on expressivity above all else, xerography might not have been used in the way it was. For more on this, you can read my discussion of Thomas Lamarre’s discussion of technology in anime here.


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