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. 

Experiencing the elsewhere in Hayao Miyazaki’s films

This article, centered on Hayao Miyazaki’s narratives, intends to highlight that his films are strongly structured around the themes of the hero's uprooting and his opening to the world. Miyazaki's work can be approached as a systematic exploration of the different modes of relationship to the elsewhere. Animation gives full scope to this analytical dimension of his work: "the ontological unreality of animation" makes it easier to put the problem of "real" reference (of the concrete geographical inspirations of the universes presented) in the background, in favor of the exposition of archetypal situations with a universal scope. What specific content does Miyazaki give to this idea of “elsewhere” and what role does it play in his narratives?

Notes on Takahata & Miyazaki

The previous article on this blog, dedicated to Anne of Green Gables, contains a detailed discussion of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki’s respective artistic evolutions between 1976 and 1979. I originally planned to extend it with a digression on the wider differences between two men’s styles. But this would have gone slightly off-topic and made the article far too long (as if it weren’t already), so I decided to include it in a separate piece - this one. It contains some more remarks about Anne of Green Gables, but also about Takahata and Miyazaki’s work in Ghibli. It may be a bit messy, as I’ve taken the opportunity to write this in a more spontaneous way; I hope you don’t mind and still appreciate this piece.

Storytelling in the Midst of History: Reflections on Heike Monogatari

While the initial reception has been relatively subdued, many will no doubt look back on Heike Monogatari both for what it is and for what it represents; a significant work of animated cinema which marks a new beginning in director Naoko Yamada’s career. While the complex realities of the show’s production certainly merit critical attention, what most interests me about Heike Monogatari is not its place in the history of Japanese animation but the way it uses the medium of animated cinema to present us with a living image of history itself.

The politics of 80s anime: the 198X controversy

A common narrative of Japanese social history and anime history holds that, starting from the 1980’s, the Japanese population has gotten increasingly distant from politics. The rise of apolitical otaku circles and their own ironical, derivative aesthetic seems to confirm this tendency. But in the very same period, and at the exact moment when otaku communities as we know them were forming, a controversy shook the anime industry and revealed that political debate and action were very much on the agenda for some creators. It all happened around a single movie that came out in November 1982: Future War 198X. Not only did the film spark discussions within the anime industry and community proper, it also caused nation-wide movements from actors outside of the anime world, such as Parent-Teachers Associations of the Japanese Communist Party. The stakes were Japan’s domestic and foreign policies, but also the very purpose of the animated medium.

Toei and early TV anime – Part 2: the rise of gekiga anime (1966-1968)

Many of Tôei’s promising artists, who had for the most part worked on Fujimaru, were determined to follow up on the possibilities the TV show had opened. This meant making a decisive move towards “adult” animation, that is complex storylines, visual experimentations, and a kind of animation that would go beyond the simplistic, round and friendly shapes of the characters of so-called “TV manga”. Just like young manga artists in the 60s had rejected Osamu Tezuka’s "story manga" style to create their own graphic novels called gekiga, artists in Tôei would slowly start making the move towards what would later be called gekiga anime.

Toei and early TV anime – Part 1: Kaze no Fujimaru (1964-1965)

The goal of this two-part research is to explore part of Tôei’s early TV production, mostly between 1964 and 1968. It will be centered around what is paradoxically one of the studio’s lesser-known series, Shônen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru or, translated into English, Young Ninja Fujimaru of the Wind. This first part will analyze the show itself, which was probably one of the boldest of its time in terms of direction and narration. The second part will follow Fujimaru’s staff after the show, especially two of Tôei’s greatest animators: Keiichirô Kimura and Hayao Miyazaki.

Ghibli outside Ghibli, 1986-1991

While the idea of a unified “Ghibli aesthetic” or “style” is debatable at best, it makes no doubt that all the animators mentioned here brought something different to their work outside the studio. The first element was quality, a result both of their talent and of the formation they had received before or after they started collaborating with Ghibli. The second element is more difficult to grasp, and is closer to what one may refer to as a “style”: something in common to almost all of their approaches to animation. The goal of this article is not only to point out its characteristics and evolution, but also to situate it within a wider context: indeed, the period between 1986 and 1991 is a key one in anime history, as it saw the emergence of a new school of thought and style: realism. Although quantitatively minor, the work of those 6 Ghibli-related animators in fact played a central role in the spread of the realist aesthetic.

Akira Daikuhara: the works and career of a forgotten anime pioneer

For Japanese animation fans and historians, the name of Akira Daikuhara (sometimes spelled Daikubara) should ring a bell as belonging to one of the major artists in postwar Japanese animation and to the core member of studio Tôei Animation’s team throughout the 1960’s alongside Yasuji Mori. However, despite this universally-acknowledged importance, Daikuhara seems like a forgotten figure: he has no Wikipedia page in any language, his personal page on the Japanese sakugawiki encyclopedia is blank, and until recently, he barely had any uploads to his name on sakugabooru. Although I will try later on to understand the reasons behind this state of affairs, the first goal of this article is to correct it by giving a detailed account of Daikuhara’s career, work and legacy.

Current trends in action animation: Hiroto Nagata and Ryûki Hashimoto

In today’s landscape, this evolution and, possibly, a new development in action animation seems to be represented by two rising figures: Hiroto Nagata and Ryûki Hashimoto. At first sight, this pairing might seem strange, since both men come from opposite ends of the industry and have never worked together. Despite their distance, they share a close proximity in terms of style and, possibly, philosophy. The goal of this article will be to understand the nature of this proximity: I will first focus on each animator on his own, and then consider more generally what are their common points, and how they may open new ways for animation.