Heidi, Girl of the Alps needs no introduction. One of the most important and influential works in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata’s first series for Zuiyo Video would set a gold standard for all subsequent World Masterpiece Theater entries. Much has already been said about Heidi, especially on its status as a so-called “pre-Ghibli” work or on how representative it is of Takahata’s style and philosophy. Considering the theme of this series, this article will instead put Heidi back in its historical context: that of the extended World Masterpiece canon, and of 1974 anime.
However dominant it became in the 80s, the Kanada style was never the only aesthetic of anime. Besides the heavily stylized motion of the Kanada school and the round, cute characters that characterized the lolicon boom at the start of the decade, another very different kind of animation was starting to find its footing: realism.
One of the most notable aspects of Kanada’s career is that, while he never directed anything by himself, he was closely associated with major directors: first Yoshiyuki Tomino, and then Rintarô and Hayao Miyazaki. His relationship with the latter two is what I’m going to research here. More precisely, I’d like to see how animator and directors worked together and reciprocally pushed each other in new directions. The goal will be to explore Kanada’s animation in detail, to investigate and try to uncover what was his, what were his innovations, and what must be credited to other people: directors, animation directors, and other animators.
In the 70’s, TMS and its subcontractors managed to create two aesthetics of their own, one centered around the A Pro comedies and the other the Madhouse dramas. Despite how innovative and influential these might have been, TMS was missing the tidal change known as the “SF boom” that started in 1974, with Space Battleship Yamato and risked, because of that, to fail to attract anime’s new audience, young men in highschool or older that would form the first generation of otaku. But the studio profoundly influenced early otaku culture with a series so enduring it’s still alive today : that was Lupin III.
Last time, I covered the changes in anime from the perspective of the industry : how studios evolved, how staff moved from one place to the other, and how anime’s production processes became closer to what we know today. Now, it’s time to look at it from the perspective of the shows themselves : how their style, staff and animation are unique to that specific time period - one so exceptional that it could rightfully be called Tokyo Movie’s golden age.
In 1973, anime celebrated its first decade of existence. But the anime industry in 1973 was almost a world apart from what it was 10 years earlier : the production system had become almost set to what it mostly still is today, the manpower had immensely grown and the studio organization had evolved. Moreover, new people had started producing their own original works, people whose names would be among the most famous in anime history.
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.