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.
It is tempting, as is always the case with great artists, to imagine Yoshinori Kanada as a solitary shooting star who appeared and revolutionized Japanese animation from nowhere, a pure genius whose inscription in a historical context is almost irrelevant to understanding his work. The very nature of this project goes against such a vision, as it aims for two things: 1) not just evoking Kanada, but all those he met and inspired, and their own careers, and 2) a history that takes into account not just the artists, but the evolution of their styles and their relationships with the general context of the animation industry at the time.
By 2016 and the creation of the companion Sakuga Blog, the sakuga community we now know had pretty much been formed. But that wasn’t without debates and heated discussions which would definitely establish the core elements of the sakuga discourse and positioning towards the general anime fandom. This all happened in and around one of the most prominent sakuga blogs of the time, Wave Motion Cannon, between 2016 and 2017.
This time, I talked with Bloodyredstar, aka Blou, sakuga fan and production assistant at Studio Tonton, currently making an amateur Naruto OP and ED.
In the previous essay in this series, I argued that one of the most important factors for the development of sakuga in Japan was the VCR and its widespread use during the 1980’s, when otaku culture in general was born and boomed. Go forward 20 or 25 years, and I think that you can find something of a similar situation in the West ; but the new technology was, obviously, not the same. It was, this time, the Internet.
If you ask different people what “sakuga” is or means, chances are you’ll get different answers ; but all these answers will probably revolve around a few similar ideas : sakuga is good animation ; animation that stands out ; animation made by some talented animators, etc. All these definitions rely on remarkably vague terms (“good”, “standing out”, “talented”), but they all point out a certain awareness that there’s something going on. Animation is not just the things you see moving on the screen, or even the way they move. So to speak, animation is the way things are made to move, in specific ways and by specific people, enough to make it remarkable.
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.
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.
During the 60's, 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.
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.