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.
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.
Anne of Green Gables is one of the most popular works in the World Masterpiece Theater series, both in Japan and in the English-speaking sphere. According to many of those who have seen it, it may even qualify for the title of best anime of all time. It also represents a historical turning point: it is the first entry in the time slot that was now officially called “World Masterpiece Theater”, instead of “Calpis Children’s Theater” (1975-1977) or “Calpis Family Theater” (1978). And yet, it is perhaps the most imperfect among Isao Takahata’s three shows for Zuiyo Video/Nippon Animation, and by far one of the most difficult productions that the director, studio and all the artists involved had known. This latter, darker aspect of Anne appears to be at best underdiscussed, or at worst completely unknown, in English-speaking circles. While providing a detailed commentary and analysis of the show as well as its place in anime history and Isao Takahata’s career, this article also aims to raise awareness and shed light on those somber moments.
Patlabor 2 is widely considered to be one of the best anime films ever made. For all those involved, it was an incredibly ambitious and important production, far more than the first movie which had come out 4 years prior. Director Mamoru Oshii himself stated, somewhat provocatively, that, “as far as I’m concerned, the only Patlabor I’ve made is Patlabor 2. It’s the only thing that I can proudly call my own work”. As controversial as that statement may be, it is true that Patlabor 2 is a step-up in nearly every aspect compared to its predecessor, from its budget to production pipeline to Oshii-isms. Beyond this, Patlabor 2 is generally held to be one of the most important and influential works in Japanese animation and one of the defining movies of the 1990s - not so much for its extremely coherent aesthetic and deeply thought-out writing, but rather for the unique elements it introduced in the Japanese animation pipeline: a renovated layout system, new ways of using CGI and a still-unmatched ability to challenge live-action cinema techniques. Starting from the movie’s staff and production methods, this article will try to retrace how all of these elements coalesced to produce such a cohesive whole.
Like its 1977 predecessor Rascal the Raccoon, 1978’s The Story of Perrine is among the least-known World Masterpiece Theater entries in the English-speaking sphere. Such does not seem to be the case in Japan, where a recent popularity poll placed it second, ahead of such popular entries as Anne of Green Gables or A Dog of Flanders. The easiest explanation for this is probably that, as we will see, Perrine is among the most melodramatic in the WMT’s 70s lineup. But, just like Rascal and Flanders, it is a very uneven production - although it may be the best non-Takahata work in the series in some aspects.
The World Masterpiece Theater entry for the year 1976, Marco, pushed studio Nippon Animation and the artists associated with it to their limits. As a result, the year 1977 was marked by disorganization, as most of Marco’s staff temporarily or definitively left the WMT, and the series for that year, Rascal the Raccoon, brought on new, possibly inexperienced, and simply less notable artists. This article will therefore not only focus on Rascal, but on two other works: the first is another Nippon show, Jacky the Bearcub, which counted among its staff most of Marco’s main artists: directors Isao Takahata and Seiji Okuda, and animators Toshiyasu Okada, Kôichi Murata, Reiko Okuyama and Yôichi Kotabe. The other is a completely different production, the first film by studio Shin-Ei, Tenguri, Boy of the Plains, which reunited Yasuo Otsuka and his students outside of Nippon Animation. Just a year before Future Boy Conan, 1977’s Rascal and Tenguri were the last works on which Hayao Miyazaki made significant contributions as a key animator. They therefore represent a turning point in his career, as well as that of all other artists who had been revolving around World Masterpiece Theater productions.
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.
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.
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.
oxical reception and reputation. In Japan, it is just as well considered as Isao Takahata’s other two entries in the World Masterpiece Theater, with entire generations of animators (chief among them Takashi Nakamura, Satoru Utsunomiya and Toshiyuki Inoue) counting it as one of their sacred texts. In English-language discourse, while Marco is extremely well-considered among those who have seen it, their number is small, and Marco is far from being as popular as Heidi or Anne. This article will not aim to provide reasons for this state of affairs, but to give a thorough presentation and commentary on Marco and its importance in Isao Takahata’s career, the World Masterpiece Theater, and anime history at large.