The origin and core of this piece is my personal interest in Daikuhara, but it will not be another biographical piece like my previous one. I will rather explore the area which I wrote the least about last time: Daikuhara’s pre-Tôei work. More generally, this will therefore be an exploration of Japanese animation production from the time of the Sino-Japanese War to Tôei’s first animated feature film, The White Serpent - that is, an exploration of roughly two decades of animation in Japan, from 1937 to 1958.
hern stands out among studio Tatsunoko’s productions for its unusually dark worldbuilding and dramatic intensity. It was also perhaps one of the studio’s most difficult productions - a direct result of the difficult context it was made in. In earlier articles, I highlighted Tatsunoko’s position in regards to industry-wide aesthetical shifts, such as gekiga anime or mecha animation. This time, it’s time to focus on changes in business practices, staff policy, merchandising and politics - all things that were triggered by one of the most important crises faced by the anime industry throughout its history.
anese animation studios whose origins go back directly to the so-called “first anime boom” - that is, the development of TV animation. For that reason, Tatsunoko’s first years are chronologically distant and the stuff of some legend: after all, wasn’t the studio one of the pioneers? Didn’t they contribute to forever change the way animation would be made, first in Japan and then in the entire world?
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.
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.
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.