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.

Looking back, looking forward: Kanada’s late period

is generally held that Yoshinori Kanada went through two major shifts in the 1990’s, shifts that determined what the two last decades of his life and work would be like. In terms of style, there was the transition to an apparently radically limited kind of animation, with very irregular timings and a profusion of straight, geometrical shapes. In terms of career, he progressively retired from the anime industry proper to work in video games as an employee of Square (now Square Enix).

The Kanada style in context

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.