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.
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.
suo Yoshida’s death from liver cancer on September 5, 1977, is generally understood as a turning point in the history of studio Tatsunoko. Although his sickness was known among the studio’s top brass, few, if any, were aware of its seriousness, and nobody expected that their leader would be gone so soon. Because of Yoshida’s stature within the company - that of a kind, paternalistic and appreciated boss, but also the face and name of Tatsunoko - this was no doubt a traumatic event for many. Aside from the mark Yoshida left as a person, however, there remains a question: did his death really change anything for the studio as a whole?
Without any aim to be comprehensive, this article will follow these developments and focus on two shows: 1974’s Hurricane Polymar and 1976’s Gowapper 5 Godam. Although very different, both works are good examples of Tatsunoko’s development in the middle of the 70s: in terms of staff, the studio increasingly opened itself to the rest of the industry, but in terms of inventivity, it was rather closing. This contributed to the formation of an instantly-recognizable Tatsunoko aesthetic and brand, but also entailed a diminishing creativity, further decreased by the series of exodus that went on in those years.
The “realist” aesthetic and approach of the show was possible thanks to its director, who in fact debuted as chief director: the second of the three Yoshida brothers, Ippei Kuri. Largely overshadowed by the other two rising anime directors of the time that were Isao Takahata (in Tôei) and Osamu Dezaki (in Mushi), Kuri was easily on par with them in terms of artistic vision; one may even argue that him and Tatsunoko’s artists and technicians largely laid the ground that would make Dezaki’s expressionist style possible. In that regard, Sanshirô can be read as a site for formal and technical experimentation, wherein “realism” was but one of the many aspects that were explored.
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.
When asked what was the biggest anime event of the year 1988, most people would surely answer Akira. Ghibli fans may note Grave of the Fireflies or My Neighbour Totoro. Only few people would mention one of the most ambitious entries in the Gundam franchise: Char’s Counterattack. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s third feature film project, and the first non-recap one, put an end to a story that had been going on for almost 10 years, the so-called “early Universal Century”. It was a turning point, not just for the Gundam series, but for anime as a whole - though this is rarely known or framed as such, since the movie is mostly only accessible to already experienced Gundam watchers. The goal of this article is to correct this state of affairs.
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.
Yama Nezumi Rocky Chuck, known in the English-speaking world as Fables of the Green Forest, can be considered the first show to fit into the extended World Masterpiece Theater canon: it was the first production of studio Zuiyo Video, which would become Nippon Animation, to take place in the consecrated Sunday 19:30 time slot on Fuji TV.
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.