Cartoons and comics for the easily bored.
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Some 900 years ago, Japanese artists were creating “moving pictures“ on scroll paintings that influenced ukiyo-e woodblock artists, mangaka and, ultimately, the nation’s first animators.
Long before the advent of film or cartoons, narrative picture scrolls frequently showed movement and action. The scrolls by Shigisan Engi Emaki from the mid 12th century offers an especially dynamic example: making use of simple lines, the scrolls show the buddhist priest Myoren set a magic pot flying through the air to transport rice up a mountain. Yet another 12th century example, the Bandainagon Ekotoba scrolls, show a famous shrine’s main gate in flames. The scene draws you in—almost as powerfully as film—thanks to the exaggerated expressions on the faces of some 100 people fleeing the scene and the motion within the picture from right to left.
By the mid 18th century, Japanese artists found another way to add movement to their stories: They began telling narratives using images cut from paper. These early paper dolls—of animals, people and objects—were attached to a storyteller’s fingers or bamboo sticks and moved in front of a light source so that they cast shadows and danced. Ukiyo-e-artist Katsushika Hokusai—most famous for his woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa—also published 15 volumes of sketches during the Edo period. Many of his 4,000 sketches depict people and animals in motion. Suzume Odori-zu, or Dancing Sparrows, shows a series of images of a dancing man, much like individual frames from a flip book. Bureiko-zu, or Informal Party, and Yari no keiko-zu, or Spear Throwing Practice, also delineate human movement in fine detail.
The oldest known actual anime, a two minute clip showing a samurai testing his sword, dates from 1917. The first feature length anime, Divine Sea Warriors by Momotaro, premiered in 1944. By the 1960s, Osamu Tezuka helped to advance the field, adapting Disney animation techniques—much simplified so as to control costs and the number of frames needed. The hallmark large eyes so common in manga and animation came about largely as a result of Tezuka’s interest in such American cartoon characters as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and Bambi.
During the 1970s, Japanese manga and anime enjoyed a huge boost in popularity. By the 80s, it had begun to conquer international markets. According to Tow Ubukata, speaking at the Leipziger fair in September 2007, entertainment companies in Japan now make 80 billion euro a year from manga/anime conversions. Unlike most American and European cartoons, modern Japanese anime target audiences across a broad range of interests and ages. The majority of Japanese production companies are based in Tokyo, especially in the Suginami and Nerima quarters.
Among the most famous is Studio Ghibli, founded in 1985 and based in Tokyo’s Kichijoji quarter. Animes from Studio Ghibli often focus on character development; the protagonists typically undergo some process of self discovery. The subject matter extends from technological progress to environmental change. And there are rarely simple plots or happy endings. Studio Ghibli has produced a huge number of hits, including Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro and Chihiros Journey. They also have the distinction of having produced the first Academy Award-winning anime: Spirited Away won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002, a new milestone in the history of anime.