Anime: Defining the Famous Japanese Animation

Every country has its own specialty that it is known for all over the world. For Japan, it is mostly known for its beautiful scenery as well as its scrumptious cuisine with foods like sushi, sashimi, ramen, and unagi to name a few. On the other hand, for the younger generation, it is no longer news that the Land of the Sun is also popular for other things such as anime and manga. Japan is, after all, recognized as the land of everything related to anime and manga. Hence, should one wish to purchase limited edition anime products any time of the year, whether it is in August or September, there really is nowhere else to go than Japan. However, what is anime anyway?

Defining Japanese Anime

For the unaware, anime is a Japanese word that means hand-drawn or computer animation. Basically, anime, in the urban dictionary, is just a shortened or an abbreviated version of the word “animation.” It generally refers to all kinds of animation though globally, anime is known as just Japanese animation or anime that is similar to the style done by the Japanese. Some people would refer to it as just cartoons but that is not exactly the right term.

To simplify, anime is a form of art that is comprised of all genres that can be found in cinema, just specifically animation. It looks like a specific style of cartoon-like moving photos. Though many mistake anime as a genre, that is not exactly the case at all. In Japanese, the word “anime” denotes all kinds and forms of animation that is produced all over the world. However, for most people who live outside of Japan, they refer to the term “anime” as an animated film or a form of TV entertainment that is produced in Japanese style.

The Different Formats of Anime

The earliest format of anime known to many was in the form of theatrical viewing. This originally started with commercial production in as early as the year 1917. The animated flips were initially crude, thus they required musical components to be played prior to adding sound and other vocal component to the production itself. The first televised as well as first color anime to debut was an anime entitled “Mogura no Abanchūru,” which translates to “Mole’s Adventure.” It was aired on the 14th of July in the year 1958 by Nippon Television.

On the other hand, it was not until the 1960s that the first anime series to be televised was broadcasted. After which, the popularity of anime shows quickly grew among the masses. Anime works that are released in a direct to video format are known as “original video animation” or OVA. Also known as “original animation video” or OAV, OVAs are not usually released theatrically nor are they televised before home media release. Another format was created when the Internet emerged. The Internet enabled some animators to release and distribute their works online under a format known as “original net anime” or ONA.

It was in the 1980 that the home distribution of anime releases became popular. Using the VHS and LaserDisc formats, the popularity of anime grew further. The format that enable the popularity of anime to grow in the 1990s not just in Japan but in the United States as well was the VHS NTSC video format. The DVD format later on emerged, which provided unique features such as multiple subtitling and dubbing tracks all within the same disc that proved to be useful especially for fans who cannot understand Japanese.

There were also disadvantages in using the DVD format in terms of region coding. In order to solve licensing, export, and piracy issues, there were certain regions that cannot play a specific DVD format anime. One format that was highly popular in both Taiwan and Hong Kong was the Video CD or VCD format.

History Behind Japanese Anime

Development of Japanese anime dates back to the early 20th century. With the techniques in animation that were pioneered by animators in the United States, France, Germany, and Russia, Japanese filmmakers also begat to experiment with these techniques. Some say that the first Japanese animation was Katsudo Shashin, which is a private work of an unknown creator, though it is not dated. On the other hand, the earliest professional anime works appeared in the year 1917 where these works were publicly displayed.

Several animation works were produced by well-known animators such as Seitaru Kitayama and Oten Shimokawa. The earliest animation film that still survives to this day was known as “Namakura Gatana,” which was a work created by Kouchi. It was a clip about a samurai who was testing a brand new sword on his target only to suffer demise in the end. The clip lasted for only two minutes, but it was already remarkable during that time. Due to the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, most early works were ruined as they were housed inside the warehouse of Shimokawa, which was destroyed as well.

As an alternate option aside from the regular live action industry, animation in Japan became quite established already by the 1930s. On the other hand, there was still tough competition from not just foreign producers but also several animators such as Yasuji Murata and Noburo Ofuji. These animators were still working in cutout animation, which were considerably cheaper, instead of using cel animation. Nonetheless, Japanese animation still continued to flourish with creators such as Mitsuyo Seo and Kenzo Masaoka. With the support from the government, various animators who wanted to experiment on animation techniques were employed so they can create educational shorts and propaganda.

The earliest talkie anime was produced by Masaoka in the year 1933. It was entitled “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka.” Within seven years, several organizations of anime artists were established such as the Shin Nippon Mangaka and the Shin Mangaha Shudan. The earliest feature-length animated film was produced in the year 1944. Under the direction of Seo, the film was created by Momotaro entitled “Divine Sea Warriors.” It was also created with the support of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

A major influence to several Japanese animators was the success of the feature film entitled “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by The Walt Disney Company from the year 1937. The earliest anime that was shown on TV was entitled “Three Tales,” which was aired in the year 1960. A year later, the first anime TV series to be aired was entitled “Otogi Manga Calendar,” which lasted until the year 1964.

The popularity of Japanese comic books, graphic novels, and manga soared in the 1970s. This also led to the production of more anime shows, as these manga were adapted and animated. A man by the name of Osamu Tezuka was quite popular during his time. Dubbed as a “legend” and as the “god of manga,” his works served as inspiration for the characteristics and genres that are still present and considered as fundamental elements of anime in the current age.

One of the more known genres of anime is the robot genre. It took its shape and form when Tezuka developed his works. The robot genre further developed and turned into Super Robot and Real Robot genres. The classic anime shows from the 1980s under the robot genres include Gundam and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross series. Until today, this genre is still quite popular among the masses in Japan. It was also in the 1980s that anime became mainstream in the country.

Also in the 1980s did adaptations of anime became successful in markets overseas. At the turn of the 21st century, anime had become a huge success among the general public. A Studio Ghibli production under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki entitled “Spirited Away” won the Golden Bear during the Berlin International Film Festival in the year 2002. A year after, the film also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature during the 75th Academy Awards.

Several Attributes of Japanese Animation

What sets anime apart from the other types of animation out there is its wide range of art styles. Other factors include its production, the process of creating anime, and the methods of animation. The art style of anime also varies depending on not just the artists but the creator itself as well as the studio where it is made. Though there is no specific art style that singularly define anime as a whole, there are certain attributes that are similar with most anime.

There is a general production of animation that is used for anime. This includes voice acting, cel production, storyboarding, and character design. Computer animation has been the animation technique used to improve the efficiency of producing anime since the 1990s. When the 21st century came, independent short films were typically the only ones that made use of other animation techniques. Production of anime before the digital era consisted of traditional animation techniques that used a pose to pose approach. The main technique that animators use when creating anime is to focus on the movement and art quality.

Much can be said about the characters of almost all anime shows. Human characters in anime have body proportions that reflect the actual human body, which make the characters seem more real to the audience. The base unit of proportion of the character is the height of the head. While the height of the head may not be the same for all characters, most of them are usually around seven to eight heads high. On the other hand, there are still some animators who disregard body proportions altogether.

By User:Oni Lukos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Another common feature of most anime characters is the exaggerated eye size. Most anime characters sport eyes that are unusually bigger than normal. Instead of these characters looking weird with huge eyes, the exaggerated eye size actually makes them look cuter. It also makes the anime characters look young in general. Most female characters look more feminine with this feature.

One more common feature of most anime characters is the design of their hair. It is quite well-known that anime characters, in general, sport hairstyles that many may consider as extraordinary. With hairstyles that counteract even gravity, many Japanese try to copy these hairstyles in real life. Anime hair also comes in a variety of vibrant colors with meanings behind them. These hairstyles also represent the personality of the anime character most of the time. Sometimes, one can already tell if a character is a hero or a villain just basing on the character’s hairstyle.

The anime world can truly be quite complex. However, many japanese anime lovers are not just because of the plot of the show. Various TV networks air anime series for their audiences, sometimes with English subtitles. This may also be attributed to the art itself and the way the characters are animated. Anime has become a part of the culture of Japan, with many people automatically connecting anime to the Land of the Sun. It has also played a great role in boosting the tourism of the country because several tourists flock to Japan just to be able to purchase anime products that are limited only within the country.