Japanese Animation

Japan is known for its creative and unique animations. Pokemon, Astroboy and Doraemon are only a few beloved Japanese animation characters. The genre dates back to the early 1900s. The first animated Japanese movie was Kyoto, a tale about a boy in a navy uniform waving. At only 50 frames, the film was considered an innovative breakthrough. In the years to come however, there was very little animation (also known as “anime” and “manga”) created until the Nationalist Pre-war government thought that it could be a useful propaganda tool (Halsall, 2010). The Ministry of the Navy commissioned two movies in the 1940s to help encourage morale and raise the spirits of the Japanese people during the war. The films featured “Peach Boy,” a Japanese folk hero that spearheaded a naval unit of people and animals representing other nations in Asia.

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There were many starts and stops in the field of Japanese animation in the years that followed. An artist named Osamu Tezuka was the creator of Astroboy, a 1963 robotic character that fought for democracy. Astroboy was a direct representation of the struggle for democracy during World War II (Lamarre, 2002). Osamu is said to have created the extremely large eye style common in Japanese animation. Later, an animator named Hayao Mizyazaki founded the famous Ghibli Studio. The studio specializes in feature length, science-fiction Japanese anime to this day and is often referred to as the “Japanese Walt Disney” (Halsall, 2010). Anime is very humanistic and filled with magical settings and rich, fantasy characters. These characteristics continue today — imaginative visuals, fairy-tale plots, struggles of good vs. evil, heroes, heroines and moral lessons are still very common.

Notable works of the studio include Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Porco Rosso (1992), Whisper of the Heart (1995), and Grave of the Fireflies (1988). Mizyazaki also created Spirited Away (2001), which received an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. It was the very first anime feature to take that distinction.

Animation is more commercial now, but the production remains an art form. Many artists of Japanese animation work from home or in independent studios. We see the influence of the art form everywhere — CGI features, digital masterpieces such as Avatar, and even the work of Pixar has some resemblance and reference in Japanese animation (Halsall, 2010). Most notable is anime’s influence in modern video games and virtual reality features. Japanese animation has become a signature of the country and one of its best exports. According to the Japan External Trade Organization (2003), Japan exports approximately 4.35 billion dollars of ACG (Animation-Comic-Game) to the United States – four times the volume of steel exports to the America (Lamarre, 2002). Japan also contributes more than sixty percent of the global animation market share. Animation is estimated for ten percent the country’s GDP and is its third largest business following industry and agriculture. It is a very important part of the everyday lives of the Japanese and a treasured form of entertainment.

My introduction to animation has been inspiring. I am impressed with the creativity of the art form and eager to learn more about the production process. I enjoy anime because of its artistic value, but also because of its wonderful story telling. Anime uses actual plots and story lines that continue through the duration of the feature. In that sense, the genre is more like live action film — a stark difference from American cartoons. Characters are always well-rounded and I can appreciate the actual slaps, kicks and punches of a good anime duel. In general, there is a certain realism reflected in the art form. In addition, the idea that you can escape your circumstances always shows up as a theme; it is possible to create our own lives and destinies. I look forward to more of this type of inspiration as I learn more about the genre of anime.


Halsall, J. (2010). Anime Goes Mainstream. School Library Journal, 56(9), 32-33.

Lamarre, T. (2002). From animation to anime: drawing movements and moving drawings. Japan Forum, 14(2), 329-367. doi:10.1080/09555800220136400.