State-of-the-art Japanese animation, commonly referred to as Anime, has got to be one of the biggest most popular billion-dollar import franchises in the history of nerdom. As it stands in pop culture, Japanese animation has always been and always will be the equivalent of the cool kids smoking in the bathroom — at times very risque and filled with surprises twists and turns. The culture, the lifestyle, and the following that anime has cannot be denied nor should it be.
But what makes Anime so cool? Japanese animation is popular for many reasons: characters you can emotionally invest in; music you sing instinctively to yourself; the lure of awaiting the next episode to drop; the over the top storylines; and the unpredictability of it all. There are no boundaries, there is no fourth wall, anyone can die, even the main character. The plot twists are explosive, and most importantly, the animation style is on par with big-budget movies.
Some of the earliest forms of Anime can be traced back to as far as 1907, the three-second long-short called Katsudo Shashin created with less than 50 frames, was a young sailor boy writing out his name. Still in the experimental phase, quite a few of these minute-long presentations popped up all over the Japan Providence.
Between 1907 and 1943, a lot of the earlier styles of animation were created for two reasons, the first one was to tell life lessons very similar to Dr. Seuss, and a bit more controversial, its use during wartime as propaganda to inspire the Japanese military.
It was not until 1946 where the first major Japanese animation studio known as Toei Animation and Mushi Animation began putting out feature-length animated movies mostly based around Japanese folklore in the same vein as Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables, and The Brothers Grimm. The first movie called The Tale of the White Serpent debuted in 1958, was quickly followed by other feature-length movies and television shows such as Cyborg 009, Kimba the White Lion, Magic Boy and the historic pop culture big booms, Astro Boy and Gigantor! Nobody saw these two Japanese pop culture icons coming.
Between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, everybody knew Astro Boy and Gigantor. While the U.S. had companies like Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and Walt Disney putting out amazing Saturday morning cartoons and feature-length movies, in Japan, companies like Toei, Gemba, HAL and TNK studios were bringing a level of competition never seen before.
By the 1970s, things were really starting to heat up with iconic hits such as Galaxy Express 999, Mazinger Z, Ultraman, and Battle of the Planets dominating syndication and Saturday morning television programming.
Then the 1980s happened, and Japanese animation took a seismic shift into the realm of unpredictability, over-the-top violence, suggestive themes, and its two biggest weapons: scarcity and word-of-mouth.
There was no bigger money-making, but controversial, property in the 1980s than Japanese animation. It didn’t just push the envelope, it lit it on fire and threw it on top of a pile of gasoline-soaked tires. Underground cult hits such as Fist of the North Star, Machine Robo, Robotech, Gundam, the Dragon Ball franchise, Voltron, and others dramatically raised the bar in forms of budget, animation style, music, and buzz; not to mention feature-length movies such as Flight of Dragons, The Hobbit, and The Last Unicorn. It was an assault on the eyes that nobody can turn away from. Bootleg copies of VHS tapes of the above-mentioned franchises and many more were going as high as $60 in the underground market.
Remember this was before YouTube, social media, the World Wide Web, and it wasn’t even broadcasted on U.S. television, at least not in its original unedited format and during very obscure time slots.
The 1990s saw another change, as before most major toy, comic book and sci-fi fantasy franchises turned their noses up and saw Japanese animation as disgraceful were now the same barbarians at the gates begging the Japanese market to turn their previous respective properties into money-making juggernauts. U.S. television markets were buying anything resembling Japanese anime by the droves. Not only was Battle of the Planets rebooted twice under the moniker G-Force, but now other hits appeared such as Berserk, Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, many incarnations of the Gundam franchise, Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon.
Fast forward to Japanese animation of today and the influence on pop culture cannot be denied with most hobby shops, apparel companies, and even big names in the toy industry marketing the newest hits such as Naruto, Attack on Titan, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Academia.
Funimation studios’ Two Dragon Ball super movies, Ressurection of F and Battle of the Gods, debuted in the U.S. with a combined $12.5-million domestic take in, finishing worldwide with a take in gross of $107 million, dominating box offices.
The influences of Studio Ghibli can still be seen in many Disney movies today.
From its inception to now, anime is the only pop-culture phenomena that has never had a cooldown. It never slows down, never missed a beat. There is no denying the influence that Japanese animation has had on a global scale ... and you haven’t seen anything yet.
(Omar Jeter has been a resident of Colleton County for over 25 years. A historian and enthusiast of pop culture and science fiction, he owns You-Niversal Nerd events-planning company which has been putting on productions and free events for over 10 years, including providing Colleton County with its first-ever comic book convention.)