At the beginning of the twentieth century the Japanese were heavily influenced by two great Western inventions, the comic strip and motion picture. The comic strip and its linear story line allowed Japanese storytellers to make their creations available to the masses in Japan. Soon popular artists like Kitazawa Rakiten and Okamoto Ippei were releasing their own newspaper comic strip series. These later evolved into the modern Japanese comic book, called manga. Manga would eventually become a very heavy influence on anime. Anime are Japanese animated cartoons.
Anime began a little before 1920. Inspired by Western animation and later Walt Disney, the Japanese began to create short motion picture cartoons. These first anime shorts were usually based on old Japanese folk tales and about two minutes long. In the 1930's with the coming of war, the anime shorts started to become more militaristic, and were used as government propaganda. In America Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons inspired Americans to support the war effort and in Japan many of the anime shorts followed this Disney method featuring animals with human characteristics. One of the most popular characters was Private 2nd Class Norakuro, a dog serving in an animal army. When the war started to shift in the 1940's the Imperial government issued their first animated feature' an hour-long, black and white film. The movie depicted the brave animal sailors of the Imperial Navy fighting in Malyasia, freeing occupants from the "cruel hands of the west."
After the war in the mid 1950's, Toei Animation was founded. Toei's goal was to be an Asian film company producing animated features similar to Disney's. In 1958 Toei released Tale of the White Serpent. The movie was based on an old Chinese folk-tale and much darker than the animated features released by Western animators. Toei's following films like The Mischievous Prince Slays the Giant Serpent, and The Adventures of Horus, Prince of the Sun paved the way for more a sophisticated and grown-up approach to animation in Japan.
Then in the 1960's Tezuka Osamu founded Mushi Productions. Tezuka was a renowned and talented manga artist. His stories were stretched out to hundreds of pages and packed with action and emotion. To make a single emotional moment more poignant he would strech one scene out over several pages. His stories were full of kinetic motion though they themselves did not move.
Tezuka's first anime, Astro Boy, was released in 1963. Astro Boy was revolutionary as a cartoon. It was told as a series with an over-hanging plot, where as most western cartoons were stand-alones. His stories were dramatic and dynamic, and forever changed Japanese animation. The art of Tezuka's cartoons was also very different and fresh, he imitated the western style of exaggerating features such as the eyes, and his characters expressions were exaggerated to convey their emotions. Tezuka used large eyes like the western cartoons because he felt that they were necessary to show a wide range of emotion in his characters; this stylistic feature still evident in most anime today. Tezuka also revolutionized cartoons with Asto Boy, and later Kimba the White Lion, by allowing change in the recurring characters. Kimba the White Lion was the first anime to be in color, as well as being the first to have an American co-producer. Tezuka's most popular cartoons were even released world wide and his company was very successful. However, they eventually went bankrupt and Tezuka left the animation of his manga, which he continued to produce, to other animators.
In the 1970's Anime began to split from it western influences and develop into a very unique medium. During this time many new, "mecha" anime were released. One of the most popular mecha anime was Mobile Suit Gundam. Also some anime creators began to deviate from conventional plot aspects. The series Lupin III changed the traditional "good guy vs. bad guy" idea with a main character who was more of an anti-hero and known to be a master thief. The series was also full of adult humor and lots of violence. It was clearly meant for an older audience. It also spurred two sequel series and a few full-length movies. Several anime were also brought to American shores like Speed Racer and Starblazers; most, however, were little-known.
The 1980's, the Anime boom. During this time the animation market was exploding and Japanese animators began to look to the growing manga field for work to adapt to anime. Toriyama Akira's Dragon Ball was one of the first manga to be adapted and went on to become one of the most popular anime of the decade. Yet there was still a great demand for new anime... enter Takahashi Rumiko. Takahashi is responsible for one of the best known anime of all time, Ranma 1/2, which focused on a main character who could change from boy to girl with hot or cold water. The series ran for over 100 episodes. Today Takahashi is also known for her more recent occult series, InuYasha.
Later, in 1988, Akira was released. The movie received world-wide acclaim and introduced anime to the international mainstream culture. The film also started a new brand of anime. Bubble Gum Crisis and A.D. Police were series from the same fast-paced and dangerous mold as Akira. Soon after Masumune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell was released. The movie received just as much, if not more popularity than Akira. Both movies were very large milestones in making anime known to the world and helping it stand out as it's own kind of entertainment.
Not all anime during the time were as wild and futuristic as these, though. Nakazawa Keiji wrote of his experience as a Hiroshima survivor in the manga saga Barefoot Gen, which was later adapted into a movie. He then released the powerful and heart-wrenching film, Hotaru No Haka, released in the US as Grave of the Fireflies. The film followed two orphans struggle to survive after their mother was killed in the fire-bombing of Tokyo.
Out of this anime boom rose two production companies that would lead the industry: Gainax and Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli grew from the works of acclaimed anime creator Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao. Some of their most popular films released were Castle in the Sky, My neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Takahata and Miyazaki's formidable talents and theatrical and beloved films put Studio Ghibli at the top of the Japanese animation industry.
Anime may be cartoons, but they are certainly not just meant for kids. Over time the medium has grown to include many genres and target many audiences. From war and drama-themed anime, like Grave of the Fireflies and the war propaganda of the 1940's, to horror anime like Vampire Princess Miyu. There are many anime out there that don't fit the cartoon stereotype of being for kids only. In Japan anime is enjoyed by young and old, and a part of daily life.
Anime is still changing and the medium continues to expand today. Popular series continue to be brought to America like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Rurouni Kenshin. TV programs such as Cartoon Network's "Toonami" and TechTV's "Anime Unleashed" help to bring anime even more into mainstream culture.