Last Word
More Than a Cursory Glance
Jeremy Schwartz · From fps #8 · June 19, 2006 | Japanese animation has enjoyed international popularity in recent years, appearing central to children's television lineups and receiving widespread theatrical and DVD releases. As a relatively new phenomenon of Western pop culture, there has been a veritable rush of study on the medium. This has resulted in numerous published papers, several dedicated university courses and a handful of scholarly books. Japanese animation is often covered as a combination of cultural and film study. But anime is not film; it's television. Historically, formally and stylistically it is a television medium. Scholarly work on anime is dominated by the films of Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), but these films are anomalies. The bulk of directors are working in the more "traditional" form of television animation. The reluctance by many scholars to research and explore television to the same degree as film animation hinders the study of Japanese animation by ignoring the bulk of production and historical context while forcing a Westernized view of the medium.

Unlike animation production in America and Europe, Japanese animation does not have its roots in the cinema. While there were some pre-World War II animated films in Japan, the industry wasn't really established until the early 1960s. Osamu Tezuka, a popular manga artist, had his first international hit with Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy, 1963), followed by Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion, 1965). Tezuka established many of the visual characteristics that anime and manga artists still rely on. Tezuka's studio, Mushi Productions, did attempt some animated features in the late 1960s, but the box-office returns were not enough to sustain the costs of production. (Notably, 1970's Cleopatra Queen of Sex was mistakenly given an X rating in the United States and opened to extremely small audiences.) Mushi declared bankruptcy in 1972, due partially to the poor performance of their theatrical ventures.

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