Emru Townsend · July 31, 2007
has always existed at something of a remove from Western audiences. For more than half the time since the 1963 debut of Astro Boy
(originally Tetsuwan Atom
), our main point of contact with anime had been through edited, rewritten and otherwise adapted works; and most of its enthusiasts didn't speak or read the original language and were half a world away, geographically and culturally. Combined with the informal nature of its adoption here, through the ad hoc nature of science-fiction and comics fandom, the result has been a historiography that, for the longest time, was partly built on speculation and hearsay masquerading as fact.
A multitude of factors has helped change that, especially over the last decade or so, but there's still been precious little on the origins of animation in Japan, beyond tidbits of information scattered here and there. This is why Digital Meme's recent Japanese Anime Classic Collection
isn't just a boxed set, it's a godsend: it goes a long way toward clarifying things, or fleshing out what we already knew.
Japanese Anime Classic Collection
Distributed by Digital Meme, 2007
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The four-DVD set presents 55 shorts from the pre-television days, restored and presented as faithfully as possible to their original formats. It's not comprehensive, nor could it claim to be. The first known Japanese animated film was created in 1917, but between the fragility (and sometimes, combustibility) of early film stock, the Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the American firebombings of World War II, many early films are simply gone. As it is, it seems like a miracle that Digital Meme was able to pull together the collection it did. The earliest dated short in the set, Tairiki Taro no Mucha Shugyo
(Mighty Taro's Reckless Training
), dates from 1928, and the latest one, Gulliver Funtoki
(Gulliver's Great Activities
), is from 1950. By presenting over five hours of shorts from those 22 years, we get a picture of the evolution of anime that's sorely needed.