Usually when we think of “The History of Anime” we think of Osamu Tezuka. Which is actually a good place to to start, as his style and production methods has influenced anime as we know it today. Although Japan has an even deeper history of anime than most realize.
It’s impossible to say exactly when anime began, since most of the anime prior to the 1920s was either lost or destroyed. This was a time when an animation would only have one copy released, it was very likely that the film was either damaged or lost, due to a combination of disasters such as war, earthquakes or simply disintegrated over time. The cellulose early films were painted on was extremely flimsy and very flammable. There is probably so much material out there we will never know about. Which is why we should share and cherish what we do know! But don’t fret, we do have some records of early Japanese animation.
Welcome to an often over looked world.
The Very first Anime?
As far as we know “Katsudo Shashin” (Moving Picture), is believed to be the oldest piece of Japanese animation. It is speculated to have been created sometime between 1907 and 1911. Although this technically counts as an anime its only 3 seconds long. It was never actually released to the public. In fact the 35mm celluloid strip wasn’t discovered until 2005 in Kyoto. It was appraised by Natsuki Matsumoto, which is how it earned the name “The Matsumoto Fragment”. It’s of a sailor boy writing the words “Katsudo Shashin”, (moving picture), in kanji on the wall and turns to tip his hat. Anyone of the current generation would just consider this a gif now.
The Oldest Confirmed Anime?
Anime started being created professionally in 1917. Around 18 – 21 short films were created in that year. Many of these are believed to have been lost or destroyed with no surviving copies. One that did manage to survive and was recovered was “Namakura Gatana” (The Fine Sword). Due to the fact that we don’t know ‘exactly’ when “Katsudo Shashin” was created, “Namakura Gatana” is official recognized as the oldest anime. At least the oldest anime you can still watch. It was thought to have been lost until a copy was found in an Osaka antique shop in 2008.
Granted it is still a very short animation, it actually started to show the style of Japanese animating.
The animation technique used to make it is called “cut out animation”. This is a form of stop motion animation using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper or card, the same technique used to animate “South Park”.
I guess this commemorates the 100 year anniversary of anime… So I made this blog post just in time! Happy One Hundred Years lads!
The Three Fathers of Anime!
Anime that are believed to be created even before this include “Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki” (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa).
It is assumed to have been released in April 1917 and was believed to be the oldest anime at the time it was discovered.
Dekobo Shingacho – Meian no Shippai (Dekobo’s New Picture Book – Failure of the Great Plan) was later discovered and found to be even older, estimated to be released around February 1917.
Both of these films were directed by the ‘first father of anime’, Oten Shimokana, who’s animation career sadly didn’t go beyond 1917, despite living until 1973. Both films have been lost, thus cannot be viewed, or even definitively proven that they existed to begin with. Which is why they are not officially recognized.
Second father, Jun’ichi Kouchi, manga artist, who holds the honor of creating the officially recognized first anime, Namakura Gatana, started creating political propaganda in 1924 and retired from animation in 1930s, lived until 1970.
Third father, of this generation probably had the most impact on the generation that followed him. Seitaro Kitoyama created many animated shorts, including “Battle of a Monkey and a Crab”, “Yume no jidousha”, “Neko to Nezumi” and “Momotarou”, most of which were based off of folklore. He went above and beyond by creating Japan’s, first animated documentary, commercials, , and founded his own studio.
Kitayama Eiga Seisakujo was founded in 1921 and gave much needed jobs to quite a few talented animators, who eventually contributed heavily to future animations and developing the industry. Although, as with many other film studios, it was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, (setting the industry back significantly), Seitaro left Tokyo for a fresh start in Osaka the following year, but eventually abandoned animation completely for a career in newsreels, living until 1945.
After the earthquake many animators were lost looking for hope. Due to foreign industries such as Disney being ahead of the game and dominating all the movie theaters of the time, in Japan animators had a hard time finding success. They’re films were sold at lower prices to theaters or screened in public venues to gain interest.
The Ministry of Education also encouraged Japanese animators to produce films that were educational and socially uplifting, thus allowing them to be screened in school. An example would be “Taro Train” from 1929..
The First Anime with Sound
Following this many steps were made to further develop and revolutionize film and anime.
The oldest anime with sound was “Yamamoto Sanae”, (The Hare and the Tortoise), from 1924, which was narrated live for the audience in theaters by “Benshi”, Japanese performers who provided live narration for silent films.
Benshi began doing voices for characters making them the first Seiyuu (voice actors),
Most of you probably wouldn’t consider that an anime “with sound”. In which case the first anime with voice overs would be a lost film called “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka”, “The World of Power and Women”, released April 1933, by Kenzo Masaoka, it’s about, (and I couldn’t stop laughing when I read about this), a man with an incredibly large wife, who he accidentally tells about an affair he’s having, while talking in his sleep.
The First Fully Cel Animated Anime
In later years Japan started to use cel animation. A technique where animators paint characters and moving elements on transparent sheets of celluloid, layered over each other and on a background. This gave animation at the time a huge boost, although was much more expensive.
Chagama Ondo, released March, 1935. The plot revolved around a group of tunuki (racoon dogs) investigating a temple and causing mischief, once again created by Kenzo Masaoka.
World War 2
Surprisingly WWII is actually a major event in the history of anime. As the military began gearing up for war, many animators and studios resorted to propaganda videos sponsored by the government, displaying Japanese soldiers fighting American, which as you can assume would be very racist and violent, leaving little to no room to express artistic value. Although, due to this lucrative source of funding film studios grew exponentially.
First Feature Length Animated Film!
“Momotoro’s Divine Sea Warriors”, released April 1945, running at 74 minutes long. This was actually more propaganda animation commissioned by the Japanese navy. The film features anthropomorphic woodland animals participating in war efforts, directed and written by Mitsuyo Seo, Production company, Shochiku. This movie with it’s subliminal messages of hope for peace inspired a young mangaka by the name of Osamu Tezuka, (oh you know… the godfather of anime). So much so the song of “AIUEA” is famous for being given homage in the series “Kimba the White Lion” by Tezuka.
this movie actually acts as a sequel to a film by the name, “Momotaro no Umiwashi”, (Momotaro’s Sea Eagles), March 1943. A 37 min, black and white movie.
The ministry showed Seo, the movie Fantasia, (the one created by Disney in 1940). This film inspired him to give dreams to children and hope for peace. “Momotaro’sDivine Sea Warriors”, similar to most anime from this time was thought to be destroyed, until in 1983 it was found in a warehouse and re-released.
Japanese Animation Studio
In 1948 a studio with the most amazingly original name “Japanese Animation Studio” was founded. Although strangely enough it didn’t create much under that name. At least not until in 1956 they were bought by the film company, by the name Toei, where it was then transformed into the powerhouse we know today as “Toei animation”, probably becoming the most influential Japanese animation studio in history!
First Feature Length Color Anime
“Hakujaden” (The Tale of the White Serpent) 1958. It was actually one of the first three anime films to be released in America, under the title “Panda and the Magic Serpent”, premiering in 1961, the month after “Magic Boy”. It is also known variously as “Legend of the White Snake”, “The Great White Snake” and “The White Snake Enchantress”. A story about a boy and his snake girlfriend. No! Not Monster Musume! Don’t think such things!
This anime was actually distributed by Toei animation! I’m telling you, these guys are like the Disney of Japan (or at least they could be, if they actually tried hard enough! I’m looking at you Dragon Ball Super!)
Grudges aside, this was a monumental moment in anime history.
Osamu Tezuka and Toei
By the late 50s Osamu Tezuka was a rather popular manga artist in 1958, he began working with Toei to animate his series “Boku no Son Goku” (Son Goku the Monkey King)
Looks like Akira Toriyama wasn’t the first mangaka to be inspired by “Journey to the West”, but don’t get it wrong, they are nothing alike.
This didn’t last however as Osamu Tezuka left Toei and created his own studio, Mushi production, and took some of Toei’s best animators with him (would explain early Dragon Ball Super…). Including the first female animator in Japan (that we know of), Kuzuko Nakamura. She would later serve as the lead animation director for “Ribbon no Kishi” (Princess Knight), and worked on “Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke” (Magic Boy).
This blog post was really interesting and super frustrating to make to be honest, as there is very limited information, revolving around anime prior to the 1950s and a lot of it is contradictory at worst.
Nevertheless it’s intriguing, and it only gets better as the years go on. More animation techniques are used, production studios are founded, more information is recorded and there haven’t been any major disasters, setting the industry back. Cool stuff!
Happy 100 year anniversary!
What was the very first anime ever? ›
The earliest anime that was produced in Japan to have survived into the modern day, The Dull Sword, was released on June 30, 1917, but there it is disputed which title was the first to get that honour.When was anime first invented? ›
Anime itself dates back over a hundred years. The first confirmed example was produced in 1917 titled Namakura Gatana with a run time of only four minutes. Over time, it has had its highs and lows facing various obstacles both within Japan and internationally.Who is the first invented anime? ›
The history of anime can be traced back to the start of the 20th century, with the earliest verifiable films dating from 1917. The first generation of animators in the late 1910s included Ōten Shimokawa, Jun'ichi Kōuchi and Seitaro Kitayama, commonly referred to as the "fathers" of anime.Who was the first anime girl? ›
The first magical heroine in Japanese TV anime debuted in 1966 with the program Mahōtsukai Sarī (Sally the Witch). In this animated series, a little princess from the Magic Kingdom arrives in the world of humans in the guise of a girl named Yumeno Sally and creates a stir with her special powers.How many anime exist? ›
How many animes exist right now? More than 3,200 anime episodes are shown on television, while more than 6,000 anime are created, claims the report.What was anime first called? ›
Prior to the widespread use of anime, the term Japanimation was prevalent throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid-1980s, the term anime began to supplant Japanimation; in general, the latter term now only appears in period works where it is used to distinguish and identify Japanese animation.What was the first color anime? ›
Toei Animation and Mushi Production was founded and produced the first color anime feature film in 1958, Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent, 1958). It was released in the US in 1961 as well as Panda and the Magic Serpent.What anime stands for? ›
Etymology 1. Borrowed from Japanese アニメ (anime), an abbreviation of アニメーション (animēshon), ultimately from English animation.Who is the god of anime? ›
Yep, Osamu Tezuka is frequently referred to as "the god of manga," so in a way, he's the most powerful "anime god" of them all.What is the longest anime? ›
The longest-running anime TV series is Fuji TV's Sazae-san (Japan), which was first broadcast on 5 October 1969 and has run for 53 years 58 days, as of 2 December 2022.
How did anime begin? ›
The earliest examples of Japanese animation can be traced back to 1917. The defining characteristics of the anime art style we know today first emerged in the 1960s through the works of Osamu Tezuka. If you watch modern anime, you'll quickly pick up on the unique look and feel of the anime art style.What was the first anime in USA? ›
The history of anime in the United States began in 1961, when Magic Boy and The Tale of the White Serpent became the first and second anime to receive documented releases in the country. Anime has since found success with a growing audience in the region, with Astro Boy often being noted as the first anime to receive ...Is anime a cartoon yes or no? ›
Anime refers to a specific style of cartoon produced or inspired by Japanese animation. Think of it this way: all anime shows are cartoons, but not all cartoons are anime. The art style associated with anime is very unique and recognizable.What anime has 7000? ›
What anime has more than 7000 episodes? Sazae-san. This anime series holds the world record for longest running animated TV series with over 7,000 episodes!What is the 2 longest anime in the world? ›
Anime refers to a specific type of animation style that is popular in Japan. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Japan is the country in which anime is the most popular. Approximately three-quarters of everyone in Japan either watches anime regularly or reports having seen anime recently.Who is the older anime? ›
Namakura Gatana is the oldest existing anime short film, dating back to 1917. The film was lost until a copy was discovered in 2008. The Dull Sword is one of three works credited as a forerunner of Japanese animation films and is the only one that still exists.Is there any first person anime? ›
Like many forms of media, anime can and often does feature shots from the first-person perspective, where it's as though the audience members are looking directly through the eyes of one of the characters.What was the first black anime? ›
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What is the oldest cartoon in the world? ›
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- 8 Yor Forger. ...
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- 3 Power. ...
- 2 Lum. ...
- 1 Nico Robin.
1 Saitama (One Punch Man)
Unlike Goku and other anime heroes — who are often pushed to their absolute limits — Saitama is able to defeat his enemies using a single attack without ever breaking a sweat.
The Big Three was a term used to describe the three most popular running series during their golden age in Jump - One Piece, Naruto and Bleach. All three series got their common title due to their worldwide popularity and length.How old is One Piece? ›
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The longest fight in anime history was the luffy vs Katakuri fight from one piece. The luffy vs Katakuri fight had a total of 21 episodes. While the goku vs Frieza fight had a total of 19 episodes. So therefore the luffy vs Katakuri fight from one piece is the longest fight in anime history.Was anime created because of ww2? ›
World War II intricately links to the origins of anime. Wartime resource restrictions heavily hindered the first full-length anime film, Momotaro: Sacred Sailors (1945), rushing it to release.
Is anime Chinese or Japanese? ›
The Anime Industry's Changes In Production And Distribution : The Indicator from Planet Money Anime is a twenty-billion-dollar industry and it is growing fast. But traditionally, anime is produced in Japan.How was anime born? ›
Modern anime began in 1956 and found lasting success in 1961 with the establishment of Mushi Productions by Osamu Tezuka, a leading figure in modern manga, the dense, novelistic Japanese comic book style that contributed greatly to the aesthetic of anime. Anime such as Miyazaki Hayao's Princess Mononoke (1997) are the ...Why is Japan so into anime? ›
Reasons Why Anime Is Popular In Japan
The storylines and characters are real, and so are their problems. And because of its visual freedom, producers can make these narratives seem larger than life. In the words of a famous anime expert, Takamasa Sakurai: the unique genre is loved due to its unconventional nature.
In Japan, though, animated shows are made for people of all ages, and it's commonplace for people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond to have favorite anime characters and shows. But even though the content is animated, anime can have very adult themes, ranging from serious drama all the way to pornography.