Roots of Japan

Manga / Anime

Japanese manga and anime are popular both inside and outside of Japan.Some of these works are sold in over 40 countries worldwide. Today let's talk about Japanese manga and anime.

How far back does Japanese manga go?

Japan's oldest manga, meaning “comical picture”, is said to be “Emakimono” or illustrated scrolls called “Choju Jinbutsu” (caricatures of frolicking birds, animals and humans), which were painted back in the 12th and 13th centuries. Other “Emakimono” of this era include similar elements to what we see in modern manga, for example “fukidashi” or speech bubbles that contain the speech of the main character.

“Manpu”, the sweat, tears and veins etc. that represent the emotions of the characters, appear in “Hokusai Manga” by Hokusai Katsushika, first published in the early 19th century. Originally written as an art manual for his pupils, it may be misleading to call it “manga”. However, it was very popular and made quite an impact in Europe.

In 1862, Japan's first comic magazine “Japan Punch”, was published in English by Englishman Charles Wirgman. This marks the starting point for the appearance of various magazines. Many of the leading manga artists of this period were also former Ukiyoe artists.

The use of panel layouts and speech bubbles start to take hold by 1932. New techniques started to appear, such as converting what had been drawn up to that point with brushes to pens, and a uniquely Japanese style of “Gag Manga”, or comedy manga, was created. Comics from children's magazines were being serialized and published in book form. However, as these were too expensive for children to buy, “Kamishibai”, a form of storytelling using cards / boards became the center of attention instead.

In the 1950's, rental comics, which were at the center of children's culture alongside “Kamishibai”, became popular. Artists would make a name for themselves by creating a single manga by hand and selling it to a rental bookstore. Shigeru Mizuki, creator of “GeGeGe no Kitaro” etc. was one of these people.
The children who loved manga grew up and interaction between professional and amateur artists continued to flourish.

However, at the same time manga was becoming widespread, a movement to suppress evil or undesirable books was also underway.In 1955 when the movement reached its peak, manga including Osamu Tezuka's “Tetsuwan Atom”, or “Astro Boy”, were collected and burned in school grounds.

Later, in 1959, weekly comic magazines for children were launched, such as the “Weekly Shonen Magazine” and “Weekly Shonen Sunday”. These also were too expensive for children to buy with their pocket money. Sales in the now fully developed Japanese manga industry reached their peak in 1995 and “disposable manga” was recognized as a part of manga culture.

So, when did the broadcasting of anime begin?

In 1917, “Dekobō Shingachō: Imosukei no Shishigari no Maki”, produced and released by a company called “Tennenshoku Katsudō Shashin”, is regarded as Japan's first animation. It's no exaggeration to say that director, screenwriter and producer Hekoten Shimokawa, from Miyakojima in Okinawa prefecture, was the founder of Japanese Anime. Cutout animation was mainly used until cel animation was introduced around 1930.

TV Animation started in 1953, when one-off animations ran for a few minutes within a segment of a program. Osamu Tezuka's “Astro Boy”, which was also a part of manga history, became the first real animated television series in 1963. These were arranged in the current broadcasting style of 30-minute weekly shows, and in the following year he also produced “Mighty Atom, the Brave in Space”, Japan's first feature-length animated movie adapted from TV. The first full-color television anime was Osamu Tezuka's “Kimba the White Lion”, produced in 1965. This was based on American television broadcasting. Theatrical productions were already being made in color but as color televisions were not yet in widespread use, most programs were in black and white.

In the latter half of the 1990's, cel animation was discontinued. Previously, drawings which had been transferred on to a transparent sheet called a cel (short for celluloid) were colored by hand. Appropriately, this style was called “cel animation”. These were shot by changing and replacing the cels in sequence but it required skill and a tremendous amount of hard work.

However, with cel animation being discontinued, original hand drawings were imported into computers and subsequent stages were done by computer. The number of colors increased dramatically from 80 to 16 million. By 2013, cel animation was virtually extinct.

Today, there are collectors of animation cels around the world, and some of them sell for remarkably high prices. The works of Ghibli are especially popular!

So why did anime / manga become popular overseas?

1/ A perception gap regarding manga / anime
In Japan it's not only children but also adults who read, watch and enjoy Anime! Overseas, however, both manga and anime are seen as something to be enjoyed by children.

2/ A wide range of genres
There is really no limit to the number of genres in Japanese manga / anime. Love, school / youth, science fiction, robots, fantasy, history, culture etc... too many to write all of them! This makes it possible for a wide variety of readers to be entertained without growing bored.

3/ Exquisite drawings in a uniquely Japanese style
Landscapes and skies were beautifully illustrated in the 2016 box office hit “Your Name”. Really, it's the way color and nature are drawn and the method of expression that is so exquisite in each work by director Makoto Shinkai. There are many other exquisite drawings that are not well known overseas so look out for them!

There are many more reasons besides the three we mentioned. The interpretation changes depending on the impression of the reader. There are probably many who say “I hate this work, but I love that one!”. Because even within the same genre, the drawings and storyline can be completely different!

What are the economic benefits of manga / anime?

Comic Market”, commonly shortened to Comiket, is an “otaku”, or geek, fair held twice a year in summer and winter. The first event was in 1975 and 700 people attended. By 2013, up to 590,000 people were recorded attending. This had an economic benefit of 18 billion yen! Comiket is an exhibition and sales event but recently you'll not only find those selling “Dōjinshi”, or self-published works, but also anime production companies and manufacturers who set up booths and sell related merchandise. People line up for hours for this. In neighboring convenience stores “Onigiri” (rice balls) and “Ocha” (green tea) fly off the shelves. Nearby cafes and hotels are filled with guests. You can see the huge economic benefits of this event!

This is how the Manga / Anime industry has a significant impact on Japan. We often see foreign tourist in Akihabara. There are so many people who enjoy anime / manga and we are grateful to these overseas readers and viewers.

Some people haven't seen any yet, while others really like it.
How about taking this chance to have a look at some manga / anime?

It is my opinion and summary. Please acknowledge that there are various opinions.