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Anime: History & Style

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, explore an entertainment phenomenon that started a century ago: anime! Discover its history and the evolution of the techniques used. Also, learn about the main characteristics of anime and some of its genres.

Japanese Anime

Japanese animation, or anime, has become an entertainment phenomenon and is a popular aspect of the Japanese culture. Series like Dragon Ball, Naruto, or Pokemon have become known almost everywhere. Today, most online streaming services feature a vast selection of anime titles.

Anime is usually known for its colorful and singular characters and deep story-lines. It tends to focus on action and intrigue regardless of whether the genre is adventure or sports or even cooking.

The History of Anime

The origins of anime date from 1917, when several Japanese animated short films were produced. The first to be commercialized and publicly released was Dekobo's New Picture Book - Failure of a Great Plan. It was produced by Shimokawa Oten, often regarded as one of the fathers of anime.

Shot of an anime from 1917
Shot of an Anime from 1917

Oten and other producers of the time worked with small crews to create short films, using chalk and boards. They made one drawing for each shot and erased it between camera takes. When played, the shots produced the illusion of movement. These films were accompanied by narrators, who explained the story.

Eventually, producers started using paper cutouts filmed one by one (a technique known as stop-motion). In 1933, Kenzo Masaoka produced the first animated short with audio Within the World of Power and Women; it took over a year to produce.

Screenshot of Within the World of Power and Women
Screenshot of Within the World of Power and Women

The innovations of Masaoka gained anime popularity in Japan, catching the attention of the government, which saw a possibility for delivering propaganda. During World War II, the first black and white full-length anime film was produced, Momotaro, Sacred Sailors. It used anthropomorphic animals and promoted a message of hope.

Screenshot of Momotaro, Sacred Sailors
Screenshot of Momotaro, Sacred Sailors

The first colored anime film was released in Japan in 1958. It arrived in western markets in 1961.

In the 1960's, television popularized anime. A new technique called limited animation allowed for reusing frames and backgrounds, thus reducing costs and production times. The first half hour anime series was created and it was a total success.

During the 1970's and 1980's, techniques and technologies improved and the golden age of anime started. Titles like Heidi, Space Battleship Yamato, Doraemon, and Dragon Ball became popular worldwide. Together with many others, they were the basis for the anime phenomenon both inside and outside Japan.

In recent years, the internet has made access to online content very easy. The numbers of fans outside Japan has grown and the admiration for anime is not limited to watching the shows. Fans often go to conventions to discover the newest trends, collect figures of their favorite characters, and even dress like them for special fans' events.

Style and Characteristics

Anime drawing has improved greatly since the introduction of digital animation techniques and software. There have even been some transitions to 3D drawing. However, the classic drawing style is still present and most anime studios continue to focus on 2D animation.

Anime has a particular style distinguishing it from other types of animation, based on several common characteristics. These include:

Eyes and Facial Expressions

Anime characters often have really big and expressive eyes. The eyes express an outstanding amount of emotions. Eccentric eye colors (pink, violet, apple green) are common in characters with superpowers or who aren't entirely human. However, most ''human'' characters have normal eye colors.

Shadows on the forehead are usually used for showing evil or serious intentions. The use of spirals on the characters' eyes is common for showing dizziness or confusion.

Hair Style

The hair of the characters is a key element in anime. It is usually abundant and often spiky; the character Goku from Dragon Ball is a great example. As with eyes, hair colors are extravagant; blue, green, or silver hair is completely normal among the characters.

Goku, one of the main characters in Dragon Ball
Goku

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