History of Anime

They said that Japanese anime history can find its roots from old manga films such as "Norakuro" and "Dankichi" from the early 1930s.

In 1942, a man named Seo Mitsuo saw Disney's "Fantasia" and was astonished how great this American motion picture animation was. He wished he could do something like that for Japan. In 1942, he released Japan's first motion picture anime, "Momotaro no Umiwashi." It became an instantaneous hit in wartime Japan.

The tragedy begins when the Japanese Naval Department saw this massive hit to be utilized to make propaganda. Of course, during this time, Japan was at war with the United States.

The Japanese Military went up to director Seo Mitsuo and dropped 270,000 yen (approximately $4 million in 1940s rate) in order to make a propaganda anime. However, tons of cash can only go so far when there are not enough supplies. Film rolls and development inks were scarce (priorities went to military news coverage). Animators who worked on this anime were being drafted into the now-apparently losing war. As the anime was in the final stages, it was evident that Japan was losing as the Americans made the island hopping advancements.

"Momotaro no Shinpei" was released in Osaka on April 1945. If you ever get to see this anime, you will be surprised how such a great quality anime was made, even for 1940s standards, on black-and-white film, at a time of scarcity and wartime crisis. To give a run-down: "A legendary Japanese hero named Momotaro leads the Japanese naval squadron against American ships - which are commandeered by Popeye (he is a sailor), Mickey Mouse, and Betty Boop."

Japanese animation (anime) is an entire film industry, and the UK only sees a tiny fraction of it. Kicked off by the five-minute Mukuzo Imokawa the Doorman in 1917, the industry was a mix of funny-animal cartoons and military propaganda by the 1930s, best illustrated by Black Cat Banzai (1933), in which Japanese toys defeat an evil Mickey Mouse.

Unfortunately, this was not the time for people to be watching anime. B-29 Superfortresses bombers were blanketing Japanese cities after cities with gasoline and bombs, more and more men were being conscripted to death squads, with women and children fleeing areas for survival.

Director Seo saw no hope and was on the verge to commit suicide. However, he received a single fan letter from a high school student who wrote: "I was much amazed by the quality of your work! I wish I can become and create something like this one day!!" He lived on.

War ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 1945. The movie was taken away by the Allied Occupation forces as "propaganda films." However, the Allied Forces saw his work and saw Mr. Seo as a very great animator. He continued then was given a job to make - propaganda films supporting Allied Occupation.

Flash forward to 1964. Mr. Seo, was in retirement. All he wanted to do was make something great as "Fantasia." He ended up making propaganda films - for the Japanese forces during the war, and for the Allied forces during the Occupation period. He had all but given up hope of making anymore anime.

One day, however, he was watching TV in his living room. There was a new "moving manga" to be appeared on TV for the first time. A national broadcast was interviewing the creator.

Interviewer: "Why did you decide to create animation?"
Animator: "Well, back when I was in high school, I saw this beautiful animation called 'Momotaro no Shinpei,' and I said to myself 'I wish I could make something like this someday' " "I sent the director a letter about my thoughts - I wonder if he read it."

As Mr. Seo's began recalling his memory, he scrounged through his piles of materials to find that letter. As he was searching for it, the TV show went into a commercial: "Stay tuned for the new program = "Tetsuwan Atom" (Astro Boy) coming up next."

Mr. Seo found the letter. It read simply:

"Dear sir, your animation was very great! I would like to become an animator and create something as beautiful as this after the war ends.

Yours truly,

Osaka City Number 2 High School - Tezuka Osamu."

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