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Anime In-depth: The Early History of Anime (Early 1900's to 1920's)

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The 21st Century has offered us great advances in technology that have been accumulated throughout thousands of years. The same goes with art tracing its roots from several surviving artifacts such as cave drawings and potteries. And now, we are currently enjoying both of these in form if films, photography, etc., and for everyone who is reading this article, of course animé. With boasting popularity worldwide, animé is indeed a one of a kind form if entertainment that throughout several decades have covered almost any genre that you would think. Because of its diversity, it is not surprising that there are audiences above 18 years of age (including me the author himself) who still watch animé. Doesn’t it make you curious how it started? Even decades before Osamu Tezuka? With no further ado, join me on our way back to time and let’s take a peek.

Fun Fact

Did you know that word “animé” is a shortened word for “animēshon”, the Japanese transliteration for animation? From the root word itself, in a broad sense, animé is everything about animation. Hence, we can consider cartoons as animé. But since the former has a distinct art style and wide variety of genre, it is always differentiated to the latter pretty much like how a wolf is different to a dog.

Animé at Early 20th Century

As we all know, with the popularity of photography and advent of cinematography in Europe and after Japan opens its doors after centuries of “self-isolation”, the film was introduced to the Land of the Rising Sun in late 1890’s and flourished on the following decades of the next century. With the eventual creation of motion pictures featuring drawn figures rather than photographs, the West started to produce these, which was then followed by the Asian nation. At that time, theater traditions such as kabuki, noh, and bunraku were still popular, and the new form of motion pictures were viewed as an extension of these.

One of the earliest and speculated to be the oldest surviving Japanese animation circa early 1900’s is Katsudo Shashin (Moving Picture), which featured a boy writing a kanji for Katsudo. Same as the other animations of that time, it was meticulously and patiently drawn on series of strips of film. This method was pioneered in Japan by Oten Shimokawa, a political cartoonist for Tokyo Puck at that time. One of his works is Imokawa Muzuko Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Muzuko Imokawa, 1917). He went on an early retirement after finishing 5 animation shorts and also due to his poor health.

After the hand-drawn motion pictures, the animation that was derived from paper cutouts entered the silver screen. This was started by Junichi Kouichi. He used cutouts laid out on a table which he moved after capturing a minute movement, pretty much like how clay animations were made. His popular work is Namakura Gatana (Dull Sword), which is about a warrior who just got his new sword and wanted to try it out on a villager only to fail.

By 1921, Kitayama Eiga Seisakado was founded by Seitarou Kitayama, the largest name in the animation industry at that time and also the only one who has his own studio compared to his contemporaries. Several of his works were about Japanese folk tales. Two years after founding his studio, the Great Kanto Earthquake hit Japan, destroying several structures. Unfortunately, his studio was badly devastated along with several motion pictures at that time. A year after the tragedy, he left Tokyo and ventured to Osaka for a new start. Later, he abandoned the animation industry and focused on a career shooting news reels.

Stay tune fellow fans and next time, we will take a peek on Japanese animation before and during the Second World War.

See also: Top 10 Anime Characters That Were Ruined By Their Sequels

See also: Best Female Lead Anime on Netflix

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