Anime: What We've Seen - Part I

Posted by Ashley Sturgis on


I would like to thank Matt Doyle for contributing to the site. Please check him out at the link below. 

Anime has been an intrinsic part of Japanese culture for some time now, and though we never knew it at the time, it actually made its way to West early on in its lifecycle. In fact, Gigantor – known in Japan as Tetsujin 28-Go – was actually dubbed for Western audiences in 1963. In the years that followed, shows like Ulysses 31 came across too, though they weren’t marketed as dubs of Japanese titles.

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Broadly speaking, much of what we’ve been able to see in the West has been primarily guided by trends in Japan. At least up until more recent times. This has meant that anime in the US market has grown alongside Japan, and only shown divergence in preferences over the last ten years or so. To demonstrate this, I’m using a mix of the ‘anime released by year’ video by medokady over on reddit and Wikipedia’s page on anime distributed in the USA. Obviously, there are some differences between this and my native UK, but without a handy reference to hand, it made sense to focus on the larger US market.

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So, the anime industry started back in the 1940s, but it really kicked off internationally in the 1960s. As such, we’re going to start in 1963 with the aforementioned Gigantor and move forward from there. Between 1963 and 1969, a total of 195 anime were produced across various studios. This may sound like a small number compared to today, but given how new a medium it was, it’s important to not only consider technological advances, but also to pay attention to the growth displayed over the years. To that end, in 1963, a total of 19 anime were produced, whereas in 1969, this grew to a total of 34 being created. In the same way, the 1970s saw even more growth in the industry, with 482 anime being produced in total. This ranged from 45 being produced in 1970 to 79 in 1979, albeit with a brief dip in production numbers in 1972 and 1973.

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It’s clear from the video that while the different genres of shows did jump about a bit in terms of what was being made, two remained consistent popular: kids shows and adventure shows. This broadly plays out in the USA too, with the 60s primarily seeing shows like Astro Boy and Speed RacerMighty Atom and Mach GoGoGo in Japan – gaining popularity. While the 70s saw some adult titles like A Thousand and One Nights  and Cleopatra: Queen of Sex make it overseas, the focus was more on films like Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo and the series Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato).

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Those last two titles in particular are interesting as the science fiction setting for each was a sign of changing times in terms of perception. Anime was no longer an almost entirely child orientated market, and broader themes were beginning to creep in. This increased target demographic meant more growth for the industry, with 1980s 83 produced titles rising to 188 in 1989, and a total of 1,257 series created. While kids shows still remained strong, this was the age of sci-fi and action based titles.

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As such, the USA saw a massive increase in the variety shows being brought over. For every Kiki’s Delivery Service or Sherlock Hound, there was an Akira or a Bubblegum Crisis. For every Ulysses 31 or Astro Boy, there was a Dragon Ball or a Fist of the North Star. Though anime didn’t really become mainstream until the 1990s, I suspect that a lot of the material that we recognize is from this era. In fact, films like Akira and the Fist of the North Star OVA I believe were viewed as 90s anime in the UK due to the release schedule.

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Come this mainstream era though, while science fiction remained strong, comedy, action and adventure were primarily jockeying over the title of most produced genre. As such, while titles like Ghost in the Shell, Dominion Tank Police and Patlabor have sizable followings, we were beginning to see more releases like Ranma ½ and The Castle of Cagliostro appearing, along with shows that mixed genres like Tenchi Muyo!

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At the same time though, a lot of the trends that rose up in the 1980s remained strong. Violent titles like Ninja Scroll and Berserk were easily a match for Fist of the North Star, for example. It was perhaps this diversity in releases that led to so many different titles being released overseas though. And boy was there a lot to choose from! With 2,045 anime produced across the era, topping out at 246 in 1999, there was more content than ever to consume, and in turn, more choice for overseas licensors.

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Stay tuned for Part II of Matt Doyle's history of anime.

 I’d be interested to know what you all think on the subject. Do you think there is now a major difference between viewing habits in Japan and the USA? What do you think will be the primarily produced genre in the 2020s? Let me know in the comments below. And if you want to read more of my pop culture musings, feel free to stop by where I run reviews on all sorts of things, spotlights on diverse books, and promote my sci-fi novels

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