Hey, Answerman! The Tryptophan Coma

by Brian Hanson, Nov 27th 2009

Welcome back, everyone!

Initially I wasn't sure I wanted to spend one of my very few honest-to-God "Holidays" writing an Answerman column, but then I checked my mailbox a few days ago and found this charming and earnest little question:


Hi,

I'm a high school student who is researching anime (beginning-1995) for my Asian American Studies class. I read on the Anime Central website that it was started a while ago. Therefore, I'm wondering if you could provide some insight about the following questions to further my research because I'm hoping you've learned a lot about anime over the years. I appreciate any information you share.

1. When anime first originated, what techniques and materials did artists use to create anime? Were these materials hard to find and expensive? Where did these materials come from, and why were these materials chosen?

2. Why was anime originally created? What was its purpose and symbolism?

3. What is the symbolism in Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon? Is there a specific purpose and symbolism for anime series like these 4 that mainly have targeted younger children?

I just felt like I *had* to answer this. Too often we, as fans, get so caught up in the minutiae of "fandom" and the brouhaha surrounding it that it's easy to lose sight of what it is that we actually love and enjoy about this stuff. It's so nice to answer a good and solid, albeit open-ended, question about anime itself.

So, I'm going to forgo the usual Flake of the Week and hold off on anything Answerfans related until next week when I'm sure more people will have time to actually respond, and answer this nice little trifecta of anime questions.

First of all, I'd like to recommend to anybody who's even casually interested in the very early decades of "anime" that they should check out, in all seriousness, The Anime Encyclopedia. They have a very well-researched history of the tumultuous beginnings of Japanese animation from the dawn of the 20th century through the post-World War II era.

Now, since precisely "when" anime first originated is up for debate, considering that much of Japan's earliest experiments in the field have not survived the numerous earthquakes, wars, and natural disasters that ravaged the country over the years. Besides that, applying the term "anime" to those early experiments seems a little disingenuous. "Anime" refers to a very specific style and approach to animation that has gentrified since the late 1950's and early 1960's, and those early forms of Japanese animation were largely produced by curious individual artists using a variety of early (and fascinating) techniques, from simple paper cut-outs, 3D stop-motion, blackboard drawings, to simply etching characters onto the film itself.

It wasn't really until Osamu Tezuka almost single-handedly created the manga boom in the 50's and 60's that "anime" really start to solidify into something recognizably similar to what we all consider to be true to the form. By then, animation from across the world but specifically the United States had been imported to Japan and had a considerable impact. Tezuka and other artists who had since been developing their own techniques and disciplines to animation independent of the Western world finally banded together and created the first large-scale animation studios; Toei Animation, and later, Mushi Productions.

As far as techniques and materials are concerned, both of those studios used methods that, by and large, are still utilized today. The technology involved has changed, obviously, but the core concepts and models are largely similar. A team of artists and writers would collaborate on the storyboard for a film or TV episode or theatrical short or whatever, those storyboards would be sent to the animation department to be fully animated, inked, and colored, and those drawings would then be transferred to film and later mixed and edited in post-production. The materials they required were just the same as any professional animation studio around the globe at that time; paper, pencils, camera equipment, and lots and lots of man hours. None of those materials were hard to find and, aside from the camera equipment, not particularly expensive. They were chosen because, simply, that's what they knew the standard was for animation studios in other parts of the world.

So... "why" was anime created? Good question. No idea. "Anime" was not created by any one specific person, so the question of "why" is impossible to answer. I mean, you can ask why any specific anime was created. Although usually the answer to that is kind of depressing, when you think about it.

"This anime was created to sell toys to stupid children!"

"This anime was created to capitalize on the success of something similar!"

"This anime was created to cause sexual arousal for lonely nerds!"

And so on. Same goes for any "symbolism," perceived or otherwise. I know it sounds cliche to say that it was a "simpler time," but it really was. The artists in the early days of anime were a group of young and eager students, roughly experimenting at their craft as they went along - unsuccessfully much of the time, of course. "Symbolism" wasn't exactly on their list of elements that needed to be worked on; they were much more concerned with the essentials of story, filmmaking, and movement.

And finally, symbolism in Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon. Hm.

I'd say that Astro Boy symbolizes the age-old conceit of artificial creations and the capacity for having a "soul" - a philosophical concept going back to creatures like golemns, homonculi, and Pinnochio. Speed Racer symbolizes pure adolescent fantasy, and how the consequences of an unrestrained id can drive us further and further into madness. Dragon Ball symbolizes several concepts put forth by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, with it's portrayal of the afterlife and numerous reincarnations that are a visualization of Ponty's theory of anticognitivist cognitive science, in the corporeal sense. And Sailor Moon is pure Chomsky, no doubt about it.

Alright then, everyone! Have a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend and I'll see you all next week!


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