Weekly Heibon Punch magazine, September 19, 1977


Riding on the Space Battleship Yamato, the “Anime Generation” is fantasizing…

The winds are blowing! A blockbuster production Phoenix is also in preparation…

This summer, the big-scale anime Space Battleship Yamato has been the dominant force in the Japanese movie industry. Movie theaters were swamped with a tsunami of viewers. This is sure to be the start of many more anime blockbusters to appear on TV and on the screen.

But this is not a temporary boom. The anime era is already here. Yamato is just a prelude.

No one could have predicted that Space Battleship Yamato would be such a hit. Not the film industry, not the press, not even the producers.

Yukio Shiraishi (Major Enterprise), who was in charge of the film’s publicity, recalls, “The media called us to inquire about the film, and as soon as we answered that it was animated, the call was cut off with a click. I was very worried because this happened a lot.”

The adults must have thought, “What is it, a cartoon?”

However, on the opening day of August 6, movie theaters had to start running the film from 6:00 in the morning, even earlier than radio gymnastics. All-night crowds had lined up around the theaters. The number of theaters in Tokyo doubled from four to eight. By the end of August, the film had attracted 300,000 people and grossed 310 million yen. Osaka and Nagoya were also packed every day. It is expected to eventually attract one million people.

Fans aim for studios

Is it because of the record-breaking rainfall that stopped people from going to the beach and the mountains? No, no, no. Yamato was not a big hit because of a fluke. It’s because it is “anime.” The proof is that during the same period, other movie theaters were completely normal.

And anime’s popularity is not limited to Yamato. The first “Manga Festival” was held on the 6th floor of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Shinjuku for six days from August 16. Nine TVs at the venue broadcast Star of the Giants, Gegege no Kitaro, and other works. Of course, the festival was a great success, with a full house every day. Among the crowd was a girl who came from Osaka by bullet train.

“I saved money from my part-time job and came to Tokyo on an anime tour.”
(Takako Morioka, Amagasaki Higashi High School sophomore)

She didn’t only stop at the Shinjuku Mitsukoshi. During the 5 days and 4 nights, she visited Tokyo movie, Tatsunoko Pro, OH Pro, and many other anime studios. [Translator’s note: “Pro” in a studio name is short for “Productions.”]

Noriko Kondo, a freshman at Kitayodo High School, is a regular attendee at anime screenings in the Kansai region. She now organizes an anime fan club called “Mysterious Star Mira” with her friends.

They didn’t pick up the usual Tokyo souvenirs. What they showed me was a cel painting (a frame of animation with characters and backgrounds drawn on a transparent vinyl sheet). For anime fans all over Japan, cels are a treasure. It is a source of pride to know how many cel drawings of popular characters you have. Cels that have already been photographed are discarded. Now they are in circulation as a commodity, priced at around 500 yen apiece. A full-size Yamato cel with a background fetches as much as 10,000 yen.

“I call myself cel crazy. After all, if you’re careless you might lose a cel by the end of the shoot.”
(OH Pro animator Takashi Namiki)

There is more to come. On August 24th and 25th, a little-known anime stampede occurred at a place other than a theater featuring Space Battleship Yamato. This event was the Toei Anime Fan Club event held at the Zen Dentsu Hall. Two films were screened, including The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun. Four showings were scheduled over two days. Even so, the audience overflowed outside the hall, and it became necessary to limit the number of people who could enter. The audience was so large that some people could have been injured if admission was not restricted.

This is no longer a temporary boom. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the “anime era” of the “anime generation” has arrived.

Captions, L to R: Hand-drawing frames one by one; anime takes a lot of time (Sanrio Film)
Animation movie party (at the Shinjuku Mitsukoshi department store)
Ms. Morioka and Ms. Kondo, who came all the way from Osaka to visit anime studios in Tokyo

The appeal of characters that transcends reality

So what exactly is the appeal of anime? Let’s try asking that question again.

“For women, it’s probably the characters of the work,” says Asako Higita, a first-year student at Tokyo Jogakkan University.

She divides TV anime fans into three groups: the Yamato group, the Triton of the Sea group, and the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman group.

“Triton represents the Roman group that is crazy about a single character. The action-oriented group that is attracted to an ensemble is Yamato. Gatchaman is more of a humanistic group.”

Ryo Katagiri, a first-year student at Tokyo Designer Gakuin, and vice president of Space Battleship Yamato Fan Club II, also confirms this character theory. He added, “The fun of overlapping the world of the story with the world of reality is one of the appeals of anime. In the application letters to join our club, there is always a portrait of someone in a Yamato costume, trying to make their dream of being a crew member a reality. I’ve tried it myself, and it’s exciting and fun!”

Some of them have gone so far as to actually start working on their own anime. Akari Yoshida (age 20), a professional manga artist, is currently working on her own 8mm film, Giant Spaceship Alphard. However, characters are the biggest problem in the process.

“It’s great to have 40 high school girls helping me draw the film,” she laughs bitterly, “but it’s not so great to have a hero who is so handsome. They all say, ‘Let me draw him,’ but they don’t give the lead villain a second glance. The result is that the unpopular characters are left to me. I’ll be the only one doing everything on my own until the end.”

The characters in anime have expressions and voices. They seem to have captured the hearts and minds of fans even more than the main characters in manga.

New trip material

On the other hand, there is also a group that is not moved by TV anime or characters, but is devoted to the creation of anime on a daily basis. The “Seikei University Animation Research Group” is one such group. They have about 40 members, and the quality of their passion is a little different from that of ordinary anime fans.

“I think the appeal of anime lies in the fact that it ignores the real world. It is not interesting to move something that’s been completed as a newspaper manga, like Sazae-san. You have to stimulate the imagination of the viewers.”
(Shunikun Yamazaki, 4th year student at the Faculty of Economics)

Noriko Kondo, a high school girl from Osaka, is not obsessed with individual characters. She says, “I have a friend who says I look foolish for being so absorbed in manga movies. It’s disappointing. The original meaning of ‘animation’ is to breathe life into something. It’s the pictures that are infused with life that appeal to us and show us a different world.”

The non-character faction talks about the appeal of anime, which can be summed up in the following words: “It stimulates the imagination and opens the mind to other worlds.”

Kosei Ono, a critic well-versed in the world of American comic books, also commented that, “That’s the essence of anime.” He analyzes the background of the anime boom as fantasy-oriented.

“In short, the present age is the age of fantasy. This is a global phenomenon, but in times of low growth, realistic change becomes extremely difficult. So people turn to fantasy. It is not surprising that the world of animation, which allows for all kinds of transformations, is gaining popularity.”

If the “gekiga [drama] generation” is a generation of grudges, the “anime generation” is a generation of fantasy. Come to think of it, one of the works regarded as a “fantastic masterpiece” by young anime fans is Disney’s Fantasia. It is a visual representation of classical music. Today’s young people are picky about sound and color. Animation may be the perfect new medicine for them.

What are the roots of animation?

A moving picture has been the dream of mankind for a long time.

A 30,000 year old painting of a wild boar in the Altamira Cave (Spain) depicts a number of legs. Even today, the feet of Yasuji Tanioka’s main character and the spinning kiseru of Akamichi Aota are used in painting. This is a very historical technique. In the 17th century, it was discovered that by quickly flipping through several successive motion pictures, they appeared to be in motion. This is called the afterimage effect.

However, full-scale animation did not appear until the 20th century. It was in 1908 that Emile Cohl of France created the first animated film by shooting 2,000 pictures in succession. It was only two minutes long, and the art was poor.

In 1915, Japan imported a mysterious film of moving pictures and released it under the title of Dekubou no Shin-Gaicho (Dekubou’s New Picture Book). Imitators immediately began to create anime [see a 1917 imitation here]. Ten years later, instead of drawing pictures one by one on paper, only the necessary backgrounds and figures were drawn on celluloid. A new method was invented to move them. This method, which is the prototype of today’s cel drawings, greatly increased the speed of anime production.

[Translator’s note: read more about the beginning of anime in Japan here.]

In 1928, animation god Walt Disney appeared in Hollywood with Mickey Mouse. Snow White (1937) was followed by Pinocchio in 1940, and Bambi in 1942. Animation stars were born one after another, creating the heyday of Disney cartoons.

At the same time in Japan, Fuku-chan’s Submarine and Momotaro, The Divine Soldier of the Sea were being produced as national propaganda anime. Of course, these works were nothing special, and the first full-fledged anime to be produced was Toei Doga’s The White Snake in 1958. In 1961, Osamu Tezuka, the “Disney of Japan,” established Mushi Pro, which released Mighty Atom, Jungle Emperor, and many other works. Anime became an integral part of daily life through TV.

As of the end of August 1977, there were 24 animation programs on TV every month. It has flourished to such an extent, it’s hard to believe that just few years ago, it was said that “the limit is 13 shows a month.” New TV programs were added in the fall of this year, including New Star of the Giants (NTV), Homerun Kanta (NTV), and I Am Teppei (Fuji). With these additions and more, 30 anime works will be aired every month.

This was just a brief history. We hope that Japanese anime, whose technology is considered to be one of the best in the world, will not be limited to scattered productions on TV.

Captions, L to R: Akari Yoshida + Superhuman Akira project team
Members of the Seikei University anime study group with their own drawings

A flood of blockbuster anime

The anime boom among young people is heating up, and the commercial TV industry is reacting sensitively. Finally, even NHK, which has been slow to respond, is making a move.

“There have been many requests for anime in the children’s drama time slot at 6:05 p.m., but due to facilities and equipment limitations, we’ve been unable to do it. But things are changing.”
(Takashi Nakayama, head of NHK’s Youth Programming Department)

Although it has not been made public, the rumor is that Touhou Memoirs [The Adventures of Marco Polo] is a strong candidate for production next spring.

In the ambitious commercial TV industry, a new type of “3D anime” is scheduled to appear on Japan TV from October 2. The work is Nobody’s Boy Remi, and if you watch this program wearing glasses covered with black celluloid, you will be able to see images that appear to jump out of the screen. (The glasses will be distributed as a supplement in magazines.)

However, the decisive factor in the arrival of the anime era will be the theatrical debut of two major productions, Phoenix and Metamorphoses.

Phoenix is a film by Osamu Tezuka, the father of the Japanese anime industry. The director is Kon Ichikawa, the screenplay is by Shuntaro Tanikawa, and the music is by Isao Tomita. The first part of the film, “Dawn” alone is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and was shot using the “animentary method,” which combines live-action and animation. The film will be Tezuka’s grandiose view of history, combining the conflict between the Yamatai nation and Kumaso with the theme of the reincarnation and transmigration of Phoenix, the firebird. The film is scheduled to be released in the fall of next year (Toho).

Around the same time, a 70mm anime Metamorphoses will also be completed on a ridiculously large scale. This work is planned and produced by Sanrio Corporation, which has grown rapidly with the Snoopy character products. The production cost was 8 million dollars (2.4 billion yen). That’s a huge difference. The film is being produced in America, and the musicians used in the production are Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, and The Pointer Sisters. Half of the animators are foreigners, all veterans of Disney. A Japanese animator studied abroad in America for a year for this production, and supposedly drew about 120,000 pictures for the one-and-a-half hour film.

“It consists of five stories taken from Greek mythology, which is the root of drama, and rock music, which is the rhythm of the 20th century. We’re trying to connect them with a handmade anime.”
(Tsunemasa Hatano, Sanrio Film producer)

This is truly a blockbuster anime. For those who still think “it’s just a cartoon,” you have no idea how long you’ve been behind the curve.

Back to Vintage Report 7

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