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Origins of the Anime! Look at these Japanese animations from 1917-1936

Although Japanese animation (aka ANIME) may be full of cute maids, giant mechs, reincarnation in another world, as well as demon lords, it is filled with thrilling twists and creativity that is not found in any other animation. The form has produced unique masterpieces, including Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. It has also spawned almost everything Studio Ghibli ever did.



The history of anime is much longer than you might think. The older days of animation were the push that gave birth to the furious modern animation. Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword) is the oldest known example of Japanese animation. However, many of the original animated movies were destroyed in the wake of the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo. Animation from this period, like much of Japan’s cultural output during the 20th century, shows artists trying to combine traditional stories and motifs into a modern form.


Oira no Yaku, or “Our Baseball Game” from 1931, shows two rabbits facing off against raccoon dogs (tanukis) in a game. This is a simple, slapstick comedy that’s told with clear lines. Although rabbits and tanukis have been a mainstay of Japanese folklore for centuries, they play a new sport introduced in Japan in the 1870s. Beshi were used a lot during this era of silent movies, which used to narrate the film standing aside from the movie screen. In the past, the benshi was the center of attraction for people rather than the movie. Akira Kurosawa’s older brother was a well-known benshi, who committed suicide, similar to many other despondent benshis, as his job was obsolete after sound cinema came round.


There’s also this 1929 Japanese folktale called “Kobu-tori” which is about a guy with an unusual lump on his jaw and issurrounded by magical creatures. He discovers that not everyone is happy when he removes the lump.

Ugokie Kori no Tatehiki (1931) is another example of an early anime. It tells the story of a fox that disguises himself as a samurai and then spends the night at an abandoned temple inhabited by a group of tanukis. This movie showcases all the fantastic grotesqueries and folklore of Japanese folklore in a manner reminiscent of Max Fleisher or Otto Messmer.

This peculiar piece of animation is anti-American propaganda from 1936. It shows a Mickey mouse look-alike commanding planes and bombing an island with Felix the Cat and a host of cartoon characters. They seem lost until figures from Japanese legend and history rescue them. Japan claimed that it was liberating Asia from Western colonialism during its descent into militarism and invasion of Asia. The short proves precisely this in a strange and queasy way. Many in Korea and China who suffered the brunt from Japanese imperialism would strongly disagree with this version of events.

 

Also read about Japanese Artist who has been turning cats into Anime Girls

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