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Anime: Precursors and Technology

• An anime screening event “How Far We’ve Come-How Technology is Changing Anime” took place on February 20 at the Japan Information Center, the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago. Professor Elizabeth Lillehoj at DePaul University spoke about the evolution and development of Japanese anime, and then three anime films were screened. They were NEGADON: The Monster from Mars, Kakurenbo, and SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next.

• According to Professor Lillehoj, about 700 small companies in Japan have worked in anime-related production. Today, more than half of films and TV programs produced in Japan is anime ranging from popular TV cartoons for children to critically-acclaimed art films for adults.

Precursors of Anime

• How far can we trace back the history of anime and manga?
• The works of precursors of anime and manga can be seen in handscroll paintings, which are called “e-maki” in Japanese. Detailed animal caricatures were drawn and painted in handscrolls in Heian period (the 11th century to 12th century). The animals were depicted with a sense of humor, and some people see them as political satires. There would be deep meanings in them.

• Handscrolls were perfect mutual development of texts and images in Japanese tradition. Some examples are “Twelve Creatures” in 15th century, “A Tale of Rats” in 16th century, and “Tsukumogami” in 15th century. Tsukumogami is the spirits of things like tools and utensils. It was a common belief in the Middle Ages that spirits dwelled in the things when they were used over the years. The handscroll “Tsukumogami” depicts the spirits in the form of strange creatures who get angry when they are discarded by the owners and haunt the human community at night.
• Tsukumogami in a handscroll has inspired recent manga and anime artists. “Pom Poko” directed by Isao Takahata in 1994 is a good example.

• Another precursor to manga and anime tradition is prints or ukiyo-e.
• Hokusai manga in early 19th century is famous. Hokusai brought together the strange, weird, funny images with minimal texts. His works sometimes took the form of a book, and his books were seen in 19 libraries and many people could enjoy them. Manga circulation became larger.

Hand-drawing anime

• In 1963, a TV anime series “Tetsuwan Atom” was released by Osamu Tezuka for the first time. A few years later, it was exported to the U.S. as “Astro Boy.” It opened the modern anime era.
• Tezuka’s production company, Mushi, used hand-drawn graphics, but not “full animation” that was 24 frames per second.
• The Japanese anime characteristics were: jerky movements, reductive facial expressions, exaggerated gestures, explicit ventriloquism, and a minimalist aesthetic resulting from a need to conserve labor and spend as little as possible.

• 1984, Hayao Miyazaki released “Nausicca.” It was matte-paintings and cell-drawings which are called “old-fashioned” today.
• Japanese anime characteristics in the era were: contemplative mood and philosophical depth, with characters that are complex and 3-dimensional; stories related to the conflicts and confusions of life with an emphasis on transformation; and appealing to fans in an increasingly transnational world.

CGI (computer generated images)

• CGI has revolutionized animation, movies, advertising, video games, and graphic design generally. Pictures and movies are created with image data using graphical hardware and software.
• In 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo integrated a minimal amount of CGI in his anime “Akira.”

• CGI was employed in “Princess Mononoke” by Miyazaki in 1997, but for only five minutes in the film. The anime film was made by mostly hand-drawn, and CGI was designed to blend in with traditional cel animation.

• With Tezuka nostalgia, Daisuke Suzuki, anima director at Sanzigen Inc. has expressed his thoughts as “The tenderness and warmth of hand-drawn art cannot be conveyed with mechanical movements generated by computer.”

• NEGADON: The Monster from Mars, which was screened at the event, was the first completely computer generated kaiju movie in the world. There is no creature or monster costume. It was produced and directed by Jun Awazu with support of Comix Wave Inc.
• The production took more than two years and required the creation of a special program to reproduce the look of films from the 1950s and 1960s, the golden age of kaiju films. NEGADON was released in 2005.

Cel-shaded CGI

• In Cel-shaded CGI, an anime is modeled, designed and photographed in 3D. Then filters are added to the characters to make them appear to be 2D line art, hand-drawn quality. After filtering, lighting effect, filters, grain, and other techniques are applied to make the fake-2D rendered anime. It is indistinguishable from genuine, hand-drawn anime.

• “Kakurenbo”, which was screened in the event, was created by cel-shaded CGI. It was written and directed by Shuhei Morita and released in 2004.
• Kakurenbo means Hide and Seek. All children participating in kakurenbo are wearing fox masks and enter a game of Otokoyo (Man Hunt) in the ruins of an abandoned old city. The children disappear one by one during the game.

Simulated cel-animation (fully 3D CGI)

• Simulated cel-animation is fully 3D CGI. “SOS! Tokyo Metro Explorers: The Next”, which was screened at the event, was produced by this technique. The film was based on a manga “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo and directed by Shinji Takagi. It was released in 2007.
• A boy in Tokyo finds his father’s old school notebook, which details a search for a treasure in a network of underground passages. The boy and friends set out on a quest to find the treasure and find an entire underground community.

Professor Elizabeth Lillehoj at DePaul University