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Anime (アニメ) is the Japanese word for animation. The term is used in Japan to refer to all animated cartoons. Though throughout the rest of the world, the word is used to refer to the specific Japanese-style animated cartoon that has some unique characteristics. Big eyes, small mouth, and eccentric colored hair amongst others. Almost always, the anime series will be based on manga of the same name. However, it is worth noting that styles usually vary greatly, however this isn't seen as much in foreign (mainly western) markets. There are quite a few anime and manga that break the "style:" Blade of the Immortal, Kenji, and Lone Wolf and Cub are a few.
Anime has a reputation of being either violent or perverted (or both), but in fact, it ranges from perfectly innocent sunday-morning cartoons like Pokemon and Hamtaro to full-on porn (referred to as hentai in the west, which is Japanese for pervert) like Kite and La Blue Girl.
Likewise, there are several subgenres that fall in between, and there are often several titles that mix them together. For example, you can take a typical romance story and add robots, or a war story and add gothic overtones, or, if you absolutely must, take something as simple as collecting cards and match it with tentacle demons. Unlike manga, however, the more mundane stories like office manga rarely make it to the small screen.
The first anime is reported to be in 1918, called Momotaro. But, while the animation industry in Japan grew slowly in that time before the World War II, the rest of the world saw the boom of Western animation, with Disney Studios leading the pack.
The father of both anime and manga is Tezuka Osamu. His first works as manga-ka were created in 1947 just after the war, and in just a few years, he would become the leading figure in anime, even earning the title "God of anime". Tezuka was the first to write novel-length stories with dramatic structures that rivalled movies and books. He was the first to stretch important events over several pages to emphasise their drama. He told stories in a cinematic way, inspired by movies from Germany and France.
For anime and manga fans, he was pretty much the inventor of the typical anime/manga style that we associate with the words now. For his stories he needed a wide range of emotive expressions, so he looked back to Disney's pre-war works, and also made the faces round, and the eyes huge. Although these faces were cartoonish, they allowed for a wide range of expressions to be depicted with utmost clarity. His style was gradually adopted by the entire anime industry. Everything from Sailor Moon to Grave of the Fireflies has been heavily influenced by Tezuka Osamu's work.
In the mid-1950's, Okawa Hiroshi was the president of the Japanese film company Toei. His dream was to make Toei into the Japanese equivalent of what Disney Studios was in the west. In 1956 Toei Animation was founded, and movies began pouring out; these were somewhat darker in tone than Disney's efforts, though. Several important animators and directors came from this company, including animators Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao, and director Yasuji Mari. At any rate, these productions paved the way for more serious "adult" animation to become more commonplace in Japan.
Tezuka got involved in 1958, when he started working on the storyboards, screenplay, and chracter designs for a Toei production called "Alakazam the Great". After this, he formed his own company, Mushi Productions.
Mushi Productions's first series, Tetsuwan Atom (known in America as Astro Boy) was based on Tezuka's manga of the same name. In all it's black-and-white glory, this series became such a huge success that it was even distributed worldwide.
Throughout the life of Mushi Productions, several series and even a few feature-length films were created. Eventually, however, the company would go bankrupt. Tezuka had always continued drawing manga, and now left animating his work to other people.
Robots and Spaceships
As exciting as anime was in the 50s and 60s, they were aimed squarely at the prepubescent market. In the 70s, this changed when a new, more sophisticated anime style appeared. The oddly named manga artist Monkey Punch drew "Lupin Sansei", one of the first anime to feature adult humour and slapstick violence. This series spawned several sequels and feature films.
However, the main development in anime would occur in the field of science fiction. Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Star Blazers) followed a crew of a spaceship as they attempted to save the humanity from destruction. This huge space opera gathered a big following, and with it's gritty seriousness proved there was a market for more than children's cartoons.
The giant robot show had been a mainstay of Japanese animation ever since Kaneda Shotaro first called on Tetsujin 28 in 1966. In the 70s this science-fiction subgenre got a serious overhaul when Mobile Suit Gundam premiered. Initially not all that popular, this series became a national frenzy when the series was rerun along with a toy series of the various mecha. Throughout the 80s this genre would see many successors, the Macross series (Robotech) being the most well known.
The Explosive 80s
In the 80s, companies had to struggle to keep up with the huge demand of increasingly sophisticated and overpowering storylines and effects. This was further strengthened by the boom in video market a few years into the 80s. A lot of companies chose to bypass the traditional media altogether, releasing things straight onto video. One of the main benefactors of this was Toriyama Akira, creator of the most popular anime to this day: Dragonball.
With similar lightness of humour and complexity of story, Takahashi Rumiko released a completely different anime onto the world called Ranma 1/2. With this series, she basically created the romantic comedy genre singlehandedly, and enchanted audiences of all ages. Her later series were also huge hits, with Inu Yasha still gathering a massive following throughout the world.
In the 80s and 90s, cyberculture was an important genre in the literature and movies. Movies like Blade Runner and books like Snowcrash created a dark gritty mood for the future. The first anime artist/director to use this feeling was Otomo Katsuhiro. Not only was his groundbreaking 1988 anime film Akira a huge international hit, it ushered in an entirely new style of anime. Popular titles like Bubble Gum Crisis and A.D. Police were cut from the same fast-paced and dangerous mold as Akira.
Another hugely important artist was Shirow Masamune. His adaptation of Appleseed presented a future where robots and humans lived alongside each other and even came into conflict. Although Dominion Tank Police took a playful stab at his own genre, the 1995 film Kokaku Kidoutai (Ghost in the Shell), once again took on the man versus machine interface. This is one of the best known anime internationally, and many of the "slow shots and random violence" cliches about anime stem from this film.
The New Wave
In the 90s, some new companies appeared that had a huge influence on anime. First off is CLAMP, a group of four manga-drawing women. While not actually in the business of anime at all, so many of their manga have been converted to anime that they've become a brand, with sweet anime for girls being their staple. Series like Angelic Layer, Tokyo Babylon, X (the manga in America is referred to as X/1999), Card Captor Sakura and more. Many take a lighthearted approach at girls' problems in life and also joke around with manga (and subsequently anime) cliches. However, like X, some of CLAMP's works are known to be highly dramatic epics.
Another important development is the creation of several animation companies. First off is Studio GAINAX. GAINAX's first video, Otaku no Video, held a mirror up to the bizarre world of anime fandom. However, this semi-autobiographical and lighthearted release would in no way hint at what was to come. Gunbuster and TV show Fushigi No Umi No Nadia (Nadia the Secret of Blue Water) showed their prowess at creating an exciting storyline, both in sci-fi and historical genres. Finally, GAINAX established itself as the current leader of episodic science-fiction by producing the beautifully-rendered TV show Shin Seiki Evangelion (Neon Genesis Evangelion).
Studio Ghibli was formed by Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao; both worked on various Toei productions in the 60s and 70s. This studio has a positive landslide of success series and features, with Nausicaa, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and the first anime to receive an Oscar for best animation: Spirited Away.
In 1991, Takeuchi Naoko debuted a manga story called Sailor V, a story about a suited teenage girl super-hero. A half of a year later, Takeuchi created a new story, featured in the Japanese magazine "Nakayoshi", called Sailor Moon, which was subsequently turned into an anime series. This series was incredibly popular with mostly young girls, and gathered 200 episodes, 3 movies, and even a recent live action adaptation.
Another young studio that has made a huge name is Production IG. Known primarily for Ghost in the Shell, by Shirow Masamune, this company specialises in adult, serious themes, as are shown in their newest anime series, Otogizoushi. They are also responsible for the animated section of Kill Bill.
Finally, Gonzo is a company who's main claim to fame is incredbly rich detailed artwork. All their productions appear as very high-budget and can be identified easily because they ooze style and class. Among the series they are responsible for are Last Exile, Full Metal Panic, and Vandread.