“What is Anime” (SwanCon Twenty3 Con Book)

The SwanCon Twenty3 program/souvenir book came in multiple A5 saddle stapled sections. Part 5 was the “Anime Programme”. The first three pages are a summary of the genre (uncredited; Grant Watson, while a likely suspect, does not remember writing it). The rest of the document is given over to two pages of programme schedule, multiple pages of descriptions, and an advert for JAFWA and CIA present ANIME NIGHTS


Japan has an unusual culture.

After spending many centuries in relative isolation to the rest of the world (barring occassional wars with the Asian continent), it suddenly found itself in the 19th century, face to face with the United States of America and heavily outgunned. What is known as the Meiji Restoration represented one of the most impressive feats of cultural catching up that the world has ever seen. By the end of the century Japan was sinking the Russian navy and frightening the world with exactly how fast they were developing.

Of course, all of this sudden technological and social change created a unique position for Japan to occupy. While the new machines and fashions of the USA and Europe could be freely adopted on a wholesale basis, the nation’s culture received too little time to develop in a way to match. The result was a feudal monarchy standing on par with the capitalist democracies of the rest of the world.

All of this sudden growth had to hit an obstacle eventually. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a more profound effect upon the Japanese culture than any other single event before or since. By the end of World War II, most of Japan’s cities were in ruins, its traditional codes of honour were in tatters and the very core of its religion (the emperor’s divine right as king) was publicly denounced on live radio. Left in pieces, Japan was left to put itself back together again.

During the 1950s Japan went through a rapid and widespread process of reconstruction. While the old buildings of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were replaced with modern and updated architecture, so too its ancient culture was adapted and reformed to better fit the modern world. In addition to this, by introducing new technologies to replace all that had been destroyed, Japan was very quickly at the forefront of international technology. Thirdly, the USA’s military occupation of Japan throughout much of the 1950s caused a large infusion of American popular culture into Japan’s once highly insular society.

As can be imagined, this American invasion marched into Tokyo in the threatening shape of a happy black mouse.

***

It was the immense popularity of Walt Disney’s animated characters that led to the development of original comic characters in Japan. Japanese comics, known as manga, took many of the traits of American comic books (particularly the [ repeated line removed; Ed.] visual style of Disney characters) yet developed storytelling methods all of their own.

One aspiring artist named Osamu Tezuka created a new series based around the adventures of a robot boy. Titled Atom Boy, it took the youth of Japan by storm and heralded the beginnings of an incredibly large creative industry (Japan currently produces about half of the entire world’s comics). Of course, Western audiences later met this new hero in Astroboy. Astro was a personification of Japan in the late 1950s. He was a symbolic hero of the nation’s youth, riding into a bright and hopeful future on the back of new technology. At the same time, the dangers of such technologies that Astro encountered powerfully echoed the atomic tragedy of July 1945.

Being so popular, Astro inevitably made the leap to television. After a short run in live action, Atom Boy burst onto the screens as Japan’s first ever animated television series. Soaring high in the sky, anime – that most peculiar child of 20th century Japan – was born.

***

Anime explodes outwards from Tezuka. His other major television work, Jungle Emperor Leo (or Kimba the White Lion as some may know it), is a classic of the medium. From the late 1950s through to the 1990s, anime has extended, unfolded and developed into the most expansive and elaborate animation genre in the world.

In the United States (barring the occassional corpse named Kenny or cat named Fritz), animation is for children. In Japan, anime represented a medium as varied as motion pictures, prose fiction or theatre. Everything from preschool stories to explicit pornography is produced, distributed and consumed by an eager public. Unlike Western animation, anime is diverse, of a high degree of quality and generally very, very respectable.

Since it is entirely created within Japan and largely by Japanese people, anime presents a sharply atypical view of society. Many titles, such as Akira, Urotsukidoji and A Wind Name Amnesia feature post-apocalyptic settings – a testament to the bombings of 1945. Technology features heavily, as does all science fiction. Japan’s unusual (although socially tolerable) fetish for teenage school girls is widely entertained in Sailor Moon, Project A-KO, Magic Knight Rayearth and countless other films, videos and television programmes.

In the 1980s, buoyed by the cult appeal of Robotech, a fan subculture based around anime developed in the USA before extending to the United Kingdom and Australia. While mainstream studios and distributors tended to shy away from the unique style of Japanese animation, fans of the medium openly embraced it. Some of them call themselves otaku (a Japanese word roughly meaning “sad obsessive”). Whatever their name, they represent a strong, enthusiastic and ever-increasing aspect of science fiction fandom as a whole.

In Perth, anime fandom is proudly represented by JAFWA – Japanese Animation Fans of Western Australia. It is with great thanks and appreciation to JAFWA that Swancon Twenty3 presents the following anime stream. We would also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Tom Edge, Charles Clarke, Dale Verdi, Colin Sharpe, David Gunn and Steve McGlone.

About australian sf-history

ASFDAP was set up in 2011 after the rediscovery by the wider SF community of an impressive hoard of Australian SF community related ephemera, fanzines and other materials in the Murdoch University basement.
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