Wartime Anime

While much of the anime of the 1920s drew from Japanese folk tales and fantasy, the rising nationalism and militarism of the years surrounding World War II saw anime as mainly a tool of propaganda.

At the beginning of the 1930s, themes of interventionism were explored by Yasushi Murata’s Saru Masamune (Masamune and the Monkeys, 1930) and Sora no Momotaro (Aerial Momotaro, 1931). One may watch these and other films of the period and get a strong sense of the mood of the country, supporting a Japanese military dominance over Asia  — as well as simultaneously ridiculing and fearing the growing powers in the West.

One can see this in anime as early as 1933′s Kuroneko Banzai (Black Cat Banzai), featuring a toy invasion by evil Mickey Mouse bombers and other subtle Western symbols – eventually driven back by a group of classic characters from a book of Japanese folk tales. The symbolism became even more explicit over the next few years, as animators received significantly increased funds and distribution in return for increasingly jingoistic (albeit often humorous) products.

By 1938, there could be no mistake; Noburo Ofuji’s Sora no Arawashi (Aerial Ace) featured two villains: Stalin and Popeye (representing America, or the West in general). The next year saw the passage of the Japanese Film Law, which marginalized any film that failed to serve nationalistic goals. During the 1940s, the most popular animated films were anime recreations of naval battles, especially those of the ever-iconic Sanae Yamamoto and Mitsuyo Seo.

My girlfriend particularly likes Kenzo Masaoka who created Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka in 1933. Within the World of Power and Women or The World of Power and Women was the first Japanese anime of any type to feature voice overs. Although there are no known prints of Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka available, and it is considered a lost film, there are still drawings showing the film’s characters including the “typist” whom the protagonist of the anime film becomes involved with. My girlfriend so loves the “hair style” of the typist that she went online to search for a similar style. She found an online wig boutique that sold Jon Renau wigs & accessories along with other wig brands. Amazingly she found a Jon Renau wig style that looked as if the “typist” hair was used as the reference. At the next anime film convention we attended she wore her Jon Renau wig along with clothes that imitated the typist’s clothing from Kenzo Masaoka’s Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka film. She looked great and received a lot of comments.

Seo enthralled Japanese children in 1943 with Momotaro no Umiwashi (Sea Eagles), which recreated Pearl Harbor using fairytale characters — as well as setting a record with the longest anime to date, at 37 minutes. However, he was to break his own record two years later with the ‘sequel’, the full-length Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei (Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors). Ironically, this animated film portrayed a fairytale Japanese victory over the British and the United States — and was released about four months before the final Japanese surrender.

The story was never to come to life as the end of the war went in a different direction altogether. Many people feel that Seo was the best that there ever would be he is a legend in the industry because of his innovation. He had stretched the work of Anime to new heights & from that point forward nothing less would do. Many took the lead from that example & began making the entire process just a little bit grander. Making the features a bit longer and a bit wider in scope. Any true fan of the industry knows just what I am talking about right now.

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