Early Anime

Anime started after the 1908 French film Fantasmagorie was screened in Japan in the spring of 1914. Inspired by the nascent form, several Japanese artists began working on their own animation projects. Though almost all of these early works were lost and/or destroyed in the chaos and devastation following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

Some claim that “Moving Picture” (a. k. a. the ‘Matsumoto fragment’, discovered in 2005) is the first – ever anime, predating all of the stuff mentioned below, and some go so far as to call it the first – ever animation of any kind. It’s nothing but a few seconds of animation drawn directly on the film frames, nearly impossible to date accurately.

But we are sure about Hekoten (Oten) Shimokawa. He is mainly known for Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (The Doorman, or The Story of the Concierge), which was created in 1916 and first screened in 1917.  The process is a mystery; some say Shimokawa drew on a chalkboard, some say on paper. Is it even remotely possible he might have tried toilet paper? A roll of toilet paper does resemble a roll of film. If there had been a toilet paper supplier nearby, access would have been easy. And if the toilet paper were the thin, stiff, one ply type you often encounter at rest stops on the highway, it might just have worked. Actually I am speculating since I don’t know if there were even toilet available in Japan at that time.

But what we do know is that he was not very happy with the results, and went back to manga after only a few months and a handful of short films.

A few other projects came out shortly afterwards, including Junichi Kouchi’s Hanawa Hekonai, Meito no Maki (Sword of Hanawa Hekonai) and Seitaro Kitayama’s The Monkey and the Crab and Momotaro. Kitayama may not have been the very first, but he certainly did more to broaden early anime’s horizons — including founding Kitayama Eiga, the first animation studio in Japan.

Zenjiro “Sanae” Yamamoto, called “The Founder of Modern Anime”, worked at this studio and produced a number of black and white silent animated films at his own company, Yamamoto Manga Productions. However, the film world was eagerly exploring the potential of “talkies” and color film in the mid – to – late 1920s, and Japanese animators strove to bring these new technologies to their increasingly sophisticated visuals.

It took some time before the art was made popular but once it did some would say that it took off like wild fire. Many people feel it changed the culture altogether. It gained the interest of several young artist who added to the style & made it their own. They helped to move it forward & began the evolution into what it has become today. Remember that there were alternatives that were much more popular among the people of the time & that the entirely new form of art had to win people over before it could really begin to develop unto itself. That said, once it caught on, the new style won many fans in a very short period of time. There are not a lot of success stories that can compare to that of Anime.

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