The themes dealt with in popular animes

It is well known all over the world that Japan is rich in anime culture. Recently, more and more people in the world are interested in animes created in Japan, and anime is definitely one industry Japan can influence on the world. However, Japanese anime is not what steady since its beginning but it has been changing its theme or what to deal with in it due to the change of Japanese situations. In this report, the relationship between Japanese social conditions and animes will be discussed.

Generally, the history of Japanese anime can be traced in 1960’s. Before then, anime was only made for films, so it was not so popular amusement. However, due to the beginning of television broadcasting in 1953, anime began to change into one of mass amusement styles. In 1961, Osamu Tezuka established Mushi Production. Haragichi insists that this production is one of the most influential anime maker, because it founded the fundamental method of Japanese anime, in terms of contents of anime itself and business strategy(8). The representative anime of Mushi Production is “Astro Boy(鉄腕アトム, 1963)”, “Jungle Emperor(ジャングル大帝, 1965)” and “Princess Knight (リボンの騎士, 1967-68).” The common feature shared by these animes is that they depict the protagonists’ growth. Compared to the animes which were made before them, like Disney’s ones, there is a large difference.

isney animes tend to revolve around one romance story. On the other hand, Mushi Production animes focus on the protagonists’ emotions, conflicts and growth, and romance remains as only one element. This reflects Japanese social condition. At that time, arranged marriage had been general and marriage for love had been relatively unfamiliar for Japanese. Moreover, 1960’s correspond to Japanese rapid economic growth. People had believed Japan’s development and energy. Therefore, animes with protagonists’ growth through solving problems could be easily empathized with by people who were trying to recover from the damage caused by World War 2 and to boost Japan’s authority in the world.

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In 1968, “Star of the Giants (巨人の星)” began broadcasting. It gained popularity for its spectacular story and strong individuality of every character. “Stars of Giants” made epoch trend of “Supokon(Sports Konjou)” genres. Following examples are “Attack No.1(アタックNo.1)”, “Aim for the Ace!(エースをねらえ!)” and so on. Those animes created great sensation, and sports dealt with in them became popular mainly at schools. These animes value effort. In those stories, it is emphasized that making effort is the only way to achievement and fame. Shima claims that the background of Supokon’s popularity is Japanese women volleyball team’s victory on world cup. This event made people believe that their life would improve if they make effort. Moreover, at this time, social movement against the U.S.‐Japan Security Treaty flourished in many universities. This means that students tried to change the decision of the diet by their effort. Therefore, it is safe to assume that social conditions and Supokon animes influenced each other.

However, as time goes and finally the rapid economic growth ended due to Oil Shock in 1973, themes of animes had gradually changed. They came to include more serious aspects, like sorrows or nostalgia. One example worth mentioning is the hit of “GeGeGe-no-Kitaro(ゲゲゲの鬼太郎).” The protagonist, Kitaro, helps people who are bothered by monsters. Apparently it performs poetic justice, but the story is actually more complex. In this anime, the relationship between human and monsters is a sort of unilateral. People, especially adults, often treat them with no respect, invade monsters’ region, or even they do not trust their existence. It can be assumed that this description symbolically warns people’s forgetting of a kind of former values, like worshipping something invisible, or gods and ghosts.

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For instance, one story named “the Ghost Train(幽霊電車)” clearly shows this concept. One day, Kitaro was talking with two guys in a tavern. One of them said that he never believes ghosts or monsters, and they had an argument about his opinion. Eventually, the man hit Kitaro, and Kitaro got injured. He decided to revenge him. Then, another day he secretly took them into the ghost train which he prepared. At first they pretend as if they were not feared, but gradually they found scary. In the end, they managed to escape from the train. This kind of essence is apparent in many Kitaro animes. It was a trial to remind what people are forgetting because of rapid development and westernization. Another anime with a same kinds of theme is “Humanoid Monster Bem(妖怪人間ベム)”, and it is also notable that “Once upon a time in Japan(まんが日本昔ばなし)” started in 1975. Moreover, “Heidi, Girl of the Alps(アルプスの少女ハイジ, 1974)” caused a great sensation, and one of the reasons is definitely the nostalgia the anime made people feel.

Animes which shed light on human’s dark side are not only ghost stories. Robot animes and SF animes, which created a lot in 1970’s and 1980’s reflect the mechanizing society of Japan. “Space Battleship Yamato(宇宙戦艦ヤマト, 1975)” and “Mobile Suit Gundam(機動戦士ガンダム, 1979)” triggered the fud. Both animes have huge mechanic systems and magnificent stories, like defensing the earth from enemies. Also, the reality contributed to their popularity. In Mobile Suit Gundam, the future earth is no longer sustainable because of lack of source, and filled with disparity. This setting is very real even now. Moreover, these animes have strong connection with war.

War is one of the permanent problem to solve for human, but people cannot have a sole solution for this. Therefore, lots of human dramas with conflicts and intense emotions are created in the anime. This makes robot animes attractive, as well as the aesthetics of mechanics. Many robot and SF animes were created after these two, and eventually the fud resulted in “Neon Genesis Evangelion(新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, 1995).” It caused the biggest sensation ever. Every character’s emotions were depicted in detail in this anime, especially the protagonist. He is not the typical hero, but an ordinary junior high school student in modern society. Since around this time, it has been said that there is less connection among people. It can be predicted that the protagonist symbolizes the children in that society.

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He is not good at constructing proper relationships with others. Other characters also seem to have trouble in making relationships. Therefore, his conflicts and behavior were very empathetic for people. Moreover, it contains a sense of eschatology. In 1995 in Japan, Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the hijacking of Japan Air Line plane and Han‐Shin Awaji Earthquake disaster occurred. Economic situation was also bad(seibago’s eye). This condition of Japan has a lot with the popularity of Evangelion. Moreover, it can be said that its unclear end raised a question about the value to possess in the postmodern world.

To sum up, the kinds of value dealt with in popular animes changes due to the situation of Japan. Japanese society and animes affect each other, and animes keep creating new values.

Works Cited

“アニメの影響力は大きい – Cappuccino-kidの日記.” はてなダイアリー. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
“「新世紀エヴァンゲリオン」は僕等に何をもたらしたのか? | [ Booklista ] いま読みたい電子書籍のニュースをお届け.” [ Booklista ] いま読みたい電子書籍のニュースをお届け. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
“『新世紀エヴァンゲリオン』が映し出すイマドキの人間観考(塾生レポート) | 松下政経塾.” 『新世紀エヴァンゲリオン』が映し出すイマドキの人間観考(塾生レポート) | 松下政経塾. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
“ロボットアニメの歴史.” ロボットアニメの歴史. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
Nobuhiko, Shima. “本日のトークファイルの内容~スポ根アニメから見える昭和と今~”. 2 Sep. 2011. Accessed 14 Jan, 2016.
Masahiro, Haraguchi. “「日本のアニメを学び尽くす」~歴史からビジネスまで.” March, 2014. Accessed 14 Jan. 2016.
“Seibago’s Eye: アニメは世相を反映している.” Seibago’s Eye: アニメは世相を反映している. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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