As the people of post-World War Two Japan worked towards the rebuilding of their country, there was little available for them inthe way of mass entertainment (besides a limited number of films
produced by Toho studios). To fill this vacuum, cinematic-style comic books, or "Manga" as they are called in Japan, became a popular and accepted alternative form of entertainment, for adults as well as children.
In the 1950's Osumu Tezuka produced "Mighty Atom" a comic series starring a robot with rocket legs, and a button on his chest. (Tezuka's characters were the first to have the unusually large eyes that have since become a part of the genre. This was in tribute to Walt Disney Studios). Under its creator's direction, the character (released in this country as "Astro Boy") was cast in a series of animated episodes. Called Anime', after the French word for animation, the popularity of that series soon led to hundreds of others. And animation was not only less expensive to produce than a movie, but allowed for visual effects and fantastic locations well beyond what even Hollywood could provide. It proved to be a popular combination with a Manga- obsessed public.
In the late 1970's, another major change occurred with the release of television serials such as "Space Cruiser Yamato" ("Starblazers" in the US) and "Gundam." A 70-part prime time animated series (eventually pared down to three two and half hour movies), Gundam chronicled the adventures of a battleship and its crew, during the "one-year war" fought between orbiting space colonies and Earth, and an experimental "mobile-suit", a hundred foot tall humanoid combat machine called Gundam. Although the "mecha" (battle-suit) genre had already been popular with such characters as Tranzor Z (seen in this country as part of the Shogun Warriors) Gundam was a huge success, and a big move away from the "monster movie" influences.
Besides Gundam, American science fiction, especially films such as Blade Runner, Terminator, Aliens, and Robocop had a major effect on SF Anime' during the eighties. Many of the old Science Fiction cliches fell by the wayside to be replace by darker Cyberpunk motifs, which fit in well with the character oriented, extended soap opera nature of the Anime' genre. The changes also amplified the common "Childhood's End" theme of humanity moving towards its next stage of mental evolution.
Because of the differing social standards of the Japanese, modern Anime' is more adult (read: breasts) and tends toward graphic violence. There is no lack of red ink splashed across the screen. Explosions and urban damage have become a high art, vehicles and buildings detonating in loving detail. Anime' continues to be an artform that explores visions beyond even the most expensive live action special effects.
*Today literate Japanese culture consumes thousands of Manga serials weekly, the stories covering everything from romance and sports to corporate drama. Most of these come out in telephone book-sized anthologies, the most popular ones are collected in "graphic novels."
*Currently most SF Anime' is produced by toy companies who expect to make their profits from sales of model kits and toys. Series may be retired, or new characters/vehicles introduced, based on their ability to sell ancillary merchandise.
*In the US, Anime' is disseminated mostly by fans who trade tapes. This is condoned by the Japanese companies (who can then sell more model kits), although pirate sales are frowned on.
*Most anime' is written and directed by a single individual, allowing a single vision to dominate much more than on the collaborative efforts of live action films. In many cases however, the characters and mecha are designed by different artists.