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  • Tezuka's Anime Revolution in Context
  • Jonathan Clements (bio)

The broadcast of Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu) on New Year's Day 1963 is generally taken to mark the beginning of a new age in Japanese animation.1 There are, however, some dissenters who argue that Tezuka could never have created his animation company Mushi Production (Mushi Pro) so swiftly were it not for the Tōei studio labor pool available to poach from,2 or even that the anime industry required no "Great Man" to transform itself, and that had Tezuka not made Astro Boy, someone else would have surely produced something similar by the mid-1960s.3

The Tōei studio certainly provided an inspiration and an impetus for Tezuka, as it was there in the 1950s that the subject of Astro Boy on television was first discussed, during Tezuka's time at Tōei storyboarding the cartoon Saiyūki (1960, released in the United States as Alakazam the Great). During a post-Sputnik fad for futurism,4 animators mooted the possibility of a short theatrical Astro Boy film, or perhaps a TV series, but any discussion of television soon favored a look inspired by kamishibai-in other words, a story read out over still images with minimal zooms and pans. The director Shirakawa Daisaku recalled a discussion about the possibility of a truly animated series, ridiculed by the veteran animator Yamamoto Sanae as an absurd idea, [End Page 214] impossible even with the manpower of the entire animation industry.5 The idea of animation was dropped, and Astro Boy appeared on TV instead as a live-action series running for sixty-five episodes from March 1959 to May 1960.6 Notably, however, the "live-action" series featured an animated credit sequence, clearly prefiguring the look of the later anime. The production company Matsuzaki Films subcontracted the animation work to the Murata Eiga Seisakusho, a film company established by Murata Yasuji after the collapse of the Nihon Manga Eigasha in the 1940s.7

Tezuka was unable to resist the temptation to become a TV animation producer in his own right—an ambition to which he had often alluded.8 However, the production issues seemed insurmountable.

A Limited Animation Revolution?

Assuming a weekly output of "thirty minutes" of Tōei-quality animation, Tezuka's assistant Yamamoto Eiichi calculated an improbably huge staff requirement of three thousand employees and a budget of between 60 and 70 million yen. The entire population of animators then working in Japan would only account for 20 percent of the necessary labor force, and it would be too expensive for any television channel to afford. Even with standard deductions to make space for ads, sponsorship announcements, and recyclable credits dragging the actual new weekly animation to a more manageable 25 minutes, "limited" animation was the only option, although the general sense among Japanese animators in 1962 was that Hanna-Barbera and UPA's limited animation from the United States was of poor quality, and had been poorly received.9

Tezuka slashed costs to a mere 2.5 million yen per episode through a number of drastic measures, telling his staff that this amounted not to "full" animation but "limited" anime. Such is the commonly held chronology, although we need only look at Mushi Pro's previous Tales of the Street Corner (1962, Aru machikado no monogatari) to see that Tezuka was already working with clearly "limited" animation more than a year before he was supposedly compelled to do so by the strictures of the Astro Boy production.10

At no point, however, did Tezuka define what this notional "anime" actually was. His staff came to regard it as a style, perceived as opposite to what was regarded as the "realistic" animation style of the Tōei studio. Posterity has recorded a series of elements, much cited among anime scholars, and first [End Page 215] found in the semifictionalized autobiography of one of Mushi Pro's founding staff, Yamamoto Eiichi.11 These include shooting "on threes" (only using eight frames of the available 24 per second); using single still frames for prolonged periods; pulling one cel behind another to imply movement; using loops of animation and recycled...


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pp. 214-226
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