Group discussion task from week 4

The class divided into 3 groups of four people. Groups had ten minutes to choose one theme from our previous classes – it could be an aspect of anime history, topic, person or studio – and put together a short outline (of not more than 250-300 words) summing up their recollections of the topic.

These are my notes of the briefing that each group provided on their chosen theme. They were made very quickly and I didn’t get your own notes from you, so please comment and expand on them, and add any details I may have missed.

I thought all the groups put together good briefings, and it was interesting to see your ideas come together. The two approaches to robot evolution take similar routes but with different emphasis. You’ve obviously taken on board the idea that there are many different ways to view anime history!

Robot Evolution in Anime

Robot evolution in anime started with Astro Boy in 1963, presenting the robot as a humanlike innocent figure there to help mankind. Foreign science fiction film and TV influenced anime, with the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson being screened in Japan in the 1960s.

With the arrival of Gigantor robots began to change style away from beings with individual free will and into mechanisms with control boxes. This continued in the works of Go Nagai where robots were piloted by humans and designed to transform, combine and encourage children to buy toys. In Astro Boy the robot was a superstar who could take the lead in the series, but robots have gradually been downgraded, through their role as vehicles and through merchandising as toys, into supporting roles for the human hero.

Robots and human hubris

We started out with the childlike Astro Boy but over the next 2 decades robots got larger and more complex. Commercial pressures led to the introduction of transforming robots so as to sell more toys. An increasingly affluent society gained confidence and instead of needing the autonomous heroic Astro Boy to help them, humans began to see themselves as robot pilots.

More serious, darker views also developed on the margins, sparking fears of robots who could look like or even impersonate humans. This could reflect the influence of James Cameron’s Terminator and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, where such robots are a threat to mankind. We can’t be sure who the ‘enemy’ is, making us feel inferior and insecure whether we acknowledge it or not. Human hubris leads to people trying to be gods, or to create them, but we are afraid of the consequences.

The amount of blood in many sf and action videos is also far greater where humans are involved. Robots bleed less, they are stronger than us, and so we don’t think they need to be ‘stars’ – we want human heroes.

The Development of TV Anime

Many people think Astro Boy was the first TV anime, but there were two shows before it. One was a single anthology show and the other a series, but Astro Boy was the first anime series with continuing characters and plotlines. It was sold very quickly for American screening. It was made in black and white, but the next series to sell to the USA, Kimba the White Lion, was made in colour by the same studio, Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions.

After Astro Boy other studios quickly came in to the anime business and made their own shows. Robot and action shows for young children, like Speed Racer and Gigantor, were followed by shows for a family audience like Sazae-san and Lupin III, while older science fiction fans watched shows like Gatchaman and Gundam. Meanwhile girls’ shows like Rose of Versailles carried on the idea of cross-dressing hero girls in romantic settings (the French Revolution.)

Video wasn’t competing with TV but feeding off it and reinforcing it – see the similarities in approach between Dallos and Gundam. Many shows got video releases  and spinoffs.

Cuteness became an important theme with cute characters in both boys’ and girls’ shows. The 70s saw a rise in cute-looking, manga-based TV shows like Dragonball, Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku.

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