With films such as “Akira” and “Spirited Away” gaining international acclaim and TV shows like “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon” winning a worldwide audience, Japanese anime has come a long way since it was first developed in the early part of the 20th century.
Made solely for a domestic audience, early anime was mostly created for educational or propaganda purposes and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the style began to gain popularity, both in Japan and abroad. With television anime gaining bigger audiences than feature films, one of the successes of this period was “Heidi, Girl of the Alps”, a TV series that proved popular in Europe and Latin America. Working on this show was Hayao Miyazaki, who would later go on to found Studio Ghibli and create critically acclaimed hits like “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo“.
During the 1970s and 1980s, anime branched out into many different styles and genres. Although most of the productions retained the characteristic animation style — usually defined by characters with large eyes and bright, fast-moving action — the themes and subject matter explored in each anime varied widely.
Unlike animated features in the Western world, which are usually targeted at a younger audience, Japanese anime caters to all demographics. For example, “Ghost in the Shell” is a crime-fighting series set in a futuristic sci-fi world, “Fruits Basket” is a fantastical romantic comedy, while “Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo” is a loose adaptation of the famous 19th novel by Alexandre Dumas. One of the most successful anime sub-genres is mecha anime, which centres around battles between giant robots and machines. “Gundam”, the most popular mecha anime, has been adapted into movies, TV series, novels and video games, with merchandise that is sold worldwide.
Indeed, thanks to the wide variety of subjects and genres, as well as the availability of new features on DVD and the internet, the anime’s fanbase is bigger than ever and its growth shows no sign of abating.