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Anime's Jump From 2D to 3D

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Anime's Jump from 2D to 3D

Kari R. L.

Anime, and its comic counterpart Manga, play a large role in the Japanese culture, and hold a large stake in the international community as well. With series like Pokemon (1996) having such a strong grip in the mids of children across the globe, it's no big news that Anime is a staple of culture now. While most Manga don't make it to Anime status, and even fewer achieve the status necessary to warrant the creation of items, the market for real-life stuff with the face of an Anime character is broad enough to begin generating its own subcultures, with some fans focusing on a particular series, while others focus on a particular item. This transition from 2d to 3d is an important aspect of today's Anime culture that hasn't been witnessed on the scale in other animation markets as it has in the Anime market.

The style known as 'Anime' takes its roots from the 'Manga' style of comics, which can first be found in the 1850's, during Japan's Meiji era. 'Anime' as a word is derived from the English 'Animation', and in a Japanese context is used to describe animation of any kind. However, in a broader context, the term is used to describe specifically Japanese animated pieces. As a result it covers the style more than the items themselves. The term 'Manga' wasn't used until the 1920's, when the word was adapted from the Chinese 'Manhua', and it was used to describe Japanese comics by Japanese artists. The term has since expanded to cover the style of comics, regardless of region. Animated films would come to Japan in 1915, with the first 'Anime' being made in 1917.

The first Anime was, like American animation, made for theatres. It was silent and made to be screened with a Benshi, or live narrator, which was a holdover of the Meiji era puppet shows from festivals. As other mediums of film gained speech, however, so did Anime, and by the 30's all Anime screened in theatres came with sound. The early films focused on mostly folk tales or Vaudeville humour, considering the market was so small and new. The technique of using cels for animation wasn't even put fully into play until 1934, with the film Chagama Ondo (“Dance of the Teapots”), with animated features beforehand either being made of cut-outs that were separately moved and photographed to create motion, or draw on chalkboards or directly on the film. With the advent of cels, the animation became more sophisticated, resulting in greater popularity. This popularity was recognized by the government, which by this time was well into the Second Sino-Japanese War. The government, looking to increase war support, begain co-opting animated films for propaganda purposes as early as 1930. The early films of this genre were largely to encourage support in terms of accepting the Japanese government's 'right' to interfere in the affairs of other eastern nations (in this case, China) to expel a western influence. As the war went on, however, the message shifted from a more passive one to a more active, aggressive one, in which characters were encouraged to join the army and fight off the foreign invaders. This message of 'Western Evil' was sometimes taken to an extreme, with a great example being Kuroneko Banzai (Black Cat Banzai, 1933) depicting demonized versions of Mickey Mouse invading a peaceful parade of toys, engaging the toys in battle, and eventually kidnapping a doll. Despite the rather questionable message behind these films, some animation houses accepted it with open arms, due to the large amount of funding the government was willing to sink into the animation efforts. The longer the war raged (eventually merging with WWII in 1941), the more funding and films were produced. This eventually came to a hilt in 1943 and 1945, with the release of the feature films Momotaro no Umiwashi (“Momotaro's Sea Eagles”) and Momotaro Umi no Shinpei (“Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors”) respectively. The latter was the sequel to the former, and was released just months before the end of WWII. The message in both of these films is the same as before, but with even more fervor. Despite the decline of the nation in the face of the war, the government refused to yield or show weakness, encouraging the war effort even when the nation's people were suffering.

After the end of the war, the future of all forms of art in Japan was uncertain. The rough entrance into the post-war Showa period left Japan occupied by foreign powers and unsure about all of her philosophies. The focus of the day was on reforms in terms of government, policy, and cultural attitudes, leaving artists and craftspeople of all kinds (from ceramics to animators) unsure about their future. What sort of place would the future hold for the artisan, if at all? After the treaty of San Francisco (1952), Japan was once again left to her own devices, though the latter half of the 40's and most of the 50's was a poor time for Anime. After the fall of the nation, the animators left produced Sakura (1946), an animated film about Kyoto in the springtime. While it was a noble effort to restart the industry, the 5-minute vignette fell rather flat, understandably given the circumstances in which it was made.

It wouldn't be until 1956 that the industry would experience a revival, when the first modern studio, Toei Animation, was founded. Part of the reasoning for the delay was the occupation; the American Gis brought with them American cartoons, which had a much more polished look than their Japanese counterparts. Once the occupation ended, however, the Japanese had the opportunity to revive the animation industry. However, though Toei was founded in 1956, it wouldn't be till two years later that they would release their first film, Hakujaden (“Legend of the White Serpent”, 1958). Despite lacking the slightly more polished feel of Disney films of the day, Toei would release several more films through the early 1960's. Though Toei had no stake in television series by this time, they inadvertently helped get it started; The movie Alakazam the Great (1960) was based off a Manga adaptation of the Chinese Monkey King legend by the prolific artist Tezuka Osamu. Tezuka was already the most influential author in the Manga field by this point (having started with the strip-style comic Diary of Ma-chan in 1946), and the recognition and success of the film based off his comic inspired him to found the first television Anime studio, Mushi Productions. Tezuka and Mushi would go on to bring life what most consider the founding series of the modern Anime genre: Tetsuan Atom, known elsewhere in the world as Astro Boy.

Released as a weekly series starting January 1st, 1963, Atom's success would inspire 3 more animation studios to pop up within the year and Toei to develop an animation branch. With this, the 60's could be called a Renaissance to Anime, with many new series popping up during this time, in various genres, laying the groundwork for even more work in the 70's and 80's.

It is with these decades that we begin to see the introduction of Character Goods, or items that feature a particular character. An excellent example of this is Hello Kitty, a famous character created by the Sanrio Company in 1974. Kitty's first item was a vinyl coin purse, and over the years she has developed a legacy of items, covering everything from vehicles to medications. Her popularity even sparked several Animes, video games, and even theme parks, an example of how the relationship between the stuff and the shows goes both ways. Another example of this is the Licca-chan doll, first introduced in the summer of 1967. Licca has the same level of popularity in Japan that Barbie does in America, inspiring video games and eventually an Anime.

The first Anime toys were likely spawned by the “super robot” genre of Anime, examples of which include the classic Gundam series and Macross. The first of these, however, was Mazinger Z, an Anime airing from 1972-74. The style of giant robot was so popular among the male youth of the day that the toy company Popy released a die-cast version of the robot Mazinger Z in time for Christmas of 1972. Though it was quite heavy (being made of metal), it featured spring-loaded fists to imitate the series' “Rocket Punch”, making it quite popular. This type of toy revolutionized the Japanese toy industry, with every robot Anime of the time releasing them to keep up.

During the 80's the market of Anime goods expanded even more. Bandai, a toy and eventually media company that was founded in 1950, rose to highest popularity in its field in Japan. The company had a hand in creating the classic series Gundam (1979) and Super Sentai (1975; released in America in 1993 as “Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers”), which are both ongoing and have spawned massive toy markets. Gundam in particular was important, helping to establish an underground form of character good: Garage Kits.

Taking its origins from 1950's and 60's America, Garage Kits are resin kids that are largely made by amateurs looking to create figures that are not on the market. Though they died down in popularity in the late 60's and 70's, they experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 80's and made their way to Japan, where fans of series could create custom figures of their favourite characters (since toys and figures on the market at the time rarely looked like the character did in the anime) or create completely original characters. Due to the expense and detail involved in creating them, most series of a particular Garage Kit were limited, though seeing their popularity, professional companies eventually started to enter the market. Even with the pros coming in, the fan-made kids still kept popularity due to the ability to have more control over the end product. The kits kept one thing in common, however; they needed to be assembled and painted by the consumer. Though this seems like a time-consuming turn off for most people, just like the model builders of other time periods and countries, the ability to colour the model in whatever way they choose is very appealing to some. This, in turn, led to the development of other popular character goods, such as Asian Ball Jointed Dolls and Anime Figurines.

The latter outweighs the original Garage Kits in popularity today. Considering the process is time consuming, most collectors opt for the pre-made stuff now. The kits still exist, but they exist less so than the completed Anime Figure. That said, the completed figure experienced a boom in the 90's with shows such as Bishoujo Senshi Sera Mun (“Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon”, 1992) and Shin Seiki Evangerion (“Neon Genesis Evangelion”, 1995) gaining such massive popularity in and out of Japan that the demand for figures and items depicting these characters was enough to generate its own industry. As time wore on, the quality of the figures improved to the point where the figure perfectly resembled the character. The market also expanded to include characters not from Anime specifically, with video game characters and other characters from the culture being made into figures. The style became more honed as well, with some figures being as detailed and as close to the original character as possible, and others, such as the Nendoroid line started by Good Smile Company in 2006 being the other end of the spectrum, depicted in “chibi” (where the character is depicted in a miniaturized style with giant head on little body).

Similarly, plush anime figures were developed around this time. Commonly abbreviated as “plushies”, they mainly started out as prizes in UFO Catcher Games (the Japanese equivalent of Crane Games). They gained considerable popularity and started to be released in stores, so even if one wasn't good enough at the UFO games to get one, they could still have a plushie of a particular character. To keep with the original spirit of the item, however, most plushies out there are limited time only plushies (in fact, most of the ones on the market are from this). Most plushies were and are from either gender neutral series or series marketed at girls.

This was also the time period when Anime began to see more leaps into other types of items. For example, Sailor Moon saw such items produced as toys, clothes, stationary, video games, even cookware. Hello Kitty began the leap to similar items, with quite a bit of Sanrio stationary and stickers being produced during this time. Studio Ghibli, an animation studio formed in 1985 by prolific animators Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao, had been cranking out movies even before its formation, and their children's classic Tonari no Totoro (“My Neighbor Totoro”, 1988) by this time was being featured across a range of product formats, everything from toys to bento boxes (which are still a popular item today).

Another holdover from Garage Kits, Asian Ball Jointed Dolls (commonly abbreviated as either ABJDs or just BJDs) got their start in the 90's as well. The first company to capitalize on this market was a Garage Kit maker called Volks. Opened in 1972 as a hobby shop in Kyoto, the Volks shop carried Model kits for vehicles and other types of things, as well as Garage Kits for figurines and Mecha Kits for making Gundam type robots. However, the owner's wife, Mrs. Shigeta, had a nagging feeling of not catering to the female gender (as most of the collectors of their wares during that time were male). After seeing a sculptor named Akihiro Enk give a hand-made Ball-Jointed Doll to his wife as a present, she got the idea to make the Dollfie, a type of Ball-Jointed Doll that premiered in 1997-98. This was eventually followed by the Super Dollfie and Dollfie Dream, as well as plenty of other companies making their own versions of the dolls. This expanded Volks into a much larger company that now sells mostly these dolls and accessories for these dolls. The initial Dollfie was made in 1/6 scale, similar to a Barbie Doll, but with much higher quality of materials and construction. Like the Garage Kits, what makes these dolls so popular is the ability to customize them. Most of the ones available for purchase come as a blank slate; no face, no hair, no clothes. While some people might find this appalling and weird, the people that buy these see in them the potential to be anything. This level of customization results in fans making their own characters of dolls based off of Anime characters. Considering the influence of Anime on the way these dolls are made, it's only natural that this would occur.

One of the characters commonly represented in Garage Kits, figures, and Dollfie Dolls is Hatsune Miku. Miku doesn't have an Anime or Manga of her own, yet she has an extremely large international fanbase. While this might seem like an impossibility, it's because Miku is in a niche all her own: Vocaloids. Vocaloid is a software program that is used to generate vocals for music. Combining the words 'vocal' and 'android', Vocaloid began development in 2000 and premiered in 2004, with English singers first, and Japanese singers being released later in the same year. It works by taking samples of a person's voice saying all the possible sounds of a particular language (working better in Japanese due to the clear-cut syllables of the language). Towards the beginning the software remained obscure, but in 2007 the software engine received an overhaul, as well as the new Vocaloids to premiere with it being sampled from voice actors for Anime. The first to premiere was Hatsune Miku, who also received an Anime look for her character to increase appeal. She almost single-handedly popularized the software, with over 100,000 songs by her existing to date. While this also sounds like an impossible statement, one of the things that make this software so possible is that the Vocaloid software is available to anyone willing to purchase it. The idea behind the software is that a creator is only limited by their own abilities, leading people to create to their hearts' content using the software. This, combined with the grassroots attitude so popular in Japan already, leads to the thousands of videos, songs, and other types of media associated with the characters and products. After Miku came several other Vocaloids of various genders and sounds, some being sampled from famous Japanese singers. Considering the grassroots nature of the entire movement, it has led to the establishment of extra characters based off the existing ones (such as gender-flipped versions or the “Voyakiloids”, a group of characters derived from the inability to use the software properly, resulting in an odd sound). The high price of the software even led to the creation of a freeware clone called UTAU (Japanese for “To Sing”), released in March 2008. Utau, being free and having the ability to load custom-made voicebanks, has led to even more songs, characters, and grassroots effort, to the point where the two programs have established their own culture. Vocaloids and Utauloids have release albums, been in video games, have massive amounts of merchandise, and have even been in concert. The programs have also led to the establishment of further programs relating to the product, such as Miku Miku Dance (abbreviated as MMD), a program giving the user the ability to make videos of dancing characters using 3d models of the characters and manipulating them frame by frame.

With all of this in mind, one also has to consider series from elsewhere making this transition. An excellent example of this is Code Lyoko (2003), a series from France that features both 2d and 3d animation in the show every episode. It makes for an interesting perspective to compare a character's 2d form to his/her 3d form, made even more interesting to look at considering the preservation of style between the two (the same eyes, for instance). When the merchandise of the series (such as action figures and RC toys) is added to the mix, it adds an additional layer of complexity. However, since Lyoko isn't in the traditional Anime style, it leaves one to wonder about series that are; what does the leap of non-Japanese Anime to 3d look like? An example of this once again comes from France, with the series Totally Spies! (2001). Four video games and a Facebook game were developed for the series, with the third game, Totally Spies! Totally Party (2008) having the 3d model look similar to most video games and somewhat similar to MMD. If one considers other styles of animation (such as superhero style comics and animation in this country), the 3d market is expanded even more.

Overall, the transition to 3d from 2d for Anime was a slightly slow one, but once it got going, it exploded into its own culture. The possibilities are near limitless for this market, with new ideas on what to slap a cute/cool character on next constantly changing and evolving. There have been computers sold with Anime characters on them, cars, furniture, and even odder things than these. If the character is right and the fans are willing, the sky's the limit for what could be.


Works Cited
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Clements, Jonathan, and Helen McCarthy. The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation since 1917. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge, 2006. Print.
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VOLKS, INC. "-1998|SD 10 Year History of Super Dollfie|Super Dollfie 10th Anniversary Special Website|VOLKS INC." -1998|SD 10 Year History of Super Dollfie|Super Dollfie 10th Anniversary Special Website|VOLKS INC. VOLKS, INC., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.
my second Anime term paper, this time written for a Pottery class. i forget the exact title of the class, but the idea was to create series of objects. i elected to create clay figures, so i wrote this to state my case. it cites my earlier paper, also in this section.
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PentiumMMX's avatar
I finally got around to reading this. Very interesting :3