Written by: Miguel Douglas
Disclaimer: This article is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or part, in any form, without obtaining my written permission.
The History of Anime: 1964
by Miguel Douglas on September 16, 2011
Coming in the wake of perhaps the most influential year for the Japanese animation industry, 1964 came around with considerably less impact on the industry as a whole. With the massive success of the likes of Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) and Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor) just a year prior, the industry was attempting to essentially recuperate and further search for what it could explore within the medium of animation. Stemming from this effort, 1964 saw the release of only three animated series: Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru, Big X and Zero Sen Hayato. These three series would once again provide production studios and directors an opportunity to explore Japan’s traditional past, confront issues of World War II and even look at the role of genetic engineering. This year also saw the release of only one theatrical film: Tetsuwan Atom Uchu no Yusha, a production featuring the recently famous robot boy created by Osamu Tezuka, introduced to the world just a year prior.
At 41-episodes, Zero Sen Hayato was the first to be released during this year and focuses on a very controversial theme that remains present to Japanese society to this very day—World War II. Through the actions of the Zero fighter pilots, director Naoki Tsuji’s (of Tiger Maskfame) series returns to the memories of World War II as a way to elaborate on the patriotic duties of the Japanese people, a population who tend to forget the war period due to the devastation of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are incidents that remain present within the ideology of Japanese society. Following a young pilot by the name of Hayato Azuma, the series chronicles his squadrons’ adventures over the South Seas against an enemy whose nationality remains unidentified throughout the show. This was the first postwar anime series that referred to World War II directly, which had been a rather taboo subject for quite some time within the realm of animation. Prior to this series, references to World War II in anime were only found within Japanese wartime propaganda. While not exactly being apologetic towards the actions of the Japanese Empire at the time, the series looked at the role of soldiers during this time of conflict, focusing more on their brave actions rather than who they were actually combating.
Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru was the second series to be released during this year and derived from the manga by prominent artist Sanpei Shirato. With 65-episodes total, Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru was also one of the earlier series that Hayao Miyazaki worked on as an animator, further developing his own artistic style as well as gaining experience. With a career that began in 1957, Shirato had become one of the most regarded Japanese illustrators and screenplay writers in a relatively period of time, and in 1964 he was already quite well known throughout the industry. As a stringent admirer of Japanese history, Shirato drew inspiration for crafting his stories from the traditional tales of one of Japan’s oldest arts—the ninja. As the first animated production and adaptation of Shirato’s manga works, the series follows a ninja’s pupil by the name of Fujimaru as he uses his ability to control wind to fight enemies in an era of Japanese history torn apart by civil strife. This niche for the ninja would also be seen in Shirato’s later creations as well, works such as Sasuke (1968) and Ninpu Kamui Gaiden(1969). Shirato had showcased extraordinary skills towards adhering to the complex world of the ninja juxtaposed with that of an authentic sense of realism. In many of his works, Shirato contrasts the past with that of the present, looking intently at the problems and contradictions that are often found within a modern society.
The final series to be released during this period was Big X, another animated creation stemming from the work of Osamu Tezuka, who was by now widely well known as an accomplished artist. After Tetsuwan Atom and Ginga Shonintai, this is the third manga series from Tezuka that made was adapted to an animated television series. With Big X, Tezuka once again decides to explore mature themes in the context of the medium of animation, this time looking at the effects of genetic engineering. The story follows a Professor Asagumo, who is invited by Hitler himself to study and produce Big X, a new drug that enlarges the molecular cells of living beings. Years later, with Professor Asagumo having been killed, his son Akira uses the hidden secret of the drug to battle the nefarious Nazi League. The criticism of the Nazi party is quite clear throughout the series, with Tezuka injecting a sense of authenticity as the Nazi’s did in fact commit numerous crimes during World War II for the sake of genetic engineering and research. In a strange sense of irony, many of the references towards the drug Big X in the manga were deemed inappropriate for television showing, so much in fact that the television series had to have show Akira using a magical amulet to transform to avoid censorship.
With the 1964 only seeing the release of three animated series, the film version of Tetsuwan Atom was deemed as a fantastic ode to one of Japan’s most loved series. Working as a compilation of episodes 46, 56 and 71 of the original television series, Tetsuwan Atom Uchu no Yusha was a film that appealed to both fans of the series and newcomers alike. Segments of the compiled episodes were featured in color, with the film offering a look into the possibility of a fully animated color Tetsuwan Atom—a possibility that would be fully realized in the future. As the year 1964 came to a close, the likes of series such as Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru, Big X, Zero Sen Hayato and the theatrical film Tetsuwan Atom Uchu no Yushahad shown that Japanese animation was continually growing in terms of bringing mature themes to its viewership. Osamu Tezuka would also continue to grow as one more of his animated creations were brought to television, as well as the theatrical version of one of his most popular works. While 1964 proved to be a slow year in terms of production, it still continued the tradition of expanding the thematic framework of what constituted animation within a Japan.
Important works during this year:
Tetsuwan Atom Uchu no Yusha [Astro Boy: The Brave in Space]
Zero Sen Hayato
Shōnen Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru [Fujimaru of the Wind]