Commemorations, News, Reflections

A Fair Future for Japanese Animation

Animation. The physical movement of an object being demonstrated one frame at a time. What started out as an experiment with cameras in the mid to late 1800s had become embraced by the early 1900s. Michigan-born cartoonist Windsor McCay, who serialized the surrealist Little Nemo in Slumberland from 1905 to 1925 in the New York Herald was one of the first artwork animators in American history, creating several short silent films that were made entirely with pen, paper and ink. Eventually, by the dawn of the Great Depression, Walt Disney and Max Fleischer would pioneer new elements such as celluloid painting, layering and emulation of realistic motion, made possible with their respective inventions being the Multiplane Camera, the Rotoscope, and the Stereoscope. The creation of the first fully-animated feature film, utilizing many of the techniques I mentioned previously, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even served as Disney’s early Christmas gift to the folks of Los Angie in late 1937, before being shared amongst the rest of the world by the following year, proving to the world that there was a foreseeable future for this medium of art. Time passed, and by the late 1950s, animation began spreading to TV tubes across America, thanks to some new pioneers, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
Meanwhile in Japan, it was a different story. Throughout the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the Japanese Empire took every opportunity to reject Western values, and even wished death upon the West, though not everyone was on board; for those were traitors. There was one thing ironic about their views, however: they made animated short films that took inspiration from western society. There was also another unlikely traitor, Osamu Tezuka, who was one such lover of the western culture in his time, he was fascinated by how different the west was in a positive light. After narrowly surviving WWII, he dedicated his life to providing entertainment in the form of comics for children who were in need of relief from the horrific aftermath of war. Though comics consisted of still frames across several pages, they, too, took inspiration from American animation. Many of Tezuka’s early works were greatly influenced by many of Walt Disney’s early feature films, some early story arcs of his 1952 sci-fi manga serial, Mighty Atom (known ‘round the world as Astro Boy, mind you) were particularly inspired by Pinocchio(1940) and Peter Pan(1953). Japan was finally showing signs of cultural reform and restructure by the end of the period. However, there was still need to retain its own important historical tales, cultures and traditions for this new generation.
Enter Toei Doga, the animation division of the Toei Film Company that tried its hand at making full-color animated films, which was a first for its home soil, as all the films they had made were in monochrome. Their earliest successes were adaptations of the legend of Japanese ninja Sarutobi Sasuke(1959), as well as some Chinese folktales, them being The Tale of the White Serpent(1958), and Journey to the West(1960). While they were clearly influenced by East Asian values, they also mirrored Disney in terms of quality. Their studio was even structured like a school and business in one, similar to Walt Disney’s own studio when he, too, was scouting out talent for production on the Silly Symphonies and other ventures in animation back in the Great Depression era. The thing is, because of the animators’ exerting labor bringing whatever was on the drawing board to life, not to mention all other necessary procedures to ensure the finished product was of the highest quality, they were paid competitively, but fairly. New animators would be paid minimum wage upon entering Disney’s studio, but their wages would rise, and also they, themselves would be promoted to higher positions if an animated project performed well. Toei’s principles did not differ much either, since the Japanese economic bubble continued to expand, especially with the eventual commencement of the 1964 Summer Olympics looming over the modern metropolis of Tokyo, which would open up the nation to the world even further(History should repeat itself by next summer.). During that time back in America, the early 1960s, the idea of the animated feature film was no longer popular, as animation became cheaper to produce for TV, and even more commercially viable as the box shaped screens burst into the typical American household at an affordable price.
What Japan needed in the early 1960s was an animated program to be made for television in order to continue their amiable competition with the west. Osamu Tezuka had just opened up his own animation studio at that time after his contract with Toei expired. It was known as Mushi Production. Tezuka happened to figure out the reason for the cheap price of animation for the small screen. The culprit? Fairly straightforward. The number of frames which could create one second of animation of a time. Back in the early 20th century, most animated cartoons and features had a frame rate of 25 to 30 to frames of animation, depending on how slow or fast an object was to move about on the screen, which could prove costly over time since it was not done digitally at the time and resources were finite…well, for most studios that failed to generate interest and a profit, mainly. By reducing the amount of frames to create a single second of animation by half, or even 3/4, which became the standard for animated TV programs during the era, animation could still as alive as ever, even if it was a little robotic-looking and less natural. Everyone had to cut corners somewhere in order to generate more moolah again!
The final result of this predicament was an animated adaptation of Astro Boy, which premiered on New Year’s Day 1963 on Fuji Television, and became a ratings success throughout the nation. Because color TVs didn’t become affordable until the mid 1960s, the series was broadcast in monochrome. Seeing potential in the television, Toei Doga began producing content for the tube with programs such as Wolf Boy Ken and Fujimaru of the Wind which aired on Nippon Educational Television(nowadays TV Asahi) later that year and 1964 respectively. Soon, after Astro flew across the Pacific to be broadcast on NBC in September of 1963, its success planted the seeds of competition. Thus, many studios began sprouting out of the ground and began opening up for business. Yutaka Fujioka opened the doors to Tokyo Movie(now TMS Entertainment) in 1964, while the Yoshida brothers founded Tatsunoko Production two years prior. Each studio had strengths, but had a common weakness; most of their works were blatant imitations. Some were even just adaptations of already-existent manga serials. While Toei began relying heavily on adaptations of manga throughout the rest of the 1960s, Tezuka’s Mushi Production and Tatsunoko did their best to achieve originality. Tezuka’s adaptation of his 1950 manga Jungle Emperor became the first animated program to be broadcast in color in Japan. Tatsunoko’s Mach Go Go Go followed in its footsteps by 1967. Both broke boundaries by quite a margin. Sure, they were still animated at a low frame rate, but the detail applied to the celluloid frames was enough to inspire American-based studios to improve their work quality. Both shows enjoyed success in the west as Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer on NBC and CBS respectively.
Animation had become a staple in Japan by the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the Japanese bubble just kept growing. A new noun borrowed from English was even formed: Anime. It seemed like Japan was finally ahead of the game. Innocently enough. But, gradually, the aesthetics of Anime became so different from standard American and European animation because it ventured into territory that the west dare not step into with children around, which led to many programs not being licensed for distribution, save for Leiji Masumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato, though revolutionary for 1974, it was deemed a questionable tribute to the days of the former Japanese Empire, which was adapted westward into Star Blazers beginning in 1979.
Anime in the western world did find its footing by the time the 80s began, particularly in Italy, where most of it was dubbed and localized without much complaints from parents and teachers. It was still not the case for English speaking territories, as only a small handful of programs were broadcast there, simply because they met the TV content guidelines which were implemented in the era to shield children and sensitive people from negative influences, which were brought on from rampant violence they had witnessed in the past. This led to many other Japanese programs being edited and censored for western consumption if they didn’t meet the standards the first time around. Due to the success of western animation geared towards adults such as the film Heavy Metal(1981), as well as films produced by Ralph Bakshi as early as the 70s, content restrictions eased by the second half of the 80s, which allowed the groundbreaking animated film edition of Katsuhiro Otomo’s sci-fi horror manga, Akira(1988) to be released in its uncut glory on American and European soil, provided that it was evaluated by rating boards. Even former Toei animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s Studio Ghibli implemented a strict “no cuts” policy regarding their films’ release abroad, after being upset with New World Pictures’ westernized adaptation of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind(1984), which only happened in order to meet the MPAA’s standards.
Unfortunately, despite Anime’s newfound popularity, after a few decades of a high quality economy, the bubble burst by 1986, which led to many companies, including animation studios, laying off many loyal employees, and even filing for bankruptcy. The promise of lifelong employment for the Japanese salaryman seemed broken, so they began working overtime, for days on end, in hopes they wouldn’t be laid off even further, only to die from overwork sometimes. Soon the animation industry refused to increase the salaries of animators in studios based in Tokyo.
The thing is, all workers in Japan were paid fairly during the Japanese economic bubble, but because the distribution of currency wasn’t regulated properly, asset prices began to fall and loaning became more commonplace, which led the burst damaging Japan’s economic supremacy by the beginning of the Heisei era. The era became known as Japan’s Lost Decade. By that time, there had been an interest in Asian culture in the western world, and Japan was in need of an economic miracle. Thus, they began targeting westerners as well as their own.
To combat unauthorized distribution, animation studios and publishers filed cease-and-desists on fanmade translations, but also offered them paid licenses to the source material as their original creators saw fit. This method of authorization was important to improving the pecuniary health of Japan, it was also how Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball and Satoshi Taijiri’s Pokemon captured an audience the correct manner. Sure, not every title was licensed, but the ones deemed profitable sure were! Once again, Japanese animation had a future.

And as soon as computers became available tools for the craft, many top-tier studios like Toei Animation climbed aboard, paving the way for more creative expression and exploration.
In 2003, at the 2002 Oscars, Studio Ghibli’s animated masterpiece Spirited Away(2001) became the first Japanese animated film to be nominated for and win an Academy Award, despite competition from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch and newcomer Blue Sky Studios’ Ice Age. For awhile, Ghibli animators were paid proper salaries, like at Disney back in the United States, because of how popular and profitable their films were abroad. But soon, too, Ghibli just paid them hourly or per frame, since the Japanese economy continued to struggle. No profits from future endeavors were guaranteed, especially as internet piracy began to boom, and struggled to be regulated.
That same year, Kyoto Animation, which started in 1981 as a substitute clean-up and in-between crew for many Tokyo-based studios, began producing their own original works. Sure, KyoAni tended to lean towards the Moe culture that not even Miyazaki approved of, but unlike many animation institutions and studios, KyoAni animators and artists were paid salaries, even if the economy continued to struggle. Hideaki Hatta believed in the beauty of life and humanity, and eagerly desired to have his hard workers embrace it with peace of mind, what Disney believed in almost a century earlier. It’s especially sad how life ended up for 35 of their beloved alumni last month.
Animation gave birth to the other world, where anything could come alive, whether it was fantasy, surreal, or somewhere in between. As of now, the Japanese economy is improving vastly, thanks to everyone who grew up experiencing the wonders of animation. As the economic bubble is growing again, I hope many corporations will encourage their people to continue their talent without fear, as long as they can live within their means, and as long as their work is budget friendly, yet mesmerizing.
I can only hope for the best health of the Japanese people in the era we call Reiwa.

kyoani tribute final
-Akira Takahashi

August 3rd, 2019

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News, Opinions, Reflections

I went to Otafest 2019!

Hey everyone, Takahashi-gakusei here!

Sorry if I haven’t been keeping things up to date often, but this is ’cause I’m still on my way to getting that SAIT certificate in graphic design! I should remind you that my workflow has improved greatly though.

Remember when I went to Omatsuri last summer? I actually managed to score some tickets for this year’s Otafest at the Telus Convention Center here in Calgary. And so, today, my sister and her boyfriend decided to come with me on the first day. I usually enjoy festivals. But Otafest isn’t particularly my cup of tea. There were some events I wanted to attend that day, only to find out that they were cancelled or rescheduled.

If anyone went to Otafest or plan on going for the rest of the weekend, it’s best that you have a plan and look at the updated schedule on their website if you can.

This is Akira Takahashi, signing off.

-May 17th, 2019

Artwork, Commemorations, News, Opinions, Reflections

Oscar Week 2019: Bohemian Rhapsody and Bao, I’m rooting for you!

Hey, everyone! Takahashi-sensei here. You might’ve been asking yourself every year, “How have things been going in Hollywood?”

The answer? It depends. Unless you’re a die-hard comic book or superhero fan looking forward to the next Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, or someone suffering a nostalgia addiction, things have been getting stale in Hollywood(only slightly). The movie industry has had cruel summers since 2014, and for awhile, it had been worsening, originality being overrun with numerous sequels that mostly flopped, and reboots of existing properties that upset a lot of loyal fans, as well. Zootopia, Disney’s 55th film in the primary cannon, was one of the only quality films released in 2016, and that’s just sad. However, because of its allegorical take on a future political environment that would be crafted by the beginning of 2017, it had people talking, and envisioning a life of social change, as much as a painting or essay could early on, giving the film potential to qualify for one of the most prestigious awards in the history of the creative industries: the Academy Awards. Not many films are guaranteed such a prize by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Even films that had Golden Globe or BAFTA success can’t be promised a win. This is because there are only under 6,000 members rather than millions of the population of the United States in control of such a decision-making challenge. You can’t just bribe them with buckets of dollars just to be one of this elite crew. You can only be invited by lottery.

Ok, let’s go back in time a bit, the early 2000s. Ever read of those Sweepstakes in the magazines you read as kids, like, how you could win a motorcycle, MP3 players, or a PlayStation 2, which were really expensive at the time for someone your age, or even a full-fledged vacation to countries like Australia, or the Bahamas, which cost even more? “Many will enter, few will win.” reads such disclaimers at the bottom of the advert. Just as lots of kids send special postcards with hopes of being like their peers(or making them even more envious), just like lots of academics send letters hoping for their approval of being future students of Ivy League schools like Harvard or Stanford(for me, I’d probably never survive even a year at either, even if I tried.), only a select few will make it in. The same goes to Award Organizations, except, you have to be professional, or be nominated for 2 Oscars if a film you made with the potential of Oscar-bait makes it.

Ok, question answered. Twice. 2018 was actually an interesting year for American cinema. Though there were more superheroes and sequels nabbing some spots(though the My Hero Academia side-story arc Two Heroes deserved one for longer than it did; shame on you, Funimation, for not giving it a standard release, even though Sony could cover the costs!), and the #MeToo movement began to thrive within showbiz, many inspirational stories that the few had the courage to share(some of which being BlacKkKlansman, and Roma) began flooding the theaters and streaming services again. Another big favorite of the 2018-2019 movie season has been the biographical music drama, the story of everyone’s favorite British progressive rock band, Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, which very much deserves an Oscar in any category, even though there’s been some trouble a-brewing with director Bryan Singer recently. Nonetheless, it’s an absolute classic of the decade that we can all appreciate.

Believe me, I had no idea that Bohemian Rhapsody would go on to become the highest grossing biopic yet, despite knowing that it would be popular(everyone’s listened to Queen before!). The first time my family tried to see it, tickets at the Chinook Centre Cineplex were sold out. The second time, we were lucky. The story of Freddie Mercury, Queen’s frontman, was very remarkable. Aside from being one of the greatest singers with a four-octave vocal range that put Michael Jackson’s to shame, he helped the band defy things the way they had been in the music industry in the early ’70s, even ushering the era of progressive rock and pop, bringing crowds from all across Europe and North America together, stomping and clapping in unison. Like MJ, he also became touted the “King of Pop”. After his death from AIDS, he became an icon for the LGBTQ community.

congratulations bohemian rhapsodycongratulations bohemian rhapsody japaneseRami Malek did a great job portraying the rude but amusing frontman, I can’t even tell which one is the real Freddie in the final climactic scene illustrating the events of Live Aid in 1985, which in reality, only made things worse for the crisis in Africa…but that’s another story.

Speaking of Disney, remember the trip I went on to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure in late August and early September last year? Though I had fun being an uncle-figure to my father’s girlfriend’s kids, even just for 6 days and 5 nights in the Orange County climate, and getting to taste the yucca extract-infused Slurpee recipe that’s not even sold at Canadian 7-Elevens? Well, the Pixar Short Film Festival attraction at California Adventure was where I first saw the latest Pixar short: Bao.(I didn’t bother going to the cinema to see another sequel as I was too busy campaigning for the 2026 Olympic Games bid.) What sets Bao apart from the other short subject films in Pixar’s 30-plus year history, is that…it’s written and directed by a woman…but she’s a Canadian, just like me!

Bao tells the story of a Chinese-Canadian mother who makes a Chinese pork dumpling that comes to life, and raises it as her son. As her life raising the dumpling child goes on, though the child is influenced by Canadian and foreign cultures and engages in social interactions with others, the mother becomes increasingly overprotective of the child, even as he grows into a young adult with a white Canadian girlfriend. The dumpling, which in reality is the mother’s real son(which surprised me joltingly, as the mother literally eats the dumpling boy out of sadness and frustration!), eventually rekindles their relationship with one another, and they make a meal together, which he shares with his Canadian friends. Of course, he will achieve independence one day, as much as I will.

Bao illustrates the relationship of food and family with a Chinese flair to it. In China, people usually prepare certain meals with love and care, just as they would to the same when it comes to pampering children. Eventually, what mothers sometimes forget is that they have to let their children choose the future they want to live in. But it’s not like they won’t be in touch again. In many cultures every time a festive holiday comes(Chinese New Year’s was just several weeks ago BTW), many families can reunite, even if they are living separate lives, though some are dieting! Domee Shii, my hat’s off to you!

And there you have it. If I were a member of the Academy, my votes for the Best would be placed on these 2 films. The industry is surely getting back in shape again for the better. I want it to improve so even my work, should I go beyond later on, has the chance of being nominated! I still understand that ideas creatives explore can still be a bit cringy at times. Paramount, I’ve got my eyes on you with what you’re doing with Sega’s spiny rodent later this year.

This is Takahashi-sensei signing out for the night. Happy Oscar Week, everyone! And you don’t have to be entitled to my opinions exclusively. Think for yourself!

Artwork, Commemorations, Reflections

Here’s to a Hopeful 2019!

Takahashi-sensei here! Omedeto!

Happy New Year one and all! 2018 has come and gone and now we enter 2019.

For me, personally, 2018 has been one of the best years of my life. The themes of which are opportunity and earning respect. Opportunity does not strike often at my home of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, especially with the job market in shambles. The biggest one of all was the 2026 Winter Olympics bid, which unfortunately more than 50 percent dissed. But it was a time for me to show everyone how talented I can be, even without a degree. (tuition prices ain’t going down anytime soon!) I had even begun this website, dedicated to my exploits in creating I.P.’s happiness into everyone’s lives. Though it’s only half a year old, I’ve already ammased just over 1 thousand hits from not just Canada or my neighbor to the south, but places I thought it’d never be big in; the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Finland, India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand! Unfortunately, none came from Japan, a country which I adore dearly, and where I wish to base my career path in.

My spirits are now at an all-time high. Let’s hope things stay that way from here on in!

New Year Mural 2019.png

News, Reflections

C for Yourself…but only in your Dreams

Konbanwa. Takahashi-sensei reporting.

I have a heavy heart right now. And what causes this heavy heart to jolt my body with pain? Calgarians have decided not to C for themselves what the 2026 Winter Olympics could do for Calgary. Therefore, we will not be among the final cities in the bidding for the rights to host one of the most celebrated events in human history. It will be either Stockholm or Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Then again, I believe it is fair that Stockholm gets the right to host the games in over 100 years. The Swedes have never won any bid for past Olympiads; the most significant loss for Sweden was that Ostersund, which was bidding for the 1988 Winter Games was defeated by Calgary. We Canadians should learn to be more considerate of our rivals nowadays. The same country can’t hog the spotlight all the time. The United States, particularily, got a little greedy by hosting the Summer Games in Los Angie(1984) and Atlanta(1996), just 12 years apart(It should have been awarded to Athens or Toronto!). Meanwhile, Calgary(1988) and Vancouver’s Winter Games(2010) were held over 22 years apart.

The campaigning I did independently and with YesCalgary2026 beginning this July has only marked the beginning of my career. Though this chapter had a bittersweet ending, I still feel more than sweet enough. I made an impact.

I even went the extra mile; I actually violated the Olympic Charter’s rules regarding mascots. Even if Calgary won, Hick & Hia would be ultimately disqualified for being shown off far too early.

For any future sporting event to take place in Canada, I will be extra careful and keep anything relating to it a secret for the time being. Lesson learned there.

Calgary will still be a nice little city to live in for awhile. At least we’ve got 2030 to look forward to, right? Wait and C, everyone…wait and C.

-Akira Takahashi, November 13th, 2018

Artwork, Commemorations, Reflections

Lest We Forget

Hello, everyone. Takahashi-sensei reporting.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the War that should have been the one to end all wars. Unfortunately, despite the Allied Forces’ best efforts to prevent another one through the Versailles Treaty of 1919, the world would not be at peace for long. Meanwhile, Hitler managed to overthrow the German government to form the Nazi Party, and Emperor Hirohito wanted to ensure that Japan and then-occupied Korea would be free of any western influence, thanks to their affinity for invasion of other neighbouring countries. Because of these, including other attrocities soon followed, the start of the Second World War became imminent by 1939.

If only we had known sooner.

I have created a piece dedicated to the soldiers who died in the battle of Vimy Ridge, France. It was a battle that was won by Canada, and has remained property of the Canadian government ever since.

Remebrance Day 2018

One day, this Earth will be rid of any meaningless conflict.

-Akira Takahashi, November 11th, 2018

News, Reflections

Next Week: A Disneyland Vacation PLUS…a brief salute to Walt Disney himself

Hello! Takahashi-sensei again. Jeez…this sleepy-arm syndrome has been killing me for quite a week. I hope there’s a remedy for it somewhere. Anyway, in spite of it, I’m happy to announce that I will be going to Anaheim, California with my relatives for a week-long getaway at Disneyland Park and Resort.

Yes, I’ve been a fan of the works of Uncle Walt, just like any other child living on Earth. He still remains an important figure in the world of arts and entertainment. Not only did he construct a massive animation team of talent at a young age, he managed to outdo the competition, even during the Great Depression (you could very well say that the Fleischer Brothers were copycats). His team did what no other studio could do before: make a short subject cartoon with sound (Steamboat Willie(1928)), made the first use of Technicolor film (The Silly Symphony, Flowers and Trees(1932)), emulated live-action human movement through rotoscoping, whilst others made rubber-hosed figures, built a camera that could allow for multiple layers of artwork to be used in a single or multiple frames (which is now a staple in many digital graphic art and design applications), and made a full-length feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs(1937)) while others made short subjects out of their work.

Despite the success of the daring entreprenuer, however, his future projects of the early 1940s (namely Pinocchio and the expensive magnum opus concerto Fantasia(both 1940))would financially underperform domestically and abroad. But most of the flops were all thanks to endeavors of America’s enemy at the time, Nazi Germany, since World War II had already begun by that time. Fortunately, Disney’s team was funded by the U.S. Military to make propaganda films for the war effort. And single feature-length stories being adapted to the screen after its fifth film, Bambi(1942) were temporarily replaced by cheaper-to-make anthology films. They subsequently ended up becoming profitable enough for Disney to continue his passion of developing more detailed single-story films, even at the risk of going bankrupt. This led to the release of Cinderella(1950) at the start of the Baby Boom.

The 1950s became a potential era of success for Disney and his ever growing and changing team, thanks to the invention of the affordable television, which Disney’s team embraced thanks to a deal with ABC, which would later be bought by them in the 1990s. And guess where much of his profits went to? You guessed it: the development and construction of the major amusement park and resort in one, Disneyland, which would open in the summer of 1955! Walt, even after Disneyland’s grand opening would become a believer of this innovation that kept creeping up upon the world. He enlisted many engineers in hopes of making his newly envisioned project EPCOT a potential city of the future, but continued enlisting artists and animators for work on more animated projects, the last of which was The Jungle Book(1967), released a year after his untimely death at age 65. 50 years later, many creative minds and workers from sectors of the world to this very day continue to nurture his lifelong dream…of making Earth a place for the dreams of the people to come true. And it took even more than wishing upon a star to make a difference in the world that way.

This concludes my tribute to our friend, Uncle Walt Disney, whose animated works of art and appetite for innovation continue to stay true to the dreamers of today, and pioneers of tomorrow.