The Origins of Anime: Watch Free Online 64 Animations That Launched the Japanese Anime Tradition

Japan­ese ani­ma­tion has a way of seem­ing per­pet­u­al­ly new and dar­ing, but it now goes back at least a cen­tu­ry. Hav­ing carved out its own aes­thet­ic and intel­lec­tu­al space in world cul­ture, ani­me (even for­eign­ers who’ve nev­er watched so much as a minute of it know the Japan­ese term) con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate a dis­tinc­tive kind of excite­ment in its view­ers. That goes for rel­a­tive­ly recent fea­tures that have already attained clas­sic sta­tus, like the lush, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly real­is­tic and fan­tas­ti­cal works of Hayao Miyaza­ki, the dark­er, deep­er visions like Mamoru Oshi­i’s Ghost in the Shell, and the diver­si­ty of works in between. But how did those qual­i­ties man­i­fest in the very ear­li­est ani­me? We can now eas­i­ly see for our­selves, thanks to the selec­tion of 64 Japan­ese ani­mat­ed film clas­sics made freely avail­able online, as a cel­e­bra­tion of the cen­te­nary of the form, by Japan’s Nation­al Film Archive.

“The most excit­ing of these are the two ear­li­est extant ani­me The Dull Sword (Namaku­ra Gatana, 1917) and Urashima Tarō (1918),” writes Nishika­ta Film Review’s Cathy Munroe Hotes, “films which were con­sid­ered lost until copies were mirac­u­lous­ly dis­cov­ered in an antique shop in Osa­ka in 2008.  As the vast major­i­ty of pre-war films have been lost due to nat­ur­al dis­as­ter, war, and gen­er­al neglect, each of these 64 films is an impor­tant glimpse into ear­ly ani­me his­to­ry and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Japan­ese cul­ture.”

You can also browse the Nation­al Film Archive’s online col­lec­tion of ear­ly ani­ma­tion by direc­tor. Watch­ing the works of cer­tain espe­cial­ly pro­lif­ic ones like Noburō Ōfu­ji and Yasu­ji Mura­ta (whose 1929 The Old Man’s Lump Removed, not avail­able in the col­lec­tion, appears above), you might come away con­vinced that, even in its first decades, Japan­ese ani­ma­tion had devel­oped its auteur cul­ture.

The move­ment (which some­times bare­ly qual­i­fies as such) and sound (if any) in some of these shorts could hard­ly impress today, at least on a tech­ni­cal lev­el. Nev­er­the­less, those of us who’ve felt the excite­ment of the best of ani­me will rec­og­nize in the pre­sen­ta­tion of the images them­selves — in its dynamism, its humor, its cre­ativ­i­ty — the spe­cial ani­mat­ing spir­it, as it were, that first sparked our inter­est. Whether the some­times slap­dash likes of Speed Rac­erRobot­ech, or Kim­ba the White Lion, which intro­duced gen­er­a­tions of West­ern­ers to ani­me in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, real­ly marked that much of an improve­ment on crude pro­duc­tion of, say, Murata’s My Ski Trip from 1930 remains open to debate, but through them all we can trace the devel­op­ment of the style and sen­si­bil­i­ty that, to this day, no ani­ma­tion but the Japan­ese vari­ety has tru­ly mas­tered.

Enter the Nation­al Film Archive ani­me col­lec­tion here.

(NOTE: the Nation­al Film Archive assures us that the Eng­lish ver­sion of the site “will be avail­able in a month or two,” but you can find Eng­lish-sub­ti­tled films there even now.)


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917–1931)

How the Films of Hayao Miyaza­ki Work Their Ani­mat­ed Mag­ic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

The Phi­los­o­phy, Sto­ry­telling & Visu­al Cre­ativ­i­ty of Ghost in the Shell, the Acclaimed Ani­me Film, Explained in Video Essays

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.