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Katsudō Shashin

Katsudo Shashin

What you just watched is Katsudo Shashin (Moving Picture), the oldest known piece of Japanese animation ever.  This 3 seconds long, 16 frames per second loop was made sometime between 1907 and 1911, but was never released.  The 35mm celluloid strip was lost until 2005, when it was discovered in Kyoto and then appraised by Natsuki Matsumoto, thus earning the name, “The Matsumoto Fragment.”  This is the first ever anime.

First professionally released anime:

Anime started being created professionally in 1917, when somewhere between 18 and 21 short films were produced all in the same year.  Many of these are believed to be lost, with no surviving copies, and only one has actually been recovered, Namakura Gatana (The Fine Sword).

The Fine Sword

Namakura Gatana

But Namakura Gatana is not considered the oldest professional anime.  Three other films, released earlier in 1917, have each been considered the oldest at different times.

Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa) was released in April 1917, and was at one time believed to be the oldest anime.  Dekobo shingacho – Meian no shippai (Bumpy new picture book – Failure of the great plan) was discovered later, and found to be even older.  Both films were directed by Oten Shimokawa, whose animation career never expanded past 1917, despite living 1973.

But both of these are predated by an unconfirmed, unnamed film, supposedly released in January 1917.  Since all of these were destroyed, we don’t know what the content of any of them was.

First in technology:

Following this, many steps were made towards revolutionizing film, and anime has a bit of history in all of them.  The oldest anime with sound is 1924s The Hare and The Tortoise, which would have been narrated live, in theaters, by what were called “Benshi”.  As time went on, some Benshi began doing voices for characters, making them anime’s first Seiyuu (voice actors).

World of Power and Women

The World of Power and Women

The first anime talkie, now lost, was Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (The World of Power and Women), released April 13, 1933.  The film was about a man with an incredibly strong wife, who he accidentally admits an affair to while sleep talking.

The first fully cell animated anime, released March 19, 1934, was Chagama Ondo (The Dance of the Chagmas).  It was about some tanuki (racoon dogs) causing mischief in a temple.

The first feature length anime film was Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei (Momotarou: God Warriors of the Sea), released April 12, 1945, and running 74 minutes long.  Described partly as military propaganda by Osamu Tezuka, the film features woodland animals participating in Japanese war efforts.



The first colour anime film was Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent / Panda and the Magic Serpent), October 22, 1958.  It was a story of a boy and his snake/girlfriend… Midori Days, you have met your match.  The film had a profound impact on the then teenaged Hayao Miyazaki.  The visual style is more closely compared to Disney than the anime style that would later be inspired by Osamu Tezuka, though the more muted pastel palette would remain popular in anime for some time.



The first entirely computer animated anime was yet another film, a science fiction work called A.LI.CE, released February 5, 2000.  Visually A.LI.CE is more similar to early 3D JRPGs than anime that predate or postdate it.  The story conforms heavily to After the End, Fish out of Temporal Water, and Chosen One tropes, without offering much originality.

We could on and on about the technology, and talk about the first 3D anime, or first VR anime – because yes, history is still happening right now – but, as important as these innovations are for technology, film, and animation, they are not particularly specific to anime, and it is still unclear what their influence will be for the medium.  Well, except maybe the USB Onacon; that technology really is otaku specific.  And, for references, that was first used with 3D Custom Girl, June 13, 2008.

First of their genre:

The first Mecha is somewhat contested.  Generally, Go Nagai is credited as the creator of mecha through his 1972 anime and manga, Mazinger Z.  But giant robots were featured in series before that, starting with Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s 24 volume, 1956 manga (1963 anime), Tetsujin 28-go.  The difference between the two is that Nagai, inspired by sitting in traffic, put pilots inside his robot.

10 Mazinger Z

Mazinger Z

Magical Girl is even more complicated, with a “prototype” of the genre being Osamu Tezuka’s 1953 manga (1967 anime) Ribbon no Kishi (Princess Knight), which also happened to revolutionize Shoujo (material targeted at young girls), because Tezuka just didn’t know how not to be a big deal.  The series is about Princess Sapphire posing as a prince to protect her kingdom’s throne.  Since she was mistakenly given both the “pink heart of a girl” and the “blue heart of a boy”, Sapphire is watched over by the angel Tink, whose duty it is to take back one of her hearts.  Princess Knight did not have the defining features of Magical Girl anime, but it did pioneer the concept of female protagonists in fantasy/magic action/adventure anime and manga.

Princess Knight

Princess Knight

Sally the Witch

Sally the Witch

The first proper Magical Girl manga was Himitsu no Akko-chan (The Secret of Akko-chan), published July, 1962.  However, Akko-chan did not see an anime adaptation until nearly seven years later, January 1969.  In that time another series, Sally the Witch, got both a manga run (started July 1966) and an anime series (started December 1966).  So Akko-chan is the first Magical Girl manga, but Sally the Witch is the genre’s first anime.



Though Akko-chan still gets to be the first Magical Girl character.  In most adaptations of the story, she’s an elementary school girl who loves mirrors.  Her favourite one was given to her by her mother.  One day, Akko breaks the mirror, and respectfully buries the remains in her backyard.  As a reward, a mirror fairy grants Akko the power to transform into anything.

Shameless School

Shameless School

The first ecchi manga was Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School), 1970, created by… it’s a sleazy ecchi series in the 70s; take a guess.  Yup, Go Nagai.  It was the influential creator’s first big success, and also the first manga to receive a live-action adaptation.

Lolita Anime

Lolita Anime

The honour of first hentai anime goes to Lolita Anime, a 1984 OVA that also takes the prize for first lolicon anime, that prize being: do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  Its lacks a significant over-arching plot, instead being a strong of 15 minute segments depicting rape, bondage, gang rape, drug-and-rape, and a couple instances of consensual sex.  At the time it was very negatively received, but today it would probably be considered softcore, by hentai standards.

Trope Makers:

The fist English dub is contested.  The first dub to air in the US was, welcome back to our list, Tetsujin 28-go (Japan 1963, USA 1964).  However, 1965 saw 4 more dubs State-side, Wonder 3 (Amazing 3), 8 Man (8th Man), Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion), and Tetsuwan Atom (welcome to the list, Astro Boy).  Because of how close the releases of all of these were, it’s hard to say which one began recording for its English track first.

Astro Boy

Astro Boy

The first example of unnatural anime hair colour comes from 1965s Marine Boy, where the mermaid Neptina had green hair.  The series was similar to Aquaman with a boomerang, and, of course, a mermaid sidekick.  Since then, green has probably been the most common “alien” humanoid hair colour, appearing on characters like Lum from Urusei Yatsura (1978).

Marine Boy

Marine Boy

And Go Nagai returns to this list once again with the first transformation scene in 1973s Cutie Honey, which featured this 5 second sequence:

Cutie Honey

Cutie Honey Transformation “Honey Flash”

While it’s a little out there, I would be remiss not to mention the first instance of tentacle hentai, if only because of how unexpected it is. But first, a history lesson.

Since the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when Japan was returned to imperial rule and the Shogunate were abolished, Japan has had strict pornography censorship laws.  In 1987, clever hentai artist Toshio Maeda figured one way around these laws would be to depict women having sex not with penises, but with tentacles.  This was first implemented in the anime adaptation of his manga, Urotsukidoji.

So, any guesses what the first tentacle hentai is? The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a wood carving dated to 1814, before the Meiji Restoration.  Yeah.  It turns out it wasn’t just a work-around.  Some weird Japanese artists are just into that.

First acclaimed:

Japan has three notable film award organizations.  The biggest of these, the Japan Academy Prize, awarded Picture of The Year to Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke in 1997.  Before that, the closet anime got to a J.A.P. award was 1990, when Childhood Days, a live-action adaptation of a manga, won the same award.  In 2007 the J.A.P. established an Animation of the Year category, and presented it to Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.  While these are the biggest awards in Japan, they are far from the first.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro won the Mainichi Film Award for Best Film in 1988, and the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year in 1989.  The Mainichi Film Awards established their Best Animation Film category in 1989, possibly prompted by Totoro, and award it to Miyazaki’s very next work, Kiki’s Delivery Service.

However, Mainichi Film Awards has had another animation award, the Ofunju Noburo Award, since 1962.  It was first award to Osamu Tezuka for Tale of a Street Corner.

The Shogakukan Manga Award has been given out since 1956, when it was won by Noboru Baba for his children’s manga Buutan.

It seems the further back you go looking for these awards, the more obscure and less “acclaimed” they become.  Particularly in the realm of a niche, often misunderstood form of media like anime, achieving critical acclaim seems to be more about mainstream recognition, than reputation within the fandom.  So while Shogakukan’s award to Buutan is the oldest I can find, my own leaning is to call Totoro the first acclaimed anime.

Internationally, anime has had more trouble.  The first major American award an anime received was the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, given to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2001.  In 2002 the Berlin International Film Festival one-upped that by giving the film the Golden Bear, their film of the year trophy.

As impressive an achievement as that is, it comes fairly late, especially when we think of the big anime feature films that really took off internationally; Ghost in the Shell and Akira.  Akira did receive the Silver Screen Award at the 1992 Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, marking the first time an anime received any major award overseas.



First of their format:

The first Japanese Eroge (pornographic video game) is Koei’s 1982 Night Life.  But, when it comes to porn games, America actually did it first, with Softporn Adventure being released on the Apple II in 1981.  Don’t worry though, I’m sure Japan’s was way more disturbing.

Original Video Animation, or OVA, refers to strait-to-dvd anime (or strait-to-VHS when it was coined, or strait-to-whatever-the-hell-we-have-now-that-is-not-considered-broadcast).  The first of these was studio Pierrot’s science fiction, moon colony terrorist war series, Dallos (1983).

The first ever visual novel was The Portopia Serial Murder Case, a mystery game released in 1983.  While Japanese and made by Square Enix, Portopia is a near unique Square game in that it’s not actually anime-styled.  However, they made up for it later the same year with the anime-styled, pornographic Lolita Syndrome.

There are a lot of other firsts, but let’s end this with the first first.  The first manga.  My Haruhi, this part gets complicated.

Obviously, Japan has had drawings for longer than we can guess.  And drawings with text don’t simplify that much more.  Many manga historians think that what’s important is a continuity of Japanese culture and art style, and date the first “manga” back to picture scrolls from 800 years ago; works like Choju-jinbutsu-giga and Shingisan-engi.

Others suggest that kibyoshi – essentially picture books, 10 pages long, released in volumes, with one picture taking up the entirety of each page – made from 1775 into the early 1800s, are the first form of manga.  Because the size of the Japanese alphabet delayed the popularity of moveable print on the far Eastern island, these were printed on wood, with the words carved in with the art.  Unlike previous works, these kibyoshi were thematically similar to modern manga, being romantic, satirical, and comedic.

Yet others argue that manga, as it exists today, didn’t come about until after World War II.  Spurred by the creative (or castrated, as Takashi Murakami suggested) influx of newly acquired peace and artistry, and the influence of American Comic books, modern printed, bound, serialized manga were made.  Of course, this is the time that big deal, Tezuka, shows up, and really sets the standard for how panels (yes, finally panels, a major innovation from kibyoshi) are used.


Katsushika Hokusai

So what is the first manga?  What is “manga”?  What is the future of manga?  I like to think, in the not too distant future, new manga will look strikingly different from Tezuka’s Astro Boy. Modern manga already kind of does, with works like One Punch Man first being published online instead of in magazines or tankobon (bound, collected manga chapters).  But we still call it manga, and we still will.  But I wonder if, in the future, people reading the future’s manga will consider what we’re talking about to be “manga” by their definition.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) used the term “manga” in the title of his Hokusai’s Manga, which contained thousands of images across 15 volumes.  Before that, the term was first used to describe the kibyoshi picture books.

I don’t find it helpful to fret about when the term started to mean whatever it means today.  Artistic mediums grow out of artistic traditions, and all of these historic works contribute to what we have today.  I don’t care which is the first; Choku-jinbutsu-giga or Shingisan-engi, or kibyoshi, or Hokusai’s Manga, or Astro Boy.  I care that they are all part of this artistic tradition, and hopefully are not to be forgotten.

Don’t Lose Your Way