Following the success of Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Japanese domestic anime market faced severe pressure from foreign filmmakers. Early pioneers such as Yasuji Murata and Noburo Ofuji, whilst masters of cut out animation, found it difficult to compete against the quality of foreign imported animation. With large profits being invested in new techniques, Disney took the lead, using cell animation and introducing sound.
Nonetheless, animators, with increasing help from the Japanese government, through the production of pre-war propaganda films, animators such as Mitsuyo Seo and Kenzo Masaoka, began to improve quality and the techniques employed. Local animators received a further boost, following the introduction of the 1939 film law. This law placed emphasis on cultural nationalism and promoted documentary and educational films.
Government sponsorship and the support of the Navy, lead to the production of Japan’s first true full-length feature animation. Produced by Shochiku Studios and animated by Mitsuyo Seo, Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was released in 1945. However, it took a further thirteen years for Toei Animation to release the first colour full length anime, the 1958 movie Hakujaden, The Tale of the White Serpent. Whilst the general tone of Hakujaden is more Disney than modern anime, with animal sidekicks and musical numbers, it is widely quoted as the first “real” anime.
Following the films release in the United States, under the title of Panda and the Magic Serpent, Toei continued to develop and produce Disney-like movies, as well as venturing into animated series such as Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon and Digimon. Toei’s contribution to modern anime was to place an emphasis on the animators own ideas during the production process. This style of production lead to Isao Takahata’s 1968 movie Hols: Prince of the Sun, which demonstrates a change in style from what is considered “normal” anime.
Toei’s other major contribution was the introduction of “money shot” animation. This style of animation was developed to cut production costs, whilst placing emphasis on important frames within the film. The main body of the anime was produced with limited animation, with greater detail being used on important sections of cells. Toei animator Yasuo Otsuka further developed this style of production.
During the 1960s, Osamu Tezuka set up Mushi productions as a rival studio to Toei Animation. It released Mighty Atom in 1963, which became both the studios first hit and the first popular anime series in Japan. The huge success of Atom opened up the foreign markets. Fledgling American television, looking for content and programming, adapted Atom for the US market in 1964, renaming it Astro Boy. Others soon followed, including Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s super robot anime Tetsujin 28-go, released as Gigantor in the United States.