Anime’s history is brief

Sabu and Ichi (1968–9)

Someone who worked on Astro Boy (1963) directed an anime film which came out this year. The whole mass-broadcast history of anime lies within living memory. More, it lies within one person’s active career.

Japan’s oldest living person predates the earliest known Japanese animation. The whole history of anime fits, just, into a lifetime.

True, the senior people involved at the start of commercial TV anime have long since departed, and we’re now seeing the old age of those who were junior staff. Nevertheless, it’s a short history. A specialist in, say, Heian-era art would raise their eyebrows anyone calling it more than one period, as I did myself in my last post.

More people have lived in recent generations, of course, and in a sense more events have happened. However, cultural history, cultural time, even, has been slowing down. To give an Anglophone example: The Beatles, an acceptable rock band formed in 1960, supplied the basic premise for a feature film which grossed about $150 million last year.

Why is this so? The populations of developed countries now contain a far higher proportion of older people than they used to. Accordingly, culture from five or more decades ago has far more importance than it has had for most of human history, and cultural time passes more slowly. The internet hasn’t changed this. If anything, it has intensified the grip of the old, as a few minutes browsing the hell of boomer Facebook groups will confirm.

Japan, of course, has an even more aged population than most developed countries.

In future, as the present gets hotter and more unpleasant, the attraction of remembered time is likely to take on more force. The future of culture is the past, served at a higher temperature.

Such an environment doesn’t have to influence all anime. Perhaps through chance more than design, late-night anime, and OVAs before them, have found models which can (sometimes) wring a profit out of small bands of fanatics rather than a mass audience.

The environment does mean, however, that anime has an even shorter history than you’d think from consulting the calendar dates.

2 thoughts on “Anime’s history is brief

  1. A one-minute article for me to become more conscious of the concept of “cultural time”. With recent remakes (part of the “higher temperatures”) like Hunter x Hunter, Shaman King or Final Fantasy VII, cultural time has slowed down even more.


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