While the festival awards and the DVD sales figures might be the usual arbiters of success in the anime world, many creatives put food on the table by doing little blipverts, idents and funny-animal sales pitches for TV. Many Japanese ad companies have spent much of the last century as inadvertent patrons of the arts, paying out, and paying well for the skills of animators.
Popular legend holds that the Japanese animation business came back to life in 1958 after a decade in the post-war doldrums. But the most widely seen piece of anime in 1958 was not the first colour feature, The Legend of the White Snake. If you wanted to see that, you had to go to a cinema. If you wanted to see Uncle Torys, on the other hand, you only had to turn on your television set, and he was there every night.
Created two years earlier by the artist Ryohei Yanagihara, Uncle Torys was a cartoon businessman with an outsized head, who began appearing on billboards all over Japan touting the wonders of the “Torys” brand of Suntory whisky. With the distillery’s parent company sponsoring the Japanese broadcast run of Rawhide, it was decided to do a little cowboy saloon-bar skit in which Uncle Torys gets hammered. This was back before anyone had really worked out how long an advert should be. As a result “Torys Bar” (1958) ran for over a minute, in a comedy skit scripted by author Takeshi Kaiko. It was the first of many sketches featuring the drunken uncle, who would go on to appear as a blue-collar worker, as a henpecked honeymooner and numerous other comedy roles.
The cartoon style was based loosely on the look of Gerald McBoing-Boing, an American cartoon, copies of which had made it to the TCJ studio where the animation work was done. The advertisers warmed to the economy of line and, once colour television came in, the opportunity to go mad with rainbow hues. One history of Japanese advertising even went so far as to proclaim that the Torys commercials were “cartoons that even grown-ups could enjoy.” One would hope so – they were selling whisky!
In later years, TV companies would tout for smaller business by reducing the size (and hence cost) of ad blocks, until by 1962, it was possible to buy advertising space that was only five seconds long. But this short-form craft only encouraged advertisers to search for ever more eye-catching artwork (some of which turned out oddly creepy). Japanese animators found plenty of work to do – advertising work remains the most lucrative and enduring element of Japanese animation, and one that is rarely seen outside its native country. The likes of Kihachiro Kawamoto, the famous stop-motion animator, largely funded their artistic works from the proceeds from advertising jobs. So, too, did Yoji Kuri, who is known in avant-garde circles for his festival short films, but in the commercial world as the man who animated dancing drum majorettes to advertise Mitsuka Soap.
Uncle Torys eventually retired in 1971, to be replaced by a live-action celebrity: an old man who made cabinets and mumbled reminiscences about the good old days. But Uncle Torys has cropped up on anniversaries and special occasions in the forty years since, getting gleefully blotto with his big giant head.
Nami, despite her desperate dash, arrives at the station too late to stop the Sea Train, but she's relieved to learn that Sanji has stowed away on board the vessel and will stop at nothing to rescue Robin! With the storm of all storms bearing down upon them, Nami and Chopper risk their lives to save Luffy and Zoro from the rapidly rising waters. Back aboard the train, Sanji is aided in his battle against the CP9 goons by the arrival of the mysterious Soge King, a wandering warrior from the Island of Snipers!
As the scattered Straw Hats fight to reunite, fate draws them ever nearer the foreboding fortress of Enies Lobby. Will our heroes live to face the hour of reckoning?!
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.
Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.
Bleach series 13 continues the clash between Soul Society’s Shinigami and Sousuke Aizen’s Arrancar army. It also brings with it a new talent in Japanese pop-rock: miwa. This fresh-faced female, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of upbeat pop-rock songs, provides the series’ twelfth opening theme, ‘chAngE’.
This year's Tokyo Film Festival also included a festival within a festival, an awesomely thorough programme of screenings and live appearances by the maker of Evangelion. It covered Anno’s career from his early amateur films to his live-action, to his work as an animator and anime director.
Jonathan Clements goes in search of groove in a grove
Tajomaru: Avenging Blade is part of a trend in filmmaking that has seen a number of Japanese classics approached from new angles. In Hollywood, we have the Satsuma Rebellion retooled in The Last Samurai, and Keanu Reeves already at work on the forthcoming Forty-seven Ronin. Within Japan, Sogo Ishii’s Gojoe (2000) replayed a famous samurai legend with a gritty, glossy, pop sensibility. Shinji Higuchi’s Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess (2008) re-appraised a Kurosawa classic through the priorities and influences of George Lucas’s Star Wars. Kazuaki Kiriya’s Goemon (2009) retold an old kabuki tale, re-imagined with the weight of a century of potboiler novels and schlocky ninja movies.
With the animated versions of Saya’s vampire-slaying adventures now into its third incarnation in both TV and feature versions, most recently featured in the release of Blood C: The Last Dark, one feels compelled to ponder in some depth the abject failure of the 2009 live-action version one of Sony’s few key 21st century animated franchises.