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Following the success of the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Japanese anime market came under heavy pressure from foreign filmmakers. Early pioneers like Yasuji Murata and Noburo Ofuji, although they were masters of cutout animation, had a hard time competing with the quality of animation imported from abroad. With huge profits invested in new techniques, Disney took the initiative, using cell animation and introducing sound.
However, 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 the quality and techniques employed. Local animators received an additional boost after the introduction of the 1939 Film Act. This act emphasized cultural nationalism and promoted documentary and educational filmmaking.
Government sponsorship and Navy support lead to the production of Japan’s first animated feature film. Produced by Shochiku Studios and animated by Mitsuyo Seo, Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors premiered in 1945. However, it took Toei Animation thirteen more years to release the first full-length color anime, the 1958 Hakujaden film, The Tale of the White Serpent. . While Hakujaden’s overall tone is more Disney than modern anime, with animal companions and musical numbers, it is widely cited as the first “real” anime.
After the films were released in the United States, under the title Panda and the Magic Serpent, Toei continued to develop and produce Disney-like films, as well as venturing into animated series such as Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and Digimon. Toei’s contribution to modern anime was to emphasize the animators’ own ideas during the production process. This style of production led to Isao Takahata’s 1968 film Hols: Prince of the Sun, which demonstrates a change in style from what is considered “normal” anime.
Toei’s other great contribution was the introduction of the “money shot” animation. This style of animation was developed to reduce production costs while emphasizing important frames in the film. The main body of the anime was produced with limited animation, and greater detail was used in important sections of the cells. Toei’s animator Yasuo Otsuka further developed this style of production.
During the 1960s, Osamu Tezuka mounted Mushi’s productions as a rival studio to Toei Animation. He released the Mighty Atom in 1963, which became both the first studio hit and the first popular anime series in Japan. The enormous success of Atom opened up foreign markets. Fledgling American television, in search of content and programming, adapted Atom for the American market in 1964, renaming it the Astro Boy. Others soon, including Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s animated super robot, Tetsujin 28-go, released as Gigantor in the United States.