When people think of Japan, there are many aspects of the country that spring to mind.
Sushi, Sake, Samurai, Mt Fuji, the megacity of Tokyo, the language, and much, much more, but one of the features of modern Japan that is most well-known is Anime.
Anime has been around for a while now and has become more and more popular, both in Japan and throughout the world itself, with entire companies set up to just deliver anime to the adoring masses.
However, when people think of when anime came about, most of them are stumped.
Sure, we can all think of the oldest anime we know, but when we try to think of the oldest anime, a lot of us come up short.
So, what was the first anime ever made? Is it still around? Today, we are going to answer these questions and more for you.
Old animes to most people are things like Dragonball or Astro Boy or Mr Osomatsu, but even though these are decades old – with two of them over 50 years old – they are not the oldest anime, in fact they are nowhere near the oldest anime.
To explain the oldest anime, we have to get to its origins first. Long before animation was even prevalent in the world, Japan has a long history of storytelling by using images.
These were Emakimono and Kagee.
Emakimono or emaki is a form of scrolling illustrated narration where walls would be covered with images depicting events in a story, with detailed calligraphy to tell the story alongside the images.
Kagee is a form of shadow puppetry, where stories are told using puppets to depict shadows, with people acting and speaking out the parts of the shadows.
Both of these forms of art are ancient and began well before the first anime or even photography, back in the early days of Japan – almost 1500 years ago.
Today, they are still practiced and have influenced the storytelling within anime, with the images providing background and the puppets providing character.
In the 20th century, Kamishibai became incredibly popular.
These combined the two art forms, with a man illuminating pictures on a stand and describing a story to a crowd, while shifting through the illuminated pictures.
This art form took the images from Emakimono and the acting from Kagee and Kabuki to make a precursor to modern anime, which would draw inspiration from Kamishibai.
Kamishibai would continue in popularity through the 30s until the 50s, when television became very popular and mass-produced.
What Was The First Anime Ever Made?
The first anime is generally agreed upon to be a very short animation called Katsudo Shashin or Activity photo.
This animation was found in 2005, and although we have no record of its showing, the animation and the production of it suggests that it could have been made as early as 1907.
One thing for sure we know, is that it was produced far before the first recorded animation in 1917, and we know that the first foreign animation appeared in 1910 in Japan.
However, there are simply no known records for an animation’s existence before 1912, meaning there could be many others out there.
This makes Katsudo Shashin the oldest definite anime we currently have proof of.
It is only 4 seconds long, and it is 50 frames that have been painstakingly stenciled directly onto a strip of celluloid, showing the dedication someone had in making it.
The film shows a little boy in a red cap writing Japanese characters on a board, before turning around and taking off his cap to bow his head.
It is very choppy, but the detail and effort put into making this tiny bit of film cannot be understated.
It may not be the true first piece of anime, but it is the oldest that we have discovered, and it clearly shows that for all the changes in anime over the last 100 years, it has retained the same character as seen in this short clip.
What Was The First Full Feature Anime Made?
This is a tricky question to answer, simply because few complete animes have survived into the modern day.
As such, many animes that may have the privilege of having this title have been lost to entropy and time.
However, there is one that is a contender for the prize that is still around today, and we have the complete record of.
This is a film called The Dull Sword, and it was made in 1917 by one of the fathers of anime, Jun’ichi Kōuchi.
It is actually a miracle that this work survived at all, and it was only rediscovered in 2008 in an antique shop by one of its employees.
The film tells of a dim-witted samurai purchasing a new sword and trying to test it out by challenging random people to a fight.
However, the sword is as dull as its owner, and he loses every time to increasingly frail people.
The movie is only 4 minutes long, but the animation and the style is reminiscent of modern Japanese comedies, where there is often a straight man and a comedic foil to their antics.
Although there are other works that are stated to have appeared before this, those works didn’t survive into the modern day, and we do not have a record of them, thus making this the current first full feature anime.
Why Is It So Difficult To Find Old Animes?
The reasons for the difficulty in finding old animes are three-fold really: commercial, environmental, and existential.
The animators had to make money and often sold their works to small cinemas to get by.
These cinemas would show them, then sell them on or store them improperly and forget about them, leading to them degrading and becoming dust over time.
Many animators didn’t have the money to mass produce animes or keep them safely in a vault, like in America.
Japan is a country of many natural disasters, and many of the biggest ones occurred between 1910 and 1950. Many animation studios were destroyed along with their works.
The small-time Japanese animators were competing with huge European and American companies of animators, like Disney.
They just did not have the resources to do so a lot of the time and when they went bust in the face of this, their works were often seized or destroyed, with very few of them leaving Japan.
The oldest anime we currently know of is Katsudo Shashin – made in 1907 –, but there could be many more out there waiting to be discovered.