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An early spin-off of the craze for computer games, as Japan's national Invader Game champion Arashi ("Storm") Ishii discovers that while he is bottom of the class at school, he is unmatched with a joystick. Slowly developing a friendship with his rivals Satoru and Ippeita, he treats computer games with the reverence of martial arts, developing special attacks such as the Blazed Top, Vacuum Hurricane Shot, and Fish Stance. In other words, Aim for the Ace, but less athletic.
GAMING AND DIGITAL ANIMATION
In the last two decades, graphics and computer gaming have exerted a growing influence on anime Technology and Formats, until the concerns of gaming companies largely achieved dominance over those of filmmakers. As Asia's postwar industries rebuilt their economies through consumer durables and electronics, children traded their balls and skipping ropes for plastic boxes capable of generating fantasy worlds. From playing with each other, children have shifted over four decades to watching TV shows about playing with each other. Developments in computing gave them something even more seductive than television, the ability to step into the fantasy and exert some control, while the rise of the Internet meant that they could build themselves an entire fantasy existence online. Where children would once reenact their favorite TV episodes on the school playground, they are now just as likely to join an online game version, and are encouraged to do so by a corporate marketing machine out to foster brand identity.
Early computer games in Japan swiftly made use of the graphic abilities of anime and manga artists. The pixels available onscreen might have been limited, but box art and storylines could still exploit the look and style of anime. With the greater memory available in coin-operated games using solid-state electronics, games companies were also able to use more advanced graphics. The strip game Mah Jong Pai Pai tried to titillate players with the addition of photographs of scantily-clad girls, but lack of memory made the use of anime-style illustrations far more effective, as first used in Mah Jong Game (1978). Anime and gaming, particularly erotic gaming, have been inextricably linked ever since, with many anime staff and production companies moonlighting on game productions through the 1980s.
In the early 1980s, a crash in the American console games market coincided with the rise of Nintendo, Sony, and Sega as games producers in Japan and with falling prices of computer power worldwide. Home computers, however, were slow to catch on in Japan-as late as the early 1990s, word processors were still unpopular, and anime scripts were being written by hand. A few directors realized that the growing power of computers would allow them to cut certain corners. The first demonstrable use of computer graphics in anime was in Osamu Dezaki's Golgo 13: The Professional (1983), in a helicopter assault sequence. This, however, was purely for show-the scene gained nothing from the use of digital animation and was instead a mere gimmick. The limitations of computer graphics at the time restricted Dezaki to using animation for his vehicles, and not for the more complex polygons that would have been required for people.
Before the advent of high memory capacity sufficient to make an entire anime by digital methods, computer graphics remained a showy special effect, best utilized where it was cheapest and most visible. It appeared in panels, viewscreens, and, in Lensman (1984), in the opening credits, where a single piece of footage could be reused for maximum impact over many episodes.
In 1986, Running Boy and Super Mario Brothers tied in the race to become the first gaming tie-in anime. Digital animation was not a feature of either-instead, their relation to the gaming world was one of investment and sponsorship. Toy tie-ins such as Gundam and the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (*DE) had already shown the influence that sponsors could have on television production; now it was gaming companies that found their profits increasing, along with their desire to promote their products through an anime spin-off. Grey: Digital Target, the ultimate satire of the eternal escalation of game-based plotting, appeared in anime form in the same year.
Many games suffer in their anime adaptation from an overly simplified quest- or combat-based narrative. Shoot-em-ups like Gradius, adapted into anime form as Salamander (1988), present problematic material, particularly outside the undemanding children's field. Gisaburo Sugii's masterful attempt to make something interesting out of Streetfighter II (1994) helped create a series of new traditions and clichés for game adaptations, many based loosely on the conventions found in the sports anime of the past-such as the plucky outsider, evil rivals, and doomed mentors of Toshinden and Tekken.
The short, limited "cut scenes" of gaming, like advertising before it, presented the ideal platform for experimenting with new filming techniques, many of which were later incorporated into anime. Macross Plus (1994) and, most significantly, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell (1995), used computers as tools for recreating realistic flaws in film-lens flares and moments of fuzzy focus, designed to accentuate the feeling of watching a live-action movie. Oshii dispensed with the rostrum camera of cel animation, instead scanning images directly into a computer. This allowed not only the integration of digital special effects, but made 2D (cel) animation elements for the first time as easy to manipulate as 3D elements. It also spelled the beginning of the end for cel animation, which was simply no longer necessary if everything could be digitized. Before long, the price of computer power had fallen to the point where Toei Animation regarded the purchase of a number of computers to be economical-1997 saw episodes of Doctor Slump and Spooky Kitaro made wholly inside a computer, resembling cel animation but actually fully "digital" in their construction.
The large unit costs of games means that a successful gaming company has much higher budgets to play with. By the late 1990s, with anime budgets squeezed ever tighter, many of the talents who might have previously worked in TV animation instead migrated to the higher returns of computing. The game Scandal (2000), animated by Production IG, contained three hours of animation, ironically assembled at a higher budget than many "real" anime on television. Those anime that flourished on television often did so with the heavy backing of games concerns-Pokémon, Bomberman, and Digimon, to name a few. Their emphasis is often based on the collecting of cards, toys, or other cheaply mass-produced items that can be marketed to young consumers during the commercial breaks.
Animators' careers had followed roughly the same pattern since the 1950s, with artists taking low-paid jobs as in-betweeners, learning their trade as they rose through the ranks to key animator and perhaps director. Such career paths became rarer, as much low-ranking work was farmed out abroad, and computers were increasingly dominant in the local industry. Hayao Miyazaki once even seriously suggested setting up a "living museum" of old-school animators, who would continue to work using cel methods, lest skills completely atrophy. By 1998, Serial Experiments Lain took a bleak but clear-eyed view of the fascination of the Internet, reflecting the mindset of a generation for whom the postwar social ethic had no further relevance, and posing the question: does the physical world have anything to offer young people that can match what they find online?
The new generation of animators has grown up divorced from the former apprenticeship skills of cel animation. Instead, they were graphic designers and computer animators used to working directly with machines, and often for bosses whose background was not in art, but in marketing or production. The first signs of this group's very different working methods appeared at the end of the 20th century with several animated works that seemed more inspired by the look of polygon-based games than cel-based animation. Visitor (1998) and A.Li.Ce (1999) fought to be identified as anime's "first" 3D animated feature, their rudimentary puppet-style animation soon trumped by that in Aurora (2000) and Blue Remains (2000). Notably, many CG anime from this period take place underwater-as with Blue Submarine No. Six, the reduced depth perception, limited underwater color schemes, and heightened interference from bubbles all helped obscure any joins between 2D and 3D animation. Also, "floating" characters, whether in zero gravity or underwater, were not obliged to touch the ground, and thereby saved on more expensive animation of feet.
Anime at the turn of the century initially aspired to imitate live-action itself-audiences often expected to marvel not at the story, but at the latest feats of animation. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), made in America but with Japanese money, was derided as an expensive flop, although the authors continue to suspect that its "failure" was a handy way of writing off the development costs of important new software that continues to be applied in the Japanese games industry. However, in the wake of its poor box office performance animators turned aside from any direct attempts to emulate reality. Digital animation was employed on live-action films such as Casshern (2004) as a special effect, but within animation itself, animators returned to a more cartoonish look in works such as Kai Doh Maru (2001). Appleseed (2004) employed a method called "toon shading" to make 3D animation look more like old-fashioned cels.
The prominence of gaming companies has become most obvious in a series of takeovers and acquisitions in 2005, with the formation of the Namco-Bandai conglomerate, Sega's acquisition of a controlling share in the anime studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha, and Takara's buyout of anime studio Tatsunoko. Such changes point to even more games-related tie-ins by 2010. Particularly when one considers the number of anime based on dating-simulation or erotic games, it is fair to claim that the majority of anime are now no longer based on manga, but on software.
But even as the conglomerates accrete into larger behemoths, the digital age also offers more opportunities for the independents. Digital images can easily be put to other uses, for example in manga or merchandise. Cobra-creator Buichi Terasawa has long championed the creative freedom and control the computer gives to artists, and makes all his work on an Apple Macintosh for multimedia export. As the possibilities of Internet and mobile network distribution expand, the niche for those who want to make and present their own work in their own way will widen.
In a virtual repeat of the limits and demands of early arcade games, the modern vogue for mobile phone distribution favors similar materials-the simpler the better, leading to titles such as Black Jack Flash and Legend of Duo making a virtue of their cheap animation. The advent of the mobile phone has also brought a new lease on life to older series, such as Robotech, reborn on mobile phones where the lines and crackles of old age in its images are less visible on a smaller screen.
Distribution is key to success in anime, as in most mass media. Creators whose vision is hard to package for mass sales (like Bak Ikeda, director of Pinmen) have traditionally languished on the arts festival circuit, or done private work alongside a more conventional career. The turn of the millennium has seen individual creators able to work with little or no outside intervention, particularly now that the kind of software that the animators of the 1980s could not have even imagined is available off the shelf to private individuals. Voices of a Distant Star (2002) and Pale Cocoon (2005) are two of the most noticeable of these new "home-grown" works, ironically returning the medium to its Early Anime roots of lone hobbyists tinkering in their lounges with a new art form.