Matt Alt Profile picture
23 Feb, 15 tweets, 6 min read
Feb 22 marks the 40th anniversary of a momentous occasion: the Anime New Century Declaration of 1981. Originally intended as a promo for the upcoming Mobile Suit Gundam film, it was held in front of Shinjuku Station. They expected a few hundred kids. 20,000 showed up. (1/12
Gundam was an anime series, and director Yoshiyuki Tomino snuck a great deal of overt socio-political criticism into what the sponsor intended simply as a vehicle to sell toys to little kids. In this it failed, and was cancelled. But not forgotten. (2/12
Gundam aired at the cusp of anime’s evolution from kid’s stuff into a more mature storytelling medium. A predecessor, Space Cruiser Yamato, had already energized older fans and spawned an ecosystem of mainstream anime magazines that connected fans in pre-Net era. (3/12
By the time Tomino took the stage in early afternoon, the police were warning that the crowd had grown too large to control. People were in danger of being trampled. “Everyone, take it easy!” Tomino’s voice boomed. And then he launched into an epic diatribe: (4/12
“This is more than an event! It’s a matsuri [festival]. I appreciate the passion that brought you here today. But you know what will happen if someone gets hurt? They’ll say, ‘that’s anime fans for you. Just a bunch of idiots running wild.’” (5/12
By “them” he meant grown-ups: society at large. His own series Gundam was full of venal adults pushing kids around for their own ends. That’s why the kids here loved it, saw it as more than just a cartoon. Everyone took a big step back; the crowd calmed and listened, rapt. (6/12
A parade of heroes from behind the scenes took the stage: designers, animators, voice actors. Anime was “junk culture” in society at large. Now its architects finally were able to bask in the spotlight of adulation, see the effects of their handiwork on Japan’s youth. (7/12
So too was it a coming out for fans. The New Century Declaration was the first major public cosplay event. Many attendees showed up in character; some were even invited onstage, where they re-enacted scenes narrated by the voice actors themselves. (8/12
Two cosplayers (one of them Mamoru Nagano, who’d go on to be a legendary animator in his own right) read what they called The Shinjuku Declaration: “We the assembled have gathered here to declare the start of a new era. Our era. A new anime century!” The crowd went wild. (9/12
Today, the Anime New Century Declaration is remembered less as a PR event and more as a coming out: anime’s Woodstock. It was the moment anime “grew up,” daring to compete with mainstream literature and film on its own merits. (10/12
The “New Century” resonated through the decades. Perhaps most famously in the title of a series that really DID usher in a golden era of anime: Evangelion. The English subtitle is “Neon Genesis,” but Japanese fans know it as “Shin Seki”: “New Century Evangelion.” (11/12
Today we take it for granted kids & adults alike can enjoy anime. But that wasn’t always the case. The Anime New Century Declaration marked the moment anime evolved into more than entertainment or a medium. It was the moment anime became a lifestyle. (12/12
Today we take it for granted adults can watch anime. But that wasn’t always the case. The Anime New Century Declaration marked the moment anime evolved into more than entertainment or a medium. It was the moment anime became a lifestyle. (12/12
Bonus round: a photo taken inside a Tokyo anime shop for a 1981 magazine photo-essay after the mass media noticed the trend.
Double bonus round: if you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my longford exploration of how Japanese fantasies, including anime and manga, transformed global reality. It's called "Pure Invention: How Japan's Pop Culture Conquered the World."…

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More from @Matt_Alt

21 Feb
In "Pure Invention" I wrote how shocked Westerners were by how many toy stores they saw in in 1800s Japan. I'd long wondered what these shops looked like. I finally found a photo at the Library of Congress. This is of an Osaka toy store called Sumiyashi in 1876, 145 years ago. Image
And here's another from Tokyo, 1906. This is how street peddlers displayed and carried their wares. Image
Thanks very much to the @librarycongress for making material like this available online!…
Read 4 tweets
17 Feb
It's time to celebrate a pivotal moment in online culture (which is to say, modern culture): the 20th anniversary of the very first Internet meme: “All your base are belong to us!” (Feeling old yet?) (1/9
AYB is the famously garbled translation of the opening animation from a 1992 shoot-em-up called Zero Wing. It was only released in Europe, on the Sega Mega Drive. Nearly a decade later, netizens resurrected it in a thread on a 4chan precursor called Something Awful. (2/9
It’s tough to pinpoint the moment a meme flares into life. Is it first appearance, or the first time it gets traction? People were talking about it in late 2000 on Something Awful, but a Feb 17 2001 video and subsequent Wired piece really blew it up.… (3/9
Read 10 tweets
15 Feb
A real moment: Nikkei 225 breaks 30,000 for first time since Bubble burst in 1990, ushering in what were known as Lost Decades. By economists, anyway. So-called "lost" years saw many of Japan's biggest pop-cultural hits: PlayStation, Pokemon, emoji, Tamagotchi, Evangelion. (1/5
In 1990, same pundits who led "Japan bashing" during bubble warned of “Japanization”: a toxic mix of recession, hyperaging population, and political dysfunction that would befall industrialized nations that followed a similar path. To economists, Japan was done. Or was it? (2/5 Image
As Japan collapsed in on itself economically, it exploded outward culturally, scattering its hopes and dreams across the globe. Or adoption of them transformed meanings of cool, of femininity and masculinity, even identity. (3/5
Read 5 tweets
26 Jan
TL:DR Clean well, or be overrun by dusty little yokai. You've been warned. Image
I'm serious. It's a thing. Image
Read 6 tweets
13 Jul 20
In writing "Pure Invention," I stuck as much as possible to Japanese-language sources, because I wanted to give the creators and consumers of Japan a direct say. But I also relied on (or was inspired by) many English-language resources, and I'd like to highlight a few. (1/?)
“The Influence of Japanese Art on Design,” by Hannah Sigur, is a richly illustrated tome that explains how profoundly Japanese sensibilities came to inflect Western design at the turn of the 20th century. Many surprises in here.…
John Dower’s “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II” (2000) is THE book on immediate postwar history. It’s a deftly written exploration of how a motley mix of pardoned war criminals and American military advisors rebuilt Japan.…
Read 19 tweets
13 Apr 20
Now that the #FinalFantasy VII remake #FF7R is here, it makes me think about what a literal game-changer the 1997 original was. Not just in terms of sales, but for the game industry, for Japan as a nation, and for global culture. (1/14)
Final Fantasy VII injected a megadose of Japanese sensibilities into the minds of young Westerners. Anime/manga style melodrama. Visual-kei & Amano goth. Androgynous heroes. Alternatives to Western style. But how did that happen? (2/14)
First off, jump back to 1953. That’s when Masaru Ibuka (below) and Akio Morita decided to rename their tongue-twister of an electronics company, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, into a more pronounceable “Sony.” Why Sony? (3/14)
Read 14 tweets

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