All About Japan

Japan's Oldest Manga Gets Animated

Art Ghibli Video

Close to two years have passed since the Japanese release of When Marnie Was There, the last anime film from Studio Ghibli. But while we wait for the studio's next film (if there will be one!), there's a brand new piece of short Ghibli animation that you can watch right now that breathes life into one of Japan's oldest manga.

The designs, coloring, and situations are based on the picture scrolls called the Choju Jinbutsu Giga, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals. Created in the 12th and 13th centuries, they’re widely considered to be the earliest examples of manga in Japanese history.

Given their age, the Choju Jinbutsu Giga were obviously never meant to be animated, but Ghibli’s artists bring the artwork, which feels at once both detailed and abstract, to expressive life. Even though they’re working with designs from hundreds of years ago, the video clearly shows the studio’s distinctive sense of character momentum, weight, and connection to the environment.

But Ghibli didn’t make the video strictly because of an appreciation for historical artwork. The video was produced at the behest of energy company Marubeni Shin Denryoku, which is touting its shift toward low-pollution, renewable wind, water and solar-based energy production. The Choju Jinbutsu Giga was chosen as a symbol of the natural beauty of pre-industrial Japan.

Such sentiments reverberate with eco-conscious Studio Ghibli, as does Marubeni Shin Denryoku’s Plan G, which donates a portion of customers’ energy payments to conservation efforts. As part of the two companies’ continuing collaboration, Ghibli’s Suzuki and Marubeni Shin Denryoku Executive Director Satoshi Fukuda will be meeting for a discussion about ecological issues, which is scheduled to then be released in video format.

Some may be surprised to see the proud Studio Ghibli making what is, in essence, a commercial, but this isn’t the first time the company has been involved in the production of advertising. And even if it is an ad, when it’s one with a heart, plus such beautiful artwork, we think most people would say it’s well worth watching.

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