Rie Kusakiyo doing a powerpoint presentation in front of a group of students.
Rie Kusakiyo presenting “Anime: Japan’s Pop Culture Ambassador” at USAC’s Carmelo Urza Conference Room on Wednesday, Feb. 19. Rylee Jackson/Nevada Sagebrush.

A large group filled the USAC building’s Carmelo Urza Conference Room on Wednesday, Feb. 19. Rie Kusakiyo, Educational Affairs Advisor at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, stopped by to give a presentation on the history of anime, important figures, recent controversies and its overall influence around the world. 

Kusakiyo began her lecture by explaining how many students spark their interest in studying abroad in Japan through their love for anime. Many interacted with Kusakiyo when asked what shows they watched, so it was clear they had an appreciation for the art form and were eager to learn more.

The presentation showcased anime’s beginnings in the 1910s and 1920s. Kusakiyo played a clip of “The Thief of Baguda Castle,” which is considered to be one of the earliest anime productions. As the video went on, Kusakiyo explained how animators used cutouts of chiyogami paper before digital techniques were used. 

After an interesting overview of the genre’s history, Kusakiyo went on to focus on influential figures in the industry like Osamu Tezuka, who is often considered the “father of manga.” 

Many students in the lecture recognized Tezuka’s “Astro Boy” television series, which established the aesthetic we now recognize as anime. 

The conversation later shifted to the recent controversy regarding similarities between the 1994 Disney film “The Lion King” and Tezuka’s “Kimba the White Lion,” which was created in 1965. Kusakiyo explained the suspicions relating to the resemblance between the themes and appearance of the characters, which was interesting for those not familiar with Tezuka’s original story. 

Kusakiyo also dove into the appeal of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, which is best known for the Academy Award-winning film “Spirited Away.” One of the most eye-opening aspects of this section of the presentation lay in the fact that an abundance of animators we know and love have been greatly influenced by Miyazaki’s work. Kusakiyo referenced John Lasseter, director of some of the most popular Pixar films, and how he helped Miyazaki launch and translate his films for a U.S. audience. According to Kusakiyo, Lasseter got the inspiration to create “Toy Story” from going to a vintage toy store in Japan. 

The presentation also looked deeper into the reality of animators working in Japan. Kusakiyo told students about the low income that comes out of the animators’ 13 hour work days. Most Japanese animators are working freelance and do not have many opportunities for skill development, which Kusakiyo brought awareness to. 

She also compared Japanese anime to Chinese animations in terms of government support and styles of film, which was another fascinating topic students found intriguing.

Lastly, Kusakiyo referenced Pokémon as an example of a brand turning into a massive phenomenon through a plethora of mediums. 

Adding her own experience, Kusakiyo reminisced on collecting Pokémon cards with other kids in school. As she remembered, the cards were such a big deal and her school ultimately saw it as a “distraction,” so many kids would get in trouble for having them. 

Seeing Kusakiyo’s timeline of Pokémon from 1996 to now was eye-opening through its growth from creating simple video games to now developing an entire company. 

This further proved Kusakiyo’s point of anime having such an enormous weight in the landscape of pop culture.

Kusakiyo’s hour long presentation covered a lot of topics within the anime industry in such little time and had a great turn-out of invested students. 

This fascinating presentation may have sparked someone to research more about anime, or even encouraged them to study abroad in Japan—so either way, it was a win-win.

Rylee Jackson can be reached at ryleejackson@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @rybyjackson.