In this blog post, we continue to trace the history of K-animation by having a look at the dramatic development with a decline in the 1980’s and a resurgence in the 1990’s.
1980’s: From sci-fi boom to decline
After the sci-fi animation boom, the K-animation industry suffered a decline in the 1980’s. The key reasons were the introduction of colour TV which became the popular entertainment media for Korean households, competition from US and Japanese animated works which could be imported in VCR format and watched at home, and the severe sanctions imposed on sci-fi animation by the then Korean military government which claimed that the animation had a negative impact on children. Therefore, there were very few Korean animated works during this period. That said, perhaps due to the founding of Korea’s first pro baseball league in 1982, there were Korean animated works relating to this sports. The well-known one was Dokgo Tak: Throw toward the Sun (독고탁 – 태양을 향해 던져라) which was the film version of the comics about a baseball pitcher, Dokgo Tak, pursuing his dream of playing the baseball released in 1983. You can watch this animated work by clicking this link.
The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics brought new opportunities for Korean animation as Koreans wished to establish a unified national identity. The production of Korean animated works was encouraged by the TV broadcasting companies. For example, there were two Korean animated works aired on the TV on the Children’s Day (5 May) in 1987 – Kkachi the Wanderer (떠돌이 까치 – which was a story about a character from one of the then popular cartoons) and Go on Running, Hodori (which was a story about Hodori, the mascot of the Seoul Olympics). You can listen to the theme song of Kkachi the Wanderer by clicking this link. On the other hand, given the relatively high production costs of Korean animated works which averaged USD62,500 for a 30-minute work (vs. average USD1,500 for an imported work), exports of Korean animated works were needed to help generate more income. For example, Kkachi the Wanderer was exported to Germany, Thailand, Taiwan and other countries.
During this period, many Korean TV animated works were adapted from the then popular comics, for example, Dooly the Little Dinosaur (아기공룡 둘리) . You can listen to the theme song of Dooly the Little Dinosaur by clicking this link. Other notable successes were the adaptation of Meoteol Dosa (머털도사), a cartoon re-telling of a Korean traditional folktale, in 1989, which was followed by a number of sequels, and Fly! Superboard! (날아라 슈퍼보드) aired in 1990, which was an adaptation of a comic and was renewed for two more seasons, becoming Korea’s first animated series produced with the idea of several seasons. You can watch this video for the theme song of Meoteol Dosa and this video for the theme song of Fly! Superboard!.
With the introduction of cable TV in 1995, channels devoted solely to animation, e.g., Tooniverse, were introduced. In 1997, Tooniverse commissioned a series called Soul Frame LAZENCA, which became one of the most famous mecha sci-fi animation. This animated work was made with a production budget of KRW 2 billion (which was a huge sum at that time) and the Korean rock group NEXT composed the theme song “LAZENCA, Save Us”. You can listen to the theme song by clicking this link. The style of the theme song of this animated work is very different from that of the other animated works.
With the growth of TV animation, the film animation started to decline. However, the film animation did not disappear due to the introduction of different genres. At that time, the Korean government devised several support plans for the animation industry, animation departments were established in the universities and there were several film festivals specializing in animation. These encouraged exploration of different genres for the animated films. For example, an animated film aimed for the adult audience, Blue Seagull, was released in 1994. In 1995, Red Hawk: Weapon of Death, a martial arts animation, and Hungry Best 5, a sports genre about basketball, were released. In 1997, The War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a film about the legendary naval hero, and The Last Warrior Ryan (1997), a futuristic sci-fi animation, were released. In 1998, The King of Kings: Jesus, a film set in a biblical setting, was released. In 1999, the 100-percent CGI (computer generated images) movie, The Steel Force (철인사천왕), was released, and it was just four years behind the Pixar’s Toy Story (1995), making Korea the second nation to make a full-length animated film all in CGI.
With the resurgence of Korean animation in the 1990’s, it expanded further in the 21st century. Let’s explore further the development of K-animation in the next post. Watch this space!
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Korean Culture and Information Service, K-Animation: Befriending Children All Over the World, Republic of Korea, 2013