Moretsu Ataro (Extraordinary Ataro) is yet another one of Fujio Akatsuka’s creations, one of his big three “gag manga” after Tensai Bakabon and Osomatsu-kun. It’s famous enough to be associated with Akatsuka, but in general not as well known as the other two titles listed, sometimes even overshadowed by his “magical girl” series Akko’s Secret. No matter, Ataro is a big part of Akatsuka’s canon, and it even introduced one of his most popular characters.
The main character, Ataro, is a son of a market store owner, selling vegetables. His father, X-Goro (pronounced “Batsu-Goro”), rarely ran the shop, however. He was mostly superstitious, believing in fortunes and luck. However, tragedy struck when X-Goro, trying to retrieve a balloon to a little girl, falls to the ground from a tree, killing him and orphaning Ataro (his mother died years before). His ghost arrives in heaven, but he gets lost along the way. He gets picked up heaven patrol, but they couldn’t register him in because his name is not listed in the heaven directory due to his unusual name. This means that he’s allowed to come back to life, so his ghost leaves heaven and returns to his son, still grieving from the loss. However, he came back too late; his body was cremated, and thus is stuck as a ghost. Only Ataro can see his father, not being able to interact with others.
With Ataro’s dad officially dead, he is now tasked with running the store himself. He befriends another kid named Dekoppachi, a delinquent who used to steal from Ataro’s store until he agreed to help him run it. The characters also encountered Boss Kokoro (Kokoro is Japanese for “heart”), a tanuki mafia based on Al Capone. He would be assisted by two bumbling henchmen, whom he abused constantly. Kokoro’s rival is a former yakuza leader Butamatsu, whose entire gang consists of pigs.
However, the most well known character from the series is Nyarome, a love-sick cat who tries to find acceptance from anyone he can, only to be brushed off due to his overbearing personality. He has two friends, however, with a frog named Beshi and a caterpillar named Kemunpasu. Beshi is frequently seen giving out philosophical wisdom, based on the antics going on-screen. Kemunpasu often exists to be bullied by Nyarome, but otherwise just hangs out in the background as someone that the cat can talk to. By the end of the show’s run, Nyarome and Boss Kokoro hijacked the series from Ataro. Nyarome also made appearances in Bakabon and Osomatsu, becoming a mascot of sorts for Fujio Akatsuka.
The manga ran in Shonen Sunday from 1967 to 1970. Two anime series were made, both by Toei Doga. The first series ran on NET from April 4, 1969 to December 25, 1970, airing on Fridays at 7:30 PM. A total of 90 episodes were made. Ataro was the first Toei anime to be made in two shorts-per-half hour format that’s often used in cartoons made in both Japan and US. The company otherwise produced all of their shows in half-hour format exclusively. Even with Ataro, however, it wasn’t always two-shorts as they began producing few episodes with half-hour stories as well. As the show aired, the two formats would be interchangeable.
Below: Opening in black and white.
One interesting thing is that Ataro’s father is alive and well in the first half-hour show (two segments), which would fool the audience into thinking this is how it’s going to be. However, starting with the very next episode he is killed, and the ghost gimmick is what sticks for the rest of the show’s run.
Another notable thing about Ataro is that this was one of the last anime to be made in black and white. By 1969 Japanese television has switched to color, so it’s remarkable that they decided to make Ataro in monochrome this late in the run. The first 77 episodes of the show were filmed in that format. Starting with episode 78, however, they finally switched to color production. This didn’t save the show, however, and 13 episodes later it was cancelled.
One of the directors on the show was Isao Takahata, future co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. He directed nine episodes of the show (Episodes # 10, 14, 36, 44, 51, 59, 71, 77, and 90).
Below: The last episode of Ataro, directed by Isao Takahata. Note that Ataro doesn’t appear at all in the second half of the show.
The second show aired for 34 episodes from April 21 to December 22, 1990 on TV Asahi (formerly NET). The first 21 episodes were half-hour stories, but the remaining 13 were two-shorts format. An additional character was added for this version, a girl named Momoko, who had a crush on Ataro. She resembled Totoko, a girl love interest in “Osomatsu”.
Below: Opening to the 1990 revival.
Ataro isn’t the most famous of the Akatsuka canon, but it’s not forgotten. And Nyarome will live on forever in the Japanese pop culture.