For most of 2013 I talked about certain anime series and what they are about, with some production background if I can add it. But aside from sample episodes embedded (if I could locate them), I never really showed them. So on an occasional basis, I’ll do posts that showcase episodes of the series and write about them.
I’ll start with the 1971 Tensai Bakabon series. I already wrote about it on Cartoon Research, but I was inspired to go back to the 1971 series after reading this fantastic post by anime historian Ben Ettinger that explores the show’s animators and the episodes they did (yes, even in Japanese animation you can identify who animated what). Even though I prefer the 1975 “Ganso” series, I can’t deny that the 1971 series is pretty fun as well, with its share of great episodes. Using that post as a guide, I decided to showcase some of the episodes here.
Tensai Bakabon (1971-1972) data:
Aired September 25, 1971-June 24, 1972 on Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV)
40 episodes (each split into two segments, except for the final episode which was a full half-hour story)
Created by Fujio Akatsuka
Directed by Soji Yoshikawa (1-22), Hiroshi Saito & Eiji Okabe (23-40)
Animation Director: Tsutomu Shibayama
Art Director: Hitoshi Kageyama
Music: Takeo Watanabe
Produced in Association with A Production
Produced by Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation & Tokyo Movie Co. Ltd.
EPISODE 12-A: “He’s a Human Storage Space!”
Original Airdate: December 11, 1971
Written by Seiichi Muku
Storyboards: Minoru Okazaki
Key Animation: Daizo Takeuchi & Shingo Matsuo
We get a sense of what kind of world that the Bakabon characters live in with this episode. In it, Bakabon’s Papa goes to a magic show and is amazed at the mundane magic tricks the magician is performing (birds out of his sleeves, flower out of empty hat, etc.), even though the rest of the audience is disinterested. Believing that he’s a human storage space, Papa invites him over for dinner at his home, while giving him a hard time with his own tricks, including the “saw a person in half” trick with a wooden box, which almost sliced his foot off (it only cut his shoes instead). The magician literally does become a human storage space after Papa sees a “sword swallowing” trick on TV; since they don’t have a sword, they use dinner utensils instead. Could this be the answer to bring audience interest back into the magician’s performance?
The animating team that did this episode, Daizo Takeuchi and Shingo Matsuo, did very little work on Bakabon. In fact, they were credited on only one other episode in the series. Nonetheless, Takeuchi’s distorted animation of the magician swallowing dinner utensils and subsequent sneezing them out is a wonderful display of cartoon insanity. Only in the world of Bakabon is this completely normal. The mother was more concerned about getting the pots and pans back rather than that a human being swallowed these things. Given the kind of stuff that goes on with Papa is around, this is probably the least weirdest thing that happened in their life.
EPISODE 18-A: “Meeting with the School Teacher”
Original Airdate: January 22, 1972
Written by Yoshiaki Yoshida
Storyboards: Noboru Ishiguro
Key Animation: Yoshiyuki Momose & Masayuki Uchiyama
Remembering Steve Stanchfield’s post on cartoon characters getting drunk, here’s my contribution to that list. Bakabon’s life in the school is a recurring theme in the show, but here we get an episode where the teacher meet up with his parents. In Japan, teachers meet with the parents at the student’s home, rather than parents coming to the school like in the US. So we have Bakabon’s teacher coming to his home. Of course, the only person home is Bakabon’s Papa (the mother is out shopping and Bakabon went to get her). Papa gives the teacher some sake, and gets drunk instantly. The two then go on a drunken spree, smashing things with their heads, something that would make Beavis and Butt-Head proud.
Episodes like this is some of what caused Bakabon to get some backlash from the Japanese PTA groups. The idea of a schoolteacher getting drunk at his student’s home and going on a reckless rampage will no doubt stir up the moral guardians (even Japan had them, although with comparatively less power), but it just made this series more outrageous. The idea of Papa regarding it as drunken playtime, the same way kids would see as having fun with their friends, just shows what kind of warped worldview Papa has.
Yoshiyuki Momose was only 18 when he worked on this show, so he had less experience compared to other animators involved, but he had a good sense of movement and was able to adapt very quickly. The animation of the teacher running around the house, wasted, plays off really well here. Also notice that the music plays “Camptown Races” when the teacher gets drunk. Even in Japan they would evoke certain music to enhance the scene playing out. Series composer Takeo Watanabe should be commended for that.
EPISODE 19-A: “Papa Goes to a Company and Says ‘Hello’”
Original Airdate: January 29, 1972
Written by Keisuke Fujikawa
Storyboards: Shuji Yamazaki
Key Animation: Seiji Okuda & Kazuo Iimura
We get to have fun with the Japanese office setting here. In this episode, Bakabon’s Papa, who gets a job testing airplane engines, inadvertently bankrupts the airline company after getting into an argument with the important client on the phone. The boss, having gone insane, gives his job to Papa, who tells the employees that, for the following day, they can do whatever the hell they want, since it will be their last. As you can expect, chaos reigns when Papa is left in charge. In the end, Papa gets a new job at the National Diet Building, a legislative building in Japan (in the manga story this was adapted from, Papa gets a job at the NHK television station, sort of a Japanese version of BBC).
Ben Ettinger notes that Seiji Okuda (born 1943) was the most distinctive on the episodes he animated, giving more movement and fast-paced antics to the characters, while also providing funny poses and expressions, which is a must when animating Fujio Akatsuka characters. Okuda is primarily a storyboard artist today, even having worked on the 2011 “Thundercats” revival. Okuda was very well suited for this episode, giving the amount of action and visual humor this story has.