LOST PLANET ANIME
May 7, 2013 posted by Charles Brubaker

“Little Lulu” Anime

lulu

Cartoonist Marjorie Henderson Buell (“Marge”) made it big when she created Little Lulu in 1935. What was originally a magazine cartoon that appeared in Saturday Evening Post spawned a franchise, most notably a long-running comic book. It was animated numerous times, including a series of theatrical shorts by Famous Studios, a made-for-TV series that aired on HBO, and even an anime.

The anime version was produced by Nippon Animation. Originally part of Zuiyo Enterprise, they struck it big when they produced Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974. Zuiyo, however, ran into financial difficulty, so a year later the animation team split and became an independent entity. Now on its own, Nippon jumped out of the gate with animated versions of Dog of Flanders and Maya the Bee, both 1975 and both hits. They jumped straight into 1976 by launching four shows, one of which was Little Lulu.

Model_Sheet

The Japanese show is actually named Little Lulu to Chicchai Nakama, which literally translates to “Little Lulu and Her Little Friends.” Lulu’s “little friends” are, of course, Tubby, Alvin, Annie, Willie, Iggy, Gloria…the whole gang. In addition, Lulu’s parents appear, as well as most of the other characters from the original comics.

Model_Sheet_2

Even though the show was made for Japanese television, the setting didn’t change; the characters still live in the American suburbs. And for the most part, the stories are not far off from what John Stanley would write: Lulu and Tubby still have friendly rivalry, Tubby has his boys’ club, all the kids get into mischief. To give credit to the Japanese writers, they have done their homework.

lulu1-200To give an example of a typical episode, one of them center on Tubby being held prisoner by the West Side Boys. Lulu tries to help him get out, but her ideas only get the other club house boys captured. The gang will only release them if they give their roller skates to them. Tubby reluctantly tells Lulu to get them. Rather than giving them up, however, Lulu skates past them. The West Side Gang chases after her, as do Tubby and the gang, telling her that he told her not to ride her skates earlier in the day.

The Little Lulu anime premiered on Sunday, October 3, 1976 at 7 PM, airing on ABC (Asahi Broadcasting Corporation). Unfortunately, while Lulu was popular in America for a long time, the Japanese audience wasn’t interested. The show bombed in ratings and it never got better. Only 26 episodes were made, the last one airing on April 3, 1977.

video_cover_200The anime did have some life outside Japan, however, being released in European market. Meanwhile, in the ‘States, ZIV International picked it up and dubbed the show for home video release. However, the horrible voice track in the English version hampered any enjoyment one could have gained from watching them.

Nowadays, hardly anyone knows about the anime. It hasn’t been re-released since the early 1980s, and unless there’s a renewed interest to Little Lulu, the show is doomed to languish in obscurity.

STAFF (main):
• Executive Producer: Koji Motohashi
• Produced by Seitaro Kodama
• Directed by Fumio Kurokawa
• Written by Fumi Takahashi
• Storyboards: Fumio Kurokawa, Noburo Ishiguro, Tatsuo Maeda, Yoshiko Odachi, Yoshio Kuroda
• Character Design: Shuichi Seki
• Animation Directors: Nobuyuki Kitajima, Shinichi Tsuji, Shuichi Seki, Yoshiyuki Momose
• Art Direction: Kazusuke Yoshihara, Satoshi Oyama, Tetsufumi Ooyama
• Music: Nobuyuki Koshibe

Voices:
Eiko Masuyama – Little Lulu (1-3)
Minori Matsushima – Little Lulu (4-26)
Keiko Yamamoto – Tubby
Junko Hori – Annie
Noriko Ohara – Wilbur / Lulu’s Mom
Sachiko Chichimatsu – Alvin
Yoneko Matsukane – Iggy
Masayuki Kato – Lulu’s Dad

16 Comments

  • The one name I recognize in the Japanese voice-credit list is Noriko Ohara, who went on to greater fame and popularity voicing the title character in FUTURE BOY CONAN and Oyuki in URUSEI YATSURA. She has another “American cartoon” connection for having done the voice of Penelope PItstop in the Japanese dub of THE WACKY RACES.

    • I spy the late Noburo Ishiguro on this series myself. He would go on to direct a lot of classic anime in the 80′s and 90′s like Macross, Orguss, Megazone 23 pt. I and Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

  • The Lulu anime also got exposure in Latin America, where Memo Aguirre would compose a brand new, catchier theme song especially for that market. It was well-known enough to be rerecorded for a CD in 2004.

  • I always thought the LITTLE LULU anime was not only adorable, but also respectful of the character and feel of the comics.

    That said, this could give you an idea of how a PEANUTS anime would look, if handled just as respectfully! (Madhouse was supposed to have done PEANUTS anime shorts for this year, provided that the deal hasn’t fallen through.)

    • That is pretty interesting to think about. Surely Madhouse did OK I suppose with the Stitch anime series despite it’s quirks.

  • It’s interesting how certain things do or don’t catch on overseas. For instance, the Russian stop motion cartoon, Cheburashka, is quite popular in Japan.

    • That’s true (let’s not also forget Moomins too, of course we already covered Calimero previously, at least Little Lulu tried). That mouse in Revolutionary Girl Utena looks very much like Chebruashka.

    • Hayao Miyazaki almost did a Pippi Longstocking anime. When the licensors turned it down, the aborted project became PANDA KOPANDA. If made (with Astrid Lindgren at least having creative input – believe me, she would’ve), it would’ve been vastly superior to the Pippi animated movie/series we ultimately got! (The one by Nelvana, which was the worst adaptation, IMHO.)

  • Somewhere I have a home-recorded VHS of a Japanese Lulu “feature” made of episodes edited together. Taped it off some channel back in the 1980s.

    • At least someone in America bothered to air this!

      I do sorta wonder who would legally own these nowadays? Nippon Animation (producer) or perhaps Classic Media (owners of the Little Lulu copyright)? I love to dig into that battle!

  • The Lulu anime also aired in Spain in 1984, using the same dubbing and theme song than in Latin America. Being a longtime fan of Lulu comic books, I remember disliking the anime because the characters’ designs were so different from the originals (unlike the later Cinar/HBO series). Also the stories seemed much more childish than in the comics, lacking the satire and wackiness from the John Stanley scripts; gone were Tubby acting as detective “The Spider”, the Little Men from Mars, Lulu telling Alvin tales about the Poor Little Girl, and Witch Hazel and her nice Little Itch. I wonder what made Nippon Animation decide to license Lulu and friends and do this anime in the first place (Was Lulu popular in Japan? Were her comics ever translated into Japanese? Or was it a co-production venture with ZIV International aimed at the international market?).

    • “The Lulu anime also aired in Spain in 1984, using the same dubbing and theme song than in Latin America. Being a longtime fan of Lulu comic books, I remember disliking the anime because the characters’ designs were so different from the originals (unlike the later Cinar/HBO series). Also the stories seemed much more childish than in the comics, lacking the satire and wackiness from the John Stanley scripts; gone were Tubby acting as detective “The Spider”, the Little Men from Mars, Lulu telling Alvin tales about the Poor Little Girl, and Witch Hazel and her nice Little Itch.”

      I do sorta wonder that too. Perhaps John Stanley’s style of writing was lost on the Japanese in translating those stories or how they were adapted originally. The fact that it was more kid-ified in it’s execution makes me assume they were thinking this was a children’s show anyway and weren’t in for the sort of duality that was present in Stanley’s work. It’s probably not translatable at all to their culture given those circumstances.

      “I wonder what made Nippon Animation decide to license Lulu and friends and do this anime in the first place (Was Lulu popular in Japan? Were her comics ever translated into Japanese? Or was it a co-production venture with ZIV International aimed at the international market?).”

      I wish I knew too. All of this is still very new to me. Did Western Publishing made some deal with a Japanese publisher that got the ball rolling? Bothering to use Google Image Search at present, I found a scant number of images of the anime online and this one page of some sort of manga version of the show itself that appeared in some magazine.
      http://ameblo.jp/goregoregoranger/image-10740610212-10925024595.html
      http://kiokunokasabuta.web.fc2.com/kiokululu.html

      We have to remember Nippon Animation in those days were adapting plenty of stories throughout the planet rather than anything domestically accessible, and perhaps Little Lulu proved an interesting ground to attempt a story set in America to present to a Japanese audience in theory. No doubt it wasn’t the best experiment for them to attempt since they hadn’t adapted another American comic since I believe.

      Incidentally, here’s what appears to be a layout sketch to a scene in one episode, “The Endurance Test” that can be seen on YouTube.
      http://unkoer.tumblr.com/post/24540491297/yahoo

      Speaking of Japan, I reminded myself of one issue where Lulu and pals went there!
      http://www.misterkitty.org/extras/stupidcovers/stupidcomics316.html (scroll halfway down to check)

  • Thank Jesus for stop buttons!

  • Worth noting that this show hasn’t aired in Japan in decades due to copyright issues with the comic company, and it never got a video release there either. So unless someone still has recorded tapes from the 80s the Japanese version is basically lost. It’s too bad, seeing the original version would be interesting (I believe every international version was based on ZIV’s dub with Mark Mercury’s new score).

    • Seems to be that way if ZIV ended up being the conduit in bringing the show to the world (much like the way Harmony Gold did so for Robotech later on).

      Lulu’s current owners is Dreamworks Animation by the way. I’m sure it is a headache to straighten out the rights there.

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