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.
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.
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.
To 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.
The 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.
• 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
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