Tatsunoko Productions was unusual as far as a TV animation studio in Japan was concerned. Most other companies produced shows based on pre-existing comics, which was the norm in Japanese television, and still is today in some ways, but Tatsunoko was content on creating original properties for animation. They occasionally did dabble in doing shows based on comics, most notably Inakappe Taisho (1970-72, 104 episodes), but most of their output was created with animation in mind, with a tie-in comic appearing the same time the show began airing.
For American fans, Tatsunoko is best known for Speed Racer (“Mahha Go Go Go” in Japan), which had long run in US television. The show’s creation is credited to studio founder Tatsuo Yoshida, a cartoonist and writer who is responsible for nurturing most of the studios outputs until his death in 1977. One of the other Tatsunoko shows that Yoshida is also credited for is Hakushon Daimao.
Hakushon Daimao is a fat, dim-witted genie who grants wishes to anyone who sneezes near his bottle (“Hakushon” is Japanese onomatopoeia for sneeze). The bottle is owned by a boy named Kan’ichi, who is often referred to as Kan-chan. Whenever the boy needs something, he would grab a pepper and cause himself to sneeze, summoning the genie. Of course, the genie is a clumsy goof and he would cause more problems rather than solving them.
Kan-chan’s enemy was a bulldog named Bullko, who would always chase the boy whenever he walks home from school. Some episodes feature Kan-chan ordering the genie to do away with the dog, underestimating the tricky nature that Bullko possesses. In few episodes, Bullko would hijack the bottle and sneeze himself, so the genie is forced to do his bidding.
One of the other characters is little Akubi, Daimao’s daughter. Akubi always comes out of the bottle whenever somebody yawns (the word “akubi” means yawn), having to grant wishes for the person. Akubi, however, is totally unreliable, due to her mischievous nature. She loves to prank people, especially her dad and Kan-chan. In spite of that, she’s a sweet girl and she means well.
Hakushon Daimao aired for 52 episodes from October 5, 1969 to September 27, 1970 on Fuji Television, premiering on the same day Sazae-san debuted, just half-hour earlier on the same network (Sunday evenings at 6 PM). The show was dubbed in numerous languages, including English. The English dubbing was through Saban, who bought the American rights in the the mid-1990s, naming it Bob in a Bottle. However, as far as I know this version never aired in the ‘States, although it aired in Canada. One wonders what prompted Saban to buy the rights to a then-25 year old anime for distribution.
Even though this show was created by the same person that came up with Speed Racer, and the production staff mostly consisted of people who worked on that show, the style and tone could not be more different. Hakushon Daimao is a gag-anime, where everything is played for laughs. The characters are drawn cartoonishly, the animation is rather broad (though limited), and there are plenty of slapstick humor throughout the show.
That is, until the final episode of the show. In what is possibly the most soul-crushing cartoon finales ever, Daimao is informed that if Kan-chan sneezes one more time when the moon eclipses, he will go back to the bottle for the final time and will go into hibernation on the surface of the moon for 100 years. Kan-chan and his friends and family (including Bullko) team up to ensure that he doesn’t go back into the bottle, including locking it in a safe, plugging his nose, and vowing to stay awake when the moon is eclipsed.
Alas, the attempts are futile. In a dream-like state, Kan-chan sneezes one more time and Daimao goes back to the bottle, but not before saying one last tearful goodbye. Kan-chan and others chase the bottle as it goes outside, but alas, it floats all the way up to the moon. And that marked the end of the series.
Well, not really. Hakushon Daimao was only a modest hit when the show was airing, and it managed to last an entire year on the Fuji Television network. However, it was years later that the show entered cult status, due to it being released on video and also through reruns on television.
Specifically, it was a satellite channel in Japan called Kids Station, which was dedicated to airing reruns of old anime, that helped bring back renewed interest in the show, primarily out of nostalgia. So great was the interest that they commissioned a spin-off series from Tatsunoko studio focusing on little Akubi. The spin-off is called Yobarete Tobedete! Akubi-chan. Here, Akubi is tasked with helping out a shy girl named Koron, who has a habit of yawning constantly. The show ran for 26 episodes in 2001-2002.
If that wasn’t enough, yet another spin-off was made in 2006, also starring Akubi. This time it was a series of five-minute shorts called Akubi Girl, and it featured Akubi helping a girl named Ruru get close to a boy named Itoshi, whom Ruru has a crush on. 26 shorts were made for this series.
Even as recently as 2008, Hakushon Daimao was a playable character in a video game called Tatsunoko vs. Capcom when it was released in Japan. However, he was removed when it was brought over to US due to licensing issues (maybe Saban?).
Hakushon Daimao is fondly remembered in Japan. It’s one of those shows that are often brought up when discussing 1960s/70s TV nostalgia in anime, and also one of Tatsunoko’s best-known shows.