As a child living in Japan, I was enamored by a cartoon there called Dokonjo Gaeru, also known as The Gutsy Frog (the official English name for trademark and licensing purposes, even though the show was never dubbed in that language).
The premise is simple: A middle school boy named Hiroshi trips and falls to the ground, accidentally landing on a frog that happened to be in the way. As a result, the frog is stuck to the shirt. Miraculously, the frog not only survived, but he can talk as well. He calls himself Pyonkichi and the two became friends. And thus the series was born.
That story may be off-the-wall for Western animation fans, but it was bread-and-butter for the Japanese folks. It was part of the formula that many cartoons there had, where a boy becomes friend with a strange companion, which can be a ghost (Obake no Q-Taro), a monster (Oraa Guzura Dado, Kaibutsu-kun), a genie (Hakushon Daimao), a robot (Doraemon), or whatever. However, Dokonjo Gaeru stood out on two fronts:
1. All the characters lived in poverty. The reason Hiroshi always wears that same shirt is because he’s poor. He can’t afford to have another shirt, so he’s stuck with Pyonkichi no matter what. In fact, just about every character in this show are lower-class. The only mid-to-upper class character is Hiroshi’s girlfriend, Kyoko.
2. The series represented the rougher side of being a kid in suburban Tokyo. Hiroshi always got into fights with the neighborhood bully Gorilla-Imo, and the show never shied away from violence. Even when it’s disguised in the form of “cartoon slapstick”, things can go rough for the characters, which made it stand out from other cartoons in the genre.
The series was enjoyed by kids of all ages, but it was primarily aimed at teenagers, and reading the points above, it’s easy to see why they would find it appealing. Nothing was sugar-coated; being a kid ain’t easy and the show didn’t shy away from it. It featured the highlights and the lowlights of growing up in Japan.
The comic first appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1970. Its creator, Yasumi Yoshizawa, was only 20 years old when it debuted. It was later picked up by Tokyo Movie for an animated series, which aired on ABC (Asahi Broadcasting Corporation) starting October 7, 1972. The show ran for two years on its 7 PM Saturday evening time-slot, ending on September 28, 1974. 103 episodes, each divided into two shorts, were made altogether.
The anime was one of the many early successes for the Tokyo Movie company, who entrusted A Production to handle the animation. The Tokyo Movie/A Production team-up is the best thing to happen in the early days of Japanese TV cartoons. As with all TV anime, the animation is very limited, with drawings often exposed on-threes. However, the designs, layouts, and key poses are very effective and well done. The characters are very expressive, ranging from wacky cartoon to pure, emotional sentiment. The animators knew they had to keep the cel count low, so they compensated by exaggerating the characters’ emotions and key poses, and it worked really well with Gaeru, a very cartoony but emotionally-driven show. Special credit should be given to Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama, the show’s animation directors, for the style.
As far as the other people involved in this show, Eiji Okabe was the supervising director for the first eight episodes. Starting with episode 9, Tadao Nagahama took over as the chief director. One interesting note is that Hayao Miyazaki initially did the storyboards for the first episode, only to be scrapped; Nagahama redid the boards and he ultimately received screen credit for it.
In 1981 the property was revived with in new show called Shin Dokonjo Gaeru (The New Gutsy Frog), which ran for 30 episodes on Nippon Television and, again, produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha. The show was a failure, alas. The animation in the new show didn’t work; it was quite poorly drawn, and the magic that made the original series great wasn’t there. The newer show is hardly talked about nowadays, even though Dokonjo Gaeru is still fondly remembered.
Here are some video links:
OPENING AND CLOSING SONGS
The show had two opening titles and three ending titles during its run. This video collects all of them.
FIRST EPISODE (Complete – in Japanese)
Vintage issue of Weekly Shonen Jump:
Series description from English TMS product catalog distributed to TV programmers at International Television Sales conferences: