1. The background and Bander’s Book.
A note (or warning): I have previously described how, when Dr. Tezuka showed Bander Book at the C/FO meeting in December 1978, I told him that the title should have been in the possessive, Bander’s Book. He replied (in English, which he insisted that he did not speak), “But you say Jungle Book, not Jungle’s Book! Why isn’t it the same for Bander?” I have never agreed with the insistence by American anime fans of keeping Japanese titles in the same uncorrected pidgin-English that they are sometimes assigned by Japanese creators. (Attack on Titan for Attack of the Titans being a current example.) Therefore I am presenting the Tezuka TV Specials with their titles corrected into good English, even if I am the only one to use them.
In late August 1978, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Nippon Television Network Corporation and its affiliates started the annual charity telethon 24 Hour Television: Love Saves the Earth (24時間テレビ 「愛は地球を救う」; Niju yojikan Televi: “Ai wa Chikyū wo Sukū”). The telethon is to raise donations for various charities for the sick, the handicapped, war relief, the victims of worldwide natural disasters, and environmental projects. Notable donations have included ¥120,000,000 to the victims of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ¥100,000,000 to the victims of the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and its resulting tsunami, and ¥320,000,000 to victims of the March 2011 Great East Japan (Fukushima) earthquake and its tsunami.
The telethon features various special acts and programs donated for charity. For example, one event held every year is a popular TV personality trying to run a 100 km. marathon. (Due to this, the 24-hour program has sometimes stretched as far as 27 hours.) To begin the telethon in 1978, Osamu Tezuka was asked to produce a special animated feature, to run from 10:00 p.m. until midnight (not counting telethon breaks). This was Japan’s first two-hour animated TV movie, and it began an annual tradition that lasted from 1978 until Tezuka’s death in 1989. Tezuka and Tezuka Pro did not produce an animated feature for every year from 1978 to 1989, but there were nine of them. All have been released on DVD.
During the 1970s, Osamu Tezuka slowly repaired his reputation from the debacle of Mushi Pro.’s 1973 bankruptcy. His new adult literary manga reestablished his image as a current leader within the manga community. He personally repaid the debts of Mushi Productions and its publishing subsidiary, Mushi Pro Shoji, which wiped out much of his own savings but went far toward proving his moral responsibility. The major popularity of his Black Jack (1973-1983) and The Three-Eyed One (1974-1978) serialized manga restored his reputation as a public “hot” manga artist, and their income rebuilt his personal financial status. In the TV anime field, the sudden death by cancer of Tatsunoko Pro founder Tatsuo Yoshida (September 5, 1977) left an opening among the TV anime leaders.
Tezuka became aware following the runaway success of Space Battleship Yamato in 1977-‘78 that he may have restored his reputation within the manga community, but to the general public and the anime community, he was still the failure who had bankrupted Mushi Pro and had disappeared from anime since then. (He had created several 1970s TV anime series such as Microid S and Jetter Mars, but they were produced by Tōei Dōga. Tezuka had just been the idea man, and they weren’t new ideas. Microid S was a rehash of standard boys’ adventure superhero stereotypes, and Jetter Mars was clearly a thinly repackaged Astro Boy.) By 1978, Tezuka was ready and eager to show the public that he and his new Tezuka Productions were still among the leaders of Japan’s anime creators. Nippon Television’s 24 Hour Television: “Love Saves the Earth” telethon and its annual followups gave him a perfect opportunity to do this.
Tezuka may have created the general plots, but he was not the main director or writer of any of them. They were all developed by the Tezuka Pro staff. The early Tezuka Specials, or the Tezuka Productions Specials, to distinguish them from the one Tezuka TV special produced by Mushi Pro (the 1965 New Treasure Island), were notable for their excessive use of Tezuka’s “Star System”. He did not introduce it here; his “supporting characters” like Higeoyaji, Rock Holmes, Acetylene Lamp, and Hamegg have appeared in his manga from the 1950s on. The elderly mustached Higeoyaji was usually a detective and a schoolteacher in Astro Boy; Lamp (with a lighted candle behind his ear) was a corrupt schemer; and Hamegg (Ringmaster Cacciatore in the first episode of Astro Boy; the big game hunter Viper Snakely in Kimba the White Lion) was an outright villain.
But in the first few Tezuka Specials, he overdid it outrageously. In Bander’s Book the main characters are all original, but Higeoyaji, Dr. Ochanomizu, Don Dracula, and a few others have very brief walk-on roles. In Marine Express, all of the main characters are Tezuka’s stars, some cast against type. Dr. Ochanomizu is a South Pacific inventor, and the villain. Rock Holmes, usually a young villain in Tezuka’s manga, is the train’s engineer and the handsome hero. Astro Boy is Adam, a real human boy (who turns out to be a robot). Higeoyaji is a detective, trying to chase a gangster (Skunk Kusai) while Dr. Black Jack and Pinochle follow him to collect on a medical bill. Chocula is Milly, the young daughter of Duke Red, the Express’ financier. Princess Sapphire, Kimba, Snake Kusai, Don Dracula, Sharaku (Three-Eyes), Hamegg, Acetylene Lamp, and others get roles whether they fit them or not. Tezuka did not use his Star System so outrageously in the following Specials, but they often had three or four of his well-known characters in small parts.
Hyakumannen Chikyū no Tabi: Bander Book. Bander Book: The One Million Year Trip. August 27, 1978. 94 minutes, plus telethon breaks for a two-hour time slot. Nominally co-directed by Osamu Tezuka, but actually entirely directed by co-director Hisashi Sakaguchi, who also had the Character Design and Art Composition credits. The music was by Yuji Ono, best-known for his music for the Lupin III TV series and the Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro theatrical feature. This was finished just in time for Dr. Tezuka to show a 16 m.m. print at the C/FO’s December 1978 meeting. Bander’s Book was Tezuka’s version of Star Wars, which had just come out the previous year and was still “brand new”, with an opening (the baby Bander placed inside an escape capsule from a doomed spaceship) that is a blatant Superman reference; so many goofy aliens that one suspects a nod to Bob Clampett’s Porky in Wackyland; and, when Bander gets to Earth, it becomes like so many of the 1970s “Earth is controlled by the evil super-computer” sci-fi dystopias that became popular following Colossus: The Forbin Project.
In the far future (2978 A.D.), an interstellar passenger ship is destroyed by a bomb. Dr. Kudo, who later turns out to be the target of the bomb, and his wife put their infant son Bander into an escape capsule, which flies to a nearby planet where the baby is found and raised by Queen Tasuka and King Zobi. 17 years later, Bander appears to be a handsome young prince, but he is not a shape-shifter like the rest of his people. He has been raised with his foster-sister, Princess Mimiru (a.k.a. Mimulu or other variations), and they have fallen in love – since they are not blood-siblings, they assume that this is all right. But Bander senses that people, including his royal parents, do not really trust him. King Zobi insists on having him raised to become a warrior. Bander sees no connection between this and the reputation of Earth as the most warlike world in the galaxy, building an empire by conquering planet after planet.
Mimilu finally tells Bander that he is actually a stranger to their world. She leads him to the hidden capsule that brought him to their planet, where the robot capsule reveals to him that he is really one of the aggressive Earthmen. King Zobi has been raising him to be their “tame” Earthman, to lead their defense when Earth finally reaches their world to annex it. Bander accepts his fate but, horrified by his savage instinctual nature, he renounces his love for Mimilu for her own good.
The Earth space pirate Black Jack comes to their world ahead of the regular Earth armies, to rob rather than to conquer. Bander tells everyone to change into animals and flee, while he will stay in the palace to fight them. Black Jack’s space pirates are a pastiche of the Storm Troopers in Star Wars. Bander is easily defeated, but Mimuru has stayed behind to be with him, and she is captured. Black Jack takes them in his spaceship to force them to reveal their world’s treasure. When Mimuru disappears, everyone assumes that she must have escaped from her cell, tried to find Bander, and accidentally gotten out of the spaceship in mid-space, killing herself. Bander is heartbroken. Black Jack is finally convinced that their world does not have a treasure, so he abandons Bander on the next planet that they come to; a desert world that leads to several short comedy adventures that are mostly parodies of Westerns.
The “cowboys” turn out to be weird aliens like the characters in Porky in Wackyland, and many of Tezuka’s “stars” appear in bit parts, such as Higeoyaji as Ed, an old saloon bartender, and Dr. Ochanomizu as Don Dracula’s Harker-like assistant-slave in a horror-movie scene. Bander picks up a friendly little blobbish animal that he names Muzu as a pet during his wanderings. Bander is determined to not only survive, but to reach Earth and learn who his true parents were and why a whole spaceship was destroyed to kill them.
Bander and Muzu follow the Silicon gang (the humorous Western villains who are Earth’s puppets) to the castle-hideout of their leader, Don Dracula. Bander, while defeating Don Dracula (with brief parodies of notable scenes from Forbidden Planet and The Exorcist), rescues Princess Marina, the daughter of King Borbo VII of the planet Sirius 8. Bander and Muzu take her home in one of the Silicon gang’s spaceships. They find that Sirius 8 is under the more blatant rule of Earth, with General Dokudami, the Earth Federation’s ambassador, giving orders to King Borbo. It was Dokudami who had Princess Marina kidnapped and brought to Don Dracula. Dokudami has his henchman Hamegg throw Bander into the dungeon under the palace. Another prisoner, Dr. Sharaku (Tezuka’s Three-Eyed Boy), who knows the history of Earth, tells Bander in a pastiche of the “Rite of Spring” sequence of Disney’s Fantasia.
Muzu breaks Bander out of the dungeon, and his fight with Dokudami is interrupted by the arrival of Black Jack, who turns out to really be a freedom fighter from Earth’s underground – he only posed as a space pirate to oppose Earth’s armies. Black Jack takes Bander and Princess Marina (and Muzu, who stows away) in his spaceship to pursue Dokudami, who has stolen Dr. Sharaku’s “distilled terror”, to Earth. A comet and a Black Hole throw both spaceships 100,000,000 years into Earth’s past. Dokudami’s ship is destroyed, releasing the distilled terror that becomes responsible for all of Earth’s warfare and other evils from then on.
Black Jack’s time machine brings the three to 2978, where they see during the last thousand years that mankind’s overpollution and destruction of the environment is dooming Earth. There is a brief stop in 2961 where Bander learns that Dr. Kudo, his father, was the inspirational leader of Earth’s freedom movement. Black Jack is his older brother, who had been kidnapped by the tyrannical government as a hostage, then was released as harmless after Dr. Kudo’s death but took over the leadership of the freedom movement. They finish their trip to 2978, “the present”, where they find that Earth, still under the influence of the distilled terror, is ruled in the name of “science” by MOTHER, a giant computer, and its human viceroy, Governor Vitor. They defeat Vitor and destroy MOTHER, but Marina is mortally wounded and Black Jack is killed. The Earth is returned to its primitive agricultural past, where Bander vows to see that civilization, given a second chance, evolves properly this time. Princess Marina, just before dying, reveals that the inhabitants of Sirius 8 are plant people. She asks Bander to take her to a lakeside where she can turn into a tree and begin the reforestation of Earth. Muzu, probably to nobody’s surprise, turns out to be Mimuru, and they live happily ever after. “You can’t change the past, but you can change the future. It’s not too late.”
Bander’s Book was a popular success. While it was certainly not an adult movie like A Thousand and One Nights or Cleopatra, it showcased Tezuka’s love for a semi-serious plot interrupted by brief bits of zany humor, preferably featuring some outrageous anachronism, as they did. It also allowed Tezuka to showcase his “Star System”, which the Animerama theatrical features had not. It confirmed Tezuka’s return to animation with Tezuka Productions, and it cemented Nippon Television’s decision to have a Tezuka animated special movie during each of its annual 24 Hour Television: “Love Saves the Earth” telethons.
Bander Book complete movie
I would like to thank Yoshimi Suzuki of Tezuka Productions for help with this column.
Next week: Marine Express.