Today, I call your attention to an unusual pair of Tatsunoko mini-anime series: Kaba Totto (1971) and Kaiketsu Tamagon (1972).
Things couldn’t be better for Tatsunoko Productions in the 1970s. Steady work has been flowing through, with numerous hit shows and no end in sight. Evidently, weekly half-hours just wasn’t enough for the studio, so they decided to branch out and produce several series of short 3-minute cartoon episodes (aka “mini-anime”).
On New Years Day 1971, Kaba Totto (aka Hyppo and Thomas) made its debut on Fuji Television, airing every Monday through Saturday at 6:55 to 7:00 pm. The name refers to two characters: a hippopotamus named Kaba (that’s how the animal is known in Japan) and a bird named Totto.
This is a pure gag cartoon, akin to American theatrical cartoons from the golden age. The basic premise is that Totto is trying to do something, whether it’s forming a get-rich quick scheme, doing a sports activity, or starting a new hobby, with his friend Kaba helping him out. Kaba, being a big, fat oaf, always messes things up, leaving poor Totto in a mess. Both characters only speak in grunts and gibberish; Toru Ohira grunted for Kabba, while Totto was initially squawked by Machiko Soga before being replaced by Junko Hori. The only real dialogues come from the narrator (Kazuo Harada) making observational comments on the scene that’s occurring. Even with the narrator, however, visual humor is what drives these miniature cartoons along.
Kaba Totto managed to last until September 30, 1972 on Fuji Television. 548 shorts, each running less than 3 minutes, were made altogether. It was replaced one week later with another Tatsunoko creation: Kaiketsu Tamagon (Tamagon the Counselor), which began on October 5 on the same Mon-Sat time slot.
This time there’s something of an actual setting in terms of story. Tamagon is a monster who lives in a house in the middle of a pond. In exchange for an egg, Tamagon will help anyone with need. After receiving an egg, Tamagon will swallow it whole, which will cause him to lay an egg, hatching a new monster meant to help the people with a task that needs assistance, whether it’s to de-flood a house (a monster that can swallow gallons of water), stretch a baby giraffe’s neck (a monster that stretches things), or helping out a beaver who can’t chew wood because he has a toothache (a monster that chews stuff). Alas, this will more often than not backfire in the end, causing problems for Tamagon. Like Kaba Totto, none of the characters spoke except gibberish (Tatsunoko, again, brought Toru Ohira over to do Tamagon’s grunts) except for an off-screen narrator (provided by Hiroshi Otake).
Kaiketsu Tamagon ran for about a year, ending on September 28, 1973. 308 shorts were produced for this series. After that, both series were packaged together and sold to stations for reruns, both domestically and also world-wide. Part of the appeal in overseas distribution is that neither series have characters speaking, so there’s no need to translate; the narration isn’t even necessary, and there’s no need to translate anything.
America got the taste of both series, courtesy of Saban Entertainment, repackaging them as Tic Tac Toons. They were included as segments in Saban’s syndicated hour-long program Mad Scientist Toon Club, which aired 1993-94, more than 20 years after both anime first appeared in Japan. It still shows up in reruns overseas, but otherwise both series are completely forgotten in the ‘States.