I don’t think anyone sets out to do bad cartoons on purpose, but it happens. Reasons vary: executive meddling, people not caring about the property, inexperience, nonexistent budget, etc. Some bad cartoons fall into “so bad its good” category, where it’s at least possible to make fun of, like what Cartoon Dump is doing. As of late, 1960s Spider-Man show has become an internet meme, being an easy fodder due to the show’s shoddy production value courtesy of Grantray-Lawrence.
It’s not different with Japan. There’s one in particular that became an internet sensation when it reappeared in DVD format more than 30 years after they were broadcast. I already talked about Knack studio when I wrote about Dame Oyaji, but to reiterate it was a very shoddy animation studio producing terrible shows. However, of all the shows the studio made, none of it was more infamous as Chargeman Ken.
Ken takes place in the future when science has been advanced to a greater degree. The main character is a boy who turns into a superhero and fights a race of aliens called Jyural (official English spelling), whom are trying to take over Earth for their resources. Helping out Ken are his scientist father, sister Caron, and a robot named Barikan, quite possibly the most useless comic relief character ever conceived in animation.
This might have been an OK Sci-Fi/Action series if it wern’t for the poor, nonsensical writing. Half the time, the villain du jour’s motivation don’t make sense, and some of what Ken does is anything but heroic. Maybe the shorter running time affects the plot (each episode only lasts 5 minutes), but then there’s the matter of Knack’s trademark crap animation. 99% of all explosions are actually just a still painting, with a camera slowly zooming in and out at the painting. The soundtrack is also lacking. One wonders if Knack didn’t have any money for foley, because there are hardly any sound effects. When Chargeman Ken shoots his laser gun, no sound comes out. When Barikan trips and falls, there is no sound of him impacting the ground.
To give an idea of what a typical episode is like, one featured Ken faking mental illness so that he can be checked in at a mental hospital. He sneaks in the back room where he finds a giant missile that is set to destroy Europe. It turns out that the Jyural has agreed to assist a mad scientist who hates Europe and wants it destroyed. Ken, of course, transforms into Chargeman Ken, destroys the missile, easily kills the Jyural alien in a fight scene that really wasn’t. The scientist, discouraged over his plan being foiled, grabs a gun and commits suicide in front of Ken. The episode ends with Ken and Barikan having a comical banter on the car as his father drives him home, his mission over.
If that plot doesn’t make sense, you’re right. It is never explained why the scientist wanted to destroy Europe, or why he was helping the Jyurals. Nor does it explain why Ken knew about the attack. Nor does it explain why it takes place in a mental hospital, since the setting is pretty much forgotten after about three minutes in. I guess they really wanted to make ableist jokes at the mentally ill. (to be fair, the body builder wearing a bra made me laugh). And Ken is disturbingly unfazed by the mad scientist shooting himself in front of him.
See the episode yourself. Subtitled in English:
Other episodes don’t fare any better. There’s also an episode called “Dynamite in the Brain”, where Ken meets a scientist named Dr. Volga at a movie theater, only to be suddenly kidnapped and shot by humans disguising themselves as Jyurals, then resurrected with a bomb planted inside a brain. Ken figures out that there’s a bomb in the brain because his super-hearing picked up the ticking noise coming from his head. He “rescues” him, and the Jyural aliens chase him. With the bomb set to explode any second (why does Ken know this? Who knows, they never explained it!), Ken opens a trap door, pushes Dr. Volga out, and he drops onto the Jyural’s space ship, exploding and killing both him and the aliens on the ship.
Here – check this out:
Chargeman Ken is a mini-anime, each episode only lasting 5 minutes. While the show was produced by Knack, animation work was subcontracted out to Tama Production, a studio founded by former Mushi Production animator Eiji Tanaka, who is ultimately credited for creating and designing Chargeman Ken. It was broadcast on TBS from April 1 to June 28, 1974, airing every Monday through Friday at 5:30 through 40. 65 episodes were made altogether. After that, the show rested in obscurity, forgotten until in 2007, when DVD volumes suddenly came out. Some people put the episodes up on the internet, and it became an internet sensation. People were fascinated by the show’s “so bad it’s good” quantities and suddenly started making video edits and parodies of the anime. There are over thousands of such videos edits on Nico Douga alone.
And Knack decided to cash in on the phenomenon. They set up a website where “fans” can buy merchandise, such as the official Chargeman Ken helmet, as well as T-shirts and soundtrack CD. This anime got more attention today than in 1974!
I wonder if Bucky and Pepito will ever become an internet sensation the same way Chargeman Ken did…
Storyboard page from a Chargeman Ken cartoon: