Japanese animation really owes it to American cartoons for how they developed their techniques. Many of the early cartoonists there relied on the likes of Disney and Fleischer, which were being released in the country, to use as a frame of reference on how cartoons should look. Even comic books from the ‘States were a big influence (in Japan, comics published in America is referred to as “Amecomi”). From the 1950s and beyond, there were American bases stationed in Japan, and they would often bring comic books with them, which in turn would wind up in these Japanese artists’ hands from one way or another.
So it’s no surprise that American references would wind up in Japanese cartoons, some more overt than the others. I thought I would highlight some of those:
Cyborg 009 (1966)
Based on Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga, Toei turned Cyborg 009 into a feature in 1966. This was notable in that it was their first try at making a feature film with limited animation akin to TV anime. With fuller animation becoming expensive and unsustainable, Toei decided to experiment with lower budget features with this film. It turned out to be a hit, so they gradually started producing their features with limited animation, as well as using this as a jumping point to produce the TV series in 1968.
There was a scene where 007, 006, and 009 sneak into the Black Ghost’s ship. In order to sneak around undetected, 007 transforms himself as a mouse, only to be chased around by a cat inside. The cat and mouse resembles Tom and Jerry, which was airing in Japan at the time, proving to be huge hit with the audience.
Sally the Witch (1966)
Sally is a princess of a magic kingdom who decides to move to Earth to be around humans. Being a witch, she uses her magic to get out of trouble (while also causing them). It was created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who in the ‘States is known for also creating “Gigantor” and “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot”.
The opening title features Sally tormenting a mouse, changing her hair brush into a cat, leading to a chase that was inspired by Tom and Jerry.
Kaibutsu Kun: Episode 18 (Original Airdate: August 18, 1968)
Sometimes these references are subtle. This episode starts with Prince Kaibutsu accidentally breaking a girl’s doll, which fell from the second floor in the apartment. He promised her that he would get it fixed, going to a toy shop nearby.
As it turns out, the toy shop was run by a man who turns out to be part of the Demon group in Hell. On his side is a puppet, who looks suspiciously like MAD Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. What’s more, in the end of the episode, it’s revealed that he’s the villain, and the man they were fighting was revealed to be a puppet that Neuman was controlling. Such a twist for an anime.
MAD Magazine was surprisingly influential to Japanese cartoonists of the era. Monkey Punch and Fujio Akatsuka has both cited MAD as their influence, and during his appearance on Stu’s Show, Sergio Aragones recounted how he met a lot of these guys when he and the MAD crew went on a trip to Japan, implying that they were already familiar with the publication. It’s only fitting that they would use the magazine’s mascot as the bad guy, even if an average Japanese viewer did not catch the reference.
Mobile Suit SD Gundam (1990)
“SD Gundam” (SD stands for “Super Deformed”) was part of the Gundam franchise that was more of a parody of the property, similar to how A Pup Named Scooby Doo poked fun at the Scooby Doo franchise. A series of shorts, released both directly to video and theatrically, were made.
One of the shorts poked fun at Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races, which was a hugely popular show in the country. One of the racers even resemble Dick Dastardly and Muttley.
Despite being a parody, this segment ran into copyright problems, so when the series was being re-released on DVD, this short was omitted. A copy is online, however, which you can see below.