August 11, 2013 posted by

Anime Fandom in North America

raideen_bookAnime fandom in the U.S. and Canada began when the Japanese animated TV program Raideen (Yuushu Raideen; Brave Raideen) began to be broadcast on American Japanese-community channels, in February 1976.

chobinThere were earlier anime TV cartoons on Japanese-community channels – for example, Ikkyu-san and Chobin – but they “didn’t count”, for two reasons. First, they were not exciting science-fictional super-hero cartoons. Ikkyu-san was about a young Buddhist acolyte, the equivalent of a Christian altar boy, solving social problems by non-violent means. Chobin (Hoshi no Ko Chobin; Chobin, the Star Child) was about a young alien prince (he looked like a short stalk of celery) who came to Earth near a forest, and made friends with Rori, a young human girl, and several talking forest animals. All the others were for little children. Raideen and the giant-robot TV cartoons that followed it were a fresh (to Americans) variation on the comic-book costumed superhero formula. This was right at the time that the Marvel Superhero comic books were gaining tremendous popularity with American adolescent boys, and DC comics jumped on the bandwagon with the Flash, Green Lantern, the Justice League of America and others; but American cartoons were becoming increasingly censored and non-violent, “for little children”. The Japanese s-f animation showed that somebody could still make animated cartoons that teenagers and young adults would be interested in.

ikku-sanSecond, they were before the Christmas 1975 introduction of the home video cassette recorder. It would not have mattered if Japanese TV cartoons were thrilling or boring if they were only available on the obscure Japanese-community channel – usually one per city – in the evenings. By making it possible to record programs and re-show them to like-minded fans, to trade the cartoons shown in one city for those from another city, to trade recordings of American TV with fans in Japan for their programming (unsubtitled), the VCR made anime fandom possible.

Here are some of the Japanese TV animation shown at early anime club meetings, for the first five years from 1977 to late 1981 or early ‘82. This is a chaotic list. Speaking for Los Angeles alone, I was in charge of the anime club bulletin and correspondence. Mark Merlino was in charge of providing the video programming, and I never knew where he got all of his anime videos from. Some were recorded from Los Angeles TV; some were traded with fans in other cities for the anime on their local stations. Some were traded with fans in Japan who wanted American s-f TV programs. Some were traded with American fans who got them from rental videos in their local Japanese communities. Some were favorites with dozens of episodes available, while others were samples with only one or two available. The order that anime programs were shown in bore no resemblance to their original broadcast order. Sometimes we would get a program when it was brand-new; at other times we would get a recording made from a Japanese TV rerun that was years old.

Here, then, is what we watched in the early days of anime fandom:

Yuushu Raideen. Brave Raideen. This seemed very imaginative to us, but after a few more giant-robot cartoons, we realized that it was just a Japanese stereotypical formula that we were not familiar with in America yet. The teenage hero’s scientist father is killed by evil space aliens (invariably shown with a demon’s horns; “foreign devils”) who plan to conquer Earth. The father had just invented, or found in the ruins of a prehistoric civilization, a mighty giant robot warrior which only the hero could “fade into” and pilot. Later two or three school chums, including The Girl, would get their own craft to become his military squad. Raideen’s theme song sounded like a peppy college football fight song.

UFO Senshi Dai Apolon. UFO Warrior Great Apollo. Even more high-school football oriented. Takeshi’s three pals magically change into their super-football-uniforms and their mini-flying saucers appear when they chant U!, F!, and O! together.

Getter Robo G. CombinoRobot G. Or “Getta”. The Japanese word “get” or “gat” meant “to combine”, so many of the anime s-f series that involved three or five vehicles combining to make one awesome giant vehicle, had a “gat” or “get” in the title. Getta Robo G was really the sequel to Getta Robo, but we did not see the original program until later. Three buddies’ individual superscientific vehicles, for Air, Sea, and Land, combined into the huge, all-purpose Getta Robo. According to widely-believed rumor, the Japanese sponsoring toy companies would go to the engineering colleges and commission students, or hold a contest, to design the most complex giant robot toy that would not fall over on its face; then take the design to an animation studio and commission a TV cartoon around it. Dr. Saotome, leading the fight to save Earth from the Hundred Demon Empire, builds the ComboDragon (air), ComboLiger (sea), and ComboPoseidon (land) for his three teenage pilots. After being nearly defeated individually during the first half of the program, they combine into the massive Getta Robo G and defeat the demon warrior of the week in the last half. One of the most hissable demons was either General Hitler or General Hydra, who looked like a tall Adolf Hitler with a longhorn steer’s horns. In Japanese, “Hitler” and “hydra” sound almost the same, and the series’ scriptwriters took full advantage of the similarity.

Candy Candy. We didn’t watch only the boys’ adventure anime. We at least sampled the girls’ anime. Actually, I was the big rooter for Candy Candy, because I was fascinated in this Japanese take on American history. Candy White is a blonde orphan, about ten years old, who becomes a young maid at the estate of a Robber Baron just before World War I. You can tell that the Reagans are Robber Barons because they have a huge mansion near Chicago, dozens and dozens of liveried servants, and regularly go fox hunting in full regalia. Candy has a harsh life as a maid, but she is afraid to displease the head maid who warns her that if her work is not good enough, she will be EXILED TO MEXICO! Cut to a caricature of a Mexican slavemaster who makes the Frito Bandito look like Ricardo Montalban. Candy suffers as she grows up through over two years’ worth of half-hour episodes, finally marrying her True Love. Candy Candy was even more popular in Italy than in Japan. When Yumiko Igarashi, the Candy Candy manga artist upon whose work the TV anime was based, came to the 1980 San Diego Comic-Con, she told Wendy Pini that she was furious at Toei Animation for giving Candy a cute pet albino raccoon, Clint, just for merchandising plush doll purposes. Clint was NOT in the manga!

jetta-150Jetter Mars. I wrote about this in my comments to my first column. Most early anime fans were already fans of Astro Boy. When promotional articles on Jetter Mars showed up in the monthly anime magazines during most of 1977, the publicity artwork captured our attention; so when Dr. Tezuka (he liked to be addressed as Dr. Tezuka, even though he never used his medical degree) visited the C/FO in March 1978, we made sure to ask him about it. Tezuka told us that Toei Animation commissioned him to create “as close a copy of Mighty Atom as he was comfortable with.” He did not see much point in just making a duplicate of Mighty Atom with cosmetic differences, so he came up with a little-boy robot who was created by two scientists, Dr. Kawashimo who gave him artificial intelligence, and Dr. Yamanoue who built his body with superscientific weaponry in it; but no programming to be either good or bad. Dr. Kawashimo wanted to use Jetter Mars to help humanity, while Dr. Yamanoue wanted to use him as a mercenary for the highest bidder. Jetter Mars was mostly a bewildered little robot whose two creators were always arguing that he should follow me; no, not him, me!; no, ME. Tezuka’s concept was that Jetter Mars would sometimes follow Dr. Kawashimo and sometimes Dr. Yamanoue, although when he took Dr. Yamanoue’s orders, the story would work out that his more violent actions would inadvertently work out for the best for humanity. Tezuka’s contract was that he would create the basic concept for the series, and the plot outlines for the first five episodes. In episode #6, Dr. Yamanoue was killed off, Jetter Mars went to live permanently with Dr. Kawashimo, and the series became an insipid copy of Mighty Atom with kindly Dr. Kawashimo as kindly Dr. Ochanomizu. The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization got enough episodes to agree with Tezuka; after episode #5 it went downhill fast. The most memorable thing about the series was that Toei got a real little boy about 7 or 8 years old who did not have any voice acting experience to play Jetter Mars, including singing the lively theme song enthusiastically but very off key.

Lupin III. A rare non-giant-robot favorite was Lupin III, a crime-caper-comedy from Tokyo Movie Shinsa based upon a manga by Monkey Punch. Monkey Punch was Kazuhito Kato, the first Japanese professional cartoonist after Osamu Tezuka to become friendly with American fans. Although a pro, he broke all the rules, one of which is that a professional cartoonist should keep an aloof distance from his fans. (Tezuka was a sensei; Monkey Punch was a pal.) Kato said that he was born in a tiny seacoast fishing village where his father was a fisherman, his grandfather was a fisherman, his great-grandfather as a fisherman, and he hated fish! He ran away to Tokyo to escape becoming a fisherman, taught himself to draw by studying Sergio Aragones’ marginal cartoons in Mad, and decided to create a manga around the modern adventures of the grandson of Arsene Lupin, the fictional French gentleman jewel thief by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). The manga was a success and Tokyo Movie Shinsha licensed it for animation. Kato often did the opposite of what he was told to do, so when he was told that he couldn’t go to the famous San Diego Comic-Con because he didn’t speak any English, he started attending right away. He heard about this tiny group of crazy Americans who were nuts for Japanese anime even though they didn’t understand any Japanese, decided that we were his kind of people, and looked us up. Naturally, we had to see what he did (or the TV animated version of it).

lupin-150Lupin III featured the “good guy” world’s greatest thief, the grandson of the famous fictional thief who was extremely popular in Japan. (How a French thief had a Japanese grandson was never explained. Kato assumed that by making him an original grandson of a character by a French author who was long dead, he would avoid any rights problems. He was wrong, wrong, wrong!; but that’s another story.) Lupin III had four regular associates: Daisuke Jigen, a wannabe-Chicago gangster who was a never-miss shooter. Ishikawa Goemon XIII, or “Samurai” in English-language productions, was another ripoff; the supposed descendant of Ishikawa Goemon (1558?-1594), a legendary Robin Hood-like thief who stole fro the rich and gave to the poor. The real Goemon was a ninja, not a samurai; but those stupid Americans could never tell the difference. Fujiko Mine was the femme fatale of the series; a seductive thief who was often Lupin’s rival but sometimes his partner. Her trademark was the bubbleheaded sexpot stereotype (“Fujiko Mine” meant roughly “Twin Peaks”, a lewd allusion to her prominent breasts), but she was usually smarter than Lupin himself. The final associate was Inspector Koichi Zenigata who was the policeman who pursued Lupin in every episode. When Lupin started leaving Japan to commit robberies around the world, Zenigata was promoted from a Japanese policeman to an Interpol agent to have jurisdiction to go after Lupin anywhere.

Lupin III had a convoluted animated history. It was first a 23 episode TV series from October 1971 to March 1972. This was before our time, but it was prestigious; Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata directed some of the individual episodes. These were most easily distinguished by Lupin’s wearing a green jacket. After five years a new and much more popular Lupin III series was made, running for 155 episodes from October 1977 to October 1980. These “red jacket” episodes were what the early anime fans saw. The first two Lupin III theatrical movies were from this period, and Monkey Punch himself gave the C/FO the English-dubbed video of the 1978 first movie. Lupin III went on to have a third “pink jacket” TV series (50 episodes, March 1984-December 1985) and lots more theatrical features, but those were well after the first days of anime fandom. The fans at the end of the 1970s loved the sophisticated, adult plots, the snappy dialogue, and Yuji Ono’s jazz score.

Next week: The outer space anime: Space Cruiser Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock.


  • I was in the Los Angeles area in 1974 and into 1975, and I recall some of the science-fiction fans I knew were quite fond of LITTLE GHOST Q-TARO, which was being shown on some local channel around then. Nobody claimed to have the beginning of a clue as to what it was exactly about, but it was just so darned peculiar that you could tell *something* interesting was going on. A lot of anime was like that in the early days…

    • Do they were popular ?

  • “It would not have mattered if Japanese TV cartoons were thrilling or boring if they were only available on the obscure Japanese-community channel – usually one per city – in the evenings.”

    Not every city had such a channel (at least mine didn’t). Often it depended on how big of an Asian population may acquire such a channel or block for their needs, and who would pony up the dough for it. Most were seen on UHF stations through brokered time slots such as on a certain night on the weekends for instance. I recall a station in Detroit that would play Arabic-language programs Saturday nights. Larger cities like NY, LA or such would see these sort of channels either on UHF or through early cable TV outlets. I wish I had been in that period to know what I was missing simply for being in Podunk, OH.

  • I became an “official” anime fan in 1985 when I joined the Rising Sun Chapter of the C/FO at Misawa Air Base Japan, which was headed by Revell Walker and also had Jeff Siegel from the original C/FO chapter as a member. Of course I had been watching anime on TV since I was a kid, “Speed Racer” and “Gigantor” were my two favorites and of course later on “Star Blazers”.

    I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Patten at Daicon 5 in Osaka, when the Rising Sun group drove down to attend. We presented the convention organizers with a Yawata Uma horse (a symbol of northern Japan) that had been sent out to and signed by the various C/FO chapters across the US.

    We had advantages at Rising Sun other chapters didn’t, being based in Japan gave us access to all the new shows, not to mention manga and toys and CD’s. But there were no subtitled or dubbed shows, and part of the fun was trying to figure out what the heck was going on. We watched Dr. Slump and Urusei Yatsura and Hokuto-no Ken and Maison Ikkoku and the original DragonBall. We wrote fanzines with synopses and reviews of shows, and generally had a lot of fun.

    Later, when I was with the Japanese Animation Club of Orlando, one of our members (Alex Matulich) wrote the best subtitling program at the time, called “JACOSub”, for the old Amiga computers as fansubs began in earnest. It was a great time to be an anime fan and I’m glad to have been a part of it!

    • Yeah, there is always a cachet in being able to say, “I was there when …” Of course, after a certain point, all that it gets you is a reputation for being a grumpy old-timer.

    • That’s what happens Fred, you’re no better than the kid who just scored some J-Pop goodies online and had to brag about it to his social networking pals like so many others.

  • BRAVE RAIDEEN was the first anime I ever saw!

    Here’s the deal: If any of you lived in the New York and New Jersey areas, you’d be familiar with the late Saturday & Sunday night Japanese-language programs on the Spanish-speaking channel Telemundo (Channel 47 in NY). On Saturday nights, they gave BRAVE RAIDEEN in the mid-to-late 70s, in English subtitles (most probably from Hawaii)! I had fuzzy memories of seeing this series. But I definitely saw Raideen amongst the Shogun Warriors toys, and Mom was reminded of the TV series, which she fondly remembers. 🙂

    In the early 80s (about 1981 or 82), on the same program, my big brother Peter and I (we both stayed at our grandma’s apartment every weekend) would religiously watch CYBORG 009 (the 1979 series) on Saturday nights, and occasionally, GALAXY EXPRESS 999 on the Sunday night program! (Both series had English subtitles from Hawaii.) There were occasions where we watched CYBORG 009 with our upstairs neighbors. Those were great days. 🙂

    Here’s one I *didn’t* remember: my big sister Annette saw the Super Sentai Series JAKQ BLITZKRIEG SQUAD (Toei; 1977) on one of the Japanese programs in the late 70s! Lucky her. 🙂

    • Yep. “Brave Raideen” had an opening credit saying that the English subtitles were by KIKU-TV in Honolulu.

      Jerry, would you object to a column all about “The Five Rangers”, “JAKQ”, and the other Super Sentai programs of the late ’70s? They were just like the anime, but live-action. They were the ancestors of the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”. There is not a moment of animation in ’em, but in 1977 & ’78 we watched them alongside of the animated giant robots and considered them the same sort of funky Japanese TV superhero stuff. I can write a column just about the Super Sentai shows that we sampled.

    • I don’t think Jerry would mind a bit on this one, plus another chance to ring in a new crowd of Power Ranger fans wanting to know more about this “Super Sentai” stuff.

  • I first encountered Lupin’s movie “The Castle of Cagliostro” on an arcade game named “Cliff Hanger,” clearly inspired by “Dragon’s Lair.” New footage was animated of Lupin getting killed at some junctures (at others you’d just see a gangster-type shooting at you).

    Not sure if the entire movie was included in the game, but the teaser on the machine had scenes from the wedding at the climax.

    • Some of those “new scenes” like Lupin getting hanged as well as the level in the sewers with “Samurai” was taken from the first film “The Mystery of Mamo” or whatever you want to call it. Whatever qualified for “dubbing” was merely trying to voice over the Japanese track as it is but for what it was, it was something else to those unaware of what they were playing. I still love the Streamline Pictures version of the film personally despite it’s flaws.

      Similarly (and going off-topic), several other familiar anime classics like Galaxy Express 999 and Harmagedon (Genma Taisen) also found their way to American arcades through laserdisc FMV games as well.

  • Reminded myself I knew someone in Ohio who had anime cels from Jetter Mars (or as she miswrote it as “Jetter Malus”). Too bad I didn’t think it by some of those while she had ’em. I see a few countries did see this show otherwise like in Latin America, not bad for a knock-off from the God of Manga!

    Also dig the ending sequence to that show too (off-key voice actor aside)!

  • getting to meet osamu tezuka must have been the thrill of a lifetime!

  • I also watched CYBORG 009 when I went to school in New York In the late 70’s and early 80’s. I also remember watching Ikkyu-san, which for some reason I found kind of interesting. Later in the mid 80’s I was working in Japan for a few months, when I told people that I used to watch Ikkyu-san they kind of made fun of me. It was explained to me that while the subject matter in the show was very wholesome, it was kind of like Little House on the Prairie meets Lassie, the show apparently was funded with Yakuza money. That made it a joke in the industry. I kind of pictured it like the Sopranos putting up the money for Davy and Goliath. I should say that this was the rumor at the time, I can’t confirm the validity of the rumor.

    • Was there any anime production that was not funded with Yakuza money? When I joined Streamline Pictures in 1991, I found out that we had to be very careful when we licensed an anime title to avoid any connection or obligation to the Yakuza. Shortly after I joined Streamline, TMS Entertainment which had a big office in Hollywood at the time (they had produced “Galaxy High School” and “The Mighty Orbots” for American TV in the 1980s and were still trying to get more American work) threw a big Christmas party and invited the Streamline staff. Carl Macek and I were chatting with someone when one of TMS’ American secretaries came up to us, very nervous, and said in a low voice, “Do you see those two Japanese businessmen over there? They’re Yakuza!” Our attitude was, “So what else is new?” Supposedly the sudden disappearance of TMS’ first producer, Yutaka Fujioka, was because he had borrowed heavily from the Yakuza to finance the production of “Little Nemo”, and when it finally came out and bombed, he was unable to repay the Yakuza.

    • Oh wow, that’s pretty rough Fred! At least they tried with their US satellite outfit. It’s only a shame I didn’t pay too much attention to Mighty Orbots when it was on but did watch Galaxy High a lot.

      Having to think about it some more, I think a station that aired many shows like Getter Robo G in LA during the late 70’s was KWHY TV22 (today they’re a “MundoFOX” station). I recall seeing their ID slide showing up on a tape in my collection of some Getter Robo G episodes though sadly not all the commercial breaks were kept of those broadcasts though I recall a quick promo for Candy Candy and an ad for some robot toys sold at a particular shop.

      And just to stray away to something else, I had to remind myself Dai Apolon also show up in the US under the lame English-dubbed title of “Shadow World”.

  • Boy, do I sound naive. I think the point my animator friends in Japan were making, was that the most wholesome show espousing “family values” was made with Yakuza money. I guess I was equating the Yakuza with organized crime in the US, which is involved mostly with the porn industry. I should have remembered the story about Mr. Fujioka, because I worked on a version of “Little Nemo” that never got made. I was working on a TV series based on the movie, before it was released in the US. Before we got started we had to stop work on the series and help re-do the movie. The potential american distributer wanted the movie “tweaked” a little. We came up with some “fixes” that involved cutting some scenes and animating a few more, to add motivation and a through-line for the characters. When Mr. Fujioka saw what we were up to, he looked very nervious… and would not allow us to animate a frame. Clearly he was in a bad situation. He had spent too much on the developement of the picture and could not afford a yen more. We stopped all work on the movie, and it was released as it was…and it bombed. I don’t think our “fixes” would have made the movie a hit, or changed the box-office reciepts at all, but they might have helped it to make more sense. I do think it was beautifully animated though. The story behind the film is more interesting than the film itself. Maybe someone should write a book about it.

    • ” I guess I was equating the Yakuza with organized crime in the US, which is involved mostly with the porn industry.”

      Well thank goodness it’s not all porn! 😛

      The movie certainly deserves a book or something surrounding it’s production surely. I love the pre-release 1984 poster in my collection of a giant rusty pocket watch I picked up years back. At least it got a nice NES game that unsuspecting kids didn’t know was based on the film (though this ad doesn’t make that connection anyway resorting to some hokey voyeuristic tendencies, thank you Capcom!).

    • Organized crime in the U.S. is equated with the porno film industry. In Japan, the Yakuza were rumored to be behind the financing of almost everything in the movie and TV industries. And there was considerably more pornographic animation once the Original Anime Video/direct-to-video market started in 1983. In Japan it was much more open. There was a Japanese specialty monthly magazine, ANIME V, that included a list of all the anime videos released each month; releases of theatrical features and TV series, and direct-to-video titles. The OAVs were about 35% to 45% hard-core pornography, usually in s-f and fantasy settings. That was where the stereotype of “tentacle rape” by lust-crazed aliens or demonic monsters originated. I imagine that the Yakuza were behind the financing of most of those.

    • Wouldn’t surprise me knowing what classics there were back then that gave anime it’s name for some people.

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