Anime 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.
There 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.
Second, 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!
Jetter 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 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.