Space Family Carlvinson (Uchū Kazoku Carlvinson), directed by Kimio Yabuki. 45 minutes. December 21, 1988.
I saw this in 1989, just when the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization was breaking up; so most American anime fans were preoccupied and never noticed it. Space Family Carlvinson was an adaptation of a manga by Yoshitō Asari, 14 volumes, that I never read, but which was longer than this OAV and was apparently loaded with ingroup references. Several criticisms of the 45-minute video, such as shallow characterization of some major characters, may have been covered more fully in the longer manga.
Various reviews say that it may have been influenced by the American Lost in Space TV series, though I don’t see any connection. One ingroup reference that did make it into the OAV is to the 1982 John Carpenter production of The Thing. The Space Family Carlvinson title is an obvious parody of Swiss Family Robinson, but the Carlvinson is less obvious. The USS Carl Vinson (CVW 17), an American Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier? It was active in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific from 1984 to 1990 and was seen often in Tokyo harbor during the late 1980s. The U.S. statesman that the ship was named for? Carl Vinson was a Congressional Representative from Georgia from 1914 to 1965; best-known as one of the biggest supporters of the U.S. Navy during World War II – seemingly very unlikely as someone that a Japanese manga artist would be likely to honor.
Its animation was by Dōga Kōbō, a virtually unknown studio. Wikipedia says that Dōga Kōbō was founded on July 11, 1973, produced this OAV in 1988, and has next been active since 2005. What has it been doing otherwise since 1973? Apparently a lot of TV commercials and subcontracted bits & pieces for other animation studios’ movies & TV productions. The video was from Tokuma Japan, the video subsidiary of Tokuma Publishing, which has been publishing the monthly Animage magazine and was financing a lot of animation in the 1980s such as the 1986 theatrical feature Arion from Sunrise. Tokuma most famously was the financier behind Hayao Miyazaki’s and Isao Takahata’s Studio Ghibli during its startup. Why Tokuma bankrolled one 45-minute OAV in this case instead of either making a theatrical feature or a TV series from the longer manga is unknown; other than that Tokuma was also the publisher of Asari’s manga, and for its timing.
Space Family Carlvinson, the OAV, appeared barely a year after the American movie Three Men and a Baby, the biggest American box office hit of 1987 and early 1988. It was almost impossible for anyone who saw Space Family Carlvinson to not think of it as “Six Aliens and a Baby”, with its comedic plot of six mismatched extraterrestrials trying to raise a newborn human girl. The individual gag references were overlaid onto a basic plot that was both funny and sweet, and that seemed to end too abruptly. Practically everyone who saw the video (which wasn’t many) said, “That’s all? What happened next?” Space Family Carlvinson had the potential to be so much more!
In 4001, an interstellar theater troupe of six mismatched aliens is flying to its next performance: the no-nonsense leader, a female lavender furry fluffball; a flying battle robot who eats anything and is clearly not very bright; Beruka, an elfin-like humanoid who likes weaponry; Tah-kun, who resembles a naked brain and spinal column; Andy-kun, the head and legs of an android; and Parka (or Palka), a … thing. Suddenly there is a horrible crash above the planet Anika. They have crashed into the spaceship of a human family and their infant daughter which has just emerged from warp drive, killing both adults. A policeman refuses to take responsibility for the baby’s care, so the troupe leader decides they will “play family” until her next-of-kin is located. The troupe settles onto the planet to care for the baby, named Corona, for what they assume will be a few weeks.
Five years pass…
The troupe has settled in to become regular residents on Anika. The troupe deader and the battle robot are “Mother” and “Father”. Beruka has joined the local constabulary. And Corona enters kindergarten.
That is probably all the synopsis that Space Family Carlvinson needs. The OAV’s humor and quiet charm is based on the mismatch of mundane elements in the future setting, such as the Japanese summer heat (and cicadas) and winter cold on an alien world, or the 4001 spaceship’s radio being a 1930s console, or on still drying clothes on a clothesline; and on the timeless family dynamic such as Mother being overprotective of Corona. (And on Father’s ever-larger robot bodies.) It is clear that the six aliens have come to love Corona as their own child, and that when someone finally comes to claim Corona, Mother is torn between wanting to do what is best for the child and not wanting to give her up.
I thought that this could be a gentle, peaceful alternative for anyone who thought that Japanese animation was either too violent or too erotic. But I guess that it was too quiet. Space Family Carlvinson never went anywhere with anyone.