Yes, I’m finally writing about a Osamu Tezuka anime. Kinda.
One of the many, many comics Tezuka drew was Boku no Son Goku (My Son Goku), which ran 1952 to 1959. As the name implies, it was Tezuka’s take on a Chinese novel called Journey of the West, written by Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century. It featured a monkey king (Goku) on a journey with a Buddhist monk and a shape-shifting pig. This story was adapted and retold numerous times. Most famously it was the inspiration for Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball.
Tezuka’s manga would later be adapted into a feature film by Toei Animation, called Saiyu-ki, which was later dubbed and released in America as Alakazam the Great. Even though Osamu Tezuka is credited as a co-director (along with Daisaku Shirakawa and Taiji Yabushita), he later claimed in an interview that he only showed up at the studio to pose in publicity photos and had no involvement otherwise.
Still, the feature inspired Tezuka to seriously pursue animation, leading him to start Mushi Production as a direct competition with Toei. It was only a matter of time before Tezuka’s take on Goku would get a second chance in animation, this time for television.
Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom aka Astroboy), which began on New Years Day 1963, ended its run on December 31, 1966 after almost exactly 4 years with 193 episodes. Naturally that meant Fuji Television needed a replacement cartoon for its 7PM Tuesday evening slot. Like Astroboy, the replacement show will also be produced by Mushi Production. Unlike Astroboy, however, this replacement will air in color.
With that, Goku no Daiboken (Goku’s Big Adventures) began airing exactly one week after the final Astroboy episode aired, on January 7, 1967. Tezuka was normally involved with anime adaptations of his work done at Mushi. In fact, he wrote and directed numerous episodes of those shows himself, including Astroboy. However, with Goku, he had little to no involvement.
In fact, this is a Tezuka anime in name only; he’s not even credited in the opening title sequence. The real visionary behind this show was Gisaburo Sugii (born 1940). Sugii, who directed several episodes of Astroboy, was assigned as a series director for Goku. Around this time he founded his own company, Art Fresh, which handled the show’s production on behalf of Mushi (they were listed as a “co-producer” in the titles). Supposedly Sugii’s Art Fresh was located in one of the ten rooms in an abandoned kindergarten that Mushi purchased to produce this show, their studio building no. 5.
Writing-wise, there’s very little resemblance to the Tezuka comics as well. While his comics always had gags and humorous moments, Goku was a very wild, wild show. Characters constantly broke the fourth wall; wild takes were common; there was a liberal use of animation gags; the characters would frequently recite puns and non-sequiturs. In short, this is a very cartoony, wacky show, with little semblance of seriousness. It still had the characters from the original story (Goku, his “girlfriend” Tatsuko, Hakkai the pig, the Buddhist Monk, Sha Gojo), but their personalities were exaggerated: Goku is a spoiled brat with a short temper; Tatsuko is a jealous girlfriend; Hakkai constantly eats whatever he can find; Sha Gojo is a treasure hunter/thief who will go after whatever’s remotely valuable. The Monk is the only character with a semblance of normalcy, and even that gets exaggerated for comedic effect.
In addition the the then 26-year old Gisaburo Sugii as a series director, individual episodes were directed by Osamu Dezaki, Hideo Nishimaki, Masami Hata, Hideaki Kitao, Ryosuke Takahashi, Norio Hikone, Toshio Hirata, and Sadao Tsukioka. Special mention should go to Sadao Tsukioka (born 1939), who not only directed episode 21, but did every single animation himself (he also single-handily animated other episodes directed by others).
Goku’s Big Adventures only ran for 39 episodes, the final one airing on September 30, 1967, after just 9 months of broadcast. It wasn’t the most successful of the Mushi Production show, but it was just as ambitious as Astroboy and Kimba the White Lion. It’s an early example of a wild, goofy anime, and as with most Mushi output from the era, it’s a wonderfully designed and styled show. It’s youthful rebellious nature was a nice change of pace and the best episodes still hold up to this day. As I wrote above, Tezuka had no involvement in this show, but in this case, I think it worked out for the best.
Here’s the first episode of the show, directed by Osamu Dezaki.
Quite possibly the funniest episode of the show was the fourth one, directed by Osamu Dezaki. In it, Sha Gojo finds a map that contains hidden treasures. While resting at a nearby town, three warring groups (one inspired by American Westerns, another Arabian, and the last French army) they do everything possible to get the map. It’s a very cynical episode, with the three group’s men constantly getting killed left and right like it’s nothing. For a 1960s-era TV cartoon this may very well have the highest number of death counts imaginable. This is a good example of effective limited animation, with the fast-paced timing and quick cuts.
Here’s the episode in three parts (embed below is part 1), dubbed in Italian: