In recent years anime has become a staple with American audience. There were a few Japanese cartoons that aired throughout the 1960s (Astro Boy, Speed Racer, and Gigantor comes to mind), but it wasn’t until the early 1990s when it really took off with American children and adults alike.
So one could wonder how American cartoons fared in Japan. The answer is that many did air in that country, some more successful than others. This is especially the case for Hanna-Barbera cartoons, many of which aired in Japan.
With Hanna-Barbera cartoons airing in Japan, many sported new theme songs created by Japanese composers and singers. I found several on YouTube and I thought it would be fun to showcase some of the more notable ones.
Like in the ‘States, Yogi Bear was first show as part of “Huckleberry Hound” when it got imported to Japan (known as “Chinken Huckle”, or “Fantastic Dog Huckleberry”) which aired from 1959 to 1964 on the NET network (now known as TV Asahi). Japan wouldn’t air Yogi’s own series until 1964, taking over Huck’s old time slot.
Yogi’s name was changed to Kuma Goro in Japan, but Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith retained their original names in the dub, although the latter was only referred to as “Smith-san” by others.
For the theme song, the music from the original was used under a different arrangement, with new lyrics to go along with it. Some of the Japanese intros for Hanna-Barbera shows had this happen, including Top Cat.
“Scooby-Doo” is probably the most successful property to come out of Hanna-Barbera, with new materials still being produced more than 50 years after it first appeared on CBS Saturday Mornings. In Japan it wasn’t as successful, although it did get rerun over the years.
In Japan it first appeared in February 1, 1970 on NHK, where they ran the show as the second half of the hour-long “Boy’s Movie Theater” block. In this version the characters names were changed for the local audience:
Scooby-Doo = Clooper
Shaggy = Boropin
Fred = Handsome
Daphne = Jenny
Velma = Megako (lit. “Glasses Girl”)
The new theme song is very different from the original intro, where it roasts Scooby (Clooper) for being a coward, singing about how everybody ridicules him. The intro was sung by a band Red Stone. The choice of clips for the intro is unusual, in that it focuses strictly on Scooby and Shaggy (although you can see Fred for one frame), with very little emphasis on spooky ghosts, making it seem like the show is just them eating food and being scared.
In recent years, whenever anything Scooby-Doo is shown in Japan they revert to the original US names for the characters. However, when Cartoon Network’s Japanese station reran the original “Where Are You?” with brand-new dubs, they retained the title and names from the NHK dub, even using the theme song, although this time it was played over the footage from the original intro.
Japanese Title: Kagaku Shonen J.Q. (“Scientific Boy J.Q.”)
Japanese Broadcast: January 29-September 24, 1965 on TBS
The characters retained their names in the Japanese dub, although Jonny himself was usually referred to by his initials J.Q.
The song is notable in that it was sung by Kyu Sakamoto, who had the distinction of being one of the very few Japanese singers to have a sit single in the US for “I Look Up As I Walk”, known to Americans as “Sukiyaki”, which topped the Billboard charts in 1963.
As a bonus, here’s an audio drama for Jonny Quest that was released during this time, complete with a manga to go along with the audio. Watch it here
Name-wise, Dick Dastardly was renamed Black Mao (Black Devil), with Muttley as Ken-Ken (referring the snickering sound he would make), with the Mean Machine known as “Zero Zero Machine”. Other characters had their names changed as well, including Penelope Pitstop, who was called “Milk-chan”; however, when the spin-off “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” aired in Japan the same year they reverted back to her original name in the dub.
Of all the Hanna-Barbera shows that was imported to Japan, the one that became a cult favorite is “Wacky Races”. The series is fondly remembered in the country and is a common nostalgia fodder among older Japanese fans. It’s not unusual for anime to reference or parody this show, most recently “Pop Team Epic”.
In 2006, TV Asahi made a list of Top 100 Animated Programs by interviewing celebrities, and “Wacky Races” had the distinction of being one of only two non-Japanese cartoons to make the list (the other was “Tom and Jerry”). Source: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2006-10-13/japans-favorite-tv-anime
Here is the Japanese intro. Main vocal by Casy Asanuma:
Both “Wacky Races” spin-offs aired in Japan. “Dastardly and Muttley In Their Flying Machines” would take over the former “Races” timeslot on NET on August 1970, while “Penelope Pitstop” would air on NHK, taking over Scooby-Doo’s time slot on NHK.
Penelope was called Milk-chan in the “Wacky Races” dub, but she reverted back to her original name when this show was broadcast. The Hooded Claw was renamed “The Caped Bespectacled Phantom” in the dub.
After the show finished its run on NHK it was later rerun on Tokyo 12 Channel (now TV Tokyo) as part of the “Manga Country” block, which had numerous other Hanna-Barbera shows (and old anime) airing alongside.
Casy Asanuma was the main vocal in this theme song.
The Impossibles (called “Super Three” in Japan) had a catchy theme song for the dubbing. While never a huge hit like “Wacky Races”, the show retains a cult following in Japan to this day.
The lyrics is credited to “Ichi Takami”, most likely a pseudonym. The singing was done by Keiroku Seki, Susumu Ishikawa, and Kinya Aikawa, who also voiced the characters in the dub (doing Coil Man, Fluid Man, and Multi Man respectively). Susumu Ishikawa has done voices for Japanese dubs of American cartoons (he also dubbed Secret Squirrel), but he’s primarily known for singing anime theme songs, having sang the opening song for “Q-Taro the Ghost”, “Umeboshi Denka”, and “The Gutsy Frog”.