December 11, 2013 posted by

Let’s Watch: “Tensai Bakabon” (1971)

For most of 2013 I talked about certain anime series and what they are about, with some production background if I can add it. But aside from sample episodes embedded (if I could locate them), I never really showed them. So on an occasional basis, I’ll do posts that showcase episodes of the series and write about them.

bakabon200I’ll start with the 1971 Tensai Bakabon series. I already wrote about it on Cartoon Research, but I was inspired to go back to the 1971 series after reading this fantastic post by anime historian Ben Ettinger that explores the show’s animators and the episodes they did (yes, even in Japanese animation you can identify who animated what). Even though I prefer the 1975 “Ganso” series, I can’t deny that the 1971 series is pretty fun as well, with its share of great episodes. Using that post as a guide, I decided to showcase some of the episodes here.

Tensai Bakabon (1971-1972) data:
Aired September 25, 1971-June 24, 1972 on Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV)
40 episodes (each split into two segments, except for the final episode which was a full half-hour story)

Created by Fujio Akatsuka
Directed by Soji Yoshikawa (1-22), Hiroshi Saito & Eiji Okabe (23-40)
Animation Director: Tsutomu Shibayama
Art Director: Hitoshi Kageyama
Music: Takeo Watanabe
Produced in Association with A Production
Produced by Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation & Tokyo Movie Co. Ltd.

EPISODE 12-A: “He’s a Human Storage Space!”
Original Airdate: December 11, 1971

Written by Seiichi Muku
Storyboards: Minoru Okazaki
Key Animation: Daizo Takeuchi & Shingo Matsuo

bakabon6-200We get a sense of what kind of world that the Bakabon characters live in with this episode. In it, Bakabon’s Papa goes to a magic show and is amazed at the mundane magic tricks the magician is performing (birds out of his sleeves, flower out of empty hat, etc.), even though the rest of the audience is disinterested. Believing that he’s a human storage space, Papa invites him over for dinner at his home, while giving him a hard time with his own tricks, including the “saw a person in half” trick with a wooden box, which almost sliced his foot off (it only cut his shoes instead). The magician literally does become a human storage space after Papa sees a “sword swallowing” trick on TV; since they don’t have a sword, they use dinner utensils instead. Could this be the answer to bring audience interest back into the magician’s performance?

The animating team that did this episode, Daizo Takeuchi and Shingo Matsuo, did very little work on Bakabon. In fact, they were credited on only one other episode in the series. Nonetheless, Takeuchi’s distorted animation of the magician swallowing dinner utensils and subsequent sneezing them out is a wonderful display of cartoon insanity. Only in the world of Bakabon is this completely normal. The mother was more concerned about getting the pots and pans back rather than that a human being swallowed these things. Given the kind of stuff that goes on with Papa is around, this is probably the least weirdest thing that happened in their life.

EPISODE 18-A: “Meeting with the School Teacher”
Original Airdate: January 22, 1972

Written by Yoshiaki Yoshida
Storyboards: Noboru Ishiguro
Key Animation: Yoshiyuki Momose & Masayuki Uchiyama

Remembering Steve Stanchfield’s post on cartoon characters getting drunk, here’s my contribution to that list. Bakabon’s life in the school is a recurring theme in the show, but here we get an episode where the teacher meet up with his parents. In Japan, teachers meet with the parents at the student’s home, rather than parents coming to the school like in the US. So we have Bakabon’s teacher coming to his home. Of course, the only person home is Bakabon’s Papa (the mother is out shopping and Bakabon went to get her). Papa gives the teacher some sake, and gets drunk instantly. The two then go on a drunken spree, smashing things with their heads, something that would make Beavis and Butt-Head proud.

Episodes like this is some of what caused Bakabon to get some backlash from the Japanese PTA groups. The idea of a schoolteacher getting drunk at his student’s home and going on a reckless rampage will no doubt stir up the moral guardians (even Japan had them, although with comparatively less power), but it just made this series more outrageous. The idea of Papa regarding it as drunken playtime, the same way kids would see as having fun with their friends, just shows what kind of warped worldview Papa has.

Yoshiyuki Momose was only 18 when he worked on this show, so he had less experience compared to other animators involved, but he had a good sense of movement and was able to adapt very quickly. The animation of the teacher running around the house, wasted, plays off really well here. Also notice that the music plays “Camptown Races” when the teacher gets drunk. Even in Japan they would evoke certain music to enhance the scene playing out. Series composer Takeo Watanabe should be commended for that.

EPISODE 19-A: “Papa Goes to a Company and Says ‘Hello’”
Original Airdate: January 29, 1972

Written by Keisuke Fujikawa
Storyboards: Shuji Yamazaki
Key Animation: Seiji Okuda & Kazuo Iimura

bakabon3-200We get to have fun with the Japanese office setting here. In this episode, Bakabon’s Papa, who gets a job testing airplane engines, inadvertently bankrupts the airline company after getting into an argument with the important client on the phone. The boss, having gone insane, gives his job to Papa, who tells the employees that, for the following day, they can do whatever the hell they want, since it will be their last. As you can expect, chaos reigns when Papa is left in charge. In the end, Papa gets a new job at the National Diet Building, a legislative building in Japan (in the manga story this was adapted from, Papa gets a job at the NHK television station, sort of a Japanese version of BBC).

Ben Ettinger notes that Seiji Okuda (born 1943) was the most distinctive on the episodes he animated, giving more movement and fast-paced antics to the characters, while also providing funny poses and expressions, which is a must when animating Fujio Akatsuka characters. Okuda is primarily a storyboard artist today, even having worked on the 2011 “Thundercats” revival. Okuda was very well suited for this episode, giving the amount of action and visual humor this story has.


  • Any chance you’ll do the same for 1975-1977 series. That series clearly had the best and most vibrant animation team working for it compared to the other series.

    I did watch these earlier 1971 series episodes when I noticed them uploading, and half the fun was trying to figure out what the deuce was going on as these bizarre actions on screen were taking place.

    I know it probably will never happen given the length of the series and its age, but I hope this gets translated at some point in the future (maybe streamed like Galaxy Express?)

    • I don’t have any episodes of the 1975 series, sadly (I’m looking, though!), and only a small number are up on the internet. Maybe someday, I hope!

  • I’m not surprised the show got flak for Bakabon’s Papa being a terrible father and human being when over a decade later The Simpsons got hell for its subversion of the typical sitcom family. Granted even Homer started out as a man trying to be a normal working class dad and not a complete idiot oblivious to the destruction he creates around himself. Still Papa comes off as a fun character you want to see get into crazy situations.

    I’d say the only sitcom dad that comes close to him is Peter Griffin but that show is so terribly written, inconsistent, and all over the place that Peter doesn’t even count as a character so much as a prop for writers whose sole purpose is to try and out gross each other.

    • I wouldn’t compare Bakabon with The Simpson too much. Bakabon inhabits and mostly cartoon and silly world, while The Simpsons is much more in the sitcom with a more grounded reality (give or take). Yes, they both star dumb dads and feature families, but the similarities end there. It’s like comparing The Three Stooges and The Cosby Show.

      Regarding the “flak” the funny thing about Bakabon was that this first series actually played it very safe, heavily subduing the crazier aspects of the comic strip and ended up somewhat of a flop. Though there were apparently a few complaints, the major one at the time was that the TV show, while by no means bad, was a pale representation of the wildly successful comic. Then TMS tried their luck a second time, it led to the more popular second series in 1975 called “Ganso (Original) Tensai Bakabon” which best captured the insanity and risky acts depicted in the comics. This is all explained in the previous article.

    • Then TMS tried their luck a second time, it led to the more popular second series in 1975 called “Ganso (Original) Tensai Bakabon” which best captured the insanity and risky acts depicted in the comics. This is all explained in the previous article.

      Lord knows the opening credits alone set up everything you need to know going into that show!

      For the US to do a cartoon like that, you’d be having to practically tell your guys there’s no rules and they’re free to do whatever they like as long as they can get it under a certain time frame allotted. I don’t think we can ever have that.

  • I must say that this a cartoon

    • Good, you’re learning!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *