As we all know, the early 1980s was a dark time in made-for-TV animation in the ‘States. Everything had to be talked down to the audience so as it doesn’t “corrupt” the children, no violence was allowed, everything needed a moral, the animation was even more stilted. In short, they just wern’t plain fun, and there was hardly any ambition, at least for few more years.
For the most part, it was the opposite in Japanese television. It was around this time that its cartoons became more ambitious, with shows featuring over-the-top scenarios, fast-paced timing, and more off-beat humor. Cartoons such as Urusei Yatsura, GuGu Ganmo, and Dr. Slump comes to mind, but the underrated Rampoo took this style to the max.
(PRONOUNCIATION NOTE: “Rampoo” is the official English spelling, seen in merchandising and also the opening title sequence. However, it’s pronounced “ran-pou”)
Rampoo is a short, perverted middle-school boy who goes on crazy misadventures with his talking mouse friend Chutaro, a genius who invents things for the two to mess around with. Rampoo’s pink-haired girlfriend Mutsumi, as well as their long-suffering teacher, Mr. Kakumaru (whom Rampoo lives with in his apartment), would frequently get caught up in his crazy ride. Mr. Kakumaru has a crush on Miss Iwasaki, another teacher in Rampoo’s school. Rampoo frequently looks up her skirt, always saying “I saw it! I saw it!” whenever he sees her panties.
In the first episode, Mutsumi explains that Rampoo was actually a very handsome student with good character who got the attention of every girl in class. One day, however, when they went on a class picnic, Rampoo and Mutsumi saw a UFO landing. When they went to investigate, the aliens kidnapped Rampoo and performed experiments on him, which made him a short, over-the-top perverted weirdo that everyone knows today. And that’s the origin of the main character, now forever dubbed the “flying warped boy” (Rampoo can fly when he’s excited), and after that first story the UFO thing is never mentioned again.
Much of the humor stems from taking an already crazy scenario and pushing it up to eleven. When Rampoo is tricked into eating too much pepper, not only does he starts breathing fire like any cartoon character, but it actually sets the building on fire, rendering everyone inside covered in black soot. In order to cool himself down, he goes to the bathhouse (on the women’s side, to add to the show’s already prevalent fan-service) and drinks every last drop from the giant tub, bloating him up like a sumo wrestler. When Mr. Kakumaru chases Rampoo around in the classroom, they swim around the other students and desks and throws them to the side like they’re in a ballpit. Another episode has Miss Iwasaki chasing a giant ant underground with a laser gun (built by Chutaro), rapidly firing it in the air, which ends up destroying downtown Tokyo.
That doesn’t begin to cover pop-culture parodies this show is full of. The first episode alone starts with a throw-away gag where Rampoo crushes Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Ultraman, and other giant robots and monsters that all happen to be fighting in the city at the same time. Another episode features Rampoo and Chutaro playing a virtual reality game, a Sci-Fi parody that combines Captain Harlock, Nausicaa, and Future Boy Conan into one. Not to mention, references to other anime that shows up here and there.
That should give you an idea of what the show is like. The show’s premise was already strange as it is, but they just keep pushing far far they can go, and that’s just remarkable.
Rampoo was created by Masatoshi Uchizaki (b. 1957) and the comic appeared in Weekly Shonen Champion magazine from 1978 to 1987. 37 book collections were put out altogether. Alas, just because it had a long print-run doesn’t mean the adaptation did, too. In fact, the anime was rather short-lived.
The TV series aired from April 5 to September 27, 1984 on Fuji Television for 21 episodes. It was produced by Nihon A.D. Systems (NAS), an animation development company (that’s what A.D. stands for) that sprung up in the 1980s to develop cartoons for production and merchandising. The animation production was handled by Tsuchida Production, an animation studio that was active from 1976 to 1986, only to go out of business barely 10 years in, a victim of an economic downturn in Japan.
The show aired on Thursdays at 7 PM. That was not a good time-slot, according to Dave Merrill, who says that the show was airing against a baseball game in some areas. Even in Japan, anime doesn’t stand a chance against televised sports game, and Rampoo was no exception. The final episode didn’t even air in some cities.
Too bad, because the show is very funny. It took the common gag elements in 1980s Japanese cartoons and filtered out other stuff, only leaving behind one funny scenes after another. As it is, the show was never re-released on DVD in Japan, yet, although maybe someday. Alot of even more obscure shows are being released over there, so it’s only a matter of time.
(Thanks to Dave Merrill for sending me copies of the show so that I could write this)