As far as made-for-TV cartoons from the 1970s and 1980s are concerned, I never made it a secret that I vastly prefer the output from the Japanese studios (Tokyo Movie and Toei Doga in particular) than those of what the American companies like Filmation, Hanna-Barbera and even DePatie-Freleng, has churned out. I think 1975’s Gamba no Boken (The Adventures of Gamba) makes a strong case for how to make a quality cartoon under TV budgets and deadline without sacrificing character development, story telling, color styling, and even layouts and (limited) animation. Much of this success can be attributed to the series chief director, Osamu Dezaki (1943-2011).
Having just graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan High School, Dezaki was hired by Mushi Production to work on Astroboy as an animator in 1963. At the same time, he was also moonlighting for the newly-formed Tokyo Movie studio, doing storyboards on their first show, Big X (coincidentally, also created by Osamu Tezuka). He was later promoted director on Astroboy, his first episode being episode #112 in 1965. In the years since then, he directed hundreds of episodes on numerous shows for various studios, primarily Mushi Production and Tokyo Movie, regardless of genre, having directed comedy, action, drama, romance, and others. For American fans, he is probably best known for directing The Mighty Orbots (1984), a Saturday Morning series that aired on ABC.
Dezaki’s trademark directing style includes the use of split-screens, stark lightning, bright color stylings, cross-hatching to convey mood in animation, wide use of different camera angels in action shots, and probably his most famous of them all, “postcard memories”. This is where the final frame of animation is freeze-framed, which then fades to a painted version of the scene. Dezaki was a strong advocate of strong storyboarding in animation. In Japan, directors of anime are typically expected to storyboard their own shows, but Dezaki was very diligent in his approach, apparently storyboarding over 90% of his directing outputs himself. For more on Dezaki, I recommend that you read this Mike Toole post.
Gamba was one of the many shows that Dezaki supervised. It was based on a children’s novel written by author Atsuo Saito (born 1940) called Bokenshyatachi: Gamba to 15-hiki no nakao (The Adventures: Gamba and His 15 Friends), published in 1972. The 26-episode anime was produced by Tokyo Movie for NTV (Nippon Television), airing on Monday evenings at 7:00-7:30 PM from April 7 to September 29, 1975. As per usual at the time, TMS relied on A Production to handle the animation chores.
Gamba and Bobo are two city mice who, while escaping from a hungry cat, end up in the stream, riding inside a floating tin can. Gamba aspires to go on an adventure in the sea, having heard about it from his deceased father. He knows very little about it, and this just drives him more, wanting to explore the seas because it’s unknown to him (as he explained to Bobo, “Why go on an adventure to something you know about?”). The two travel from place to place and eventually they end up near the ocean dock, encountering a group of mice having a party nearby. Gamba and Bobo both join in, not having eaten in their long day. While this is going on, however, an injured mouse named Chuta comes in and collapses on the ground, having sustained injuries. While being treated, Chuta reveals that he comes from an island, living happily amongst other mice until an evil gang of white weasels led by Noroi (the name literally means “curse” in Japan) come in and slaughter the village in a very bloody invasion. Noroi is very notorious and all the mice in the party leave immediately, knowing that confronting the giant weasel means an instant death sentence.
Gamba, however, stays behind and agrees to help Chuta defeat the notorious Noroi. As they stowaway on a ship that’s heading to his direction, other mice join the mission. In addition Bobo, joining Gamba and Chuta are Yoisho (name is Japanese for “yo heave ho”), a strong sailor mouse who lost one eye to Noroi. Yoisho’s partner is Gakusha, a bespectled mouse who is very intelligent; his name means “scholar”. Shijin is a doctor mouse who has a habit of drinking sake and reciting poetry; his name means “poet”. On the boat they meet a mouse already there named Ikasama (name means “swindler”). As his name implies, he’s a gambler who is frequently seen carrying a pair of dice on his hands. With the cast of characters established, the first episode ends with the characters starting their journey into the sea.
The show is presented in a cliffhanger format, each episode advancing a storyline. Throughout the run the seven mice encounter many challenge and hardships. In the fourth episode, the heavy storm causes the boat to sink, forcing the mice to stow away inside a wooden box that escaped the shipwreck, floating on the water. In the following week’s episode, they find an abandoned battleship floating on the island. With the wooden crate destroyed by a flock of hungry seagulls and starving from lack of food, Gakusha builds a new boat using scrap metal pieces salvaged from the battleship. The characters continued their journey in the episodes that followed, encountering numerous obstacles before finally confronting the evil Noroi in the final episode.
Osamu Dezaki had a good team working on this show. One unusual aspect of this show’s production was that a layout artist was employed. In Japanese studios, animators are expected to draw layouts of their own scenes; when a separate layout artist is used, it’s in special circumstances. For Gamba, Tsutomu Shibayama was given the task of doing layouts for every episode, masterfully conveying the stylized world the mice gang lives in. In turn, the color styling is applied expertly, thanks to art director Shichiro Kobayashi supervising the background paintings. Yoshio Kabashima should also be commended for his character designs and animation supervision, giving the characters a broad, loose style, making it stand out in the expertly done limited animation. Dezaki personally directed 12 of the episodes himself, with the rest split between Kyosuke Mikiuriya, Yoshio Takeuchi, and Shigetsugu Yoshida.
Originally, 52 episodes were planned to cover the story arc. However, the sub-par ratings from the viewing audience forced the studio to cut the number down to 26. As a result, they had to hastily re-plan the show’s storyline for the second half of the run. In spite of the shortcomings, the show went on to become a cult favorite in the years that followed. In 1984, TMS made a “feature film” that was edited from several episodes of the show, released in March 4 of that year. The compilation feature only showed the Noroi storyline, removing the subplots.
A new Gamba animation was eventually made, when TMS made a feature film called Gamba to Kawauso no Boken (The Adventures of Gamba and Kawauso), which was directed by Shunji Oga and theatrically released in July 20, 1991. A video game based on the show was also made for PlayStation, released in 2003.
One can compare this series to Watership Down, which was published the same year the Gamba book came out. Gamba is on my personal list of ‘Best TV Cartoons’ (which covers both US and Japanese shows) ever made, and if anybody ever gets a chance, watch the show at your own time. I’m hoping that it will someday arrive in the ‘States in some media format, even excusing the fact that it was made nearly 40 years ago.
Based on a book by Atsuo Saito
Chief Director: Osamu Dezaki
Animation Director: Yoshio Kabashima
Art Director: Shichiro Kobayashi
Production Design and Layout Artist: Tsutomu Shibayama
Story Editors: Jyunichi Iioka, Shunji Oomori
Music: Takeo Yamashita
Producers: Toru Ueno, Sankichiro Kusube
Produced in Association with: A Production
A Tokyo Movie Co. Ltd. Production
See individual episode listing for writers and directors.
Masako Nozawa as Ganba
Ranko Mizuki as Bobo
Kenji Utsumi as Yoisho
Kei Tomiyama as Gakusha
Akira Shimada as Shijin
Hiroko Kikuchi as Chuta
Junko Hori as Ikasama
Lyrics: Tokyo Movie Planning Committee
Music: Takeo Yamashita
Singing: Hiromasa Kawahara
Published by CBS/Sony Records
Episode Listing (all episode names are English translations of its Japanese title)
1. To Adventure in the Sea! (April 7, 1975) Scenario: Mitsuru Majima ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
2. Gamba Goes Crazy on Ship (April 14, 1975) Scenario: Mitsuru Majima ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
3. Big Danger: Save Chuta! (April 21, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
4. Shipwreck by a Storm (April 28, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
5. What Awaits on Battleship Island (May 5, 1975) Scenario: Mitsuru Majima ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
6. Fun, Fun Diving (May 12, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Yoshio Takeuchi
7. Scary, Scary Black Shadow (May 19, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
8. Bobo’s First Love (May 26, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
9. Difficult Battle with the Black Fox (June 2, 1975) Scenario: Shoji Yoshikawa ; Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
10. Seven Split Boards Going Their Separate Ways (June 9, 1975) Scenario: Hideo Takayashiki ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
11. After Toragoro, the Swindler! (June 16, 1975) Scenario: Hideo Takayashiki ; Director: Yoshio Takeuchi
12. A Party, a Fight, an Uproar (June 23, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
13. Special Training!! Operation Moo Moo (June 30, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
14. Attack of a Pack of Hunting Dogs (July 7, 1975) Scenario: Atsushi Yamatoya ; Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
15. Gamba Kidnapped by an Eagle (July 14, 1975) Scenario: Atsushi Yamatoya ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
16. Climbing Formidable Crow Peak! (July 21, 1975) Scenario: Yoshio Takeuchi ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
17. Run, Run, for the Weasel is Near (July 28, 1975) Scenario: Shoji Yoshikawa ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
18. Curious, Fat Mice (August 4, 1975) Scenario: Hideo Takayashiki ; Director: Yoshio Takeuchi
19. Streaked Shearwater Sinking in Darkness (August 11, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
20. I Saw the White Weasel! (August 18, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
21. 13 Eyes Wet with Tears (August 25, 1975) Scenario: Yutaka Kaneko ; Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
22. Friends from Across the Sea (September 1, 1975) Scenario: Hideo Takayashiki ; Director: Yoshio Takeuchi
23. Traitor’s Fortress (September 8, 1975) Scenario: Shoji Yoshikawa ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
24. Whispers of a White Devil (September 15, 1975) Scenario: Shoji Yoshikawa ; Director: Shigetsugu Yoshida
25. Grotto of Hell (September 22, 1975) Scenario: Atsushi Yamatoya ; Director: Kyosuke Mikuriya
26. The Last Battle: The Great Whirlpool (September 29, 1975) Scenario: Atsushi Yamatoya ; Director: Makura Saki (Osamu Dezaki)
I loved “The Adventures of Gamba”! The C/FO somehow got the first episode dubbed into English in the early 1980s, in an excellent adaptation — whoever had dubbed it failed to sell it, and hoped that the C/FO could help publicize it. Most of the C/FO wasn’t interested in it, because it wasn’t a giant robot program, but I borrowed the video and showed it to death tying to promote it, without any success. I think that the killer was Dr. Shijin, who was obviously a heavy drinker; the dubbers gave him a heavy W. C. Fields voice. You couldn’t have a comedy-relief drunken lush as a major supporting character in a children’s funny-animal TV cartoon at the time — probably still can’t today, despite “The Ren & Stimpy Show”, “The Simpsons”, and others which are, of course, not for little children!
I made a pest of myself around the C/FO telling everybody how great “Gamba” was — so much so that when Robin Leyden, one of the C/FO’s founders, went to Japan on business in the early 1980s, he brought back the entire 26 episodes on video for me. It wasn’t translated, but since it was a children’s program, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on from the body-language alone. I offered to let the other C/FO members see it, but nobody else was interested, so I watched all 26 episodes alone — and was delighted. I don’t know what happened to that first episode in English; probably Mark Merlino still has it — if his old Sanyo V-Cord video tapes are still playable today.
P.S.: Also, the 26-episode series was clearly a serial that had to be shown in strict order. That first episode, “Let’s Go To Sea!”, ended with a cliffhanger, as they all did. It was still the norm for American TV at the time for each episode to be a complete story so that the series could be shown in any order.
“P.S.: Also, the 26-episode series was clearly a serial that had to be shown in strict order. That first episode, “Let’s Go To Sea!”, ended with a cliffhanger, as they all did. It was still the norm for American TV at the time for each episode to be a complete story so that the series could be shown in any order.”
That is true Fred, of course we’ve had a few of those shows come over otherwise that had a sequential running order like “Star Blazers” or perhaps my fave “Belle & Sebastian”, but those were rare exceptions in a broadcasting world that relied on self-contained narratives and shuffling them around in syndication (don’t recall Saturday morning programs doing it though).
Nice someone at TMS or wherever thought to give this show a shot with an English dub at all, really a shame the CF/O saw no potential in this like you did (and me, I would’ve been on this from day one I bet), giant robot snobs!
“You couldn’t have a comedy-relief drunken lush as a major supporting character in a children’s funny-animal TV cartoon at the time — probably still can’t today, despite “The Ren & Stimpy Show”, “The Simpsons”, and others which are, of course, not for little children!”
Let’s not forget the “Golden Age” cartoons of old that done that to death I’m sure, unless networks weren’t trimming those moments out of their 35mm prints beforehand.
Oh, and here’s a “Postcard Memory” I recall!
If you have a way of contacting Mark Merlino, can you please either ask if he has the English Gamba tape or give me his contact info so I can ask him? I’d really like to find the English dub pilot.
I’ve been very curious about this series for quite sometime and this article was a fantastic source of information. Fred’s comments are quite unfortunate but should make it perfectly clear to Anime fans why Japanese animation gets pigeonholed into a single genre by non viewers.
Noroi really did leave his mark on the impressionable kids who watched the show and grew up to be animators. He’s been referenced in various series like Muromi-san and Kill La Kill.
This is one of those shows that just looks like bad/generic kid entertainment at face value, but has quite a bit going for it in terms of artistry, direction and content. It’s a real shame this isn’t as well known, but it seems in part due to the current perception of anime having a set conventional art style and specifically starring (and targeted to) teenagers and adolescents.
I mean, compare this to the much more well-known Hamtaro which only attained that popularity through clever marketing and cross-promotion, not because the cartoons were any good.
“This is one of those shows that just looks like bad/generic kid entertainment at face value, but has quite a bit going for it in terms of artistry, direction and content. It’s a real shame this isn’t as well known, but it seems in part due to the current perception of anime having a set conventional art style and specifically starring (and targeted to) teenagers and adolescents.”
That is really sad.
“I mean, compare this to the much more well-known Hamtaro which only attained that popularity through clever marketing and cross-promotion, not because the cartoons were any good.”
Funny how it works.
That’s a good point. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are parents who underestimated what the show’s content is like. Despite the cartoonish and rather cutesy character designs, there’s nothing vapid about the content. Thankfully, it does have some popularity in Japan now, especially when they released VHS tapes of it 20-something years ago.
And Fred is right. You really have to watch the show in chronological order. You’ll get lost if you skip an episode or watch it out of order.
I’ve heard of this one for a long time, but I’ve never been able to see it and this article makes me want to see it all the more! (I’m a big fan of TMS’s output from the late ’60s to the ’80s.) Does anyone know much about the availability of Gamba?
I have every episode and I can help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I did not know TMS tried to dub Gamba proper, I do know that with The Blinkins, TMS only did that just so that they can get Gamba into the states ( http://famihamu64.tumblr.com/image/69127888227 ), they redesigned him with proper construction, and renamed him Moe but it’s Gamba, also both projects were lead by Osamu Dezaki as well as to why Gamba was show boating in another project (when Dezaki was the chief director on Gamba, Dezaki was only a supervising director on Blinkins).
TMS did pay homage to this, Gusty Frog & Tensai Bakabon (in terms of art style) in the post intro opening of Superman Vs The Elite (the best part of the whole DTV movie) as a throwback to their 70s output (If TMS licensed the show for a English sub on Hulu and or Daisuki (the same gos for Tensai Bakabon and Gusty Frog) then it will be a excellent as more people need to see said shows).
“I mean, compare this to the much more well-known Hamtaro which only attained that popularity through clever marketing and cross-promotion, not because the cartoons were any good.”
Oddly enough, Osamu Dezaki directed (and storyboarded) all 4 Hamtaro movies, but Dezaki only did them for his kids or grandkids (I forget which), he will have not done them otherwise; As with the show, the reason why Hamtaro is still remembered is because of 6 games (really 7 (8 if you count the Hamtaro E-Reader cards for the Game Boy Advance E-Reader), but the last game was not released by Nintendo, but by Marvelous Interactive in Japan, Natsume in North America and 505 Games in Europe) released by Nintendo (3 of them came out in the US, 4 in Europe, the rest were Japan only) & Hiroko “Laura” Haruna, a character created by TMS staffer Masatomo Sudo that was in the same leages as Babs Bunny, Dot Warner & Slappy Squirrel in terms of female characters, but because SMDE (Shogakukan Music And Digital Entertainment) hinder TMS’ use of her she never got to shine as brightly as Babs, Dot & Slappy; If TMS only made a Laura show in the same vains as Tiny Toons & Animaniacs then Laura will truly shine, not just as much as Babs, Dot & Slappy in terms of female characters, but she will match up to the likes of Bugs (and Buster) Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and Popeye in terms of cartoon characters period as she can easily out beat the like of Ryuko Matoi and Mirai Kuriyama in terms of character quality by light years.
Anyway, great job on the article.
Wow thanks for this great article. I remember watching gamba when I was a very small kid. I miss those days. I have been trying to remember the name of the series for years now, and last night it suddenly hit me as gamba! And when I searched the first thing that I found was this article. I would very much like to see the series again but I am unable to find any english dubbed/subtitled copies. Does anyone have any ideas? It would be a great help. Thanks alot either way.
Every Ganba no bouken episode ends with the japanese word “TSUZUKU” (to be continued). In the last episode appears the word “OWARU” (the end).
i cane across gamba as a kid in Mexico, it was truly nice to see sonethibg do different than typical american animated shows of the time. this was around 1992,oh the memories. i liked how in Mexico they left the original soundtrack and translated lyrics.
Hi I watched This cartoon years ago. Music. And the story of this cartoon was very good. I like it so much.
I saw the Persian dubbed version when I was a kid. It was a really popular cartoon in Iran.
thanks for this amazing article. as japanese, i’m glad to know that people outside japan appreciate gamba. gamba’s dvd was difficult to obtain even in japan (you had to pay 200 dollars for secondhand one), but a few days ago, it was released at low price! (less than 45 dollars for 3 dvd which cover all 26 episode!) what a good era!