Cable TV in the 80s was kinda strange. Lots of national channels + not a lot of programming = strangeness. USA Network was running the bizarro hippy punker clip-show extravaganza Night Flight, Discovery Channel would occasionally show entire days worth of Russian television, and everything was liable to be interrupted by local ads shoehorned in by your mom & pop cable TV service. And of course everywhere there was Japanese animation! If you weren’t watching 90 minute compliations of Force Five episodes or Thunderbirds 2086 episodes on Showtime, you were catching Belle & Sebastian or Mysterious Cities Of Gold in between Tomorrow People marathons on Nickelodeon. And if you were particularly hard core you would watch Superbook and Flying House - the Japanese anime Bible cartoons – on Pat “700 Club” Robertson’s CBN network.
To be honest, CBN got a lot of mileage out of anime. Screening the two Christian cartoons is a natural, but they also ran the compilation films for Voltes V and Starbirds (the English dub of Fighting General Daimos). And if you were alert or un-hung-over enough to be watching TV at noon on Sunday, you might catch two of my favorites – Honey Honey and Leo The Lion.
Both dubbed by some Florida outfit called “Sonic International”, they seem to be odd choices to run on cable in the 80s – a shojo comedy set in 1910 and a violent talking-animal cartoon from the late 60s? – but trying to figure out the actions of television executives is a fruitless task. The important thing is that Honey Honey, based on the manga by shojo manga-ka pioneer Hideko Mizuno (who would later go on to pen the groundbreaking rock’n’roll manga FIRE) is a charming and frequently wacky series that is a minor gem. The original 1966 manga by Hideko Mizuno was published in RIBON (“Princess”) MAGAZINE, but the anime series would not air until 1981. What’s up with that?
Young teenage orphan Honey Honey, making ends meet in Austria in the early part of the last century, befriends a small white cat named Lily. As a result of this friendship Honey Honey finds herself pursued literally around the world by Princess Flora of Austria, Flora's four ethnic-stereotype suitors, and the mysterious thief Phoenix. And Phoenix’s cat.
Turns out Lily swallowed the famous gem the Star Of The Amazon, the possession thereof being the one condition pursuant to marrying Princess Flora. Over the next 25 episodes we see auto chases, UFOs, sultans, samurai, Viking warriors, spies, crooks, Robin Hood, circuses, storms at sea, ninjas, King Kong, you name it. It’s a whirlwind of a show that mixes slapstick with romance, and the English dub is amateurish but spirited. The animation by Kokusei Eiga varies from mediocre to amazing – there’s one episode that rivals anything else on TV at the time - but mostly the show is typical television quality.
Six episodes of the show were released on home video by Sony in various formats including Beta and 8mm. VHS copies occasionally show up on eBay and local video stores, so keep your eyes open. Honey Honey’s rights are currently owned by Enoki Films – one of our farsighted American outfits should contact them, release the show on DVD, and make us all happy.
CBN’s other Sunday anime powerhouse is Leo The Lion, which of course is Tezuka’s sequel to Jungle Emperor/Kimba The White Lion, based on Tezuka’s classic manga series from the late 1950s. After he produced the first 1965 series (Japan’s first color TV cartoon!) under NBC’s guidelines, Tezuka went on to produce Leo (original title “Susume Leo”) staying closer to his original manga. This means continuing storylines, darker themes, and lots of animal-on-animal action complete with defenestrations, impalings, contusions, beheadings, shotgunnings, etc.
Leo (you may remember this white lion under his childhood name of “Kimba”) and his wife Leia (“Kitty”) defend the jungle and raise their two children Runi and Ruki . There are the occasional episodes of whimsical comedy – the James Bond spoof episode in particular – but for the most part this series is a lot darker and less “fun” than Kimba. It’s not surprising NBC would take a pass on this one, I can’t see it getting past the watchdog moms of 60s America. Of course 20 years later CBN either has no problem with it, or what’s more likely, has no idea they’re running a cartoon show in which a blind Masai warrior has his arm ripped off by a tribe of evil leopards.
Leo has been released on cheap public-domain home video several times, mostly in shoddy EP VHS tapes that contain edited versions of the episodes. Buyer beware! This is another series that deserves a decent DVD set as a companion to Right Stuf’s Kimba release.
And the CBN anime story doesn’t end there! Before Honey Honey and Leo, CBN ran the weekly Japanese current affairs news program Beyond The Horizon. Occasionally overstepping the boundaries of traditionally defined “news”, Beyond The Horizon would fill up its airtime with 12-minute half-episodes of the 1972 Toei giant robot show Mazinger Z. This mysteriously-dubbed version of the super robot classic featured the infamous English-language theme songs sung phonetically by Isao Sasaki.
Luckily anime fan seneschal Steve Harrison taped the things with his top-loading mono wired-remote VHS deck, capturing this artifact for posterity. But why would a news program run a children’s robot cartoon? Cultural background? Entertainment industry context? Time-filler for slow news days? Only Pat Robertson knows, and he ain’t tellin’.