Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anime, Pat Robertson, Mazinger Z, and... YOU!

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

20 comments:

Chris Sobieniak said...

This is why I pull my hair out wishing I paid more attention back then! Cable TV was terribly liberal and more free-willing then. Only a shame I didn't notice CBN aired those at all or I would've had the same memories to conjure up here. I miss those days when a lot of cooky foreign stuff used to show up on Nickelodeon and other channels then. Only a shame it didn't last too long into the end of the decade before it started to lose it's edge.

Have to look for those Honey Honey tapes. Being reminded Sony also released the Spanish-Japanese co-produced "Around the World with Willy Fog" that saw a few episodes get on VHS despite the show hardly getting on the air or cable at all (yet dubbed by the Intersound crew), nowadays I pretty much have DVD rips of the series, and only wished it had aired on Nick to go along with Danger Mouse and MCoG!

Tohoscope said...

Yeah, CBN was were I got alot of my anime fix back in the days before I learn of tape trading...

Chris Sobieniak said...

The stuff CBN did resembled more something you expect to see out of LA or Hawaii on some station that catered to a Japanese audience during those years. Shame I ever ever saw Superbook and Flying House instead, but it's a surprise to see a channel I could get in a mid-American city showing stuff that obscure when it felt more deserving in a city quadruple our size (and with a far more diverse ethnic community, we still don't have a Spanish-language UHF channel like Univision I could've turned to on Saturdays for Sabado Gigante).

Makes me sad sometimes thinking I was too young to really appreciate the value of videotaping anything without erasing it (since I didn't have the kind of financial skills to grasp buying tapes yet). If I had been a tad older, this would've been my thing, like the one guy on YouTube from northeast Ohio who has all the cool s__t from the early 80's I either remember or having seen before. Need to hook up with him someday.

My mom did however made one recording I still cherish for probably having the only copy of, ABC's airing of "The Day After" in '83, commercials intact, and some live panel discussion deal at the end. One of the rare occasions when she didn't kept pausing the VCR during those breaks! Now if she had taped all those Eastern European goodies I used to see on Pinwheel I would've been set! Instead I had to go and sniff those out on my own for the sake of admitting these things existed.

Mappy said...

It's worth noting that I somehow have a copy of both the first episode of Honey Honey and the first episode of that Mazinger Z thing, the latter probably sent to me by a memember of a chain ending in the aforementioned Mr. Harrison. As for Honey Honey, I was lucky enough to find that at a local video store back in the days when local video stores still carried VHS. I guess this means I can hang with the cool kids now, 'cause I can laugh at all your silly anime Nazi jokes, Dave.

It's also (probably not) worth noting that most of the home-recorded VHS tapes I've got from my childhood are highly schizophrenic in terms of editing, and are likely prime examples of what happens when you allow a less-than-bright 5-year-old free use of a VCR. IE: 15 minutes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse suddenly interrupted by a full episode of Inspector Gadget, which is then followed by a full hour of blank tape before resuming and leading into an Ernest movie.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Mappy said...
It's worth noting that I somehow have a copy of both the first episode of Honey Honey and the first episode of that Mazinger Z thing, the latter probably sent to me by a memember of a chain ending in the aforementioned Mr. Harrison. As for Honey Honey, I was lucky enough to find that at a local video store back in the days when local video stores still carried VHS. I guess this means I can hang with the cool kids now, 'cause I can laugh at all your silly anime Nazi jokes, Dave.


Best I got was fragments of a couple Honey Honey episodes from Dave years back, but hadn't gotten around to watching it just yet. Might want to track down that tape otherwise (wonder if it was out on Beta too).

It's also (probably not) worth noting that most of the home-recorded VHS tapes I've got from my childhood are highly schizophrenic in terms of editing, and are likely prime examples of what happens when you allow a less-than-bright 5-year-old free use of a VCR. IE: 15 minutes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse suddenly interrupted by a full episode of Inspector Gadget, which is then followed by a full hour of blank tape before resuming and leading into an Ernest movie.

Ha! I knew how to run a VCR when I was 5 back in the tapes when they still made top-loaders, but I dared not press the "record" button at all until I began to learn the ropes from my parents later on. Got to where I would record an entire seasons worth of a Saturday morning cartoon on one 6-hour tape like it was nothing, then erase it and record something else a year later due to not getting around to buying blanks. Shame it was that way since I would've still had a ton of recordings I'd be trading out there for years. Too often I did it so I could watch the same show over and over for a week before the next one showed up. By doing so, I became aware of how bad some cartoons where in term of content, and noticing how too many of 'em were being sent to some Far East sweatshops like it was nothing. It got to where I could tell which studio did which based on the shotty animation alone!

Steve Harrison said...

As a technical correction, my beloved Silvania top loader bought in 1981...42 pounds of massive beastial video machine, carted from one side of the state to the other, running DAYS without a break and costing a hard earned $1200 USD...was one of the first VHS machines to have an infrared remote control. No wires on me!

Pissed off a friend who bought his VCR a year before me and had this 20 foot cable binding the remote to the machine....pissed him off no end.

If I had the money I'd get this beast refurbished and back on-line in my recording bay. Sucker was ROCK SOLID, played and recorded in all three speeds, and if a tape broke you could GET AT IT and maybe even repair the tape. I've done that a few times.

I still can't believe I used to cart a 42 pound VCR, a 20 pound box of cords and cables and tools, and roughly 60 pounds of VHS tapes across cold, icy parking lots for a weekend of showing people stupid cartoons in a language nobody knew...

Chris Sobieniak said...

Steve Harrison said...
As a technical correction, my beloved Silvania top loader bought in 1981...42 pounds of massive beastial video machine, carted from one side of the state to the other, running DAYS without a break and costing a hard earned $1200 USD...was one of the first VHS machines to have an infrared remote control. No wires on me!


That must've been cool! The first VCR in my family was a JCPenny portable unit sold around the same year my mom got around the summer of '82, along with a portable video camera to plug into the recorder (as it was separate from the tuner). I remember the days she would lug that baby into parks, restaurants like Pizza Hut and Bill Knapp's and at home to videotape our lives after giving up on shooting on super-8mm with her simple Kodak movie camera.

Our second VCR she used in copying was a massive RCA model that was black and grey. I only wish we still had it now.

Pissed off a friend who bought his VCR a year before me and had this 20 foot cable binding the remote to the machine....pissed him off no end.

I bet!

If I had the money I'd get this beast refurbished and back on-line in my recording bay. Sucker was ROCK SOLID, played and recorded in all three speeds, and if a tape broke you could GET AT IT and maybe even repair the tape. I've done that a few times.

I was a pro at it! I remember the days when weight meant everything with those babies. Eventually they started cutting back on the weight, and it sucked terribly.

I still can't believe I used to cart a 42 pound VCR, a 20 pound box of cords and cables and tools, and roughly 60 pounds of VHS tapes across cold, icy parking lots for a weekend of showing people stupid cartoons in a language nobody knew...

Consider yourself proud to have been through that!

p said...

My understanding is that "Koji can swim in the sky, he can fly in the sea, with his robot-man, Majinger Jeeesus."

Carl Horn said...

I don't think our family owned a VCR until 1984 (and therefore I had to rely on club and con showings)--an RCA plastic wood-grain that kept running at least until the mid-90s. I was fascinated by the fact that although SLP gave the worst recording quality, it made for the clearest image on pause. The quality came in handy when I wanted to make reference drawings of anime, although, of course, you had to work five minutes at a time.

I even took it as far as to draw several pages of ROBOTECH comics with this method--the licensed Comico versions really were so bad* that a 15 year-old could plausibly do better, and was motivated to do so. I now work three doors down from the woman who was Comico's editor at the time, who says that the publisher basically just hired his friends, who weren't exactly gaijin tarento.

--C.

*Except for one issue pinch-hit by my man Jeff Dee. I'm loyal to all my ex-RPG homiez like Bill Willingham, Timothy Truman, and Timothy Bradstreet. Come to think of it, I'd probably even by a comic by David S. LaForce. Now THAT's hardcore.

Chris Sobieniak said...

p said...
My understanding is that "Koji can swim in the sky, he can fly in the sea, with his robot-man, Majinger Jeeesus."


Yeah, I guess Pat Robertson thought that's what it was (plus he battles against the evil of Dr. Hell, that sounds right up CBN's alley)!

Carl Horn said...
I don't think our family owned a VCR until 1984 (and therefore I had to rely on club and con showings)--an RCA plastic wood-grain that kept running at least until the mid-90s. I was fascinated by the fact that although SLP gave the worst recording quality, it made for the clearest image on pause. The quality came in handy when I wanted to make reference drawings of anime, although, of course, you had to work five minutes at a time.


I noticed that too at a young age (the portable system I brought up earlier also had a "frame advance" option as well, which was cool for a 2-head VCR to sport). Of course with 4-Head VCR's, this sort of thing became possible for SP tapes too.

Tohoscope said...

I really need to set aside some weekend to transfer that stack of old VHS tapes to DVD...

Chris Sobieniak said...

Tohoscope said...
I really need to set aside some weekend to transfer that stack of old VHS tapes to DVD...


Currently I'm doing a similar thing, getting rid of the hundreds and hundreds of cassettes I've accumulated in the decade or so of my tape trading habit by sticking them on DVD (not as durable as I'm told). Shamefully getting rid of some tapes that I never thought I'd ever get int he first place, but thankfully this should bring me into the present/future realm where VHS won't have a standing chance in the digital world.

Chris Sobieniak said...

To shameless update some things relating to the CBN anime post, noticed someone stuck up some clips from the Hawaiian Mazinger Z dub from a video release that the Brits got!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvEBf828cYU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXDE_gyOBUU

EricMontreal22 said...

I've been looking for info on the English dub of Honey Honey for ages--partly cuz I have a thing for old shoujo anime and partly cuz I have a thing for Hideko Mizuno in particular thanks to her AWESOME manga FIRE (without which the manga of my fave shoujo masters like Takemiya Keiko and Hagio Moto woulda been quite diferent)

I have vague memories of a girl in a ballon from my childhood but... there is a foreign dub on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FATQVNw_QI

Anonymous said...

wow!! me encantan estos tipos de caricaturas, son el recuerdo que me hacen sentir que todavia soy niƱa adorables, y a la vez nostalgicos

Anonymous said...

And the James Bond spoof episode of LEO ended with the likeable Bond character getting killed!!!!!!?!.Crikey!Couldn't Tezuka spare anybody?

Tohoscope said...

I loved the "James Brawn" episode of Kimba! And the poor slob dies off screen, too.

dennis said...

Does anyone remember Around the World With Willy Fog?

http://www.back-to-the-80s.com/Around-the-World-With-Willy-Fog.html

Christopher Sobieniak said...

Not sure if it got on TV here in the US, but the best I ever saw of Willy Fog was a scant number of VHS tapes released by Sony in the 80's, Dennis. It certainly didn't get on a channel like Nickelodeon even where I felt it had a sure chance for popularity somewhat (sandwiched between Danger Mouse and Mysterious Cities of Gold).

Johnny said...

Just came across this article from over at Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research. Not sure if anyone still cares but Mazinger Z airing on CBN was on account of Japanese government trying to bolster their image in the US during the 80's. I guess it was a precursor to "Cool Japan".

You can read more about it on this article here.
http://www.kriegman.com/business/japantv.html