This article originally appeared in the July 26, 1987 issue of IMAGE, some sort of Bay Area based publication. I somehow obtained a photocopy of this article and subsequently reprinted it in the C/FO Atlanta Newsletter, which appeared in the winter of 1987. It’s an interesting look at American media beginning to discover Japanese animation, as well as a glimpse of what fandom was like at the time.
From IMAGE, July 26 1987
Japanimation: Creating A World Without Smurfs
The room is filled with punk teenagers sitting silently. All their attention is focused on the large TV screen, where elegantly drawn cartoon characters move with a fluid energy that rivals reality. After countless battles, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has returned to earth, only to watch the woman he loves die in his arms. Sniffling sounds are audible. Even the kid with the Mohawk has tears on his cheek.
“It affected people,” recalls Owen Hannifen. With his wife, Eclare, he runs the Japanese Animation Archives in San Francisco, where the screening was held. “I teared up at that scene the first time I saw it, too- and I hadn’t cried at any animation since Bambi’s mama bit the big one.”
The artistic quality and complex, no-holds-barred plots of what is called “Japanimation” has brought it rising popularity in America. A few recognizably Japanese cartoons such as Robotech, dubbed into English, are broadcast regularly in San Francisco, but many people watch Japanimation without knowing it; more than half of the cartoons with American characters and plots are drawn by Japanese animators. And San Franscisco is now the home of what Owen believes is the nation’s only archive of Japanese animation.
The Hannifens, whose love affair with comic books dates back twenty years, realized in 1985 that they were sitting on a gold mine; a private collection of 5,000 Japanese comics and animation books and 1,000 hours of taped animation. So they decided to open their library to the public. In addition to the tapes and comics, the archives contain more than 200 records and compact discs, both animation background music and songs composed especially to read Japanese comic books by.
To visit JAA, located in their home, is to enter another world. Every available space, from the walls to the knickknack shelves to the TV screen, is brightened by Japanese cartoon characters. When Owen sits down to give a rambling discourse on Japanimation, a different story line seems to slip in every time he tries to make a point. He illustrates one tale by revealing a Captain Harlock tattoo on his arm. He will gladly show visitors whatever Japanimation tickles their fancy, from comedy to soft-core porn.
The Hannifens started videotaping in 1976 when a local TV station broadcast Yuusha Raideen, one of the seminal giant-robot shows. “We said, ‘My my, my, this is certainly different from Huckleberry Hound,’” Owen says. “Unlike American animation, which has silly animals doing silly things with dead comedians’ voices, Raideen used a multiplane camera and good music. We taped every episode religiously.”
While anyone can visit the archives, the Hannifens are trying to make it self-supporting by charging a $25 membership fee ($15 for students and senior citizens). There are about 150 JAA members, who get access to the archives, discounts on comic books and related merchandise and some free copying services.
Owen sums up the reason Americans prefer Japanese animation in a word: “Quality. In Japan animators are considered artists. They have their own fan clubs. Even the voice actors have fan clubs.”
Appointments to visit the Japanese Animation Archives can be made by contacting the Hannifens at PO Box 4151, San Francisco CA 94101; (phone number deleted)
Owen Hannifen passed away in 2000 after a long and colorful career in California fandom.