Wednesday, November 30, 2022

1972: The Year Anime Got Groovy

 


It’s 1972! President Nixon's plumbers are plumbing up what we’d call Watergate, while Tricky Dick makes a historic relations-normalizing visit to mainland China. Arab terrorists murder 11 at the Munich Summer Olympics, a three-man Japanese hit squad kills 26 at Lod Airport near Tel Aviv, and negotiators in Paris try to hammer out a Vietnam peace deal. Top American films include The Poseidon Adventure, Blacula, The Godfather, and Georgia dueling-banjos favorite Deliverance, while on TV audiences enjoyed All In The Family, Columbo, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Flip Wilson, Emergency!, Sanford & Son, Maude, the Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H and Kung Fu. Kids tuned in Saturday mornings to watch Scooby-Doo, The Osmonds, Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space, The Brady Kids, Sealab 2020, and endless reruns of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Meanwhile in Japan, the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo. Yes, they used to hold the summer and winter Olympics in the same year! Controlled by the US since the end of WWII, Okinawa was returned to Japanese administration. Japanese theaters spent 1972 screening Godzilla Vs Gigan, Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion, two Zatoichi films, and four Lone Wolf & Cub movies, while Japanese TV aired the historical dramas Mito Kōmon and Ōedo Sōsamō, the tokusatsu adventures of Kamen Rider, Lion Maru, Ultraman Ace, and Kikaida, the detective series Key Hunter, and the "Japan's Got Talent" series Star Tanjō

 

1972 Japanese film and TV

But here at Let's Anime we are an anime blog, we're here to talk about Japanese animation and what it looked like fifty years ago. 1972 was a year that set Japanese animation firmly upon the path it still walks today, a merchandise-driven, synergistic production-committee collaboration between the publishing industry, the toy industry, the broadcasting industry, and the eyeballs of impressionable children. Right now we're living in the anime ecosystem that 1972 built. 

 

Stars of 1971

Continuing from 1971 were series like the second Q-Taro The Ghost anime, the first Lupin III series, the second Kitaro show and, of course, the longest running animated series of all time anywhere, Sazae-san, brought to you by Toshiba. But let’s keep moving and get into the new Japanese animation happening in 1972! 

 


First up in our list is Astroganger. Fleeing the evil alien Blasters, the extra-terrestrial Maya crash-lands on Earth, falls in love with a scientist and gives birth to a human boy named Kantaro. When the Blasters invade the Earth, Kantaro must defeat them by fighting with Astroganger, a robot made from living metal. This was the first color super robot TV anime, if you can call Astroganger super, which I personally do not. However, let's remember that every anime series is somebody's favorite anime series, and Astrogangar is no exception, being popular in Italy and the Arabic world. This Knack anime series ran for 26 episodes between October 1972 and March 1973. 

 


Seen in Mexico as "Capitan Centella," Moon Mask Rider is based on the groundbreaking tokusatsu hero series Gekko Kamen/Moonlight Mask/Moon Mask Rider, who donned the titular moon mask, fired up his moon cycle, and strapped on his moon six-guns for justice in the name of the Moon on TV in 1958 and soon afterwards in six feature films. The '72 version, also animated by Knack, appeared in response to the success of 1971 tokusatsu series Kamen Rider, itself perhaps influenced by the original Moon Mask

 


Onbu Obake aka "Piggyback Ghost" aired from October '72 until September 1973 and was based on the manga by Ryuichi Yokoyama, who created the wartime manga Fuku-chan and was one of the first manga-ka to be recognized by the Japanese government as a serious artist. A Top Craft/Eiken series, Onbu Obake aired on YTV. The Onbu Ghost was born from jade and spends happy days with a kind old blacksmith and a young village girl, encountering a wide variety of Japanese folktales as he becomes pretty much a Japanese version of Casper The Friendly Ghost. In the final episode, Onbu saves the village by holding up a crumbling rock all night alone, before exhausting his powers and returning to the jade from whence he came. Beat that, Casper! 

 



Tamagon The Counselor or "Kaiketsu Tamagon" is a goofy, friendly monster who is inordinately fond of eggs. He advises anyone with a problem, asking only eggs in payment - as soon as he's eaten that egg he gets to work. However his solutions usually end in comedic failure and he winds up being chased by his irate clients. This series of 195 5-minute shorts from Tatsunoko aired in Europe as "Eggzavier the Eggasaurus." 

 


Pinocchio, the venerable Carlo Collodi folktale, comes to life in this 1972 Tatsunoko TV series. Pinocchio here is known as “Mock Of The Oak” or Kashi no Ki Mokku, and he faces constant struggle and strife as he makes his way through the world. This was released on VHS and DVD in North America, look for it in the thrifts! 

 


The historical samurai series Akado (Red-breast) Suzunosuke is based on the 1954 manga by Eiichi Fukui and Tsunayoshi Takeuchi, which ran in Shonen Pictorial and spawned a radio drama, a TV show, nine feature films, and this anime series from TMS, which was directed by Isao Takahata and featured key animation from some dude named Hayao Miyazaki. It's about Suzunosuke Konno, an Edo-period boy swordsman learning his chops at the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Chiba Shusaku Dojo. He habitually sports his father’s red breastplate, leading to the nickname and the series' title. 

 


Mon Chéri CoCo is 13 episodes of romantic comedy anime airing from August to November 1972, with animation by Studio Look, Studio Take, and Joke. CoCo was a Nippon TV Video/NTN/TBS production and is based on the manga by Waki Yamato, who'd later create the popular Taisho-period romance Haikara-san. CoCo's star is Coco Charmant, a Paris fashion designer with a French textile-company president father and a Japanese mom from a Kyoto fabric wholesaler background. Coco creates her own new styles in the fashion world while mixing love and friendship. CoCo's production head Shimozaki Jun resigned at the end of August and NTN's animation producer resigned in October, leading us to conclude this early shoujo romance anime was cursed. The CoCo series has only been re-run once and has never been released on home video. 

 


A child of Atlantis, Triton Of The Sea was raised by humans but discovers his true identity and sets forth to battle the empire of Poseidon with his mermaid friend Pipi and his magic sword, turning the ocean red with the blood of his enemies. Seriously, this is a violent show! Based on the "Blue Triton" manga by Osamu Tezuka from 1969, the manga was later renamed to come into line with the TV anime, which only lasted 27 episodes but would return for two 1979 features culled from the show. Triton was directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and the animation was produced by Yoshinobu Nishizaki's "Animation Staff Room," a studio which would become Nishizaki's Office Academy and soon release Space Battleship Yamato

 


Based on the folksy, quirky fantasy comics & novels by Finnish national treasure Tove Jansson, Shin Moomin or “New Moomin” is a 1972 Mushi Pro anime series that continued the 1969 Moomin anime, which was produced by TMS until somebody named Hayao Miyazaki decided the show needed tanks in it. Suddenly TMS was out and Mushi was in. The 1972 series lasted 52 episodes and is all Mushi. 

 


Doknojo Gaeru or The Gutsy Frog, based on Yasumi Yoshizawa's six-year run in Shonen Jump, is all about middle schooler Hiroshi who accidentally squashed the frog Pyonkichi onto his sweatshirt. Now Pyonkichi lives on the front of Hiroshi’s shirt and causes no end of kooky comedic situations. This iconic TMS series ran for 206 episodes and was brought back in 1981 and again in 2015 as a live action show. 

 

The '72 TMS TV series pilot "Yuki's Sun" is based on the manga by Tetsuya “Tomorrow’s Joe” Chiba and is about an orphan named Yuki who’s adopted by a new family. This was Hayao Miyazaki’s first solo directorial work. 

Yuki and Pandas
 

In 1972 the Chinese government loaned Japan two giant pandas for the Ueno Zoo and Japan went positively psychotic for pandas. One of the products of this mania we know as Panda ko Panda, a pair of short TMS films about a little girl named Mimiko who befriends both a baby panda named Pan-chan and Pan-chan’s panda Papa. The creative team involved superstars Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoshifumi Kondo, who used concepts left over from their aborted "Pippi Longstocking" project (I guess Astrid Lindgren heard about the Moomin tanks). 

 


Nagagutsu Sanjuushi aka The Return Of Pero aka Ringo Rides West aka the second of Toei’s Puss In Boots movies is a kiddy version of a spaghetti western as Toei mascot cat Pero finds himself chased all the way to the Old West! Outlaws are trying to take over frontier Go Go Town for their own evil ends and Annie's inheritance stands in their way. Will Pero and the mysterious Kid With No Name aka Jimmy save the town? 

 


Hellhound Liner 0011 Henshin! Tsutomu lives in the world of the future and his only friends are dogs. When those dogs are killed by outer space alien invaders in an assassination attempt on Tsutomu’s father, there is only one response - to rebuild those dogs into transforming robot combination spaceship cyborgs and destroy the planet of devils! This is a kids’ movie? This IS a kids' movie, a Toei Manga Matsuri favorite delivering rocket-powered robot monster-destroying excitement at 24 frames a second. Don't miss it! 

 


"Anime Document München e no Michi" or Anime Document: The Road To Munich is a combination animation/live action documentary series about the Japanese Men's Volleyball Team as they prepare for the 1972 Munich Olympics. This series, the second time animation was used in a "documentary" format on Japanese TV, aired on TBS from 23 April to 20 August 1972, was sponsored by Fujiya (the Peko people), and was part of a plan to bring greater recognition to the men's volleyball team, who would go on to take the gold in Munich! That's the power of anime right there. 

 


A princess in a magical land, Chappy longed to visit the human world and when her brother Jun provided a convenient distraction at just the right moment, Chappy and Jun came to Japan! There, she found the human world to be full of pollution, traffic accidents, and bad people. Chappy, Jun, and mom and pop try to get along in our modern world without revealing their magical secrets. If you count Marvelous Melmo, Toei's Magical Chappy is the sixth magical girl to appear in Japanese anime, and aired from April to December 1972. 

 


Tatsunoko Productions' legendary animated series Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman premiered at 6:00 pm on Sunday, October 1, 1972 and gave us 105 bird-ninja starring episodes. Operating under the orders of the International Science Organization, Gatchaman fights to defeat the gangsters, robots, monsters and villains of Berg Katse, who leads the evil Galactor Syndicate controlled by the mysterious Sosai X. This immensely successful franchise would encompass a feature film, scads of merchandising, two sequel TV series, 90s and 00s reboots, a live action film, and international if slightly edited success under the title Battle of The Planets


Gatchaman's muscular realism would provide a template for a decade's worth of Tatsunoko hero adventure as the studio brought forth similar adventure programs like Shinzō Ningen Casshan, Uchū no Kishi Tekkaman, and Hurricane Polymar. I've lost count of how many times this show has been made available in America - televised as BOTP, dubbed again as G-Force, Gatchaman II and F shown as Eagle Riders, on VHS and DVD as BOTP, and on DVD and Blu-Ray as Gatchaman

 

Not content with the cataclysmic climax of his parent-disapproved "Shameless School" manga, up and coming manga superstar Go Nagai continued to push boundaries with his next popular series, Devilman. Notorious crybaby Akira Fudo lives with foster parents and endures abuse by bullies until one day he merges with the demon Amon and becomes Devilman, sworn to battle the awakening devils that seek to exterminate mankind. This Toei TV adaptation of Nagai's manga began airing in July of 1972, barely a month after the manga began appearing in Weekly Shonen. The comic's nihilistic violence was toned way down in the anime, but it still took decades to see any sort of English-language appearance of the character, who would return to the anime world in two 1980s OVAs and a 2018 Netflix series. 


Mazinger Z, the super robot, was built out of Chogokin-Z by Juzo Kabuto to battle the forces of Dr. Hell, in much the same fashion as creator Go Nagai forming Dynamic Pro to battle those who would abscond with licensing rights to his creations. Just before Dr. Kabuto's murder by Dr. Hell’s agents, Kabuto reveals Mazinger Z to his grandson Koji Kabuto, who then pilots Mazinger Z through 92 episodes of a Toei TV anime series airing from December 1972 until September 1974. Based on the manga by Go Nagai, Mazinger Z spawned armies of toys, battalions of merchandising and legions of sequels and imitations that infest Japanese popular culture to this day. 

English versions

Mazinger Z was dubbed into English in the 1970s (by M&M) and again in the 1980s as “Tranzor Z” by 3B. In 1973 Devilman and Mazinger Z would team up to star in the fine art film Mazinger Z vs Devilman. Koji Kabuto and Mazinger Z would return in the 2009 series Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! and in the 2017 feature film Mazinger Z Infinity.

 

cinema at its finest
 

And that's 1972, without which we would not have Tatsunoko adventure, Toei super robots, Devilman Crybabies, Gutsy Frogs, or Astrogangers. What would that non-'72 world look like? Popular culture would have to limp along without bird ninjas or super-mechanical heroes, toy companies would be bereft of robot toys, Japanese PTAs would have to find something else to complain about. Fifty years later, however, we still live in the world that 1972's anime created, our feet firmly planted in that strong 1972 foundation. Now, choose your soundtrack: "Ziggy Stardust" or "Exile On Main Street"! 

 -Dave Merrill

Monday, October 24, 2022

Anime Weekend Atlanta 2022

Back in 1995 when we were preparing to cut the ribbon on our first Anime Weekend Atlanta, the expectation was that we'd have a fun little gathering of the local anime fans, and that would pretty much be it. We'd watch some videos, we'd buy some VHS tapes, we'd judge some costumes, and then we'd go home, and maybe we'd keep having one of these things every year, and maybe we wouldn't. Anime fandom was a niche of a niche, a subset of nerds clawing their way out from under a pile of Star Trek cons and comic book shows and gaming festivals, and the idea that Japanese animation would become not only a sizable chunk of the fandom world, but would claw its way into the highest echelons of popular culture - I speak of course of hip-hop themed Sprite ads - that idea was just wishful thinking. 

Vendors Hall at the first AWA

Well, wishes come true sometimes. In the 27 years since that first show, Japanese animation has boomed and busted and boomed again in North America, sending generations of cosplay kids, figure kings, and wanna-be influencers  to roam the halls of many a confused downtown convention center. AWA swelled into a swirling mass of fandom filling the parking lots and hotel availability of a variety of facilities, eventually winding up in the Cobb Galleria Center/Waverly complex, which, little did we suspect, would wind up being next door to the new Atlanta Braves stadium.

Crowds at AWA 2021

And of course nobody except science fiction writers and epidemiologists expected a new and deadly virus would sweep the world, shut down gatherings, close borders, and make 2020 a blank spot on the convention calendars of many a city. AWA was no exception and the convention took a year off to play with Zoom calls, experiment with online spaces, and figure out how things were going to work when things got back to working again. The 2021 show climbed that learning curve, and the unheard of Thursday crowds, the parking lot COVID tests, and the commendable masking discipline of the staff and attendees meant not only could AWA return to physical spaces, but that the crowds would also return. Once the dust settled and the convention was over, we'd find not one reported case of COVID coming out of AWA, which certainly seems, to me anyways, that a vax and mask mandate answers the questions many of us were having about how we were going to hold large events safely. 


AWA returns this week. Along with guests and musical acts and the vendors and Thursday's Super Happy Fun Sellers and cosplay and video games and tournaments, AWA's vax and mask mandate has also returned. Some 2022 conventions have dropped those guidelines, and unsurprisingly, some COVID came home from those conventions along with the attendees. This is not a great outcome, and I'm glad AWA is trying to avoid those outcomes by sticking with best practices this year.

 

What am I up to? Thursday is the big favorite of fans and collectors and bargain hunters, the Super Happy Fun Sell, a garage sale of pre-loved anime merch rescued from closets and crawlspaces. Bring cash.

 


Friday night at 11:30 it's time for Neil Nadelman to unleash Totally Lame Anime to wreck eyeballs and tickle funnybones with the lamest Japanese cartoons ever made. Neil is the guy who translated Chargeman Ken, so he knows of what he speaks. 

 


Either later that night or earlier the next morning, take your pick, it's time for Anime Hell at 1:00am Saturday. Can the wee hours stand the short-form video nonsense projected using state of the art equipment and featuring Japan or anime or hell or neither or all three? It's up to you to find out. 

 


Later Saturday morning at 10:30 I'll be presenting a presentation all about the Japanese animation of 1972, a year that turned what was then still called 'terebi manga' onto its ear, grabbed the steering wheel of the dominant paradigm, popped the animation clutch and told the world to eat its super robot bird ninja dust.

 



Sunday it's time for me and ANN writer Darius Washington to investigate the anime of forty years ago, the miracle year of 1982 when Japanese animation birthed worldwide franchise successes, international collaborations, fairy princesses, space pirates, transforming robots, and cellists. 

 


All this plus food trucks all weekend long! See you at either the 27th or 28th AWA, depending on how we're counting! 

 

-Dave M 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Annoying Adventures With The Tape Trading Taskforce

this column originally ran in 2003 at Mike Toole’s “Anime Jump” website, and has been amended with minor corrections, slight alterations, and additional annoyances. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

Back in the pre-DVD. pre-streaming era, when you had to swap stuff with strangers through the mail to get any kind of decent Japanese cartoons, brave nerd pioneers would find ourselves having to get too close for comfort to certain specimens of the genus “anime-fannus North Americanus.” These are but a few of the many tales that make up the warp and woof of the rich tapestry that is your anime nerd heritage, and they should serve both as amusing anecdotes and cautionary examples. 

actual anime VHS tapes received via the US Mail
 

Oh so many. The person who created his own home-made flyers for our anime convention and posted them around town. The guy who spent weeks arguing on BBS message boards about how Masamune Shirow invented manga as we know it and then tried to track us down at Project A-Kon to argue about it with us some more but got thrown out of the con due to the weed and bong he brought to the staff room he was crashing in. The letters about 60s cartoons that segued quickly into being letters about sex acts. But let’s focus on a few.

1.

Back when I was copying tapes for people through the Anime Hasshin tape traders list, a California fan got in touch with me with an aim to getting copies. He sent his list, I sent my list back, he replied with a large letter back commenting (negatively) on the contents of my tape list and asking why I didn’t make copies in 6-hour EP mode. I replied that (1) EP sucks in terms of video quality, and anyway, (2) they’re my VCRs and I’ll do with ‘em what I want.

lists of anime tapes in the collections of anime fans circa 1990

 

His reply letter more or less agreed with me, or at least admitted that we all have our own preferences. I figured I’d never hear from him again, Well, a week later a tape arrived in the mail from him, along with return postage and a request list that was almost exactly six hours long. A movie, two OVAs, some TV episodes, just cram it all on there, please.

I’m like, whatever. The tape goes on the pile of tapes to be copied. You see, at the time I was copying a lot of tapes from people both through the mail and right at home. I’d come home from the local anime club with a stack of blanks and a list of requests, and I spent a lot of time violating copyright law so Bob McBobbob and his pals could watch Project A-Ko or “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” at their leisure.

One week later, I get a long, pissed-off letter from the guy, asking where the hell his tape is, how dare I treat anime fans in this way, where do I get off behaving in such an obnoxious fashion, HE always makes sure HE gets HIS tapes done quickly, etc etc.


So this gets my full attention. What I do is I dig out my oldest, funkiest, top-loading 2-head VCR that only records in black and white. It was a Panasonic that suffered a drop onto a concrete landing after I tripped on some stairs while carrying it to a Saturday night let’s-copy-anime-and-eat-pizza gathering at a now demolished apartment complex at Lindbergh and Piedmont in Atlanta. I used this Panasonic as the recording deck. Every so often as I passed the machine I gave it a mighty smash with my hand or other suitable blunt instrument. Talk about hashtag VHS Artifacts! They got all six hours of anime, though. Was it watchable? I don’t know. I never heard from them again. 

 

meet you at Zesto's on Piedmont

 

2.

A few years later we were fan-subtitling Captain Harlock though the auspices of Corn Pone Flicks. A VHS, a SASE, and a request for episodes arrived, as per our guidelines. We put the Harlock episodes on the tape, which was placed into its already-stamped return envelope, and mailed back.

 


A month later the emails started – that tape never arrived. Which is a thing that happens sometimes. Mail gets lost. It’s a thing. What made this email special was the demand we replace and mail this person their replacement tape on our own dime. Because, as the email stated, we were running a business and as such had a responsibility to our customers. Since we were most definitely NOT running a business, we actually had NO such responsibility. By that time we’d learned just ignoring the kooks was the best plan of action, which is what we did to the increasingly angry emails that continued to arrive, eventually accusing Corn Pone Flicks of running an elaborate swindle, stealing blank VHS tapes from an unsuspecting public. The perfect crime!

3.

Speaking of copying tapes, it was the custom of the time for anime nerds such as myself to have lists of their available anime titles photocopied and available to send out, because it’s difficult to ask for tapes you don’t know exist. If you were a member of an anime club or two, you might have access to the anime lists of five, ten, twenty anime tape traders. You might not consider these lists themselves a valuable commodity, but a Pacific Northwest outfit known as Kinosei Anime thought otherwise! For a small fee of six dollars, they would send you the tape lists of fans and clubs who were willing to copy anime for strangers! I found out about Kinosei when I started getting letters from people who had acquired my name and address from them. And no, Kinosei Anime never asked permission to send anyone’s name, address, and list of tapes out to the world as part of their low-stakes unethical behavior game. I mean, it’s not a big deal – I’m sure this scheme netted them, what, thirty, forty bucks, max – but ask first, people.

"Dear Dave, I have sold your name and address to strangers. Do you have any Kimba The White Lion. Thanks, Jeff"

 

4.

So back in, like, 1989-1990, our phone rang. It was the operator, asking if I would accept the charges on a collect call from a person whom I didn’t know. I figured it had to be an emergency, or at least really important, so I said “yes”. BIG MISTAKE. The mystery caller is a guy who fished my name out of the C/FO Directory. He figured he’d call me collect and ask lots of questions about Japanese TV shows in general and the live-action superhero show Spectreman in particular. No emergency, no crisis, not even a very interesting conversation. Definitely not worth my dime or my time. 

a mystery with a name

He wanted to know this. He wanted to know that. He wanted me to mail him tapes. He wanted me to mail him fanzines. He wanted everything as free gifts from the goodness of my heart and the bottomlessness of my bank account, the extent of both having been greatly exaggerated somewhere down the line. I gathered from his rambling conversation that his caregivers wouldn’t let him call people unless it was collect, and they also wouldn’t give him any money for fanzines or tapes. So obviously, collect-calling to panhandle from strangers was his only option. I finally got off the phone without agreeing to send him anything. Sure, I should have just hung up on the guy, but I was raised to be polite.

the 1988 C/FO Membership Directory - personal information redacted
 

He called right back the next day. I refused the charges. He called back several times over the weekend. We refused the charges. About a year later he called AGAIN. I heard the operator ask if I’d accept the charges from this guy’s name, and I threw the phone across the room while hollering “NOOOOOO!!” in slow motion, just like the movies.

Found out later I wasn’t the only person to get the collect treatment. A pal of mine in South Carolina also got nailed, and at least one former C/FO generalissimo was on the receiving end of who became known as “The Collect Call Bandit.” My guess is that the guy was in some sort of managed care or group home situation and whenever he got a chance, he leaped to the nearest telephone and started collect-calling people like a maniac until the white coats could pry him loose and get that straitjacket back on him.

Anyway the moral of the story is never, ever accept collect calls from strangers. Those 1-800-Collect people are LYING TO YOU. Oh, and also, never let anyone print your home phone number anywhere.

 

don't do it

Of course, these days we’re deluged by scam calls and robocalls from duct cleaning services and extended warranty salesmen and important messages threatening imminent arrest from the IRS, Immigration or the Social Security Administration. Compared to all this, simply being desperate for Spectreman sounds downright wholesome.

5.

The hands down most annoying guy I ever swapped tapes with was a person I’m going to call named “Bert Ernieson.” He’s another someone I got in touch with via anime club trader lists. Where do I begin? His video lists were handwritten in barely legible pencil on three-hole lined notebook paper. These letters were typically five or six double sided pages filled with scores of trivial questions. Tape requests from Bert would be for odd, hard-to-dig-out titles – in the VHS days this meant fast forwarding to the middle of a tape to find the exact requested episode of Urusei Yatsura or whatever. Let me tell you after four or five tapes, all this cueing time adds up. His mail would include various right-wing pamphlets, for instance the famed, completely bogus urban legend alert about how a cabal of atheists, led by Madalyn Murray O'Hair herself, were going to get all religious programming banned from TV. This right-wing Christian material seemed at odds with some of the selections on Bert’s own tape list, which, to be fair, featured a lot of obscure anime titles, but also included hard-core triple-X American adult films.


But all that was just mildly annoying. Bert, however, took it to the next level. For one thing, he shipped EVERYTHING Media Mail® (Book Rate), the cheapest, slowest, most error-prone way to mail anything. Nothing could induce him to ship things first class, not even sending him the extra postage. Invariably he would use and re-use and re-re-re-use cheap, fiber-particle filled padded mailing envelopes. Items shipped thusly would wind up covered with tiny bits of paper and fiber. This might be OK for books. However, trying to play VHS tapes covered with tiny bits of paper and fiber will result in a VCR mechanism coated with tiny bits of paper and fiber. This is, shall we say, contraindicated by the operating manual.


And then we have the VHS tapes themselves. The tape trading custom of the time was that you’d buy brand new tapes and copy trade requests onto the brand new tapes. But Bert had another plan. He’d copy YOUR requests onto whatever tapes he happened to have lying around. Brand new from the store, or used over and over again, didn’t matter to Bert. Quality brands like Sony, TDK, Fuji or Maxell? Awful house-brand K-mart tapes or clearance bin rejects? It’s all videotape to Bert. He explained his method was to re-copy every incoming video onto 6-hour tapes, apparently to save space in his closet or dungeon or whereever. In practical terms, this meant every single movie or TV show you requested from him had already been transferred to one of his grab-bag mystery-brand video tapes, at a recording speed ensuring the worst possible audio and video quality.

Avoid these brands
 

This tape-recycling meant leftovers at the end of tapes, just in case you enjoy being surprised by, say,13th-generation English dubs of partial Cream Lemon episodes at the end of the super robot cartoon you were showing friends while parents were in the room. Try it, it’s embarrassing and fun! Or when you agree to swap three tapes, and he sends you four, the extra one full of unasked-for junk, just so he can say “hey, I sent you four tapes, now you owe me four tapes instead of the three we agreed on.”

And yet, I continued to swap tapes with him (there were a LOT of obscure titles in his Crawlspace Of Questions), until one day he tried to pull a fast one on a friend, let’s call this friend Lisa Black. He couldn’t or wouldn’t follow Lisa’s simple requests for “new tapes” and “no fiber mailers,” so she refused to copy any more tapes for him. In order to get around her embargo, he started to send her blanks under a different name, utilizing the concept of “sock puppets” before the internet was really even a thing.

I dunno. Maybe it WAS his cousin, like he said. I don’t care. Anyway, she saw through the ruse, because Bert wasn’t smart enough to change his distinctive ordering habits, or his distinctive handwriting. Around this time I happened to mention Lisa in a letter to Bert and his reply was that he was disappointed “I was still dealing with that Nazi, Lisa Black.” Well, I replied that I’d been trading with Lisa for 10 years, that she was, to the best of my knowledge, not an adherent of National Socialism, that she was one of the few truly decent people in a hobby full of obnoxious jerks, and that Bert and I were done swapping tapes. Goodbye to shitty copies of obscure robot anime, to ripped fiberpack mailers, to 4th class book rate, to letters full of questions and demands. Somehow, the anime fan world survived without these things.

 

Life moves on. A fandom of tape-swapping nerds evolves into a fandom of convention-going nerds. Anime became something we watched in theaters, bought at Best Buy, and eventually streamed on computers. Of course, annoying fans still exist, but their annoyances are new and exciting, in ways we could only have dreamed of back in the day. And let’s be honest, the truth is that for every jerk there were and are ten or twenty non-jerks; reasonable, friendly, generous anime fans ready to show up, help out, and bring snacks, fans who send surprises in the mail and bring gifts back from their Japan trips, fans who build friendships that survive decades. Without fandom, my life would have be considerably lonelier, be much less exciting, and would certainly be bereft of many Japanese cartoons and their related paraphernalia and accoutrements.

Yes, there are a few times when I’m exceptionally maudlin or temporarily addled, when I reminisce about the “good old days” of swapping tapes through the mail. Who doesn’t love to get packages in the mail? Those were exciting times, learning about a whole new art form and sharing that knowledge with anyone who’d sit still long enough. Certainly those tape-trading networks proved their worth, educating a continent and forging powerful bonds And yet, if the harsh modern world of the 21st century means I’ll never again get bitched out by total strangers over copies of Japanese cartoons, then I’m all for progress.

-Dave Merrill

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Anime North: Dateline 1997

1997 was the year Titanic broke box office records, Seinfeld and ER battled for the top TV ratings, and Japanese animation like Princess Mononoke and End Of Evangelion solidified the medium’s grip on an international audience starved for that brand of entertainment. Meanwhile in Toronto, a province-wide coalition of anime fans were gathering to start what would become Canada’s largest anime convention, and indeed, the largest not-for-profit fan event in the entire country, Anime North. 

 

Recently the convention held their first festival since 2019, coming back after two years of pandemic closure. The question of whether or not the show would survive was answered with a resounding YES, with record-breaking attendance numbers proving Anime North’s resilience.

Myself, I didn’t get up here until Anime North was well under way. So, I missed the first Anime North, which happened on August 9, 1997 at the Michener Institute of Education, a specialist post-secondary institution devoted to applied health sciences education, just north of Dundas and west of University, three blocks from the AGO, six blocks from where the Beguiling is now, and just around the corner from where the bus station used to be.

It’s been twenty-five years since the convention began, so I reached out and asked some of that Class Of ‘97 about their Anime North experiences. This is what they had to say.


Karl Zaryski (attendee of the first and every subsequent Anime North): In 1994 I got to university, and I immediately joined the anime club (CTRL-A - The Club That Really Likes Anime) and for the first time had internet access and was able to read things like the rec.arts.anime newsgroup. I devoured what information I could find, I downloaded anime scans from FTP sites and printed them on the university's colour laser printers for $1 per sheet, and I got into VHS fansub trading.

CTRL-A held (at the time) three shows per term, six hours per show. I got introduced to Ah, My Goddess! (which was playing when I arrived at my first ever show), Ranma ½, Appleseed, My Neighbour Totoro, Giant Robo, and all sorts of amazing new stuff. (I asked my parents to order a copy of the Totoro dub at Christmas 1994, and it came with a mail-in offer for a Totoro plushie. That plushie is on the shelf above my head as I type this.)

 

Greg Taylor (Attendee of the first and 20+ Anime Norths): I heard [about Anime North] through the local anime club... which I'm FAIRLY sure was the one in Ottawa (Club Anime) since I was on a work term there in Summer 1997. A bunch of us drove down to Toronto for it (someone rented a van). Though it's possible I heard about it at CTRL-A in Waterloo first (where I was at University in Winter 1997). 
 
Karl: In May 1995 I had a co-op term working at the Ministry of Transportation in Toronto, so I was living with my grandparents near Bathurst and Wilson. I posted a question into rec.arts.anime as to whether there were any anime clubs in Toronto, and got a response back that a new one was just about to hold its first show. So, I was at the first UTARPA (University of Toronto Anime and Role Playing Association) show, which I believe counts as the beginning of organized anime fandom in the city. I counted a total of 16 people in the audience.
 
There was a bit of other anime going on in Toronto in those early days. In June 1995 there was the Ad Astra science fiction convention, which had an anime video room. I remember watching Luna Varuga, Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, and maybe Dragon Half and Vilgust.



In Fall 1995, the DIC Sailor Moon dub started to be broadcast on YTV, and it was being heavily promoted and put into premium timeslots which brought it, and anime at large, into the spotlight. This really added to UTARPA's numbers; I think they were getting a couple hundred people out to their shows by mid-1996. During that time, I was back in Waterloo (or at my parents') but I was able to get to a few of the monthly UTARPA shows by bus or car.

CTRL-A was at a peak of its membership; I know that in the Fall 1996 term we had 396 members, making us the second-largest club on the Waterloo campus behind the Chinese Students Association. This was back when anime was expensive and hard to locate, so getting three or four evenings of it in a term for $5 was a pretty good value.

In August 1995, I see that Don Simmons made this post in rec.arts.anime.fandom to advertise the beginning of the planning for what would become Anime North.
 
the Toronto fan convention scene in the 1990s

Donald Simmons (first chairman of Anime North): In the mid-90s there were five anime clubs in the Toronto area, three SF cons [Ad Astra and Toronto Trek joined by media convention Primedia] and anime cons were starting to become a thing in the US. I thought that there was certainly enough interest in the city now to support an anime con of our own. I had a few years working at Ad Astra as the Dealer's Room organizer, and several helping to run UTARPA [and] had been thinking of volunteering to join up in the major planning of Ad Astra, but decided instead on founding a new anime con.

 
I had a flyer made up (by Shaindle!) which I distributed around to the anime clubs suggesting we start an anime con in Toronto, and arranged a meeting of everyone who was interested in helping. I was the con chair, several of the UTARPA staff joined up, and we got volunteers from other clubs and fans at large. Some of us knew each other, some of us didn't. I think I met [Anime North Programming Director] Eileen McEvoy at a Primedia.

the first moments of Anime North 1997

 
Karl: I don't recall any major problems like overcrowding, but I think that everyone's expectations were moderate. It [the first Anime North] felt mostly like an extra-large, extra-long UTARPA show, plus a dealers room, some panels, and I think there was at least a modest cosplay contest.


 

Because [the Michener Institute] was an academic building, the spaces we were using were parts of the first two floors and then part of (I think) the ninth floor, which was a bit of an odd spreading out.

 

Anime North 1997 costume contest



Greg: No big expectations that I recall. I'd hoped to pick up some merchandise. (And I did get some CDs.) Possibly was interested in seeing fans and cosplay (certainly took some photos of that). And since it only ran on Saturday, it let me visit with my parents on Sunday (they live not far from Toronto) before heading back. 
 
I'd only been to one Toronto Trek previously. As I recall that [convention] was more about the guest stars (at least for me), whereas here it was more about the fan community. (It's not that Toronto Trek didn't have community, it's just with Voyager running as the 3rd Trek series of the 90s, Trek was more visible than anime. It was bigger, you didn't have to hunt for it.)

 

Anime North 1997 panel

 

Donald: That we were doing something new to a lot of us was one of the big reasons I wanted to start small with a one day event, which limited the amount of work required and the things that could go wrong. 
 
We based the con off of how fan-run SF cons ran, as that was what we were most familiar with. Panel rooms, video rooms, convention lounge for attendees (that got dropped after a few years), an Art Show rather than the Artist Alley that's popular now. I'd been to a Creation Con or two and didn't like them much, they were all about everyone sitting down and consuming content. I think something we've tried to emphasize over the years is making the con a fan participatory event, something with events people can take part in, rather than just sitting (and spending). 


Sailor Moons Over the Michener

Karl: I remember at one point there was a lineup for using the washrooms, and so I decided to sneak onto one of the floors which the con wasn't using to find a washroom there. As I was about to go into the men's room there I bumped into a girl dressed as Sailor Mercury who was just coming out of it... She was quite embarrassed, and asked me to wait until her (also female) friend inside finished changing into her costume.
 
I seem to remember Derwin Mak was presenting some (cosplay) awards, and was in what looked like a military dress uniform. He wore that uniform (or something similar) for many many years after... I have no idea if it's a real uniform or cosplay. 



 

Norm McEvoy (Anime North Video Programming director): Telling people the medical specimens in the lobby were an Evangelion display and they believed it. 
 
Greg: Partly amazed it's endured (particularly after the Regal Constellation issues, and now the pandemic). I think that's in part due to keeping up with the times. Sending out the passes in advance was huge when that started, since now that I live in Ottawa, Friday night became an impossibility for making the drive there in time to pick them up.

Anime North 1997 programming schedule

 

Attending also became more of a chance to meet up with old friends (like Karl) versus getting to see shows, buy merchandise, or even be on panels. But the latter was obviously still a draw, since I went for over 20 years straight, even with there being the local AC-Cubed convention in Ottawa for a few years in there. Oh, and I'm partly amused now that AN has shifted back into July.



 

Norm: [I remember] actually being on the very first Anime North panel [“Saturday Morning Fever”, 10am, Main Panel Room]. Lots of Sailor Moon stuff, because the show was then (and still is) popular with Canadian fans. The absolute sense of relief when it was over and it was a success.


Anime North 1997 staff badge

 

Donald: I don't really remember much about how the con ran that day, which I suppose means it ran pretty well. That again is the advantage of a one-day event. We certainly got more people than we thought we'd get, nearly 800 when i was hoping for maybe 500 (needed about 300 to break even), but the space was big enough to handle that. 


Anime North 1997 Programme Book

Karl: Oh, yeah, I should talk about "Convention Anime". A lot of this is vague recollections and second-hand information, so take its reliability with a grain of salt.
 
So, a fellow named (IIRC) Robert Wong had run an anime club at the University of Ottawa, called "Club Anime". Then he was running a club in Toronto under the same name. I only ever dealt with him briefly, but people I knew who knew him tended to speak negatively about him. *After* Anime North's date had already been announced for August 1997, Robert announced that he was going to be holding "Convention Anime" on a date in July 1997, presumably to be able to claim the title of the first anime convention in Canada. There's a usenet post about it here.

My recollection of it was that it was pretty small and disorganized. At one point Robert basically pointed at me and told me to make sure nobody went into one of the video rooms between shows. That was a bit odd since I wasn't a volunteer, but I spent a few minutes doing some crowd control to try to help out. Anyway, after that one event, "Convention Anime" seemed to disappear into oblivion pretty quickly.

Unlike “Convention Anime”, Anime North would survive and thrive. The festival spent two years in the Michener, a year at a Ramada by the airport (attendance 850), a year at a Ramada with “Airport” in its name but not actually near the airport which later hosted comic and card shows and then was leased by the government to house refugees and to quarantine COVID patients, a year at the Marriott by the airport, and then two years at legendary Toronto hotel the Regal Constellation (4900 attendees), which was demolished in 2012.


 In 2004 Anime North moved to its present home at the Toronto Congress Centre & the Delta Hotel. Guests over the years include such notables as CB Cebulski, Colleen Doran, Ben Dunn, Steve Bennett, Fred Ladd, Sailor JAMboree, Scott McNeil, Stan Sakai, Senno Knife, Tommy Yune, Peter Fernandez, Corinne Orr, Haruko Momoi, J. Michael Tatum, Kumiko Watanabe, Robert Axelrod, Noboyuki Hiyama, Helen McCarthy, Hidekatsu Shibata, Neil Nadelman, Yuu Asakawa, and Ed The Sock, and the convention has grown from merely videos and vendors to include doll programming, comedy improv, music and dance performances, late-night parking lot raves, a great food truck lineup, fashion shows, game shows, video gaming, board gaming, and cosplay, lots of cosplay. Paid attendance at Anime North in 2022 was over 30,000 and it definitely felt like it. 

a small part of Anime North 2022

 Anime North will next appear on May 26-28, 2023. See you there! 
 
A big Let’s Anime thanks to Karl Zaryski, Greg Taylor, Donald Simmons, and Norm McEvoy for their recollections and assistance! 
 
-Dave Merrill