Friday, October 30, 2009

Jack And The Early Morning Witch

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!! The wacky tripped-out Toei anime film JACK AND THE WITCH, which we have enthused about elsewhere on this very blog, is running tomorrow, October 31st, Halloween, at 8:00am Eastern Standard Time on the THIStv network. I encourage you all to tune in and enjoy this film in the comfort of your own home, preferably with the sugary breakfast cereal of your choice. Thanks to frequent commentator Sobienak and his announcement on the Anime Hell blog:

Check listings here:

Stay tuned to LET'S ANIME for more new news about old cartoons! Seriously, I do have some news coming up in the next few days, I ain't kiddin'.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Honey Honey's Wonderful Adventures

Can a European teenager and her cat find love and happiness while being chased throughout the world by a mysterious thief and four ethnic stereotypes in the wild and wacky days before World War One? That's the question asked every episode of HONEY HONEY, the show that kept many of us glued to our cable TV sets in the early 1980s!

HONEY HONEY began as a manga success from the pen of shoujo mangaka Hideko Mizuno - perhaps the only female resident of the famous Tokiwa "manga apartment house" in the Toshima district of Tokyo (other residents included Fujio-Fujiko, Shotaro Ishinomori, and some guy named Osamu Tezuka). She would later go on to critical and commercial success with FIRE! But before FIRE! there was HONEY HONEY. Or as we like to call it, "The Wonderful Adventure Of Honey Honey".

Honey Honey and Phoenix share a manga moment; Flora fumes

Honey Honey's manga appeared in "Ribon" in 1966 and ran for several years; Mizuno's Tezuka influence is obvious but there's stylish, breezy fashion to her pen line, moving away from the rounded kiddy look and towards the more ornate style we'll come to see as "shoujo". Though HONEY HONEY is set in the early 20th century it's not slavishly devoted to the period; Honey's 60s' bubble hairdo is kind of a tip, but the series itself refuses to take ANYTHING seriously. Animated in 1981 by Kokusai Eiga-sha and broadcast on Fuji TV, the cartoon emulated its star by making its way around the world and onto American TV sets.

Honey Honey children's book based on episode 6

Honey Honey herself is an orphan, working in a Viennese restaurant just trying to make ends meet. One day while serving a gigantic roast turkey, a white cat leaps into the restaurant and into her life - chased by a gang of cops, royalty, and various stuffed shirts! As it happens the white cat happened to be hanging around outside the royal palace where Princess Flora was entertaining suitors with her fabulous new gem, the Star Of The Amazon. Annoyed by the constant parade of weak-chinned Euro-trash, Flora stuffs the ring into a fish and hurls it out the window, proclaiming to one and all that whoever finds the ring shall win her hand in marriage. Well, when you're a hungry cat and a fish falls from the sky, you eat every bit of it, including the ring inside. Hence the gang of well-heeled cat chasers, and the white cat's furious leap into Honey Honey's face, and the trajectory of the giant roast turkey as it is delivered with more than customary speed. And thus we begin the Wonderful Adventures Of Honey Honey.

Far from the typical shoujo soap opera of tragic romantic misunderstandings, HONEY HONEY refuses to take itself seriously. The bumbling, pompous, stereotype suitors, the hair-trigger temper Princess Flora, and Honey Honey's willful troublemaking as she careens wildly across Europe make for fine viewing. Pulp adventure is represented by the Makio "Harlock" Inoue-voiced Phoenix, the mysterious masked thief who swings in to rescue Honey Honey just when he's needed most (we'll be seeing more of his type of character later in "Sailor Moon"). Is he just after the Star Of The Amazon, or does he harbor feelings for Honey Honey? This enrages Flora, who lusts after Phoenix herself and can't understand why he won't come to his senses and propose to her.

Furious Flora, Herr Gustav

Geronimo, Oil Dollar, Pika Pika: The Stereotype Squad

In the meantime Flora has to deal with Herr Gustav, King Pika-Pika, Sheik Oil Dollar, and Native American tribal leader Geronimo, who chase Honey Honey around the world and occasionally double cross each other trying to find that white cat so they can get married to Princess Flora. Honey Honey herself, though voiced by CANDY actress Matsushima Minori, isn't a typical shoujo heroine. She'd rather bum around Europe than be a princess, won't stand for cruelty or injustice, and woe betide anyone who dares to threaten her beloved Lily. Paying lip service to the Mauve Decade time period, HONEY HONEY never lets historical accuracy get in the way of sight gags, culminating in a King Kong-referencing final episode complete with 1970s skyscrapers.

Phoenix breaks the fourth wall

The journey begins as Honey escapes Vienna via balloon. Landing in Venice, she helps a young couple elope and winds up in Rome, thence to the Swiss Alps and a William Tell adventure. Then to Munich. Heidelberg, Amsterdam, Brussels. Paris, Orleans, Arles, and the Grand Prix in Monaco. Escaping by boat through the Mediterranean she arrives in Barcelona and hurries to Madrid, Toledo, Gibraltar, Lisbon, and London, where she meets both a long-haired guitar group and Robin Hood. 

Herr Gustav's Dream Wedding (Ring Bearer Phoenix and Flower Girl Honey sold separately)
It's also in London where, with the assistance of the King, the Star Of The Amazon is removed from Lily. Hey, that's the end of the show, right? Wrong. Kidnaped by Vikings - yes, Vikings - and taken to Norway, Honey learns she is actually heir to the throne of Priscilla, a tiny nation overthrown by the usurper Slag when Honey was an infant.

The evil Slag

Far from being a thief, Phoenix is really a secret agent working to restore the rightful rulers to the throne of Priscilla. Kidnaped by Slag's ninja-style raiders, Honey is taken to his secret castle in Russia. Escaping with the help of a flying saucer (used as an explanation for the Tunguska Explosion in Siberia) Honey travels to Moscow and south to Constantinople, where both she and Phoenix are sold into slavery. Phoenix is bought by Princess Flora, and Honey is left to become the latest addition to a sultan's harem.

I Dream Of Honey

It's not so bad for Honey because she gets to dress like Barbara Eden and help with magic tricks, and she gets a flying carpet which takes her to India and Japan and Los Angeles and finally to the show's climax in New York. By the time the series ends three different groups are chasing after Honey Honey for three different reasons and when the show wraps with a giant ape climbing a skyscraper holding Princess Flora, we take it all in stride.

I don't think anybody saw this coming.

Plenty of boy cartoons are watched by girls, but HONEY HONEY may have been the first girl cartoon watched by boys, in America anyways, after the show somehow made it into English and onto Pat Robertson's CBN cable network. Dubbed by "Sound International Corp." along with LEO THE LION, HONEY HONEY was broadcast in the vital Sunday noon timeslot that, unless you're sports, is ignored by all. The offices of "Sound International Corp" are now occupied by a chemical company. At the time I happened to notice LEO in the TV listings and the family VCR was sitting idle waiting for somebody to re-run STAR BLAZERS. Why not check it out? I was pleasantly surprised to learn LEO was the sequel to KIMBA THE WHITE LION (the first episode I saw helpfully featured a flashback to Leo's younger days) and, relaxing in the afterglow of my viewing discovery, decided to check out HONEY HONEY. I knew of an anime called CANDY CANDY, maybe this was a re-titled English dub? No sir, HONEY HONEY was its own thing. At first I didn't give it much attention, but after a few weeks the anything-goes style and Perils Of Pauline melodrama had its hooks in me.

Western-style Flora and Slag menace Honey in the manga

Comparing the original comics to the TV series, we find the anime begins faithfully but takes a sharp left turn somewhere in the middle of Europe. Blazing its own trail, the story is sometimes dicated by the writers and sometimes by the show's early cancellation - an extended American sequence involving Hollywood, Old West cowboys and Indians, and Chicago gangsters was excised. The storylines where Honey Honey becomes a judo champion in Japan and Honey's adventures on the Titanic also got axed. Thankfully, the manga's original ending among the jungle tribes of Africa also did not surface to embarrass us all on television.
The Great Honey Honey Dynamite Chase

The animation itself is a mixed bag. Kokusai Eiga-sha ("Movie International Company") produced animation utilizing a wide variety of sources involving a wide variety of skill levels, from beginning students to seasoned veterans. A list of their series reads like a secret history of Japanese animation - the J-9 series BRYGAR, BAXINGAR, and SASURAIGAR; the treasure-hunting ancient astronaut series ACROBUNCH, highspeed robot sportscar GALVION, Mission Outer Space SRUNGLE, ecological disaster robot series BALDIOS, Greek mythology comedy LITTLE POLLON, motorcycle racing drama FUTARI DAKA, robot boy comedy DOTAKON, and their own version of Little Women, FOUR SISTERS OF YOUNG GRASS. Like most other Kokusei Eiga-sha series, HONEY HONEY is now available for distribution from Enoki Films. HINT HINT EVERYBODY, RELEASE THIS SERIES ON DVD ALREADY.
episode 22 Honey

HONEY HONEY itself is typical Japanese animation television; clunky in parts but zippy when deadlines and budget allow it to flourish. Episode 22, "Snowbound Castle", was the high-water mark for the show; character designs are kawaii-ed up, animaton becomes fluid and expressionistic, and things just get cartoonier in general.
Yes, it's sharp.

After its CBN broadcast HONEY HONEY vanished into the mists of time. Sony Home Video reportedly released the first four or five episodes on VHS, along with other 80s titles like Curious George and "Video 45s". I've only seen evidence of the first episode myself. More than two decades later the Sony release remains the only legacy of HONEY HONEY in the United States (it was more popular in Europe, as are all Japanese cartoons). In Japan the show failed to capture an audience; perhaps a little too old fashioned for a 1981 audience, who probably asked the question we have asked, why is a 1966 manga JUST NOW getting a TV anime show? What's the deal with that? As anime fandom grew in the United States few remembered HONEY HONEY; unless you were paying a lot of attention to basic cable on Sundays in the middle of the 1980s it simply did not register. Even LEO THE LION got a few public-domain home video releases in later years, but nobody wanted to deal with HONEY HONEY. "Sound International Corp" disappeared, my letters of inquiry unanswered.

As a matter of fact I do own this cel.

In this era of total availability, where everything has DVD box sets or torrents, it remains an elusive quarry. But in a way, that fits the series perfectly - we're still chasing HONEY HONEY.

Episode guide: some of these are from the American titles and some of these are translated or transliterated from the Japanese. If you have every episode of the series in English with the title cards intact, please drop me a line.

1. The Cat Ate the Diamond
2. Much Ado About Water
3. See Naples and Escape
4. SOS Alpine Express
5. The Red Arrows of Berne Forest
6. Hamelin is Full of Cats
7. The castle of Lovely Cats
8. Windmill Vane Phoenix
9. Only One Can Be our Sun Princess
10. Cinderella Tonight
11. The Witch House of Orleans
12. Circus Rooster
13. The Blue Hurricane of Monte Carlo
14. Cathedral Bells Ring
15. Smile, Madrid
16. Fortress of Gibraltar
17. World's Best Sponge Cake
18. Lily's in Big Trouble!
19. Honey Run! 20 o'clock
20. Secrets of Honey
21. Honey Kidnapped
22. Snowbound Castle
23. The Great Science Fiction Chase
24. Prince Menace
25. Lily Sold
26. Magic Departure
27. India Flying
28. Flora's Great Flowers
29. Hello, Goodbye, New York (last episode)

special bonus: Honey Honey in Hollywood! Spot the cameos.

Honey also visited Japan. Trigger warning: white girl in kimono

-Dave Merrill

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