Friday, September 24, 2010


“Did I just see that?” It’s a question that used to be heard a lot more among anime fans, before Japan figured out they could sell these things to America and started tailoring their cartoons to the desires of a small but impulse-control poor community. No, used to be you’d throw in a VHS tape of something you vaguely comprehended, like Captain Harlock or Nausicaa, and stuck on the end of it would be an episode of some absolutely insane gag cartoon that you honestly didn’t believe you were seeing. Thank goodness for the pause and rewind buttons.

I’m speaking, of course, of RANPOU, or “Warped Boy Rampoo” as you may have seen it scrawled in marker on the label of your Fuji T-120. This 1984 series, a mere 21 episodes worth, was like all the wacky parts of the wackiest URUSEI YATSURA episodes, only with all the extraneous, non-comedy stuff left on the side of the road.

Ranpou meets Godzilla and Ultraman, rides a hoverbike, cuts one.

Yeah, I know, Japanese animation is serious adult science fiction drama for mature viewers like you. Only it isn’t and never was; “anime” also contains plenty of Warner Brothers style sight gags and inexplicable pop culture references. For every deathly serious blood-splattered action adventure, there’s a gag comedy full of Scooby-Doo style chases, hammers that strike with a fun “BONG!” and mischievous animal sidekicks that are always there to cause more trouble.

That’s the story with RANPOU. Produced by NAS (Nihon Ad Systems), the television anime first aired in April of 1984 and lasted all the way to September of that same year. Abandoned by a fickle public, or victim of the same sponsor-bankruptcy fate that struck many other anime series in the latter half of ’84? Certainly not because of laughs, because that’s all this show is. Our title character used to be a dreamy, handsome, fairly normal junior high kid – and then he got a little close to a flying saucer, which kidnapped him and turned him into a squat, blonde troublemaker. Or is this really some kind of alien plot?

Ranpou before his tragic UFO accident.

Teachers, classmates, monsters, office buildings, other planets – all bow before Ranpou, whose little mouse friend Chutaro invents crazy inventions and whose farts – yes, fart jokes – are classified as weapons of mass destruction. This gleefully anarchic program can’t go thirty seconds without somebody’s skirt getting lifted, somebody shooting a laser pistol at a giant cockroach, or somebody getting hit repeatedly in the nuts to the accompaniment of a cheerfully painful GONG BONG GONG.

Hiroshi-sensei, Mutsumi, Iwasaki-sensei & Ranpou catch a train

Everybody’s favorite is the episode that presages virtual reality by a few years, in which Ranpou becomes Captain Harlock, girlfriend Mutsumi cosplays Nausicaa, and long-suffering schoolteacher Hiroshi is forced to portray FUTURE BOY CONAN’s Lepka in a hodge-podge mish-mash of MACROSS references and Miss Iwasaki bowling alley sight gags involving the theft of a giant gemstone.

Copyright infringement is your best entertainment value.

Masatoshi Uchizaki’s original RANPOU manga ran for nearly ten years in Weekly Boys Champion, racking up an impressive 37 volumes of collected tankubon. However, print success doesn’t always translate to cartoon longevity.

Manga Ranpou from '78

RANPOU the TV anime suffered because of a later time slot that went up against baseball games in some markets, never a good idea. The last episode didn’t even air in some markets. RANPOU has never been released on any kind of home video, another crime left unpunished – so if you wanna see it you better know somebody. And that’s a shame, because RANPOU is exactly the kind of irresponsible fun that people watch cartoons for in the first place.

-Dave Merrill

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