Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TCJ Part Two

Hisamatsu’s manga work would inspire another TCJ series that premiered in April of ’67- Boken Gaboten Jima aka Adventure On The Gaboten Island. This “Swiss Family Robinson/Robinson Crusoe” style story involves a lost island full of strange animals and the story of five teenagers who wash up on its shores.  Tomato and Ryuga sneak onboard a submarine at an amusement park late at night, joining Gabo, Cucumber and Igao who were already there. Launched accidentally, the sub drifts on the ocean until beaching on Gaboten Island, where the five must survive as castaways. They build treehouses, make friends with the animals, explore the hidden tunnels and caves of the island, discover ancient relics, build irrigation canals, a waterwheel, indoor plumbing, a little island train, meet local islanders,  and hold a boxing match between a gorilla and a baby dinosaur. As fun as all this is, they know eventually the volcano is going to erupt, so they must find a way off Gaboten Island! A great mambo-style theme song and interesting use of live-action footage make the opening credits fun.I’d love to see more of this series.

Hit me, dealer
Falcon Taro’s mom and sister were killed by the Ghost. He volunteers to join the Japan International Secret Police to battle the Ghost for revenge. And thus begins the saga of TCJ’s Skyers 5! Speaking of great theme songs, the crashing, machine-gun riddled OP for Skyers 5 promises lots of James Bond style spy action, and this show delivers as the Skyers team - S5 Falcon Taro, S4 Samson, S3 Lily, S2 Polka, and S1 Captain - dressed inexplicably as casino blackjack dealers, foil the evil plots of The Ghost around the world through the careful application of lots of gunfire.  The 1967 series was black and white, but a 1971 revival was in color.

It’s around this time that the international future of Japanese animation swam onward with Japan Tele-Cartoons’ Kaitei Shonen Marine(Undersea Boy Marine, or “Marine, The Sea-Bottom Boy” if you prefer), an expanded version of an abortive 13-episode series from ’66 titled Ganbare! Marine Kid (Hang on! Marine Kid), in turn a color update of a 3-episode black and white 1965 experiment titled Dolphin Prince. Warner Brothers/Seven Arts in America expressed interest in the show, and the infusion of American capital led to the concept being fully realized in a 78 episode series known here as Marine Boy. America got to see this Japanese show first, which is still kind of rare. Marine Boy, whose father calls him ‘Marine Boy’, is a spunky kid with a super diving suit, an electric boomerang, jet boots, and Oxy-Gum which allows him to breathe underwater. His adventures with the Ocean Patrol and his mermaid girlfriend would thrill children around the world and provide, among other things, one of England’s earliest tastes of Japanese anime.

Marine Boy’s opening credits clearly list “Japan Tele-Cartoons”, and reasonable investigators such as myself would spend decades assuming that “Japan Tele-Cartoons” and TCJ were one and the same. This assumption would be totally wrong. Japan Tele-Cartoons was a separate company, known alternatively as “Nihon Doga” or “TV Video” or “TV Films” or “Terebi Doga.” Take your pick.

Nihon Doga/TV Video/whatever would also produce Kaito Pride AKA Dr. Zen, a primitive series of brain-damagedly simple shorts starring the mysterious thief Pride (or Dr. Zen) and his attempts to steal all the children’s toys. Opposing this criminality is the boy detective Doublecheck and his pals Gabby and Honeybee, who is a little talking bee with a woman’s face. Time to quit drinking.

Terebi Doga would also have their fingers in the world-class ridiculousness of Johnny Cypher In Dimension Zero, hands down one of the worst cartoons ever made, but not without its own Ed Woodsian so-bad-its-good charms.
in the future we'll wear helmets with little wings 

For my own part, I apologize for decades’ worth of disseminating false information about TCJ and Japan Tele-Cartoons or Nihon Doga or TV Films or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, and can only ask for the forgiveness of anime fans everywhere.  Remember kids, when you assume it makes an ASS out of, well, just me.

Meanwhile, back in the non “Tele-Cartoons” world of TCJ, in the Sengoku Era/Warring States period of Japan (16th century) – or 1968, if you like - the remnants of Sanada Daisuke’s men were hunted by Tokugawa’s ninja led by Hattori Hanzo, and among these survivors was the ninja Sasuke Sarutobi. Sasuke has made pop-culture appearances for years, but in Sanpei “Ninja Bugeicho” Shirato’s 1961 Sasuke manga (based in turn on a novel by Kazuo Den), Sasuke is a young boy struggling to survive in a ninja-infested Japan crazy for his young ninja blood. TCJ’s 1968 Sasuke series did a decent job replicating Shirato’s amazing brushwork and idiosyncratic character design, and delivered the first of a very few “gekiga” anime series. Sasuke ran for 29 episodes and would eventually find its way to American markets as a one-episode dub titled “Kiko – Boy Ninja.” 

date night, Kamui style
The deadly medieval Japanese assassins known as “ninja” would be front and center for TCJ’s next series, Nimpu Kamui Gaiden (Kamui: Stories Other Than The Legend), which would air from April until September of 1969 on Fuji TV with sponsorship by electronics manufacturer Toshiba. Kamui would appear in a short theatrical feature, as well. Shirato’s “Kamui Den”manga ran in Garo from ’65 to ’71 while his “Kamui Gaiden” strips ran in Weekly Shonen Sunday from ’65 until ‘67. Kamui is a ninja from the Edo period who rose up from the oppressed peasant class, but has decided to leave his clan. Of course, nobody leaves the family, Kamui, and his former clan curse him as a traitor and vow to kill him, ninja-style if possible.  Wandering feudal Japan, Kamui must use all his intelligence and super ninja skills to survive as he witnesses the struggle of the common people in an era of grinding poverty and unjust feudal rule.  Eventually the life of a hunted man wears on Kamui’s mind and he becomes paranoiac, convinced everyone’s his enemy. The Kamui manga would be one of the first Japanese comics to beprofessionally published in America, and the anime would have a one-episode VHS dub as “Search Of The Ninja”.

It’s around this time that TCJ underwent a transformation into Eiken, a move that would see it through the end of the 20th century and beyond. Spearheading this bold new direction is none other than the cheerful housewife Sazae-San, whose TV adventures started in October of 1969 and ended… let’s see. Sazae-San is STILL ON THE AIR.  That makes Sazae-San the longest-running TV cartoon of all time, anywhere.  Based on the Machiko Hasegawa comic strip which started in 1946 and took Sazae and her family through Japan’s occupation up into the 1970s, the success of Sazae-San made Hasegawa one of Japan’s pre-eminent female manga-ka and allowed her to, among other things, start her own art museum.  Although the strip was controversial at first for its portrayal of Sazae as a modern, independent woman capable of making her own decisions, the series is now seen as a light family comedy (see also The Simpsons, which were once controversial enough to be condemned from the White House. I know, right?) enjoyed by generations of Japanese young and old, and ignored completely by so-called “anime fans” in the West. Get with it, people.

Today Eiken, or Kabushiki Kaisha Eiken, is a subsidiary of Asatsu-DK, which is involved in many different interests including the production studio NAS, publishing company Nihon Bungeisha, TV commercial house Prime Pictures, and the Tokyo Ad Party. Eiken’s later successes would include Cooking Papa, shojo classic Glass Mask, super robot hero UFO Daiapolon, the comedy Kobo-Chan, and new versions of both Tetsujin-28 and 8 Man. Does the future hold revivals for Yusei Kamen, Super Jetter, or dare I ask, Yusei Shonen Papi?  Will another anime series burrow its way into the brains of children yet unborn, to complete the cycle of obsession and confusion? Glico is ready when you are, Eiken!

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

TCJ, part one

Somebody - St. Francis Xavier, I think - said “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”. That’s what happened to me with Japanese cartoons. My young brain endured years of ultra-high-frequency TV exposure to Japanese animation, and the result was an inevitable and otherwise inexplicable love for pop culture from the other side of the world. Speed Racer, Ultraman, and Prince Planet burrowed into my skull and never left. Years later I’d find out the studio behind Prince Planet, or Yusei Shonen Papi as it would be known in Japan, was a pioneering outfit responsible for many of the firsts of the industry, and would go on to premiere, among other things, the longest-running TV cartoon in the world.  Recently at AWA, I conducted a research seminar into this studio, known then as TCJ . The following are my findings. 
TCJ started as “Television Corporation Of Japan,” an advertising agency specializing in TV animation. This was way back in 1953 when TVs were still blasting Rikidozan matches to crowds in bars. TCJ’s president H. Murata had a relationship with the giant ad agency Dentsu, who had licensed lots of popular manga characters for potential animated series in the new medium. When the “terebi manga” phenomena finally struck in the early 1960s with the success of Tetsuwan Atomu/Astro Boy, the Television Corporation changed its name to simply 'TCJ' and got into what we’d later call the anime business.

Their first TV series was Sennin Buraku, aka “Hermit Village”, a fall ’63 late-night show for the grownups. It’s based on the long-running manga series by Ko Kojima – and when I say “long running” I mean it’s been running since 1956, making it Japan’s comic strip long distance champ.  Sennin Buraku’s anime incarnation lacks Kojima’s sketchy look, but the peace of  Hermit Village Taoyuan’s strict Taoist ascetism is still interrupted by lazy, lustful hijinks and nonsensical action as disciple Zhi Huang follows his own Tao by chasing girls.

October of 1963 would usher in the future of anime courtesy giant robots battling for world supremacy. Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Tetsujin-28 burst forth onto the small screen as Shotaro uses his late father’s invention, the super robot Tetsujin-28, to defeat criminals, villains, and would-be world conquerors. Yokoyama’s 1956 manga, already the subject of a comical live-action TV show, was a perfect fit for a nascent anime industry hungry for science-fictional heroes that could be marketed like crazy. TCJ’s Tetsujin-28 ran for 97 episodes on Fuji TV and would be revived; let’s see, five times so far. When Fred Ladd, the American TV producer responsible for bringing Astro Boy to America, caught sight of Tetsujin-28, it was robot love at first sight. His Delphi Associates would dub and syndicate 52 of the best-looking Tetsujin-28 episodes for the American market as Gigantor.

Robot action would continue with TCJ’s next series; 8 Man. The Jiro “Batman” Kuwata/Kazumasa Hirai manga leapt from Shonen Magazine with its Dick Tracyesque story of a tough detective killed by gangsters but resurrected as the invincible, shape-shifting cyborg 8 Man, whose adventures thrilled children across Japan and whose popularity drove an overworked Kuwata to the brink of suicide. TCJ’s 56-episode series was produced at breakneck speed by a TCJ staff already overworked at producing Tetsujin-28, setting the pace for an overworked, underpaid anime industry that remains so even in the 21st century.  In America, ABC’s syndication arm licensed the series, and after a pilot film dubbed by Peter “Speed Racer” Fernandez, went with Copri International Films in Miami for the localization of the full series. Copri, staffed by Cuban expatriates, dubbed a huge number of American shows into Spanish for the Latin American market, and also did work for the CIA and the Voice Of America propaganda radio service, as well as Standard Oil and Pan Am.  Voice talent for 8-Man came from the local Miami radio and theater scene and a new opening title sequence was animated, probably by Oriolo “Mighty Hercules” Studios. Interestingly, the Japanese theme song was sung by Katsumi Shigeru, a rockabilly singer with the band “Rock Messengers”.  In 1976 got a 10 year prison sentence for murder; he’d killed his girlfriend and stuffed her body into the trunk of his car.

SF marched on in TCJ’s output – their next series, 1965’s Super Jetter, is the story of Time Patrolman 723567 who flies from the future in his time-ship Ryusei-go (“Shooting Star”) in pursuit of the criminal Jaguar. Trapped in the 20th century, Super Jetter finds himself using his future powers to battle for justice. Super Jetter was created by Fumio Hisamatsu, an assistant to Osamu Tezuka, and his other manga work included adaptations of Godzilla Vs Mothra, Ultra Seven, Mighty Jack, and Mirrorman. Broadcast on TBS, the show achieved enough foreign popularity to warrant a second color series.

The world of Outer Space would remain a theme for TCJ with their next show, 1965’s Uchuu Shounen Soran, which would run 96 episodes through ‘67. Dr. Tachibana invents the anti-proton bomb, and despairing of its use as a weapon, flees into outer space with his wife and children. After a crash landing on the planet Soran, his young son is raised by space aliens and returns to Earth years later with super powers and a sidekick, Chappy the Space Squirrel. While righting wrongs and defending justice, Soran also searches for his long-lost sister. Space Boy Soran would, along with Cyborg 009, Space Ace, and Princess Knight, be broadcast in Portuguese on the pioneering South American TV network TV Tupi.

Next for TCJ was a personal favorite, Yusei Shonen Papi. Premiering in June of ’65, the series would run for 52 episodes on Fuji TV with the sponsorship of candy giant Glico, who would render the form of Papii in various sugary incarnations. The story? Armed with the Metalyzer, Papii is sent to Earth from the planet Clifton to fight for justice. Along with his friends Riko, Strong, and Ajababa, they battle the evil Kiritobi and the mastermind of galactic misery, Gorem.  The series was created by a committee and the original Shonen Magazine manga was by Hideoki Inoue.  American International would pick the series for American distribution and Copri Internation would again provide localization as Prince Planet, a dub that would also be shown to great success in Australia. It’s currently available for viewing on many streaming platforms.

June of ’66 would see the premiere of another TCJ space epic, Yusei Kamen, aka “Planetary Mask” or “Asteroid Mask” as we used to call it. Based on the manga by Jiro Kuwata assistant Kusonoki Kochi, it turns out that in 2001 we discover the planet Pineron, a counter-Earth always on the opposite side of the sun. Relations between the two planets are friendly enough so that Johansen of Pineron and Maria of Earth fall in love, are married, and raise a son, Peter. 15 years later, a nuclear accident allows a dictator to seize control of Pineron and start a war with Earth. Pineronians on Earth are interned and things look bleak for the solar system. Suddenly a mysterious figure appears to fight for justice – people call him Yusei Kamen! The identity of this masked hero, an outer space Zorro, is always a secret, even in the show’s credits. 39 episodes of this series would air on Fuji TV and in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking markets. 

NEXT: Castaways, ninjas, Marine Boys, confusion, and housewives!

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