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!


Helen McCarthy said...

Lovely stuff! Thanks for bringing this back into the light of day.

August Ragone said...

Cheers and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Was TCJ's business model to develop manga into shows to advertise their clients' products? Were they basically an agency that hired anime studios, or were they an anime studio themselves?

UHF always had a dream-like quality for me as a kid; not only because of the offbeat programming (such as anime) you'd find there, but the analog process of slowly turning the dial through static, until suddenly a station emerged like an island in the sea. I actually sometimes dreamed of UHF, of getting up at some late hour of the night, sneaking downstairs to the TV, and being able to find a show.

I'm a fan of Ko Kojima and had much respect for Suezen when he did a Kojima pastiche in one issue of Chosen Ame. ^_^