Sunday, November 21, 2021

ninteen anime eighty-one part one


Hey gang, earlier this year during the online Anime North convention, I delivered a virtual presentation all about what Japanese animation was like forty years ago, back in 1981. Well, those convention panels, even online ones, move pretty fast. If you aren’t careful you’ll miss something. I know I did! So that’s why today here at Let’s Anime we’re going to take that presentation and turn it into a column that we all can enjoy at our leisure.

Of course, 1980 was a big year for Japanese animation; big movies, big franchises, big shows. But if you thought 1980 was packed with cartoon goodness, well, you hadn’t ain’t done seen nothin’ yet. 1981 made 1980 look like a quiet Sunday at Grandma’s. Don’t believe me? Just look at what we’re looking at first.


1981 had no idea this show was going to become a massive international success. King Of Beasts Golion was one in a long line of Toei super robot cartoons built around a toy – they literally designed the toy first and the show was written around its five combining lion mecha robot beast fighters. Golion came and went in Japan without making too much of an impact, but when World Events Productions localized it as Voltron, it was exactly what North American kids were looking for. Voltron and its various sequels, reboots, and remakes continue to loom large in our collective memories.


Meanwhile, American televangelist Pat Robertson was looking for a way to sell Bibles in Japan, and the ad agency he hired told him “make a cartoon.” Tatsunoko was contracted and the result was Anime Oyako Gekijo, or as it was called on CBN Cable, Superbook, the story of three children and a time travelling robot experiencing bible stories. Superbook aired on cable and broadcast TV, was released on home video several times, and currently exists, like the Bible itself, in several different versions. We’ve written about Superbook and Flying House and Superbook II before!

Speaking of co-productions, the legendary Greek epic of Ulysses got an anime makeover in Ulysses 31, a TMS-DIC co-production updating the Homeric epic to the 31st century. America didn’t get this show until a few years later but those who saw it were dazzled by the sweet Osamu Dezaki animation, which blew away pretty much everything else on the TV.


Over on the cable channels you might have been watching Nickelodeon when they aired MK Company/Visual 80/Toho’s Meiken Jori, or as we know it, Belle & Sebastian. Inspiring live-action films and Scottish indie pop bands, this adaptation of the 1965 French novel is about a boy and his dog and another dog on a journey through the Pyrenees as they elude the cops and search for mother. I’d say this one’s long overdue for a North American DVD release.


Can a gloomy abandoned girl find happiness again in the paws of a ridiculous stray dog? Find out in Ohayo Spank! This 65 episode TMS series was based on the Nakayoshi manga by Shunichi Yukimuro and Shizue Takanashi, and found success in Japan and Europe. Sadly, Hello Spank’s only North American foothold was an English-narrated promo reel and a children’s plastic chair.


The Robinson family gets marooned on a mysterious island in the Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater adaptation Swiss Family Robinson – Flone Of The Mysterious Island, based on the novel by Johann David Wyss. The 1981 anime series adds a Robinson daughter to the cast and you can watch it in English on Amazon Prime, if you want to know if they ever get off that island!


Another western literary adaptation is MIC’s Little Women teleseries, one of the many times Louisa May Alcott’s novel has been translated into anime form. This version lasted 25 episodes and was dubbed by Sound International Corporation, the same people that dubbed Honey Honey and Leo The Lion. Did it exist in America beyond a few VHS tapes?


The Three Musketeers battle again, this time as dogs, in Dogtanian, a co-production between Japan’s Nippon Animation and Spain’s BRB International. Enjoyed by children worldwide – there’s even an Afrikaans dub and an Albanian dub - one version of the English voices were provided by Americans living in Madrid.


Meanwhile over in Scotland, let’s say hello to Hello Sandybell, the Toei series about the young Scots girl with an enormous dog and a cottage surrounded by flowers. Will she finally be reunited with her mother? Will her romance with the handsome rich kid who lives in the castle up the hill finally be realized, or will her rival Kitty win out? Watch the show and find out. Fair warning: this show features a character named “Mark Brunch Wellington.”



1981 was a big year for romantic European gals. MIC’s Honey Honey, based on the manga by Hideko Mizuno, is literally chased around the world because her cat Lily happened to swallow the priceless gem the Star Of The Amazon. It seems Princess Flora of Austria promised to marry whoever retrieved the jewel, which she had inserted inside a fish, fulfilling some no doubt whimsical Central European tradition. A crew of ethnic stereotypes and handsome masked thieves track Honey from Austria to Germany, France, England, Spain, Italy, Iraq, Japan, Norway and Russia only to wind up in New York City. This 29-episode shoujo comedy was dubbed into English by Sound International, aired in the US on Pat Robertson’s CBN Cable, and has only had a few sporadic home video releases.


And in modern day Japan, the glamourous young teacher Miss Machiko is forced to endure a constant parade of sexual harassment from her elementary school class in a Studio Pierrot anime series that lasted 92 (!) episodes and inspired eight (!!!!) different live-action versions, all based on eight volumes of Takeshi Ebihara manga, because Japan loves this kind of thing, I guess. Don’t take my word for it, watch it for yourself on Crunchyroll!


Japan also loves pro wrestling and Tiger Mask II delivers the kind of powerful masked grappling that inspires millions of fans, and also inspires Tatsuo Aku to don the titular mask and become the second Tiger Mask in this sequel to the early 70s Toei hit, which was based on the popular manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Naoki Tsuji, and which also inspired real-life wrestlers, as well as a legacy in the ring and on TV that lasts to this day.


The 65 episode Tatsunoko series Dash Kappei stars diminutive high school sports champion Kappei and was remarkably successful in the ratings, maybe because of Kappei’s panty fetish. Nope, not kidding.


Etsumi Haruki’s Jarinko Chie, or Chie The Brat, or Downtown Story as TMS would have you call it, is the story of a short-tempered Osaka girl named Chie and her ne’er do well gambling father, as Chie valiantly attempts to get Dad meaningful employment and a reconciliation with mom.


Kenichi’s best friend is the little ninja Hattori, who has amazing ninja powers but is deathly afraid of frogs. Based on the manga by Fujiko A. Fujio, the Shin-ei anime series Ninja Hattori-kun lasted an impressive six hundred and ninety-four (694!!) episodes.


You might know Akira Toriyama for Dragonball, but his first manga success was Dr. Slump, the tale of a fumbling genius inventor and his greatest creation, the robot girl Arale. Toei’s cartoony, colorful, crowded, and crazy Dr. Slump anime series ran for 243 episodes, ten movies, a 1997 remake, and at one point crossed over with this series ---


Queen Millenia is based on the Leiji Matsumoto manga of the same name which was serialized one page a day, five days a week, for 1000 days, in the Sankei Shimbun and Nishinippon Sports newspapers. That was the plan, anyway. Toei Doga would animate 42 episodes about of the discovery of La Metal, the 10th planet, which not only is on a collision course with Earth, but whose advanced civilization sends a queen to secretly rule over Earth every thousand years. What happens when La Metal’s queen sides with the Earth people? This mashup of the Princess Kaguya tale, the kook-science works of Immanuel Velikovsky, and the film When Worlds Collide would be edited together with the 1978 Captain Harlock anime and be shown in America as “Captain Harlock And The Queen Of 1000 Years.” And as mentioned, there was that crossover with Dr. Slump.

Over at Tatsunoko, the Time Bokan series continued with the fifth installment Yattodetaman, as Princess Karen and her robot guardian Daigoron travel back in time to 1981 to recruit Wataru Toki and Koyomu Himekuri in a quest to capture the immortal fire-bird Phoenix - no relation to Tezuka's Hi no Tori.


Prince Mito and his loyal retainers set out in the super robot Daioja to inspect the galactic empire in this fifty-episode Sunrise sci-fi update of the popular Mito Komon jidaigeki television series.


Also from Sunrise, Fang Of The Sun Dougram documents the guerrilla rebellion of planet Deloyer from the corrupt Earth Federation and its puppet government. Created by Ryosuke Takahashi, this real robot series featured mecha designs by Gundam’s Kunio Okawara, and toys and model kits of this series’ mecha would appear in North America both badged as “Robotech” and under the Dougram brand, while Dougram manga by Yoshihiro Moritou would see print in Kodansha’s Comic BonBon, not to be confused with the completely different Dougram manga by Yu Okazaki, which was running at the same time in Adventure King, make up your mind Japan.


Robot mayhem continues from TMS with God Mars! Earth is attacked by the Gishin space empire, led by the dark emperor Zule. Our only hope is Crasher Squad member Takeru Myojin, who it turns out is actually a Gishin space alien with ESP powers and a six-god combination super robot that doubles as a planet-destroying bomb sent to demolish the Earth! Based on the manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, TMS’s God Mars ran for 65 episodes of colorful, science fictiony, very not-real robot action, and you can watch it right now streaming for free on Tubi.

Speaking of unreal robots, Sengoku Majin Goshogun is all about how the shadow illuminati Dokuga, secretly ruling the world for Lord NeoNeros, comes under attack by Good Thunder and the GoShogun team, using Beamler energy to battle for the fate of humanity! Ashi Pro’s Goshogun only lasted 26 episodes but its mix of colorful action and fun characters captured enough fans to get a compilation film and a sequel OAV. Portions of the show were dubbed into English as “Macron 1,” the television broadcast version of which contains music video segments featuring covers of popular 80s tunes. The Japanese series has been released in North America by Discotek and is streaming on Retrocrush.


Hiro Taikai finds a gold cigarette lighter that instead of helping smokers to get lung cancer, is actually the transforming sentient super robot Gold Lightan, sent to defend the Earth from invasion by the Mechanic Dimension. This Tatsunoko series lasted 52 episodes and is streaming on HIDIVE!


From the studio that brought you Little Women and Honey Honey comes Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, the first in Yu Yamamoto’s J-9 series. In the lawless Asteroid Belt, four outer space commandos for hire use their expanding plasma super robot Braiger to defy the cult-leader crime-lord Khamen Khamen, who plans to blow up Jupiter. Will he succeed? Get the discs from Discotek and find out!


Rumiko Takahashi’s outer space high school comedy Urusei Yatsura concerns itself with the tumultuous relationship between the space princess Lum and the Earthling reprobate Ataru, except when it focuses on their equally wacky friends and neighbors. Urusei Yatsura came to TV in 1981 courtesy Studio Pierrot, and its mix of girls, gags, and galactic shenanigans would last 218 episodes, spawn six feature films, appear in a Matthew Sweet music video, and generally obnoxious-alien its way into pop culture legend. The series was released in English by AnimEigo and the pilot was dubbed into English on two separate occasions.
That’s an awful lot of anime TV shows! Join us next time when we head to the movie theater, buy a ticket, some soda, a large popcorn, and some Twizzlers, and also take a look at the Japanese anime theatrical films of 1981!
-Dave Merrill

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