Wednesday, November 30, 2022

1972: The Year Anime Got Groovy


It’s 1972! President Nixon's plumbers are plumbing up what we’d call Watergate, while Tricky Dick makes a historic relations-normalizing visit to mainland China. Arab terrorists murder 11 at the Munich Summer Olympics, a three-man Japanese hit squad kills 26 at Lod Airport near Tel Aviv, and negotiators in Paris try to hammer out a Vietnam peace deal. Top American films include The Poseidon Adventure, Blacula, The Godfather, and Georgia dueling-banjos favorite Deliverance, while on TV audiences enjoyed All In The Family, Columbo, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Flip Wilson, Emergency!, Sanford & Son, Maude, the Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H and Kung Fu. Kids tuned in Saturday mornings to watch Scooby-Doo, The Osmonds, Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space, The Brady Kids, Sealab 2020, and endless reruns of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Meanwhile in Japan, the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo. Yes, they used to hold the summer and winter Olympics in the same year! Controlled by the US since the end of WWII, Okinawa was returned to Japanese administration. Japanese theaters spent 1972 screening Godzilla Vs Gigan, Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion, two Zatoichi films, and four Lone Wolf & Cub movies, while Japanese TV aired the historical dramas Mito Kōmon and Ōedo Sōsamō, the tokusatsu adventures of Kamen Rider, Lion Maru, Ultraman Ace, and Kikaida, the detective series Key Hunter, and the "Japan's Got Talent" series Star Tanjō


1972 Japanese film and TV

But here at Let's Anime we are an anime blog, we're here to talk about Japanese animation and what it looked like fifty years ago. 1972 was a year that set Japanese animation firmly upon the path it still walks today, a merchandise-driven, synergistic production-committee collaboration between the publishing industry, the toy industry, the broadcasting industry, and the eyeballs of impressionable children. Right now we're living in the anime ecosystem that 1972 built. 


Stars of 1971

Continuing from 1971 were series like the second Q-Taro The Ghost anime, the first Lupin III series, the second Kitaro show and, of course, the longest running animated series of all time anywhere, Sazae-san, brought to you by Toshiba. But let’s keep moving and get into the new Japanese animation happening in 1972! 


First up in our list is Astroganger. Fleeing the evil alien Blasters, the extra-terrestrial Maya crash-lands on Earth, falls in love with a scientist and gives birth to a human boy named Kantaro. When the Blasters invade the Earth, Kantaro must defeat them by fighting with Astroganger, a robot made from living metal. This was the first color super robot TV anime, if you can call Astroganger super, which I personally do not. However, let's remember that every anime series is somebody's favorite anime series, and Astrogangar is no exception, being popular in Italy and the Arabic world. This Knack anime series ran for 26 episodes between October 1972 and March 1973. 


Seen in Mexico as "Capitan Centella," Moon Mask Rider is based on the groundbreaking tokusatsu hero series Gekko Kamen/Moonlight Mask/Moon Mask Rider, who donned the titular moon mask, fired up his moon cycle, and strapped on his moon six-guns for justice in the name of the Moon on TV in 1958 and soon afterwards in six feature films. The '72 version, also animated by Knack, appeared in response to the success of 1971 tokusatsu series Kamen Rider, itself perhaps influenced by the original Moon Mask


Onbu Obake aka "Piggyback Ghost" aired from October '72 until September 1973 and was based on the manga by Ryuichi Yokoyama, who created the wartime manga Fuku-chan and was one of the first manga-ka to be recognized by the Japanese government as a serious artist. A Top Craft/Eiken series, Onbu Obake aired on YTV. The Onbu Ghost was born from jade and spends happy days with a kind old blacksmith and a young village girl, encountering a wide variety of Japanese folktales as he becomes pretty much a Japanese version of Casper The Friendly Ghost. In the final episode, Onbu saves the village by holding up a crumbling rock all night alone, before exhausting his powers and returning to the jade from whence he came. Beat that, Casper! 


Tamagon The Counselor or "Kaiketsu Tamagon" is a goofy, friendly monster who is inordinately fond of eggs. He advises anyone with a problem, asking only eggs in payment - as soon as he's eaten that egg he gets to work. However his solutions usually end in comedic failure and he winds up being chased by his irate clients. This series of 195 5-minute shorts from Tatsunoko aired in Europe as "Eggzavier the Eggasaurus." 


Pinocchio, the venerable Carlo Collodi folktale, comes to life in this 1972 Tatsunoko TV series. Pinocchio here is known as “Mock Of The Oak” or Kashi no Ki Mokku, and he faces constant struggle and strife as he makes his way through the world. This was released on VHS and DVD in North America, look for it in the thrifts! 


The historical samurai series Akado (Red-breast) Suzunosuke is based on the 1954 manga by Eiichi Fukui and Tsunayoshi Takeuchi, which ran in Shonen Pictorial and spawned a radio drama, a TV show, nine feature films, and this anime series from TMS, which was directed by Isao Takahata and featured key animation from some dude named Hayao Miyazaki. It's about Suzunosuke Konno, an Edo-period boy swordsman learning his chops at the Hokushin Ittō-ryū Chiba Shusaku Dojo. He habitually sports his father’s red breastplate, leading to the nickname and the series' title. 


Mon Chéri CoCo is 13 episodes of romantic comedy anime airing from August to November 1972, with animation by Studio Look, Studio Take, and Joke. CoCo was a Nippon TV Video/NTN/TBS production and is based on the manga by Waki Yamato, who'd later create the popular Taisho-period romance Haikara-san. CoCo's star is Coco Charmant, a Paris fashion designer with a French textile-company president father and a Japanese mom from a Kyoto fabric wholesaler background. Coco creates her own new styles in the fashion world while mixing love and friendship. CoCo's production head Shimozaki Jun resigned at the end of August and NTN's animation producer resigned in October, leading us to conclude this early shoujo romance anime was cursed. The CoCo series has only been re-run once and has never been released on home video. 


A child of Atlantis, Triton Of The Sea was raised by humans but discovers his true identity and sets forth to battle the empire of Poseidon with his mermaid friend Pipi and his magic sword, turning the ocean red with the blood of his enemies. Seriously, this is a violent show! Based on the "Blue Triton" manga by Osamu Tezuka from 1969, the manga was later renamed to come into line with the TV anime, which only lasted 27 episodes but would return for two 1979 features culled from the show. Triton was directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and the animation was produced by Yoshinobu Nishizaki's "Animation Staff Room," a studio which would become Nishizaki's Office Academy and soon release Space Battleship Yamato


Based on the folksy, quirky fantasy comics & novels by Finnish national treasure Tove Jansson, Shin Moomin or “New Moomin” is a 1972 Mushi Pro anime series that continued the 1969 Moomin anime, which was produced by TMS until somebody named Hayao Miyazaki decided the show needed tanks in it. Suddenly TMS was out and Mushi was in. The 1972 series lasted 52 episodes and is all Mushi. 


Doknojo Gaeru or The Gutsy Frog, based on Yasumi Yoshizawa's six-year run in Shonen Jump, is all about middle schooler Hiroshi who accidentally squashed the frog Pyonkichi onto his sweatshirt. Now Pyonkichi lives on the front of Hiroshi’s shirt and causes no end of kooky comedic situations. This iconic TMS series ran for 206 episodes and was brought back in 1981 and again in 2015 as a live action show. 


The '72 TMS TV series pilot "Yuki's Sun" is based on the manga by Tetsuya “Tomorrow’s Joe” Chiba and is about an orphan named Yuki who’s adopted by a new family. This was Hayao Miyazaki’s first solo directorial work. 

Yuki and Pandas

In 1972 the Chinese government loaned Japan two giant pandas for the Ueno Zoo and Japan went positively psychotic for pandas. One of the products of this mania we know as Panda ko Panda, a pair of short TMS films about a little girl named Mimiko who befriends both a baby panda named Pan-chan and Pan-chan’s panda Papa. The creative team involved superstars Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoshifumi Kondo, who used concepts left over from their aborted "Pippi Longstocking" project (I guess Astrid Lindgren heard about the Moomin tanks). 


Nagagutsu Sanjuushi aka The Return Of Pero aka Ringo Rides West aka the second of Toei’s Puss In Boots movies is a kiddy version of a spaghetti western as Toei mascot cat Pero finds himself chased all the way to the Old West! Outlaws are trying to take over frontier Go Go Town for their own evil ends and Annie's inheritance stands in their way. Will Pero and the mysterious Kid With No Name aka Jimmy save the town? 


Hellhound Liner 0011 Henshin! Tsutomu lives in the world of the future and his only friends are dogs. When those dogs are killed by outer space alien invaders in an assassination attempt on Tsutomu’s father, there is only one response - to rebuild those dogs into transforming robot combination spaceship cyborgs and destroy the planet of devils! This is a kids’ movie? This IS a kids' movie, a Toei Manga Matsuri favorite delivering rocket-powered robot monster-destroying excitement at 24 frames a second. Don't miss it! 


"Anime Document München e no Michi" or Anime Document: The Road To Munich is a combination animation/live action documentary series about the Japanese Men's Volleyball Team as they prepare for the 1972 Munich Olympics. This series, the second time animation was used in a "documentary" format on Japanese TV, aired on TBS from 23 April to 20 August 1972, was sponsored by Fujiya (the Peko people), and was part of a plan to bring greater recognition to the men's volleyball team, who would go on to take the gold in Munich! That's the power of anime right there. 


A princess in a magical land, Chappy longed to visit the human world and when her brother Jun provided a convenient distraction at just the right moment, Chappy and Jun came to Japan! There, she found the human world to be full of pollution, traffic accidents, and bad people. Chappy, Jun, and mom and pop try to get along in our modern world without revealing their magical secrets. If you count Marvelous Melmo, Toei's Magical Chappy is the sixth magical girl to appear in Japanese anime, and aired from April to December 1972. 


Tatsunoko Productions' legendary animated series Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman premiered at 6:00 pm on Sunday, October 1, 1972 and gave us 105 bird-ninja starring episodes. Operating under the orders of the International Science Organization, Gatchaman fights to defeat the gangsters, robots, monsters and villains of Berg Katse, who leads the evil Galactor Syndicate controlled by the mysterious Sosai X. This immensely successful franchise would encompass a feature film, scads of merchandising, two sequel TV series, 90s and 00s reboots, a live action film, and international if slightly edited success under the title Battle of The Planets

Gatchaman's muscular realism would provide a template for a decade's worth of Tatsunoko hero adventure as the studio brought forth similar adventure programs like Shinzō Ningen Casshan, Uchū no Kishi Tekkaman, and Hurricane Polymar. I've lost count of how many times this show has been made available in America - televised as BOTP, dubbed again as G-Force, Gatchaman II and F shown as Eagle Riders, on VHS and DVD as BOTP, and on DVD and Blu-Ray as Gatchaman


Not content with the cataclysmic climax of his parent-disapproved "Shameless School" manga, up and coming manga superstar Go Nagai continued to push boundaries with his next popular series, Devilman. Notorious crybaby Akira Fudo lives with foster parents and endures abuse by bullies until one day he merges with the demon Amon and becomes Devilman, sworn to battle the awakening devils that seek to exterminate mankind. This Toei TV adaptation of Nagai's manga began airing in July of 1972, barely a month after the manga began appearing in Weekly Shonen. The comic's nihilistic violence was toned way down in the anime, but it still took decades to see any sort of English-language appearance of the character, who would return to the anime world in two 1980s OVAs and a 2018 Netflix series. 

Mazinger Z, the super robot, was built out of Chogokin-Z by Juzo Kabuto to battle the forces of Dr. Hell, in much the same fashion as creator Go Nagai forming Dynamic Pro to battle those who would abscond with licensing rights to his creations. Just before Dr. Kabuto's murder by Dr. Hell’s agents, Kabuto reveals Mazinger Z to his grandson Koji Kabuto, who then pilots Mazinger Z through 92 episodes of a Toei TV anime series airing from December 1972 until September 1974. Based on the manga by Go Nagai, Mazinger Z spawned armies of toys, battalions of merchandising and legions of sequels and imitations that infest Japanese popular culture to this day. 

English versions

Mazinger Z was dubbed into English in the 1970s (by M&M) and again in the 1980s as “Tranzor Z” by 3B. In 1973 Devilman and Mazinger Z would team up to star in the fine art film Mazinger Z vs Devilman. Koji Kabuto and Mazinger Z would return in the 2009 series Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! and in the 2017 feature film Mazinger Z Infinity.


cinema at its finest

And that's 1972, without which we would not have Tatsunoko adventure, Toei super robots, Devilman Crybabies, Gutsy Frogs, or Astrogangers. What would that non-'72 world look like? Popular culture would have to limp along without bird ninjas or super-mechanical heroes, toy companies would be bereft of robot toys, Japanese PTAs would have to find something else to complain about. Fifty years later, however, we still live in the world that 1972's anime created, our feet firmly planted in that strong 1972 foundation. Now, choose your soundtrack: "Ziggy Stardust" or "Exile On Main Street"! 

 -Dave Merrill

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