Monday, January 7, 2013

1966: Reflecting the Economic Expansion in Anime

When we were putting out fliers for our "Golden Ani-Versary" project, he came to us known only as "Inaki", but he convinced us that he'd be the fan for the job when it came to anime. A lifelong fan of Japanese animation, particularly the magical-girl genre with a love of the history of the medium, he can be found on twitter at @aliveinthewired, where he thinks too hard about anime.

WAY too hard about anime.

Like much of the world, times for Japan the 1960s were incredible and tumultuous, a time of great change. The economy boomed, and society underwent many changes; the country itself was transformed as massive building projects worked to accommodate the new Japan, its industry, and its people. It's in this era that television—as well as televised animation, of course—would become firmly established in Japan's popular culture.

Television wasn't new or novel in Japan in 1966, immediately becoming popular after its introduction in 1953, with everyday Japanese people crowding around televisions in public plazas, shops, bars, restaurants, and other such drawcards. Private television was also not novel in 1966, as many Japanese homes bought television sets to watch the Royal Wedding in 1959 with a second upsurge for the Tokyo Olympiad in 1964. It's into this environment that Tezuka's bold experiment, an animated television programme of his hit manga Astro Boy, was brought into the world.

It's no secret that Tezuka's magnificent experiment wasn't exactly a success. Despite building a television anime industry from the ground up and more or less inventing modern television animation to do it, Astro Boy still failed to turn a profit for Tezuka's newly-founded company. However, that was in 1963, and by 1966 things had changed significantly. In the 1960s, the Japanese economy was booming, and every year the GDP nearly doubled, a phenomenon unheard of in economics. More televisions, more money, and more people drove the demand for entertainment up further each year. The seeds of the anime industry were beginning to blossom.

Mahôtsukai Sarî ("Sally the Witch")

Sally wasn't the first "magical girl" in Japan; that honour goes to Akko, star of the 1962 manga Himitsu no Akko-chan. Sally was, however, the first animated magical girl and the one who would popularise the genre. Sally would stylistically define the magical-girl genre for the decades to come until the genre became focused on shônen-style battles in the 2000s. The manga was created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, better known for his other show Tetsujin 28, suggesting that the same man was responsible for the popularisation of both the giant-robot AND magical-girl genres. Sally, as the first anime aimed specifically at a female audience, could also arguably be considered the first shôjo anime, truly a milestone for fans of Japanese popular culture.

The show follows Sally, a precocious young lady from the European Medieval-esque "Country of Magic"—in modern times we would perhaps describe it as a different dimension rather than a different country—as she moves to modern-day Tokyo. Charming and silly, as the theme song tells us, Sally uses her considerable and seemingly limitless magical powers laissez-faire to stave off her boredom and deal with whatever problems come into her life. Finding Japan to her liking, she magics up a house and stays there, making two friends: a down-to-earth tomboyish poor girl (whose voice sounds like a pack-a-day smoker for some reason) and a polite, quiet ojô-sama girl. She is joined by her younger brother Cub (who is impulsive, even compared to his sister) and does things like rescue kidnapped children and magic up cake instead of cooking.

Stylistically, Sally was in many ways an attempt to mimic the popular American programming being broadcast in Japan at the time. According to the creator Yokoyama it was mainly influenced by Bewitched, which was airing in Japan as “My Wife is a Witch” (Oku-sama wa Majô) and had reached unprecedented levels of popularity with Japanese audiences. Bewitched started airing in early 1966; the Sally manga (running under the title Sunny the Witch) started in July 1966, and the anime on December 5th, 1966. There's also the meaningless Tom & Jerry sequence in the opening with no bearing on the actual show, while Sally's magical words “Mahariku Maharita Yanbara Yanyanyan” seem to be an homage to “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Disney's Cinderella. All appear to be almost schizophrenic attempts to both mimic what was seen in American programming and portray 1960s Japan.

A lot of the magic in the show allowed the animators to cut costs; there are snap transitions, still frames, repeated cells, things that float or fly, and things that appear out of nowhere. In addition a lot of the world is small and cartoony to cut down on drawing time for each frame. The in-betweening is almost non-existent, which can be interesting in a show where things often transform from one into another. I find there's a lot of charm to the whole production, the blood, sweat and tears put into making 24 minutes of animation a week.

To watch Sally the Witch is to watch something of a fractured national consciousness play out, as it portrayed life in the city for most Japanese people at the time and visions of American glamour as seen through celluloid. If there's a fault in Sally, it is this dichotomy, the show seen as both Western and idolising Western things, almost to the point of having an inferiority complex. Even with this, it takes all its elements and makes something more out of it, an amalgam of different and interesting parts. After all, the long, rich legacy of magical-girl shows Sally engendered demonstrates how deeply it resonated with the people who watched it.

Shin Janguru Taitei: Susume Leo! ("New Jungle Emperor: Onward, Leo!")
(a.k.a. "Leo the Lion")
新ジャングル大帝 進めレオ!

I've a deep personal connection to Kimba the White Lion, as it's one of the first anime I ever watched from lurid-coloured VHS tapes. My parents, unaware of Astro Boy and Kimba's origins as Japanese cartoons, jumped at the chance to show me the cartoons of their youth, ignorant of the fact that it would put me on a path I'd walk to this day. After the original Kimba the White Lion was a hit in Japan, combined with Tezuka's obvious love of the character, it was only natural for him to continue the franchise with Kimba now an adult.

The main difference between the original Kimba and Shin Janguru Tantei (better known as Leo the Lion, “Leo” being the original name of the character in Japanese, which was kept when the series was brought to the West), is the main concept of Leo and friends dealing with the rift between the human and animal worlds. Leo attempts to keep the jungle animals separate from humanity in order to keep them safe. Interestingly, despite this concept, at least in modern terms, it lacks themes of environmentalism one would find if the show was made today. Indeed, environmental preservation had yet to form as an ideology in the world, but would really blossom in Japan with the public outcry over Minamata Disease later in the decade.

No, the 1960s were an era of uninhibited building and industry in a deeply-changing Japan. Even if it wasn't a conscious effort on his part, I think this at least partially informed Tezuka when he was making Leo. The original was a simply about anthropomorphic jungle animals solving the kinds of problems that face anthropomorphic jungle animals, and whilst the new one is still very much that, I'd posit that seeing the destruction of the natural environment inspired Leo's newfound emphasis on the divide between humans and animals. In turn, this produces a bizarre twist, as we see the jungle animals constructing their own city patterned after human civilisation in the middle of the jungle by setting up mass production for food and constructing roads and bridges. It makes you wonder—the answer to the untenable rift between civilisation and nature is that nature must be civilised?

On a technical level, Leo is probably the most accomplished of the shows from 1966, even if the animation is about what you'd expect for 1966 TV anime. The animation camera is creative and dynamic, both through cinematography and the desire to hide some of the cut corners and save on animation. The use of colour is also great and has some fantastic visuals even when two frames are used to animate an entire sequence. The realisation of Tezuka's character designs is also consistently enjoyable. All this shows the time and care they put into making the best show possible with the resources they had (with exception of the occasional gunshot sound effect that is quite obviously someone hitting a plank of wood with a hammer).

Tezuka's attitudes towards race are well documented in other places, but it would be remiss to neglect it here. The best that you can say about it is that Tezuka reflects the dominant Western attitudes of the time, especially with the clear influence of Tarzan-style stories on Leo. The implicit thesis of Tarzan—a thesis where hundreds of years of African civilisation fail to tame the jungle, but one white man can single-handedly accomplish it—is reflected in Leo, and the African people do not get too much say in a story set in their country.

There's also the "Japan-as-a-nation" narrative presented by the creation of a jungle kingdom by Leo and his son Rune. Having brought itself up out of the dust, the "Jungle Nation" merely wants to be accepted and live in peace in a world hostile to its existence, and in the second half of the series Rune must transform from a timid cub to a mighty leader capable of taking over from the previous generation. The 1960s were a nadir for discussion on Japan's place in the international community, and it's no wonder it was on Tezuka's mind when he made this. These issues once raised are worth analysing and can make the show more compelling. How does it present these issues, and what questions does it raise about attitudes in 1960s Japan? What did the change from Kimba to Leo mean for Tezuka and Japan, if anything?

Leo is a quality production all over, just what you'd expect from workaholic Tezuka. Admittedly targeted for something of a younger audience, it's a visually stunning show and surprisingly topical and engaging. If you've any love for Tezuka, it's well worth seeking out.


If you've noticed a pattern here, it's the clear Western influences over these anime. Westernisation was a popular catch-cry in Japan since the Meiji era, and the television era was no exception. In 1966, both DC Comics (Superman) and Hanna-Barbara (Space Ghost, The Impossibles) also enjoyed major penetration into the Japanese market. Disney had its feelers in Japan as an influence of Tezuka's works and lesser known ones—Kaizoku Ouji, for example, the main influence was very clearly Disney's 1953 Peter Pan. Even Osomatsu-kun, the first anime from Fujio Akamatsu (the same "Gag King" mangaka that came up with Himitsu no Akko-chan) was influenced by Mad Magazine and movies like Cheaper By The Dozen. With less abstraction from American culture and daily exposure to ravenous audiences, this was a period of heavy saturation.

If there's one large, clear, appreciable difference between shows like Kaizoku Ouji and the aforementioned anime, it's that whilst Sally and Leo smelled of butter, they were immediately instrumental in helping anime find its voice and identity, Sally's contribution to the magical-girl genre and Leo's further solidification of both Tezuka's god-like status in the industry. Kaizoku Ouji was left to languish in obscurity, but it may have caused smaller ripples that led to bigger waves. Perhaps one series led to another, the resulting "butterfly effect" spawning One Piece?

Most importantly, as the examples have shown, the import of Western influence slowly bled into technology. The borderline between black-and-white and colour were finally dissolving, as more and more anime enjoyed the upgrade with colour-television technology. Just in time, too, as Japan would hear the ultimate squeal of the West's burnt rubber once 1967 rolled around...

(Next time: Before we melt the roads in 1967, we take the exit we missed back in 1965.)


  1. Wonderfully insightful!

    Im finding it somewhat entertaining that Yokoyama created the first mecha and magical girl in the 60s, and in the 70s the formulas for both would eventually be "redesigned" by Go Nagai.

    Perhaps there's some secret correlation between giant robots and spellcasting females we don't see anymore?

  2. "All appear to be almost schizophrenic attempts to both mimic what was seen in American programming and portray 1960s Japan."

    And yet the cartoon was dubbed into French and became a popular childhood favorite on Quebec television!

    "My parents, unaware of Astro Boy and Kimba's origins as Japanese cartoons, jumped at the chance to show me the cartoons of their youth, ignorant of the fact that it would put me on a path I'd walk to this day."

    You need to thank your parents for that, the best I had was a mom who pushed me to UPA legends like Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing!

  3. "If there's one large, clear, appreciable difference between shows like Kaizoku Ouji and the aforementioned anime, it's that whilst Sally and Leo smelled of butter..."

    "Smelled of butter"? What does that mean?

    1. Ah, "smelled of butter" is a reference to a Japanese term バタ臭い (batakusai) which does literally mean pretty much that. Butter came from the West so something that smells like butter is Western-influenced, maybe even to the point of trying too hard; "kusai" is not generally said in reference to things you are happy to be smelling. This site ( mentions that some Japanese people nowadays are not aware of the original meaning and just use it to mean "lame" or "doesn't do much for me" ("not that great").

  4. Am I wrong or you didn't include 1965?
    Great job, anyway, congratulations.