Do you remember your first anime? You know, the show that blew your mind away when you were just but a child? A show that, even if you didn’t know it at the time, was something completely different from what you were used to? The show that expanded your mind’s possibilities that animation could be so much more?
I do. As it turns out, my first anime aired in the September of 1967.
But you know what 1967 did have?
Japan’s first costumed superhero, Ôgon Batto ("Golden Bat")!
I mean, just look at the guy! He has an awesome golden skull head, sports a kicking cape, and just be amazing wherever he flies, probably dispensing justice, as superheroes tends to do. Golden Bat actually comes from the 1930’s, created by Ichiro Suzuki and illustrator Takeo Nagamatsu as a picture book story, also known as a kamishibai. They are what you would get if you melded a puppet show and a manga together, using the panels along with a storyteller to weave tales. Hey, in the 1930’s this was some of the best entertainment around! Don’t believe me? Check out Drawn and Quarterly’s excerpt of "A Drifting Life" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, which just so happened to cover this exact topic right down to the goldens and the bats.
Another first was really a second. Chibikko Kaiju Yadamon was a show written by Tomio Sagisu, who also wrote Zero Sen Hayato that aired in 1964. So what was the first in this one? It was the first show that had a connection to a young upstart mangaka named Go Nagai, who drew the manga adaption. I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more about this guy later. The show itself is about a little monster kid doing little monster kid things. (Hey, the mold wasn't ready to be broken by Nagai at the time!)
Now, most of the shows in 1967 weren’t ones you would call game changers. Fun? Yes. Awesome? Probably, but there was one show that would start to alter the landscape of anime as we know it. Of course, it was a Tezuka adaptation of one of his many, many manga. That show was Princess Knight, by way of Mushi Productions. While Sally the Witch came out the previous year and could arguably be the first shôjo anime, Ribon no Kishi ("Knight of the Ribbon", but better known as Princess Knight in the West) was the first show to really think about what it meant to be a girl.
Or a boy! At the same time. Yes, Princess Knight was complicated.
The manga’s roots more than likely lie in the Takarazuka Revue, the theater troupe that performed in Osamu Tezuka’s hometown. The troupe was an all-female one, where women portrayed all the roles both male and female, and a growing Tezuka thought that this was pretty much the greatest thing ever. It should come as no surprise that our hero in Princess Knight was in fact a heroine, but Sapphire, our lead, was no ordinary heroine. (Where would be the fun in an ordinary heroine?) Thanks to some celestial hijinks by an angel named Tink, Prince Sapphire was born with both the heart of a girl and a boy.
Wait, Prince? Well, in the kingdom of Silverland only males are allowed to ascend to the throne, so when Sapphire was born, the king decided to announce the birth as the birth of a boy to prematurely thwart the machinations of the way more evil Duke Duralumin. Again, complicated.
But that’s what makes Princess Knight so interesting. Who would have thought that, so early in anime’s youngest years, ideas such as gender identity would even be a subject? Granted, the themes in the show are painted pretty broadly, but it still asks questions about men’s and women’s roles in society and addresses how are they alike and different. While the show attempts to answer these questions, it does so in a fairy tale of a children’s cartoon, full of magic and action, a show stocked full of daring drama, suspense, religious figures, and a guy named Nylon.
When I started this crazy article (Post? Essay? Jumble of words?), I asked you—the world out there—about the first anime that blew your mind. Princess Knight certainly did that for me when I first came to it last year, but that was just last year! Back when I was a young whippersnapper of a Basil, my first anime was completely different. It had action, suspense, and all that other fun stuff, but you know what else it had?
Let’s talk about Speed Racer.
Mahha Go Go Go, Speed Racer’s original Japanese title, was the second anime TV series by the studio Tatsunoko Production. (Its first show, Space Ace, was in 1965.) However, it was Tatsunoko Production’s first series in color, as well as its first series to be brought to American shores. Space Ace might have been where Tatsunoko Production got their start, but Mahha Go Go Go is where they exploded.
In the original Japanese version, Go Mifune was a young man with a young man’s dream—to be the best heckuva racer there ever was! Sadly, his father Daisuke Mifune was completely against this idea, as racing was a dangerous sport full of peril. Mr. Mifune was so sure of racing’s risks, as he had driven Go’s older brother Kenichi off after he crashed his car during a previous race. However, Go’s father was also a mechanical genius, and when Mr. Mifune decided to start his own business known as Mifune Motors, his amazing new engine came with its own race car. Thus, the family business of racing was born.
During 1967, the world was still slowly undergoing a change of TV standards. The majority of television sets were still black and white, but color sets were starting to ramp up in sales. The situation is not unlike the move from standard definition to high definition that we are now only coming out of. While the majority of sets in Japan were not in color, Tatsunoko Production realized pretty quickly that color was on its way. They were going to be ready, and Mahha Go Go Go was going to lead their way.
Nonetheless, with this split in standards, Mahha Go Go Go had to be a show that looked good not only in black-and-white, but also color as well! Mitsuki Nakamura, who would later on work on such series as Mobile Suit Gundam and Fist of the North Star, was tasked to make sure the show looked great. The result was a feast of color tempered with a great design for one of the main stars of the show, the Mahha-Go ("Mach-5" in the US), Go’s amazingly versatile and speedy car. Nakamura even went so far as to animate the final scene in the opening himself, just to show off how awesome it really was. You know the scene, where Go hops out of the Mach and the camera then pans around to the front? The one where Speed Racer invented Bullet Time? Yup, that’s the one.
Mahha Go Go Go was a tour-de-force of awesome and took everything that kids would find cool about racing and kicked it up a notch or twelve. Not only was the Mach cool and fast, it was also loaded with gadgets and had saws that could cut through trees like butter! Go wasn’t only just a crazy good racer, he also obviously knew kung-fu and could fight all sorts of nefarious foes. Sure, you could just race on streets and tracks. OR you could race through pyramids and temples and forests and just about ANYWHERE!
Even near the end of the opening, you see the Mach and whole bunch of other cars driving across the map of the world. There wasn’t any place Mahha Go Go Go couldn’t be enjoyed, as it was a show with true world-wide appeal. It takes a special show inspired by crazy globe-trotting grand-prix races and makes it even more exotic. Mahha Go Go Go was that kind of show to me.
1967 was the year anime continued to move forward. Its products were not the first ones, but they definitely were interesting and paved the way for shows to come. Princess Knight broke ground that would eventually become its own genre, inspiring shows like the Rose of Versailles and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Mahha Go Go Go cemented Tatsunoko Production’s place in the world as a Japanese animation powerhouse that would occupy solid ground in the 1970s. Perhaps studios had already shown Japan their first children the years before, but one could argue that Japan liked "Little Brother" best!
(Next time: Will the time machine stop in 1968? Will it take a detour to 1965? We shall see!)