As Iggy would say, "Well, it’s 1969, okay."
Nixon lurches through his first heady year in the White House. The gay community finds its street-fighting heart at the Stonewall riots. Youth writhes in the mud to Sha Na Na at Woodstock while the Rolling Stones finish their set at Altamont with "Sympathy For The Devil" and a body count of four. In Vietnam, the NVA tries for a second Tet offensive, Hill 937 gets renamed "Hamburger Hill", and the Australians pummel a combined NVA/VC force in Binh Ba. A more peaceful impulse of humanity sends Neil Armstrong to salute America (and the enigmatic "Mr. Gorsky") from Tranquility Base on the surface of the Moon. Ominously, Action For Children’s Television consolidates its power as it seeks to remove everything that makes children’s television interesting, fun and violent.
In Japan, radical students disrupt Tokyo University with protest against America's growing Asian military presence. Japan's fourth attempt at an orbital satellite fails with the third stage of L-4S-4 (5th time's the charm; 1970's launch of OHSUMI is a success), and Japanese animation—soon to become one of the nation’s primary cultural exports—continues to gain influence and significance. Did they suspect that the next decade would see European TVs filled nothing but Grandizer and Captain Harlock, and that their super robot diecast toys would excite children around the world?
But wait. Let’s deal with 1969 first.
On television, the Anime New Year started with NHK’s 20 minute Space Journey: Wonder-kun's First Dream. Based on the Tezuka story and animated by his Mushi Productions, this anime/live-action color short stars Taro, who is shown the wonders of outer space by the mysterious Mr. Wonder. This obscure bit of history is, judging from the Winky-Dink look of Mr. Wonder, a throwback to the UPA-inspired minimalism of the early 60s, and not at all indicative of what’s to come.
What’s to come is going to look a lot more like Himitsu no Akko-chan. Atsuko “Akko-chan” Kagami has a secret. Her pocket mirror transforms her into anything she wants! Naturally this power must always be used for mischievous fun involving her family, teachers, and classmates. Based on the 1962 manga by Fujio Akatsuka, Akko-chan was the first in a long line of magical girl characters whose transformative abilities would allow them, and viewers, to vicariously experience adult roles and responsibilities. Akko-chan’s 94 episodes, airing until October of 1970, would find fans around the world and would inspire sequels in 1988 and 1998, as well as a 2012 live-action film.
The international future of Japanese animation swam onward with Tele-Cartoons Japan’s Kaitei Shônen Mariin ("Undersea Boy Marine"), an expanded version of the 3-episode black and white 1965 experiment Dolphin Prince and the abortive, color-update 13-episode series from ’66 titled Ganbare! Mariin Kiddo ("Hang on! Marine Kid"). Not until Seven Arts in America expressed interest in the show did it appear in a fully-realized 78 episode series known here as “Marine Boy”. Its Japanese TV premiere actually post-dated American broadcasts, a rare turn of events. Marine Boy, the spunky kid with the super diving suit, the jet boots, and the Oxy-Gum which allows him to breathe underwater, would thrill children around the world.
(Safety Note for Children: Scrawling “Oxy Gum” on a piece of Wrigley’s does NOT turn it into a substitute for breathing.)
October saw the debut of one of 1969’s enduring anime pop-culture classics, Tiger Mask. Naoto Date drives a gigantic muscle car through the opening credits, slips on his form-fitting Tiger Mask, hops into the ring, and delivers raw, sweaty, bloody, muscular beat-downs on any heel that dares to challenge him. Once a villainous wrestler under the control of the evil Tiger’s Cave gang, Tiger Mask broke with the organization and now wrestles on behalf of, rather than against, the poor orphans. Author Ikki Kajiwara also wrote seminal boxing manga Ashita no Joe (see 1970’s anime season) and you know artist Naoki Tsuji from Shônen King’s WWII Zero Fighter manga Zero Sen Hayato. Toei’s ’69 anime series surges with a sketchy, sinewy athleticism; Tiger Mask echoes the craft-tint, conte-crayon look of American newspaper sports cartoons even as big-eyed Japanese orphans watch Tiger Mask demolish opponents in the ring. Scores of real human wrestlers would assume the Tiger Mask throughout the years, proving that life can occasionally imitate animated art.
Perhaps less melodramatic, but no less popular, Tove Jansson’s trollfest Moomin received its first Japanese anime outing in 1969, in between a German puppet version and a Finnish suit-actor edition. The Moomin trolls—squat, hippopotamus-looking creatures—inhabit an idyllic if slightly off-kilter fantasy world. The first half of the series was produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, and the liberties TMS took with the character designs and story elements (Hayao Miyazaki couldn’t resist putting some tanks in there) were far enough removed from Jansson’s vision that TMS’s contract was canceled and the remaining half of the series was produced by Mushi Productions. It too failed to meet Jansson’s expectations and she withdrew the license. A later Mushi Moomin series in 1972 was more to Jansson’s liking, and a 1990 anime series became very popular indeed.
You might only know him from the recent “Tatsunoko Vs Capcom” video game, but the truth of the matter is that genie Hakushon Daimaô and his daughter Akubi live where all genies live, in a bottle. One day they wind up in the home of Kan-chan, your typical Japanese boy, who proceeds to unleash Hakushon by the power of sneezing. Will crazy genie-related hijinx ensue? You bet! A worldwide hit for Tatsunoko, this 52-episode series made it into English on Canadian cable channel YTV under the title “Bob in A Bottle.”
Meanwhile, Otoko Ippiki Gaki Taishô ("The Ideal Man Boy's Gang Leader"), based on Hiroshi Motomiya’s Shônen Jump serial, made the jump to TV anime, courtesy NTV and TV Tokyo Video. Directed by future Gundam star Yoshiyuki Tomino, Otoko Ippiki is the story of Mankichi Togawa, the fightingest gang fighter in a Japan filled with fighting gang fighters. Largely forgotten today, it had a powerful influence on creators like Masami (Saint Seiya) Kurumada. Less influential was Pinch & Punch, a gag comedy starring Pinch and Punch, "The Worst Twins In The World". It ran for 156 5-minute episodes.
But you know, I’m stalling. There is only one giant of 1969’s TV anime, and its name is Sazae-san. Sazae-san stands not only as a Japanese icon of idealized family life bringing together three and four and maybe five generations, but also as testament to the tunnel-visioned blindness of so-called “anime fans” who have steadfastly ignored this series for decades. There likely isn’t a Japanese person alive who doesn’t know Sazae-san as a cheerful yet absent-minded housewife guiding her herd of children, husband, and parents through good times and bad.
Eiken’s Sazae-san anime has been on the air since 1969, week in and week out, delivering the goods for forty-three, count ‘em, FORTY THREE years. That’s right—the longest-running TV cartoon in the world, twenty years up on The Simpsons and a damn sight longer lasting than Dragonball or any iteration of Gundam. Machiko Hasegawa’s original Sazae-san newspaper strip started in 1946 and ran for nearly 30 years, making Hasegawa one of Japan’s first female star mangaka and enabling her to, among other things, build an art museum featuring works by Picasso and Chagall.
Of course, the lack of psychic powers, blasts of martial arts energy, panty-flashing fetish maids, space battleships or ninjas means Sazae-san might as well not exist as far as American “anime fandom” is concerned, but it's not that Sazae-san cares. She knows a housewife with a sunny disposition (and a Toshiba sponsorship) beats them all.
(Next time: We leave the experimental 1960s and enter the industrial 1970s.)