Thursday, January 24, 2013

1970: Anime Finds Its Heart and Passion

Jessica Dreistadt is currently writing on her bachelor's thesis in Asian and African Studies at Humboldt-University in Berlin, Germany. While her main focus is on Japan and though her thesis will have no relation to anime or manga whatsoever, she's been an avid viewer of anime for almost two decades, having grown up watching the anime shown on German television in the 90s and early 2000s.

In December 1969, Attack No.1 started its run on Japanese television. It tells the story of an aspiring volleyball star and is one of the most, if not the most, popular sports-themed series aimed at girls. Attack No.1 was also the first anime I recognized as coming from Japan when I watched it as a child about 25 years after its original run.

Attack No. 1 was still on air in 1970, when a number of sports-themed shows targeted at boys and young men were brought to the screen. Out of 16 Japanese anime series debuting in 1970, 5 can be counted into this category, namely Ashita no Joe ("Tomorrow's Joe", boxing), Akaki Chi no Eleven ("The Red-Blooded Eleven", soccer), Otoko Do-Ahô Kôshien (baseball), Kikku no Oni ("Kicking Demon", kickboxing), and Inakappe Taishô ("The Funny Judo Champion").

Among those‚ the one still enjoying the most popularity today is, without a doubt, Ashita no Joe (also known as "Tomorrow's Joe" or "Rocky Joe"). This anime, based on the manga of the same name drawn by Tetsuya Chiba and written by Ikki Kajiwara, spanned 79 episodes and a second season was produced in 1980. There are also two animated movies, two live action movies (one of them from 2011), a play and a radio drama, as well as video games, pachinko slots and many more. But what is it that made this series so immensely popular that actual funerals were held for deceased characters? (Without spoiling too much, Ashita no Joe had what was arguably the most memorable and parodied death in anime as we know it. - Ed.)

The story takes place in a Tokyo neighborhood full of day laborers, a rough climate for young people to grow up in. One day, a young man named Joe Yabuki appears in town, picks some fights and is approached by a local alcoholic. This alcoholic, however, is actually the former boxer Danpei Tange who has taken an interest in Joe's fighting skills and offers him coaching. Joe eventually accepts and starts pursuing a career as a bantamweight boxer.

It's partly probably the usual “from rags to riches” flair that made and still makes Ashita no Joe so appealing to many. Joe is an orphan, he has spent his whole childhood in orphanages, and is put into a youth detention center after committing minor crimes. Nevertheless, he is able to overcome all these hardships and become a successful professional boxer. Another reason could be that professional boxing was simply popular in Japan during the 1960s and early 1970s, also known as the “Golden Age” of this discipline. It was during this decade that Japan had its first professional champion, "Fighting" Harada, who has been the the president of the Japanese Boxing Commission since 2002.  People were interested in boxing and many youngsters might have been fantasizing about becoming boxers themselves, so why not watch an anime about somebody working toward the same goal.

While boxing was at the height of its popularity, soccer fandom was still in its earlier stages. Akaki Chi no Eleven was one of the first soccer-themed series that hit the TV screens.

The story is centered around a high school in Saitama and its soccer team. When former gold medalist Tenpei Matsuki, known as Gôru no Môtetsu ("The Fierce Tiger of Goals"), is transferred to the school, he sets up a soccer club through which he wants to find young men suitable for the national team. One of them is main protagonist Shingo Tamai, an athlete in his own right who forms a second team to challenge Tenpei at school, but Shingo's lack of skill leads to a total loss. However, encouraged by Tenpei's passion for the game, Shingo joins the team and, by the 40th episode, is the show's main character when he joins the national junior squad.

Just like Ashita no Joe, Akaki Chi no Eleven was written by Ikki Kajiwara, who was responsible for several popular anime and manga geared at sports and fighting at that time. Kajiwara also cleverly based the story on actual events. The school in Akaki Chi no Eleven is based on South High School in Urawa, Saitama. South High's soccer team was extremely successful in 1969 when they won three championships under their coach Gyôji Matsumoto, who served as a model for Tenpei. Main character Shingo was based on the actual soccer player Yoshikazu Nagai, one of the then members of South High's soccer team who would later become a player on the national team. Many viewers would tune in to watch the animated version of a story they had previously heard about and maybe even followed.

However, what people may not be aware of is that the show has continued to have an effect on the real sport of soccer and the city of Urawa, which is now part of Saitama City. The local team, the Mitsubishi Football Club, now known as the Urawa Red Diamonds, actually won the Japan Soccer League the year before in 1969, so the red color of the show's uniforms and the opening theme stayed with the team. Surprisingly, however, Akakichi no Eleven wasn't produced by anyone who knew the sport of soccer itself very well. In order to make sure the moves made sense, the producers used a training film made by former Japan assistant coach Dettmar Cramer that explained the basics of dribbling and shooting.

Sports isn't all there is, so let us take a look at something else that was popular in 1970. Just like Ashita no Joe, Konchû Monogatari Minashigo Hutch ("The Adventures of Hutch the Honeybee") received a second season some years later. It was also remade in the 80s and has been exported to many countries outside Japan. You've never heard of it? Maybe the series' opening and ending themes will ring a bell.

You might know the main character Hutch under other names, such as José, Hacou, Flitz or Magà, but these all refer to the same character with the same story. Hutch is a honeybee and still inside an egg when a swarm of hornets attacks his native beehive. A queen bee from a sweat-bee tribe finds the little fellow and decides to take him in to raise him like a child of her own. Hutch grows up with sweat-bees, teased by his peers because of his different looks. When he learns the truth about his origins, he decides to leave them and goes on a journey to find his mother who he believes is still somewhere out there.

While this may sound like a nice story suitable for all ages, Hutch the Honeybee is especially noted for its cruelty. The first episode is notorious for depicting the entire honeybee colony decimated, save for a single egg. In some episodes, Hutch meets a new friend who gets killed shortly thereafter. Survival of the fittest is portrayed in the story with bigger bugs eating smaller ones, as well as environmental destruction. Humans are also shown only from their neck downwards, which does fit the perspective on insects but also makes their appearance rather scary. (It does pay off in the end if your heart's able to stand all this emotion! - Ed.)

Hutch also belongs to an anime niche that I feel is often widely ignored by the average western otaku, perhaps because it uses an art style that is not typically thought of as “anime style”. While this is probably true for the vast majority of anime series from the '60s and '70s, it is even more so for shows like Hutch that use animals as the main characters. There was yet another series produced in 1970 that used a similar kind of style—Norakuro, an animated adaption of a popular manga by Suihô Tagawa.

However, Norakuro had not originally been published in a pure manga magazine like Shônen Jump or Shônen Sunday, which didn't make their appearances until the 1950s and '60s. Norakuro was actually a manga from the pre-war era; its publication began in 1931 in Kodansha's Shônen Kurabu, a general publication that slowly incorporated manga into its pages. While the drawing style is pretty reminiscent of Fleischer cartoons—I just can't help seeing Felix the Cat as a dog—the content is highly influenced by mangaka Suihô Tagawa's personal experience in the military. It is not surprising in the slightest that main character Norakuro—full name Norainu Kurokichi—served in the army.

In 1970, the manga was republished in several omnibus volumes as the result of a boom following the 100th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, eventually leading to the animated show. Surprisingly, it kept the military context, albeit toned down, with most of the story coming from the comedy of the original manga, much of which came from Tagawa's own experiences in war during the 1920s. Less surprising is the fact that the anime series was a huge success just like the whole franchise. Merchandise is still being sold today, and a division in the Kôtô Ward of Tokyo houses "Norakuro Road", which contains a street full of merchandise, Norakuro-themed banners, and a modest museum for the manga and anime.

As you can see from the above, 1970 definitely brought a number of series that are still well remembered today. Of course, not all anime series starting in 1970 have been as successful as the four mentioned in this article, but they did have their place and were surely enjoyed by a fair amount of viewers. If anything, 1970 was certainly a launching point for Tatsunoko Productions, who followed up the popularity of Speed Racer in the 1960s with Hutch the Honeybee and Inakappe Taishô, leading to bigger successes in the decade.

(Next time: Anime matures in 1971 as legends cross paths with two portrayals of femininity.)

No comments:

Post a Comment