Monday, February 4, 2013

1974: It's A Creator's Story

Justin Stroman is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, a Japanese Pop Culture blog. Has been watching anime for a good decade, but it wasn’t until he started blogging that his interest in watching anime and learning more about some of its history picked up. If he’s not blogging, you can find him on Twitter tweeting or re-tweeting any anime, manga, or sports information (good or bad) on Twitter.

The first thing I should mention is that the Golden Ani-Versary project is what I think a great tribute to decades of Japanese animation. To be a part of celebrating 50 years of anime alongside many other bloggers and writers is something I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing not even two years ago, where I liked anime but not enough to dig further deep into the fandom and start blogging myself. As this project continues, I hope that this site and the articles already written and will be written in the future serve as great commentary on how anime has evolved from its past to its present, and perhaps this will give us insight into how the future of anime will be.

Now, in volunteering for this project, I immediately desired to cover some of the early years of Japanese animation, if only to figure out how anime was well before I was born compared to today, and discover what works allowed the medium to keep growing to what it has become today. Needless to say, with limited credentialed information either via the web or in print, it wasn’t quite that easy to find everything, so maybe there were anime that aired during this period that I could not extensively cover, and even the ones I did maybe not enough coverage. But in the end, I discovered what I felt to be the most significant anime series of 1974.

So, let’s get started.

If there is anything to take away from anime in 1974, is that this was a year full of creators who you just may have heard of who has impacted the anime industry for decades. It featured a magical girl series with enough fan service scenes to say it may have started the trend in anime but featured themes and plot devices that you may have seen in countless other magical girl shows now, a girl who ends up growing in the Swiss Alps with a seemingly stern old man that was wildly successful in Japan, and a sci-fi romp that changed how anime could be viewed and what studios could target...though it didn’t make an impact immediately. Let’s discuss what these anime did.

Majokko Megu-Chan

Produced by Toei Animation, Majokko Megu-Chan ("Magical-Girl Megu-chan") is a 72 episode magical-girl anime series that has been credited for changing things from the usual norm. One of those changes included seeing the protagonist Megu, a young witch who had been sent to Earth and adopted by a former witch, find herself losing her clothes on a frequent basis. If that sounds familiar, it should, as Majokko Megu-Chan may just have been the first anime to actively promote fan service scenes. Yes, Go Nagai’s Cutie Honey, which preceded this anime, was a series that targeted boys and did feature a sexualized heroine with nude transformation sequences, but it seems the staff who worked on both shows made this one a bit naughtier than previous magical-girl works. In the anime's OP, where Megu is aware of her beauty and how everyone falls for her, it shows her personality, a sign of how the anime would go from there.

That’s not to say Megu-Chan was just fan service, as the other change included subject matter. Ranging from domestic violence to extramarital relationships, the anime was considered mature and not appropriate for children of that time. Throughout the anime Megu discovers new emotions she never felt before—loneliness, grief, compassion, self-sacrifice to name a few—and grows from someone who acts fairly selfish at the start into a kind, loving young woman. Some of the themes I’ve mentioned you may have seen before: in fact, some of its plot devices have been used in that other magical girl anime series that was enormously successful in the 90s called Sailor Moon.

Megu-Chan can be identified for potentially establishing two things: fan service scenes in anime and a new mindset when it came to magical girl anime. It also had some pretty solid creators on staff; Shingo Araki, who was the character designer, ended up becoming the animation director of works such as Lupin the Third, Rose of Versailles, and Saint Seiya, while the writer of Megu-Chan, Masaki Tsuji, happened to do scenario for works such as Astro Boy, Kimba The White Lion, Princess Knight, Dr. Slump, and Urusei Yatsura.

That's not to say it was the only show with a fairly memorable staff.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps

A 52-episode series by Zuiyo Enterprises (who would later become Nippon Animation) based off Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning, Heidi, Girl of the Alps tells a story about a 5-year-old girl who has to live with her seemingly feared grandfather up on the Swiss Alps. From start to finish, it becomes a journey of growth and understanding as Heidi, who lost her parents when she was just one, has to learn new things while still managing to be as energetic and happy as she can in a new environment. This series was wildly popular in Japan, and as part of the "World Masterpiece Theater" project, classical children’s literature would be a major part of Japanese animation for a good number of years. Heidi was the start of that trend. Based on a poll from a few years ago, it seems this would be an anime that young children should watch today, and in checking out the very first episode, I can see why this would be the case.

This is also an anime to check out merely because of the star power working on it. Zuiyo had a great adaptation to work with, but it may not have been such a memorable anime series if it didn’t have Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor the Yamadas), Yoichi Kotabe (animation supervisor of Pokemon), Toyoo Ashida (director of Fist of The North Star), Yoshiyuki Tomino (director of Mobile Suit Gundam), and Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Nausicaa) representing its great staff. Who knew back in 1974 these creators would contribute to some fairly legendary anime after this project?

What makes it even more impressive are the stories of Takahata and Miyazaki after their failures. For Takahata, he wanted to move away from the American Disney formula that had been popping up in animation and move into adapting literature, but the first work he was able to direct, Hols: Prince of the Sun, was a flop. He was then assigned to the directing team, along with Miyazaki, on Lupin the Third. Afterwards, Takahata had a chance to adapt the novel Pippi Longstocking into an anime film, but he was denied this opportunity by the author. Needless to say, he got his chance with Heidi, and the rest is history.

Miyazaki, who had also been working with Takahata while Hols and Pippi did not pan out, showcased his intense detail to just about every frame in many of his films, as he did the entire layout of each episode of Heidi. Why is that so significant? Well, here’s how Daniel Thomas MacInnes described the layout process:
“Layout is pretty simple. It means you create the landscapes and environments for each scene. You're the set designer, of sorts. This is necessary for creating a believable landscape; you need to believe that you're inside the home of Heidi's grandfather, and know where everything is placed. Likewise, you need to believe you really are in Frankfurt, as a three-dimensional place, and not simply a series of drawings.”
Miyazaki was obsessed with getting everything right from every possible angle; especially back then, this is pretty unbelievable. From this anime alone, you can see Miyazaki’s desire for quality right off the bat, and you can see why Studio Ghibli has managed to become a worldwide name. From the contributions of the staff of Heidi, this was definitely a kickoff towards adapting quality children’s literature, and its popularity is understandable. But man, did its quality nearly blow away this next anime that has been praised for being complex...

Space Battleship Yamato

Produced by Academy Productions, Space Battleship Yamato is a 26-episode anime series that told a story set in 2199, where a war between the human race and the alien race (called the Gamilas) has ravished the Earth, making the land uninhabitable. However, the humans are helped by Queen Starsha of the planet Iscandar, who not only gives them a blueprint for a faster-than-light engine, but also tells them of a device her planet has that can cleanse the Earth from its radiation damage. And so, the humans built the space battleship Yamato and soon race to Iscandar against time in order to save their planet.

Yamato is a very interesting story. It first was conceived back in 1973 by Yoshinobu Nishizaki, where it was intended to be an outer space variation of Lord of The Flies called “Asteroid Ship Icarus.” It had an international teenage crew as the cast who journeyed out to space to search for Iscandar, complete with discord and many of the crew acting out of self-interest. However, some guy by the name of Leiji Matsumoto joined the project, changed the entire storyline, and came up with art direction, ship designs, and his unique style. In other words, Space Battleship Yamato would not have existed if Leiji was not invited to the project.

Then again, it almost didn’t matter, as Space Battleship Yamato was a ratings flop. Despite its advancements in drama, action, and its sophistication, it aired on Sunday night at 7:30 in Japan...which was also the time Heidi aired. By then, Heidi had been running since January and already captured the audience the staff of Yamato coveted: elementary school children. With its low ratings and high expenses, Yamato, which was scheduled to run for 39 episodes, ran for 26, and it seemed all the hard work the staff put forth would be wasted. Little did they know that they did have an audience with those who wanted a sci-fi anime.

Thankfully for them, Nishizaki did not want to end Yamato either, so he proposed to turn 26 episodes into a feature-length film. After selling the idea to the Toei Movie Company for a limited run, fan clubs and magazines of this seemingly-unknown series were out in full force, advertising it like never before. This grassroots method ended up getting folks into the seats, amazing all who watched, and well, Yamato hasn’t looked back since. With new iterations of the franchise appearing since its debut, I think it qualifies as an enormous success in anime history. It allowed studios to finally create works that weren’t solely for children, and it has been credited to be one of the influences for shows like Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion.


So was that it?

For the most part, these are the works that defined the anime of 1974. There were two other works that got their start here though that I would like to cover briefly. The first is Hurricane Polymar (shown in the opening paragraph), which you probably have heard of if you played Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, which continued Tatsunoko’s foray into creating anime superheroes. The second is Go Nagai’s Getter Robo (on the right). What made the first Getter Robo groundbreaking was the fact that it allowed separate machines to combine and form a "Super Robot". Needless to say, the combining of machines to form an even greater robot has been seen in countless other anime and super-sentai series since then, and the fact that it generated a number of iterations since its debut in 1974 only speaks to the concept and how much of a hit it was with its audience. With the creators behind these projects, 1974 was a year of up-and-coming talents who would later be a part of the future hits of anime.

Further Reading:
Ghibli Blog:
Sci-Fi Japan:

(Next Time: 1975! Unleash the giant robots!)


  1. Very night article, but I have one complaint. Getter Robo wasn't created by Go Nagai. He helped come up with the concept of the combining machines. It was his peer and friend Ken Ishikawa who actually came up with the main concept for the show and wrote the manga. They both had a very similar style, which is why this mistake is often made.

    1. Huh, I wonder how I missed that. Thanks for pointing that out!