Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1982: The Survey Says...!



Relatively new to anime blogging, Kraker hails from the UK and posts sporadically at his blog The Vanishing Trooper Incident on topics such as animators, the studios behind anime, and giant robot shows. Kraker's first major introduction to anime was Ghibli's Spirited Away and he's been hooked ever since. You can find him on Twitter at @Kraker2k posting thoughts on TV shows, anime and video games. (And thank you for the quick fill-in! - Ed.)



Well, before I begin I should say as a writer who was born a few years after their chosen year I was in a pickle. There had to be away in which this era of anime could be tackled. It dawned on me that 1982 could be approached from two distinct angles. The first point of entry was to see which anime shows in 1982 were popular with the general viewing audience; after all what better way is there to gauge the waters of 1982 than seeing what the masses were watching? I managed to find a glut of data on 2channel about the viewing figures of many TV shows across the '80s. The second approach was to look at what kinds of shows were favoured by "fans", the sorts of people who went to conventions, made cosplay, and whom one could identify as the more traditional anime fan. For this, the end-of-year rankings from Animage Magazine compiled from its reader's votes came into play.

(Note: I am filling in the 1982 slot after the original author wasn't able to make it, so I've ended up putting this piece together at short notice as best I can.)

In 1982 there were several shows that hit it off with the mainstream crowd, viewers who were not necessarily anime watchers, but people who tuned into these shows anyway. These were often children and family-orientated shows, but there are some exceptions which will be mentioned later on. The big-timers from years prior such as Doraemon and Sazae-san continued to enjoy popularity during 1982. However, there were some newcomers that gave these shows a run for their money.

One such show was Asari-chan, a story about a girl in the fourth grade who was quite loud, naughty and was always getting into trouble with her parents. The show only aired for a year and ended with a movie in 1983, but it won over viewers and managed to get high ratings throughout its run. 1982 also saw the rise of other shows such as Gyakuten Ippatsuman (Go for it! Ippatsuman), the sixth entry in the ever popular Time Bokan series by Tatsunoko Pro, and Sasuga no Sarutobi (Amazing Sarutobi) a comedy anime about the misadventures of a small and chubby ninja called Nikumaru. While Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump began airing in 1981, it continued having high ratings as it aired throughout 1982, and families would go on enjoying it for many years to come.

As mentioned earlier, there are some exceptions. Based on openings, Urusei Yatsura isn't a 1982 show, but again it was one that saw massive popularity in 1982. During this year it managed to gather very high ratings, rivaling those of Doraemon and Sazae-san. While it's difficult to say that Urusei Yatsura is not a family show, there are a few aspects to it that one wouldn't come across in many of the shows mentioned above. Urusei Yatsura's lead character Ataru is a lech, a bit of a fool and very lazy. He's not one to shy away from any opportunities that will satisfy his libido, and alien-princess Lum flying around in a leopard skin bikini makes Ataru's life much more difficult. What was also interesting about Urusei Yatsura was that it was a hit with anime fans as well. While several of the shows mentioned above did get high ratings, anime fans generally didn't tune into them or didn't think too highly of them. However, with Urusei Yatsura, that was different. Anime fans enjoyed the misadventures of Ataru and Lum, the latter steadily becoming quite a pin up girl anime fans; she was voted second-best female character of 1982 by Animage readers.

Anime was ever expanding in the '80s, and 1982 was no different. Anime creators were beginning to aim at wider audiences. While the genesis of this transition can probably be found around Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979, the show itself didn't garner a bigger following until a few years later. By 1982 the final film in the Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy was being shown across theatres in Japan. Gundam was drawing in hundreds of thousands of fans towards the animated medium and was showing them that anime wasn't just for little children anymore. While this was happening the Mobile Suit Gundam TV anime was being re-aired multiple times all over Japan. Each time it re-aired it gathered higher and higher viewing numbers, numbers which actually peaked in 1982, further cementing Gundam as a behemoth of the period.




Yoshiyuki Tomino, the director of Gundam, had gone on to create Space Runaway Ideon in 1980 which shocked viewers with its depressing storyline. He also managed to bring Ideon to the big screens with two films which made their debut in the latter half of 1982. By now Tomino was starting to become a regular on the big screen. His next TV anime project in 1982 was Combat Mecha Xabungle, a show which was a big departure from the types of shows Tomino had working on for the past few years. It instead allowed Tomino to return to slightly more comical and light-hearted storytelling while poking fun at the more serious kind of robot shows he had been producing just recently. For this the show was a hit with fans and managed to rank third among Animage readers for Best Anime of 1982.



Another giant robot show that was gathering a fanbase was Six God Combination God Mars, a show loosely based on a manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the creator of shows such as Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo, and Sally the Witch. Fans were drawn to the struggle of Takeru Myojin, a boy sent from an alien planet to destroy Earth, only to fallin love with the planet instead, vowing to defend it from the invading forces. What fans found particularly engaging was Takeru's struggle against his brother Marg who was still on the enemy side. Takeru was a character fighting not only physically, but emotionally too. All of this ensured Animage readers to vote Takeru as the Best Character of 1982 with his brother coming in a close second. The show's ratings also reflect this; as the storyline with Takeru's brother wrapped up, the show's viewing figures fell by almost two-thirds as the new arc began. The show doesn't really recover from this in terms of viewing figures, but fans continued to show their love for it, and it was remembered as one of the top shows of 1982 by Animage readers.

Keeping with the sci-fi theme, 1982 also gave us Space Adventure Cobra. Cobra was yet another show based off a manga, but what's notable is that it was born almost backwards, going against the trends of the '70s and '80s. Cobra began as a movie first before being transformed into a 31-episode TV show, both productions directed by Osamu Dezaki. One thing to note about the television adaptation was that the quality of the art and animation in the Cobra TV series was stellar. Cobra showed us what kind of animation could be produced with proper planning and talent behind a show. The Cobra character himself was a cocky, brash womanizer with a dash of the lovable goof archetype thrown in as well, perhaps a rebranding of Han Solo. After all, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back had only just hit the screen two years prior, and I can imagine wanting to create "Han Solo: The Anime" would have been an exciting thought. Instead Japan got Cobra, who was just as memorable and went on to become one of the icons of the '80s.

Japan was also treated to Magical Princess Minky Momo, which ran for 63 episodes, in 1982. Minky Momo is a story about a girl sent from a fantasy land called 'Fenarinarsa' to Earth where she is tasked to bring hopes and dreams back to the people of Earth, and if she doesn't, Fenarinarsa will disappear. Momo is aided by three animals who become here sidekicks, something of a first for a Magical Girl show. Her main ability was using a magic wand that allowed her to transform into an adult version of herself, usually dressed up in a role that would help her solve an issue specific to an episode. Her cute appearance, both in her younger and adult form, helped seal her popularity with both younger girls and older male audiences alike.

While several Magical Girl shows had aired prior, Minky Momo managed to buck a few trends. The story, written by Takeshi Shudo (who eventually wrote for Martian Successor Nadesico and Pokemon), eventually won him an award for his work. Shudo delivered stories that were not constrained by being a children's show and dealt with several tough topics. A major thread of the story was Momo's desire to achieve her goals and save Fenarinarsa, but partway through the storyline she began failing to save people, and eventually she lost her powers altogether. (SPOILER ALERT!) The show then hit viewers with a bombshell when Momo was killed off at the end of its first season in a car crash. This kind of disregard for the main character and her goals, almost running against the message most Magical Girl shows were offering, was something that made Minky Momo a hit with fans.


However, there was another giant robot show from 1982, one likely to be much more familiar for readers: Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Macross began airing late in 1982 and combined the disparate elements of giant robots, space opera, pop stars, and a love triangle, all of which would become the core elements of other Macross shows in years to come. The show was the work of Studio Nue and would never have made it to TV screens without a last-minute sponsorship deal from Big West, an advertising company at the time. This last-minute deal meant the show was running on a hectic schedule, and lot of the animation work had to be outsourced to cheap studios, resulting in some shoddy animation and art in several episodes. Evidently this wasn't an issue as when it aired it had viewing figures that were not only surpassing behemoths such as Doraemon and Sazae-san, but actually rivalled regular TV variety shows that were all the rage in Japan. Macross was also a hit with Animage readers who voted it the best show of 1982, tying with God Mars. Furthermore, readers were drawn to lead character and memorable space-vocalist Lynn Minmay's charm, voting her as the Best Female Character of 1982, while Macross's opening music was also voted the best of 1982.

*****

Overall, 1982 may not have been a stellar year, if anything merely a continuation of trends from 1981, but it persisted in showing that the medium was something to be reckoned with. Two decades old in its medium, anime was starting to form its second generation by appealing to its weathered fans (Xabungle, God Mars) and families (Doraemon, Sazae-san) during these prosperous times. Who knew that the strongest shows with the most crossover appeal between the two groups (Macross, Urusei Yatsura) would start stretching overseas!

Next time: Happy 20th Birthday, Anime-kun!

2 comments:

  1. I will disagree a bit with the article's author by saying that 1982 was an important year because the anime that appeared this year set the basis for more great stuff in the future. The popularity of the Gundam movies allowed to begin establishing the place of the franchise and Sunrise in the world of anime. Macross would eventually lead to Do You Remember Love. And the popularity of Urutsei Yatsura most likely led to more anime adaptations of Rumiko Takahashi's mangas.

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