"1989! The number...another summer..." - Public Enemy
Retrospective pieces are a real challenge.
There's a lot of pressure about what to include, what to exclude, what to emphasize, and what to just blithely mention in a parenthetical. There's also a big threat of retroactive awareness coloring things in an odd light, especially after 20 plus years of time passing between back then(tm) and now(tm). It's a whole new game these days: our viewing habits, purchasing options, and information exchange processes have undergone a drastic evolution and are now light years ahead of the "good luck!" approach that characterized old-school fandom.
("Up-to-date streaming anime? Forgetta-bout-it. Back in those days we had import laser-disks, Xeroxed scripts, and comics printed on third-rate papyrus. 80 miles to school barefoot in the snow with nothing to eat but old stacks of Shonen Jump!")
But the long and short of it is simple; 1989 was a great year for televised anime. It was an adventurous and ambitious year that held something of interest for everybody regardless of taste. It was also a heady time where Gods of Manga, Super Saiyans, mechanized war machines, conflicted judoka, and gigantic belligerent pandas all vied for our eyeballs, our pocket money, and our hearts.
And we as fans were better for it.
Tezuka Leaves Us
Seeing as how the Golden Ani-versary is a celebration of 50 years of televised anime, I would be greatly remiss if I didn't mention the passing of anime and manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka in the February of 1989. The famously productive Tezuka left us with a massive body of work, which included 1989 productions like his final show Aoi Blink, which was a science fiction re-telling of the classic animated Russian film (Konjok-gorbunok) that was itself based on a play. Aoi Blink debuted in April and ran until March 1990. Reportedly completed according to plans prepared by Tezuka previous to this death, it was the tale of Kakeru, a boy searching for his kidnapped father with the help of a magical blue pony named Blink. (And yes, I'm very excited that I got to work the phrase "magical blue pony" into this piece.)
Fans of classic Tezuka productions may want to investigate the series Jungle Taitei, (aka The New Adventures of Kimba The White Lion) which was, of course, a re-working of Tezuka's Kimba The White Lion. The show lasted 52 episodes and ran from October 1989 until October 1990. Of course, four or so years later we would get all the Lion King Kimba / Simba drama that you could handle, but such conflagrations weren't even remotely plausible to most of the fans who were watching Kimba roar his way around the jungle back in those days.
One of the cool things about the Internet is that it allows you to dig up neat information on slightly more obscure TV specials and the like that might have otherwise passed under the radar. The part Tezuka biography / part monkey king space adventure(!) I Am Son Goku (no, not THAT one...we'll get to him soon...) is one such example. It features direction from not only the sometimes-awesome Rintaro, but also from Masami Hata, who was fresh from directing the Japanese-American co-production of Little Nemo. The special is online with subtitles at Viki.com. Technology, eh? Such modern-day convenience could be seen as a great posthumous tribute to Tezuka, who labored tirelessly for years to get his work out there for everybody to enjoy.
Of course, that's not the only Son Goku that made waves that year...
Manga Maestros, Big Haired Battles, and Kung Fu Treachery
Martial arts anime, be they realistic or fantastic, were certainly "a thing" in 1989. Legacy-wise, they were probably the thing from that time period, and leading the way were three titles from some of manga's biggest names.
I'm pretty sure that a lot of speculative bubble housing was purchased with the proceeds from shows such as Dragonball, an endearing and in my own opinion oddly-underrated epic re-visioning of the Monkey King tale based on the Akira Toriyama manga which ended in 1989 after 153 episodes. I'm also pretty sure those same houses got nicer decks thanks to the behemoth that was Dragonball Z, an even wilder and sometimes hilariously bloviated series, which premiered two weeks after the original DB saga ended and ran for a whopping 291 episodes. (Due to its non-ceasing ubiquity, I sometimes wonder if the show should carry the alternate title "Permit to Print Money".) Hey, even Harmony Gold took a stab at licensing and airing a DBZ dub back in 1989 on the American side of the fence.
Toriyama was joined in the 1989 big name manga-ka anime race by Rumiko Takahashi. After achieving monster successes with Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, Takahashi's genre-busting series Ranma 1/2 hit the airwaves in its animated form during April via Fuji TV. Oddly enough, the first incarnation of the series only ran for 18 episodes before being cancelled in September. A "re-tooled" (read: new directors) edition entitled Ranma 1/2 Nettōhen began airing in October, which makes the conspiracy theorist in me think that they knew they had problems early on, in light of the quick turn-around time.
(Yes, I know.)
There was also another "dragon" show that year with an Akira Toriyama connection. Far less fistfight-oriented than DBZ, Dragon Quest: Legend of the Hero Abel was based on the popular fantasy RPG that featured designs from Toriyama. The first 32 episodes of the series ran from December 1989 until September 1990 and were directed by Rintaro (a busy man!); another 11 episodes directed by Katsuhisa Yamada later aired in 1991.
Not Your Father's Mecha Beat-Down
For the longest time, mentions of Japanese animation were often met with an eye-roll and a dismissive reply about the preponderance of shows that focused upon giant robots. Being a fan of giant robots (which, technically, are not robots because if they're being piloted...oh God, I'll stop here...), I was slightly incredulous, but I knew what people meant; even for super-fans, mecha was getting a bit tired by 1989 after running through the collective consciousness of anime fans for 10, if not 15 years.
Originating first as a manga and an OVA series, Patlabor premiered in October of 1989, ran for 47 episodes, and was recently relicensed for US release by MaidenJapan. A new live-action production of some kind is now in the works as well. I don't think I'm the only blogger here who would recommend it wholeheartedly. It's pretty damned fine for 1989.