Wednesday, January 2, 2013

1963 (Part 2): On the Outside, Looking In

(The article for 1963, the first year featured here at Golden-Ani, has been provided for us by Charles Dunbar, maintainer of the Study of Anime blog. He can also be found on Twitter at @Studyofanime. Part 1 of Charles's analysis covering 1963's two biggest shows, Tetsuwan Atomu and Tetsujin 28, can be read here.)

Now while Atom and Tetsujin might have made the biggest splash in that first year of television anime, there was a third cybernetically-enhanced fellow who flew “under the radar,” so to speak. His name was "Eitoman" ("8 Man"), and while he is often forgotten in the modern era, he made a splash of his own that would be felt long after he vanished from the airwaves.

Created by Kazumasa Hirai and illustrated by Jirô Kuwata (who would eventually garner more fame as the Japanese adaptor of Batman later in the decade), Eitoman occupies the position of first cyborg hero in Japan. While Tezuka and Yokoyama were debating a future in which robots coexisted with humans, Hirai decided to take the more (arguably) “humanist” approach of creating a hero out of a murdered policeman. Saved from death by Professor Tani, felled cop Hachiro Azuma’s brain is transplanted into the 008 robot body, where he continues to fight crime and defend the weak against evil.

There is precious little information available on Eitoman’s narrative today, much of it focused on his origins and legacy, but the show’s impact has been felt—it influenced the seminal science fiction adventure Cyborg 009 in the late '60s, and it has often been called the precursor to the American Robocop franchise of the 1980s and '90s. Taking a different side in the “humans vs. robots” story, Eitoman makes the debate around the duty of its human protagonist, “trapped” forever in a robot body, but still able to execute his duties faithfully. He still serves mankind, but as a former human himself, is capable of understanding this duty, and has the (ostensible) free will to choose his actions.

Eitoman is also the first melding of man and machine. While Tetsujin keeps the interface between boy and robot confined to a remote control, and Atom is a machine with humanlike emotions, Eitoman belongs to both worlds simultaneously. While we might take this kind of narrative at face value, at the time it would have been considered a radical idea—Atom spoke much about relations between man and machine and asked about the possibility of coexistence and equality between both. With Eitoman, now both existed within a single person. His fierce devotion to duty might have been more of a mitigator for his “cosmopolitan” nature, but it still suggested that humans and robots might have more in common beyond physical appearance. Needless to say, that idea is still provoking to this day.

At the same time that Mighty Atom and Tetsujin were “making the rounds,” Toei Dôga decided to throw its own hat into the pool. Toei had been making early advances in the field of animation movies at this point, the most notable being Hakujaden, and unlike Tezuka’s Mushi Productions, had access to all the tools that a studio required to be successful. Teams of artists, illustrators and writers who had experience collaborating together, a dedicated support staff, and two “unlikely fellows” by the names of Miyazaki and Takahata. Maybe you’ve heard of them.

It should be noted that initially, Toei balked at the idea of creating its own television animation. Unlike the enthusiasm presented by Tezuka in tackling a new frontier of media exposure, Toei Dôga was still deeply entrenched in the idea of creating a “Japanese alternative” to Disney: lush films, deep narratives, and theatrical “glory.” It wasn’t until after Mighty Atom began setting records and captivating audiences that Toei decided to jump in, because by that point the audience had spoken and spoken loud (Helen McCarthy 2011).

Ôkami Shônen Ken ("Ken the Wolf Boy") was the brainchild of Sadao Tsukioka, a name often forgotten amid his contemporaries.
“Tsukioka is probably the first truly great animator of the early limited era, and he exemplifies what's best about Toei's take on limited. Where with Mushi Pro we were really talking limited - stills for most of the time - Tsukioka focuses on coming up with interesting movement rather than pretty drawings, as you'd expect from an animator raised at a studio that had focused on full animated features up until that point.” (AniPages 2005)
This level of simplicity, and the eventual “lighthearted” atmosphere that sprang up around Ken’s development outside of feature films, would add a sense of whimsy to the series that would ultimately lead to its success- it wasn’t as serious as a feature film, and the general air of playfulness that the animators approached the material with lent it a sense of both authenticity and “organic-ness” that translates well on screen. One look at it’s landmark opening sequence demonstrates this almost unconventional ethic, especially when compared to both Atom and Tetsujin.

Ôkami Shônen Ken also stands apart from its peers due to its origins: unlike Tetsujin 28, Mighty Atom and Eitoman, Ken wasn’t based on a manga. It was an individual creation specifically for television. Apart from the obvious lack of synergy, this allowed for a great deal of freedom when creating the animated work, since story and art were all essentially first-run. It also required a lot of improvising on the parts of the directors and animators: since the technology surrounding limited animation wasn’t yet a science, it forced some of the crew working on it to “fake” their way through the process. When watching it from the comfy seat of 2013, it’s hard to understand these challenges, since the finished project is so clean, but unlike Mighty Atom, which had a strong history, passionate creator and intimate atmosphere, Ken’s final execution is nothing short of splendid. Animators took time out of their own projects to devote to animating another person’s “child,” approached the material with gusto, and crafted a playful classic of animation easily on par with its peers.

There are a lot of ways in which one could approach 1963 anime: as a critique of Japan’s past, as an optimistic query about its future, or as a commentary on society in both the East and West. However, I want to take a moment to ask you to think about the fundamental similarity between all four major series from 1963—not their technical similarities, but their narratives.

All four series contain non-human protagonists. Atom, while appearing and acting like a young boy, is a robot; Eitoman is a cyborg that was once human; Tetusjin is a “golem” (for lack of a better term); and Ken is trapped between the worlds of men and animals. All four of them are situated outside the realm of humanity, but are forced to exist within this same world on a regular basis. Their adventures both highlight and critique their position of being “between worlds” and call to attention the very human theme of psycho-centrism, where specific races and nationalities are instead represented by the idea of human vs. non-human.

On the surface, Atom and Tetusjin have the “hardest time” with this philosophical conundrum. Unlike Eitoman and Ken, neither are, nor ever were, human. Atom was at best a simulacrum, intended as a surrogate for the Professor Tenma’s lost son. While he is the most humanoid of all robots, in the end is he still “just a robot,” and as such is subjected to the same prejudices as others. (This becomes painfully obvious in the first episode, as he is cast out of his life because he refuses to makes me wonder if the great Doctor Tenma actually understood what it meant to create a robot in the first place.) He can be bought and sold, must serve out orders without question, and can be blamed for wrongdoing. He wants to make his family proud and wants to live like a real little boy, but will never be that way. He has people who love him and care enough to repair him when he is broken, but he will always be a “boy robot.”

The "Blue Knight" from Tetsuwan Atomu.
One could argue, based on that situation, that Atom is himself an eternally liminal person—too much robot to be a boy, too much boy to be a robot. He can see the life he wants (and on occasion attains), but in the end will always be excluded, his role being a guardian, defender and servant to the humans around him. Given Atom’s incredible intellect, emotions and capacity to learn, this must be sobering, knowing he will always be “outside,” but never shirking his obligations to those “inside.” His one highlighted anti-human storyline, Blue Knight, ends with his own “death,” as he chooses the humans over his own people, and serves as a reminder of how truly limited Atom’s freedom is. He can be rebuilt, a clear sign of the love of those around him, but at the same time can also be disposable, a mere collection of parts that will eventually wear out and rust when nobody is left who “cares.” He can best appreciate the trivialities of life we take for granted, but will never know the deepest pleasures we gain from them.

(A worthy Western comparison would be the character “Data” of Star Trek: The Next Generation
fame, a clear “descendent” of Atom who actually asks this question at several points in the franchise. He will outlast everyone around him, but will one day simply “cease:” who will be there to mourn him, if anyone?)

Tetsujin has it even worse. If Atom has at least limited ability to “rebel” and think for himself, the giant mechanical golem is always at the mercy of whoever possesses his “leash.” The intentions surrounding his creation and use are limited to who holds the remote, and when evil manages to get its hands on that remote, it can wield those same powers against good. Tetsujin himself is a silent innocent—he has no will of his own to impose. He in blameless in his deeds, yet still may be blamed for what he "does.” Maybe this can be tied in with his “ancestry,” designed to fight wars, but this is not Tetsujin’s purpose and should not be counted against him.

This notion of innocence and exploitation is perhaps best echoed by Hayao Miyazaki:
“Humans make machines as extensions of their own hands, but at the same time we make something that will give us unlimited devotion. It’s too simplistic to consider them living beings, but I feel that we are making things that could be prototypes for living beings.” (Miyazaki 2009)
The logical inference (and continuation) of this idea is simple; we create machines to do tasks and jobs we either cannot or will not do. In that sense, we must respect them for what they are. If the machine feels, or has the capacity to show loyalty and devotion, then it goes without saying that we must in turn respect that capacity. Boy detective Shôtarô Kaneda certainly does, and through him we can gain further empathy for his silent giant, but in the end, Tetsujin is “just another robot,” and as such embodies more a tool than an actual being. That is both poignant and telling.

Empathy is hardly a concern for Eitoman; the former human is the embodiment of justice, and his tragic creation reminds us that technology need not always be cold nor devoid of “true humanity.” In many ways, Eitoman even embodies those latent “desires” for super powers that so many children have—the ability to be strong in the face of adversity and the chance to exact even a bit of control (or even vengeance) against the “seedier” elements of society. However, at the same time, is it worth giving up one’s life for these things? Eitoman had no choice in the matter, but is he grateful of his new life, or does he feel like someone else’s tool from time to time? Does he really have freedom, or is he being exploited? He knows what being human means, as do we who read his tale, and that might add a hint of tragedy (or resentment) to the entire narrative.

When compared to the interaction between technology and humanity, Ken’s story might be the most “trivial.” Like Mowgli or Earl Greystroke, Ken’s life could be seen as a critique of humanity, removing man from his trappings of sophistication and returning him to a “primal past,” where he develops connections with nature and sees the world through the eyes of his adopted family. (And certainly, this type of synchronization with nature would eventually lead to Princess Mononoke, which would proceed to drag it through blood and bodies some 34 years later.)

While this type of fantastic situation may appear “dated,” it still holds the same types of impact that it did when The Jungle Book was first released—we often tend to forget that we humans are still animals in some sense, and much of what we view as “human ascension” is really a byproduct of millennia of cultural progress at the expense of nature. Is it really a surprise, then, when someone bereft of that same acculturation might embrace a more “primitive” way of living, and defend it with the same gusto we defend our own way of life? The thing to remember here is that Ken’s situation is the most plausible of them all, and while it might highlight an extreme “case study,” it also allows the viewer to approach the situation from what might be the most “grounded” point-of-view; put yourself in nature’s shoes, and see what happens.


There we were, at the time, barely two decades removed from one of the most catastrophic uses of technology in human history, and Japan had managed to address both the fear and future of technology within its society. Far from the fatalism that has surrounded its use of nuclear reactors and the awakening of ancient evils to destroy the capital, these initial forays into the realms of human/machine cohabitation managed to ask meaningful questions about the coming days without resorting to fearful rhetoric or idealistic speech. While Tezuka was a self-admitted critic of over-reliance on machines, he still asked the question of what could reasonably be expected of them (Schodt 2007). Tetsujin 28 still explored the consequences of exploiting machines designed to serve man. Ken insisted that we not forget our connections to nature and animals, and Eitoman wondered if human ideas can transcend technological boundaries.

The mediums through which these ideas were spread might be called simple. They might be aimed at children. They might be guised in whimsy and humor, but at the same time, those children grow up, and they remember what they have read and seen. Ideas, planted in shots of those first anime shows, take hold and grow, motivating youth to ask the questions again and again as they grow older, and they may now approach the question of humanity from a different vantage point. Will the scientist who loved Atom as a boy ever see the hints of beauty and life in the circuits he designs? Will the mechanic strive to build his own robot “son?”

I don’t see any reason why not.

Further Reading:
McCarthy, Helen: “The Anime Encyclopedia.” Stone Bridge Press, 2001
Miyazaki, Hayao: “Starting Point.” Viz, 2009
Schodt, Frederik: “The Astro Boy Essays.” Stone Bridge Press, 2007
Steinberg, Marc: “Anime’s Media Mix.” University of Minnesota Press, 2012

(Next time: The Anime of 1964.)


  1. I probably wouldn't have shared the US opening to "8th Man" for this post, but it's a good example to sum up how many of these shows had been adapted without care or awareness of what they are in this country. The sequence alone was actually animated out of a NY studio in the mid 60's (I've heard it was made at Hal Seeger Productions, probably best known for Milton The Monster and Batfink). Of course this wouldn't be the last time such a thing would happen, but that's another story!

  2. Eitoman was the biggest surprise I came across during the research for this essay. I knew "Astro Boy" and "Gigantor" had made the crossing, but Tobor caught me completely by surprise. I found that OP while actually trying to locate the Eitoman OP, and I thought it actually showed the best example of what crossing the Pacific meant (since Astro Boy and Tetsujin were "less processed").

    1. I suppose. It is kinda amusing how they get one detail wrong with having the character fly when he really doesn't. They did leave in the part though where the guy has to get his energy from cigarettes though, I'll give them credit for that.

  3. Ever the "perfectionist," I wrote an addendum to this essay:

  4. Great articles, even the supplemental one. I had known about these shows and watched bits of them before. Now I feel the need to revisit them.