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May 2004
Issue 048

KS Classifieds

Classifieds now combined with Kansai Scene.


Japan’s animators have already helped to shape popular culture worldwide and now with the release of the new movie Appleseed, they are yet again setting new standards in art and entertainment. To mark the occasion KS has arranged a little tour of manga’s hyper-animated universe.

“Pikachu” is part of every North American kid’s lexicon, Daft Punk hires a Japanese cartoonist to make their videos, Spirited Away took away an Oscar last year, and Tarantino is talking of a Kill Bill prequel done anime style.

Japanese animation, or anime, has sunken its claws, tentacles, or what have you, deep into Western pop culture. Its complex characters, intricate storylines and fresh art style continue to snare more and more fans outside of Japan, much to the delight of its producers. As the number of children in Japan decreases, anime companies are looking to the global market to fill their coffers, and making good on their goal. Anime heavyweight Toei, once dubbed “the Disney of the Orient”, currently makes 40% of its sales in America and Europe. But while the last few years have yielded an “anime explosion”, the fuse was actually lit a long time ago.

Animated Invasion

Astro Boy, anime’s most recognized icon, was the first Japanese cartoon to be adapted for Western television. The robot-boy with black cowlick and jet boots, programmed to save the world, fired onto American airwaves in 1963.

His arrival started two major trends. First, it began the practice of Japanese programming being re-packaged and put on U.S. air, a trend still seen today with popular cartoons like Gundam, Hamtaro and Duel Masters.

Second, Astro Boy-artist Osamu Tezuka established one of anime’s defining traits – characters with huge, saucer-like eyes. This optic-elephantiasis is often assumed to be an Asian perception of Occidental facial features. It was, in fact, Tezuka paying homage to his mentors Walt Disney and Max Fleischer by drawing characters with eyes like those of their cartoon animals.

Following in Astro Boy’s success, crime series The Eighth Man was launched in 1965. Much darker than smiling Astro, and predating Robocop by decades, Eighth Man was a slain detective resurrected as a crime-fighting robot. In the original Japanese comic, he smoked energy cigarettes to power up. For American audiences, the more upstanding practice of popping energy pills was used.

As the anime field was showing great promise, three more series went west the following year. Another of Tezuka’s titles, Jungle Tatei, was scooped by NBC Films and shipped overseas. Re-named Kimba, the White Lion, this tale of a domesticated lion named Kimba returning to the savannah was syndicated in America. Concept sound familiar? Anime aficionados thought so and accused Disney of ripping it off for The Lion King, their tale of a lion named Simba who returns to the savannah. Despite the thematic, physical and namesake similarities, Disney maintained their innocence.
Giant-robot story Gigantor, formerly Japan’s Tetsujin28, made its mark that year. Small-time player Global Products also hoped to get in on the anime game with Zoran, Space Boy. Unlike Zoran himself, the series didn’t fly.

The first dual-country cartoon effort between America and Japan came in 1967. Marine Boy (Katai Shonen Marine), an adolescent Aquaman, was released simultaneously in both countries. It was smooth sailing for the series in Japan, but hit rough waters in America. Its cartoon violence was considered too intense for American kids, the National Association for Better Broadcasting calling it “one of the very worst animated shows…[It] expresses a relish for torture and destruction of characters”. Marine Boy’s distributor was compelled to cut three episodes from the original manifest.

The same year, Trans Lux TV in the U.S. picked up Go Mifune, the story of a hip teenager who fought villains in his Bond-esque sports car, renaming it Speed Racer. Not only successful upon its release, Speed Racer was repackaged in the 90s, its theme song done techno, and aired on MTV.

Space Is The Place

The late 60/early 70s was a dry spell for anime overseas, with companies like Hanna-Barbara and Warner Brothers dominating the cartoon market with superhero and western titles. When Star Wars exploded in 1977, however, American youth demanded science fiction shows – a ready commodity in Japan. Game show distributor Sandy Frank, smelling the potential profits, leap-frogged the American animation studios frantically working on sci-fi cartoons, and acquired Gatchaman, a Japanese cartoon series which ran from 1972 to 1974. The plot involved five teenagers who, when not eating junk food or wearing bellbottoms, were an intergalactic superhero team called G-Force. Hanna-Barbara veterans James Brewer and Alan Dinehart III were hired to adapt the series into English, snipping bits out and drawing bits in. Almost one-fifth of the original series hit the editing room’s floor, deemed too graphic for the U.S. market, and a cute narrator droid was pencilled in to patch plot holes. By the spring of 1978, Battle of the Planets was ready for blast off.

The success of Battle, which is most likely still being aired somewhere at this very moment, ushered in a battalion of sci-fi cartoons from the east. Star Blazers, adapted from the 1974 series Uchu Senkan Yamato, hit the airwaves in 1979, followed by Voltron, from Japan’s Voltus 5, in the early 80s. The next year, a giant Japanese robot named Mazinger Z entered America under the title, TranZor Z.

As the Star Wars generation matured and wanted more drama in their space tales, Captain Harlock (pieced together from two different series) and Robotech (pieced together from three!) were introduced. Both series, which appeared on U.S air in 1985, concentrated more on personal struggles and relationships, and less on laser battles and funny robots.

The Next Level

Since the early 90s, one anime series after another has captured the imagination, and Christmas lists, of kids abroad. The adventures of superhero schoolgirl Sailor Moon was an unprecedented anime smash, only to be topped by her successors Pikachu and his Pokemon pals. The creatures of Digimon, the game-inspired stories of Beyblade and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the kung fu-packed Dragonball have ruled the roost as of late. Youth-targeting channels YTV (Canada) and Cartoon Network (America) currently run 14 to 17 different anime series.

Near-future tale Appleseed, hitting movie screens this month, is being hyped as the next stage in anime’s evolution. Anyone who has seen the trailers believes it. The characters have the look of traditional 2D animation but fluidity of human actors, their action supplied by performers in motion-capture suits. The computer-generated backgrounds are being touted as some of the most realistic ever to grace the screen. Set in a utopian society regulated by humanoids, the story follows members or an elite police force attempting to thwart a terrorist group determined to restore man’s rule. With its club music soundtrack, Matrix-like action, and curious human/android love story, Appleseed will surely keep the anime flame burning abroad.

Text: Rori Caffrey


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Astro Boy? Mighty Atom?

In his native Japan, this jet-powered Pinnochio goes by Tetsuan Atomu, which translates into “Mighty Atom”. When NBC Films tried to release Mighty Atom in the U.S., creators of an obscure comic character by the same name raised a fuss. NBC conceded, and Astro Boy was born.

Boom Boom Satellites

Basement Jaxx. Carl Craig. Paul Oakenfeld. Club music’s biggest names are on the soundtrack to Appleseed, the manga-cum-movie that’s set to raise the animation-bar when released this month.
Tokyo’s Boom Boom Satellites contribute four tracks to the soundtrack, and Kansai Scene asked bassist/DJ Masayuki Nakano about the Satellite’s involvement.
Have you seen the movie?
Yeah, I saw it.
How are the graphics?
Great. It’s quite a new level.
As an Appleseed fan, how did it feel to be invited to join the project?
At first, I was really surprised and very excited. I thought I was really lucky to be able to work on it, but I was a little bit nervous because I love the manga so much, I didn’t want to ruin it.
You’re on the soundtrack along with some big names. How do you feel having your tracks alongside theirs?
I’m proud. I used to listen to YMO and soundtracks by Ryuichi Sakamoto when I was younger. I also really like Basement Jaxx and Akufen. I like to listen to pure, Detroit-style techno.
One review I read said that the music sometimes overpowers the visuals. Is that a compliment?
That’s a tough one. I guess it’s a good thing. But it’s kind of chaotic, you know - too much entertainment. But Appleseed is quite different from soundtracks that have been used in animated movies up until now. As a result of this experiment, maybe a new form of doing soundtracks will come from it.

Full Steam Ahead

Appleseed is not the only major anime release this year. This autumn has the long anticipated release of director Otomo Katsuhiro's Steamboy — nine years in the making — which promises to be at least as much of an event as Appleseed.

In 1988 Otomo drew, wrote and directed Akira, his only other full-length animation. Akira revolutionised the genre and the industry. It was to Japanese animation what the invention of steam was to the industrial revolution. And, helpfully, the new movie is about exactly that: steam power.

Set in nineteenth century England, a fiendishly clever device that compresses untold amount s of steam power into a gizmo the size of a football falls into the hands of a precocious young lad called Ray.

Now Ray has to keep the machine out of the hands of evil capitalists who want to exploit the machine’s potential for their own gain.
Otomo hopes that films like this will help kids to broaden their imaginative horizons in these overly rationalised times, which is one of the reasons he picked on inventing-mad England at the time of the Great Exhibition for the setting of this story.