Posts Tagged ‘cartoons’

Anime (or Japanimation) and Me, Part Two

July 7, 2008

 Around 1979 – 1980, in the height of Battle of the Planets mania, I saw a cartoon series about heroes setting off for a long voyage in an outer space battleship. It was Star Blazers — a series that helped define North American anime. But then, before I knew it, it was gone. I’d see it again in a few years, and by then I’d realize that the characters big wide eyes meant the show orginated in Japan. And I’ll talk about Star Blazers aka Space Cruiser Yamato aka Space Battleship Yamato aka Uchu Senkan Yamato) in my next installment.

  But first, the series that really made me aware of Japanese animation was a show called Force Five that aired in the mornings on Toronto’s “Channel 47” (nowadays it’s called Omni 1). Actually, Force Five was a compilation of five different anime series. I know in some markets, each weekday featured a different series. But I’m not certain if that’s how Channel 47 showed it back in the early 1980s. I got the impression that they went through one series before going onto the next one.

 The credit sequences announced that Force Five was from Jim Terry Productions — complete with American Eagle logo — and the writing and direction credits featured very Anglo-Saxon names. But the credits also prominently noted that the animation came from Toei in Japan. That’s still the name that comes to mind when I think of Japanese animation studios. Also, the credits mentioned the Japanese creators of the shows – folks like Leiji (or Reiji, depending on the romanization of his name) Matsumoto and Go Nagai.

 Looking at those credits, I realized that cartoons with that large-eyed characters, ongoing storylines, interesting characters and giant robots likely originated in Japan.

 The Force Five shows  … in the order I remember them .. are:


  Starvengers (aka Getter Robo G) created by Go Nagai was actually a sequel to a series never translated. It features three planes that can combine in different ways to form three different robots – Star Dragon, Star Arrow and Star Poseidon. It was a bit weird to see a first episode of the series where they were discussing unseen defeated enemies and the death of a colleague. (Although not in the video compilation, I think.) The episodes weren’t as strongly linked as some Japanese series, but I do remember a decisive ending.

 The Pandemonium Empire had one very notable enemy: Captain (or Colonel, depending on whether it was the actual series or the video compilation) Fuehrer. Really, I have to share a clip.

 Still that’s slightly more subtle than the Japanese name for the character: Captain Hitler.

 Danguard Ace

Created by Leiji/Reiji Matsumoto, the humans were travelling to the distant planet Promete.  Several episodes passed before the robot was completed and the pilot was ready. Mainly I remember it for the similiarity in names between Windstar in this series and Wildstar in StarBlazers (while the shows were created by the same person, the names were created by different “translators”), the cranky mentor Captain Mask and the horrible theme tune.


 Titled Starzinger in Japan (and Sci-Bots in the UK), this was originally a science fiction retelling of the Monkey King story. Jim Terry Productions felt that the Japanese classic would have little meaning for North Americans, and so the “translated” character names resembled the names of Dumas’s Three Musketeers.

 There are no giant robots in Spaceketeers which makes it unique among the Force Five shows. The plot about the heroes travelling great distances to heal the galaxy is close to the plot of Space Battleship Yamato / Star Blazers, and not surprising, the shows had the same creator.

  At the time, I think this was my favourite Force Five series. It wasn’t as playground cool as Starvengers or Grandizer, but I liked the whole quest storyline and the slow introduction of the lead heroes. As a teenager, one of my few attempts at fan fiction was to rewrite and adapt this series (make it better).

 Oh, and isn’t weird how beserker hero Jesse Dart (close to D’Artagnan’s name, I guess) has the same hairdo as the comic book beserker Wolverine? (Well, if the opening didn’t hide his hair in that space helmet.)


Another Go Nagai creation, UFO Robot Grendizer was a pretty exciting giant robot show. I remember the hero was an alien named Orion Quest who masqueraded as a farm-hand/cowboy named Johnny. I remember in the later episodes, the saucer that connected to Grandizer changed somewhat. And I think the heroes finally defeated the villains.

 Maybe I’m wrong but I think like Voltron, Grandizer had one infalliable weapon to defeat the enemy, but he never used it until the end of the episode.


 This is the Force Five series I remember least well. An uncreated creation of Go Nagai, in this show, the heroes flew around in fortress called the Great Space Dragon which launched a giant robot defender — Gaiking. As I recall, they travelled the globe investigating alien involvement in Easter Island and such places. I guess it was a super-charged X-Files.

  Coming right at the end of my playground days — and really, far past the time that any rational kid had got into sports — Force Five was excellent fare for child’s play. In all the Force Five series, the heroes and villains would shout out the name of the weapon before they used it. Militarily stupid, but it worked as a kids’ game. We called out the name of the giant robot we wanted to play and the names of weapons at each other (“Space thunder!” “Hatchet boomerang!”) As I recall, yelling “Spaceketeers!” granted you access to the weapons of all three heroes in that show. (Only sporting as they weren’t giant robots.)

Speaking of playtime, a few years before Force Five, toys from most of these shows (and other untranslated anime) came to North America under the Shogun Warriors brand. Danguard Ace had a prominent role (with no connection to the continuity of the anime or any of the other robots’ anime) in the tie-in Shogun Warriors comic by Marvel. One friend had a Star Dragon (Dragun) figure. Another friend had a miniature Grandizer. I was jealous.

 Looking back, Force Five has not aged well. Even at the time, I probably thought it was cheesy. Certainly the voices are generally silly. But still, it got me interested in anime.

 Coming up next time: Star Blazers!



Anime (or Japanimation) and Me, Part One

July 5, 2008

  A few weeks ago, a friend was expressing her retro-crush with Battle of the Planets (which being a child of the 70s myself, I completely share and understand). And that got me thinking about my former love for anime or Japanese animation or Japanimation as it was often called in the 1980s.

  When I was into anime and manga (Japanese comic books), it was still largely a cult thing. Certainly a growing cult, but not like today where manga and anime just dominate shelves of mainstream book and video stores. I seem to have drifted away from the genre, just as it achieved mainstream acceptance. Weird.

 Anyway, my personal history with Japanese animation.

  I was born a little too late to really get into the earliest Japanese cartoons to hit North America: Gigantor (aka Tetsuijin #28 or Iron Man #28), Astro Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atomo or Mighty Atom) and Speed Racer (aka Mach Go-Go-Go.). I think Astro Boy was the only one I had any real experience with, and even that I think was just the later 1980s incarnation.

 No, the first real Japanese (not that I knew it at the time, of course) cartoon to make a real impression on me was something called Battle of the Planets. I — and a lot of my classmates — would race home from school to catch this on Global Television, channel 3.

 We used to play “G-Force” as the team was called in the playground. I was usually stuck playing the overweight pilot Tiny or worse, the annoying robot Keyop. But boy, I could sympathize with Tiny’s common complaint “Aww, I’ll get to do is pilot the Phoenix.” The playground Phoenix was a swing-set, of course. And in childlike imagination, the ultra-cool Fiery Phoenix mode could be achieved by just swinging really hard and fast.

  What I wouldn’t know for several years is that Battle of the Planets was translated from the Japanese series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Nor would I realize just how heavily edited it was.

 As kids, we all spotted the animation in the 7-Zark-7, a robot with R2-D2’s body and Threepio’s personality, scenes didn’t match the rest of the animation. What we didn’t know is that Zark was just added by the Americans to make up time for all the violence cut from the American versions and also to reassure us that all cities were dutifully evacuated, that all exploding ships were robot planes and that despite all visual evidence to the contrary Mark’s father hadn’t really died in an exploding plane and father and son were now reunited — off-screen, of course.

  Seeing many episodes again in my early 20s, it became absurdly easy to spot what was cut. G-Force would enter a room where the bad guys were lying in wait,  a hero called out the villainous organization’s name “Spectra!”. Then suddenly the screen cut to an image of a Spectra mask falling to the floor. The mask had a bullet hole in it. Then back to a hero saying “Boy, they sure ran away fast when we showed up.”

  Sure, the bad guys ran away so fast they just dropped their mask with a bullet hole in it. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  Looking at it now, it seems like virtually all the violence was hacked out. I can’t imagine what our parents were so bothered about. It also takes a bit of imagination to see why the 9-12 year old me liked it so much. That damn robot never seems to shut up and let interesting things happen.

  Still, heavily edited as it was, it was far, far more exciting than the early seasons of Super Friends. Speaking of which, the composer of the American Battle of the Planets theme, Hoyt Curtain, is the same guy who composed the Super Friends theme. And boy are they similar.

 Also, the animation of Battle of the Planets / G-Force (the team name in BotP and the title of a less-censored but less-loved 1980s translation) / Gatchaman was a cut above most cartoons. Also, the characters had a little more personality than Aquaman or the Saturday morning version of Batman. And occasionally, Battle of the Planets had traces of ongoing storylines – although somewhat weakly resolved / swept under the carpet in the kid-friendly version.

  The excitement, the superior animation, the characterization and the ongoing storylines are things I’d find in other cartoons. Cartoons that I was old enough to realize originated in Japan.

  To be continued…. with Star Blazers, Force Five and Robotech….

  Fun Battle of the Planets Trivia:

  The voice of Mark in Battle of the Planets is Casem Kasem. He also played Robin the Boy Wonder on Super Friends and most famously Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. I think Mark would have been a more fun guy if he had a few Scooby Snacks and said “Zoinks!” on occasion. Mark wasn’t anyone’s first choice on the playground. Even wanted to be Jason. For much the same reason that Luke Skywalker was no one’s first playground choice. (The same tomboy always seemed to force her way into playing Han Solo or Jason.)

  My friend’s band name is Science Ninja Big Ten. A double Battle of the Planets reference. The Science Ninja comes from the show’s original Japanese title and “Big Ten” is was G-Force slang for “Roger” or “Ten Four”. When I remarked on the band’s name, Chris replied “You’re the only other person in the bar who’d get the reference.” Sad but true. That’s probably why I don’t hang around bars much.