It's rare that I have the time and energy to post a blog on Thursday, but I happen to be off and inspired at the same time. Today's blog is Part 1 of a two part series, which I will complete tomorrow in my WTFRiday?! blog. Something incredibly strange from my childhood popped up the other night while I was wasting time online as I am wont to do.
In order to set that up, though, today I'm offering a crash course in the history of Anime in America. I'm no expert or anything, but looking back, Anime is the most bat shit crazy animation ever. There was always something just freaking insane about it. As a kid, I didn't quite get it... it was cool, but... strange.
Prior to anime's introduction in the US, Japan's biggest pop cultural export to these shores was Gojirah, better known here as Godzilla. Godzilla was good times. I'm a fan. The original film is great, even though in the US it kinda got hacked up with scenes of American actor, Raymund Burr spliced in to narrate it for stupid American audiences. The subsequent films are reaaaallly bad, but as a kid, I dug the shit out of them. More on the Big G later.
The first anime to be broadcast in the US was Astroboy. Astroboy is like the Japanese Mickey Mouse, been around for decades and known and beloved by people of all ages. His story is kinda sad, though. A scientist's son dies, so he builds a robot duplicate of him. Little bit creepy. Astroboy has a big following in the US among geeks, but in all honesty, I've never seen an Astroboy cartoon. And nobody saw the live action movie that came out last year or earlier this year or whenever it came and went in theaters. Oh speaking of that...
Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he's a demon on wheels... Adapted from the Japanese series Mach Go Go Go, this series followed the adventures of a kid whose name appears to actually be "Speed" who drives a race car in the wackiest races ever imagined! In the original, his name is Mach Racer. As a kid, I was always like, "Why does he have an M on his helmet when his name starts with an S?" It just added to the inherent oddity of anime. Like Astroboy, Speed Racer got the big screen treatment last year in a completely genius film that everyone but me and my friends hated. Everyone is stupid except us. It's a burden, but what are ya gonna do.
The 70s saw the anime floodgates open, as tons of these types of series were imported from Japan, hacked to pieces, spliced back together in the most nonsensical fashion, poorly dubbed and thrown out to the youth of our nation. There were two notable stand outs.
First off, the Japanese have this obsession with giants. Godzilla and his cohorts, Mothra, Rodan, etc. And giant robots. Never normal sized robots, always giants. There were probably THOUSANDS of giant robot anime series... they even had live action series with giants, like Ultra Man.These were multimedia stars, like in the US. They had their own cartoons, comics (called manga, over there) and toys... loads and loads of super freain' amazing toys! Mattel decided to import a series of robots toys based on some of these properties and released them in the US under the banner name "Shogun Warriors."
These toys came in various sizes, but the most popular and widely remembered were the honkin' enormous 24" plastic robots, who could fire missiles and even had missile-firing fists!
In addition to the robots, Mattel also included Godzilla and Rodan in the series. Godzilla had rocket firing fists, even though... uh, it didn't make a whole lot of sense.
I very specifically recall my friend Dave's older brother having Rodan. His wings really flapped!
Marvel published comics based on both The Shogun Warriors and Godzilla. Hanna Barbera even produced a Godzilla cartoon for Saturday mornings, which is fondly remembered by kids who grew up in that era, who clearly haven't seen it since then, because if they had, they're realized how fucking terrible it was. No seriously, and I like a lot of shit! The various series starring the Shogun Warriors were also aired in syndication. I should point out that each robot had his own show. They only ever appeared together in the Marvel Comic Book.
I had the Mazinga (the original Japanese character was named Mazinger... guess that was racist. "What up my, Mazinga?!"). More... much more about Mazinga tomorrow. Oh trust me. It'll be a treat!
The other big anime property from this time was Battle of the Planets aka G-Force. This show arrived on the heels of Star Wars mania, and was rushed into US markets as a tie-in. (It was touted at televison syndication conventions as being the "only space cartoon" coming to air waves that fall.) In reality, this show wasn't about space at all! The original series took place entirely on Earth, but for the US version, they spliced it so that every time they went off on an adventure, they'd cut in a piece of animation that made it look like they were flying through outer space to an alien world for that episode's big battle. Strangely, these alien world's were all inhabited by aliens that looked eaxactly like humans and their architecture was identical to that on our world, right down to the famous landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower. Coincidence, I suppose.
This show aired on TBS, one of the first cable channels and of course we didn't have cable, so I only ever saw it when we were at someone's house who wasn't such a cheap ass. That led to the allure, I think. It was this weird, exciting and exotic show... the fact that I hardly ever got to see it, made it that much more thrilling!I mainly remember thinking how freakin' tacky their clothes were in their secret identities. I also think this was my first exposure to teen age heroes that weren't sidekicks... a whole team of 'em! The original Japanese version was really violent, so a lot of it had to be edited out for pussified American kids. That, plus the producers desire to cash in on Star Wars' success, led to additional animated segments made just for the US series featuring R2-D2-esque robot mascot 7 Zark 7:
Every time the action started getting intense, they'd cut back to the team's HQ where 7 Zark 7 would have some boring, stupid nuggets to impart to the viewers and then they'd cut back to the aftermath of the fight. Yay.
G-Force battled a creepy, androgynous villain named Zoltar. In the Japanese version, Zoltar was Bergu Kattse fraternal twins (one male, one female) merged into one being in the womb and who could switch back and forth between sexes. In the US version, I think originally they unmasked him as a woman at the end, but in other versions, the male and female forms are identified as separate individuals, brother and sister. I like the FUCKING INSANE gender switching Japanese version. Them Japanese is FREAKAY! No wonder they buy used school girl panties out of vending machines! FREA-KAY!!! The G-Force always won their battles one of two ways. They'd either form a pyramid (like cheerleaders) then spin around creating their "Whirlwind Tornado" OR they'd combine all their vehicles into one and form the "Fiery Phoenix" a powerful firebird capable of destroying whatever giant mecha Zoltar sent against them. The idea of combining several parts into one all-powerful giant originated in the hugely successful Japanese toy line Microman, imported to the US first as Micronauts and later Go-Bots and Transformers. Most famously, though, was the 80s series Voltron.
Voltron actually combined three separate Japanese anime about giant robots into one series, but the only one anyone cares about is the "Lion Force." Once again, I think there were some US editing shenanigans. Keith, the team's leader in red, for some reason piloted the BLACK lion. Sven, the one in black, piloted the BLUE lion. Lance in blue piloted the RED lion. Fatty McCupcakes and The Child-Endangerment Kid's suits actually matched the colors of their lions. I think the US studio did some creative shuffling there.
Not to mention that I'm pretty sure Sven died in the original. In the US version, he went to live on a farm upstate... or something. He was replaced by Princess Allura, whose suit was pink, yet there was never a pink lion. The show'd have been a lot sweeter if there had.
For whatever reason, I typically don't like stuff that's mega popular and Voltron was no exception. Everyone was buzzing about it, but it really didn't do anything for me. By this time, we did have cable and Voltron aired on one local syndication channel. Another, newer and less successful channel attempted to compete by airing a different anime series opposite Voltron.
For the second time, Mazinger was introduced to the US market, this time renamed Tranzor Z. And this anime has something none had before...
A lady robot! Aphrodite A! A giant girl robot?! 'Nuff said! I am ON! FUCKING!! BOARD!!! Oh but wait... it gets wackier!
To Be Continued...