Monday, May 28, 2007

The Anime Wave on American Television in the Sixties Part Two

In 1963 Tetsuwan Atom made its way to the United States as Astro Boy. Syndicated by NBC Films, the cartoon proved very successful, so much so that it would launch a wave towards Japanese cartoons on American television that would last nearly to the end of the decade. At the time the Japanese word "anime (itself a slang abbreviation of the Japanese word animeshon, "animation")" was largely unknown in America and would not enter the English language for decades. The word Japanamation, largely abhorred by modern day anime fans, would not be coined until the next decade. Indeed, most children who watched these cartoons were not even aware that they originated in Japan. And many of the cartoons' American distributors took pains to hide their country of origin.

Regardless, the 1966-1967 season would see more anime series follow Astro Boy, 8th Man, and Gigantor onto American television. Among these was Yuusei Shounen Papi, which debuted in Japan in June 1965. The cartoon was brought to the United States by none other than American International Pictures, the legendary b-movie studio. It was renamed Prince Planet for American consumers and debuted on American television in the January 1967. It was produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff (co-founder of AIP and producer on their Edgar Allen Poe adaptations and later such films as Blacula and the Seventies version of The Island of Dr. Moreau) and James M. Nicholson (co-founder of AIP and producer on their many "beach party" movies and later The Abominable Dr. Phibes).

Prince Planet centred on one of the Universal Peace Corps who comes to Earth to consider our planet for membership in the Galactic Union. In the process he finds himself battling both extraterrestrial and domestic threats to Earth. AIP toned down much of the violence in the original Japanese cartoon, although a lot of it was still fairly obvious. Prince Planet's foes had an uncanny knack for being killed off, and at times Prince Planet was responsible for their deaths. Ultimately, this would not insure its survival once the Sixties became the Seventies.

Another Japanese cartoon to make its way Stateside in the 1966-1967 season was partially the result of NBC Films' desire for another hit series to follow in the wake of Astro Boy. In 1965 NBC Films approached "god of manga" and "father of anime" Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy, for any new ideas for a series. Tezuka brought up a manga that he had written and was first published in 1951 in Japan called Janguru Taitei ("Jungle Emperor"). The manga followed an orphaned lion kitten named Leo from his birth to adulthood, when Leo sought to bring peace to the jungle as its "emperor." NBC liked the idea and only demanded that it be shot in colour. Tezuka told them that Mushi Productions had never made a colour cartoon. In response NBC Films not only paid for many of the production costs on Janguru Taitei, but paid for the conversion of Mushi Productions to colour production. While Tetsuwan Atom, Tetsujin 28-go, and Eitoman were all shot in black and white, Janguru Taitei would become the first anime series shot in colour

The resultant series was largely a loyal adaptation of the manga, with Leo maturing from a kitten to an adult. It not only featured serialised storylines, but, while the show's central theme was essentially peace, it did contain more violence than most American cartoons of the time. Before the series could air in America, then, NBC felt that changes would have to be made. Because at the time syndicated series were almost never shown on local stations in the order in which they were made, NBC Films wanted each episode to be self contained. This meant that there could be no serialised storylines. They also wanted Leo to remain a kitten throughout the series run. Ultimately NBC Films would only accept the first 52 episodes in which Leo was a kitten, although they did say that if the series was a hit they would consider a sequel in which he would be an adult. Finally, much of the violence had to be sanitised for American audiences. Under no circumstances could the heroes willingly kill a villain. As a result in the American version, antagonists always died by accident.

NBC Films once more looked to Fred Ladd, who had adapted both Astro Boy and Gigantor, to adapt Janguru Taitei for American audiences. Ladd would use many of the same team who worked on Astro Boy. Feeling that Leo was a bit too generic a name for a lion and the fact that MGM's mascot was also called "Leo," initially the character was called "Simba (Swahili for "lion")." NBC Films, however, wanted a unique name that could be copyrighted--"Simba" being a Swahili word was very much in the public domain. The name "Kimba" was then suggested and became the hero's name. Janguru Taitei debuted in Japan in October 1965. The American version, Kimba the White Lion debuted in the fall of 1966. In both countries the series was wildly successful. In America Kimba the White Lion would become Tezuka's best known creation besides Astro Boy.

The success of the series on both sides of the Pacific guaranteed a sequel. Tezuka went ahead and produced Janguru Taitei Susume Reo without NBC Films, which debuted in Japan in October 1966. Featuring Leo as an adult, it was more or less a loyal adaptation of the original manga. Indeed, many of the characters in the original series would be killed off! While not as popular as Janguru Taitei, the new series was a hit in Japan. NBC Films, looking at Tezuka's new show as overly violent for American audiences, passed on the series. It would eventually reach American shores as Leo the Lion, broadcast in heavily edited form on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Of course, Kimba the White Lion would make an impact on Anglo-American pop culture again when anime fans accused Disney of plagiarising Tezuka's work for their movie The Lion King in the Nineties. While Disney has always disputed this claim, there is some evidence that points in that direction. Early in the production of the film, the lead character was referred to by those involved as "Kimba." Matthew Broderick, who voiced Simba in the film, even stated that he believed he was being hired for a Disney remake of Kimba the White Lion. While the stories of Janguru Taitei and The Lion King differ considerably, there are some similarities both in characters and in various situations. A scene in which Simba's father Mufasa stands on a cliff is remarkably similar to one in which Kimba stands on a cliff. In both Janguru Taitei and The Lion King there are scenes in which both Leo and Simba's fathers appear in the sky. Fred Ladd feels that Disney's contention that The Lion King did not draw upon Janguru Taitei "is ludicrous." It is the contention of Osamu Tezuka's heirs that Disney did not intentionally plagiarise Janguru Taitei and that it was entirely coincidental. Regardless, the controversy has never really faded.

Kimba the White Lion was not the only anime series shot in colour to make its American debut in the 1966-1967 season. Kaitei Shonen Marien was historic in that it was the first anime series made with importation to foreign markets in mind. Produced by K Fujita Associates Inc, it debuted in Japan in 1966. The American rights to the series were bought by Warner Brothers/Seven Arts Television. The series centred on Marine Boy, whose father was part of the Ocean Patrol, a group devoted to keeping the world's oceans safe and secure. Marine Boy could breath underwater through the use of "oxygum," a chewing gum which allowed anyone to breath below water. The American adaptation, simply titled Marine Boy, debuted in fall 1966 and was produced by Stanley Jaffe. As was usually the case, the violence in the original anime was toned own for American audiences. Despite this, Marine Boy was still attacked for what watchdog groups perceived as its violent content. Even though Marine Boy never killed anyone on the series and the deaths of any villains were usually accidental, the National Association for Better Broadcasting called the series " of the very worst animated shows..." and claimed it expressed "... a relish for torture and destruction of characters." Regardless, Marine Boy proved to be successful and would remain in syndication in America for some time. It would later air in Australia.

The 1966-1967 would also see the first cartoon created through cooperation between American animators and Japanese animators. The King Kong Show, based on the legendary movie ape, was a cooperative effort between Rakin-Bass (best known for their stop motion holiday specials) and Toei Animation. It was historic as the first Saturday morning animated series to debut on primetime in the United States, in a special aired on ABC shortly before its debut on Saturday morning. It debuted in America in September of 1966 and in Japan in April of 1967.

Not every anime considered for American adaptation would air here. Fred Ladd would dub the pilot episodes of Uchuu Shounen Soran ("Space Boy Soran" in America) and Uchuu Ace ("Space Ace" in English) into English in an effort to sell them to an American distributor. Neither series sold, although Uuchu Ace would eventually be adapted into English and aired in Australia in the early Seventies.

The 1967-1968 season would see yet more anime series make their way to the United States. It would also be the final season in which anime in appreciable number made their way to America. Among these series would be W 3 (short for "Wonder 3"), another creation of Osamu Tezuka. W 3 was based on the manga of the same name, which first saw print in 1965. The animated series debuted in Japan the same year, in June 1965. It centred on three agents of the Galactic Council who go to Earth to decide if our war torn planet should be destroyed or not. To blend in the three agents took over the bodies of three animals--a rabbit (Bokko in the original; Captain Bonnie in the American version), a duck (Pukko in the original; Lt. Zero in the American version), and a horse (Nokko in the original; Cpl. Ronnie in the American version). The three befriended a boy, Shinichi Hoshi (Kenny Carter in the American version), who is the only one who knows their secret. The American adaptation of W 3, retitled Amazing 3, was produced by Copri International, the same people responsible for Eighth Man a few years earlier. The series was not as successful as either of Tezuka's other creations (Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion), although it did develop a following. Sadly, the 16mm prints of the American version are believed to have either been lost or destroyed. Only a few bootleg VHS tapes of broadcasts on local stations still exist.

While Amazing 3 would only see limited success in America, the same cannot be said for Mach Go Go Go. The series was based on a manga of the same name by Tatsuo Yoshida and first published in 1966. Both the manga and the animated series focused on young racer Go Mifune (whose last name was a homage to legendary actor Toshiro Mifune) and his specially equipped car, "Mach Go." Both the manga and the show featured complex plots involving conspiracies and plenty of action. Debuting in Japan in April 1967, it was wildly successful.

The American rights to Mach Go Go Go was quickly bought by Trans-Lux, the same company which had helped distribute Gigantor. For the American adaptation the series was renamed Speed Racer, as was the lead character. The car, "Mach Go," was translated literally as "Mach Five." As usual with anime, series, much of the violence in the anime was re-edited. Speed Racer debuted in the United States in the fall of 1967. Even given the plethora of anime released since that time, Speed Racer would prove to be the most successful anime in America of all time. The original series was still being reran in syndication in America well into the Eighties. In the Nineties it would air on MTV and later on the Cartoon Network and then Boomerang. The series has been released on DVD. In addition, a new series, The New Adventures of Speed Racer, was made by Americans in 1993. It flopped, only lasting 13 episodes. Speed Racer X, based on a new 1997 anime produced in Japan by Tatsunoko Productionsm would make its way to America. The show did not last long in the United States, brought to a halt by a lawsuit brought by Speed Racer Enterprises (current owners of the original series). Since 1992 Warner Brothers has planned a feature film based on Speed Racer. The movie remained in development hell for years, with actors and directors coming to and going from the project. In October 2006, however, the Wachowski brothers (responsible for The Matrix trilogy), signed on to direct the feature. It is set for release in May 2008.

Only one more anime series would nearly make its way to America in the Sixties. Ribbon No Kishi, based on a Osamu Tezuka manga first published in 1954, almost made it to the United States in the late Sixties. Set in a fairy tale world, both the manga and the anime centred on Princess Sapphire, who is forced by circumstances to pretend to a boy to inherit the throne. The animated series debuted in Japan in April 1967. Joe Oriolo (best known as creator of Casper the Friendly Ghost) and his partner Burt Hecht bought the American rights to the series in 1969. The series was actually dubbed into English, but it would not air on American airwaves as originally planned. The partnership between Oriolo and Hecht fell apart, with Hecht taking off with the masters to the American adaptation. Regardless, episodes of the English adaptation would leak out. The series would air in Australia in 1970, and in the late Seventies it air in the United States on a various local television stations.

With the 1967-1968, the race for American distributors to adapt Japanese cartoons for consumption in the United States ended. For many years the only Japanese TV shows seen on American television would be such live action shows as Ultraman and Jaianto robo (broadcast Stateside as Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot). The end of the anime wave on American television in the Sixties was the result of three factors.

The first of these was the switch of the American networks and local stations to colour broadcasting in the mid-Sixties. Because of this American television outlets came to prefer series shot in colour in the mid-Sixties. This preference would become so strong in the Seventies that it became difficult even for such classic American series as The Dick Van Dyke Show to succeed in syndication. Since many of the early anime shows were shot in black and white, they were no longer desirable for broadcast on many American outlets. The situation was made all the worse by competition from American Saturday morning cartons which started entering syndication in the mid to late Sixties. In 1960 King Leonardo and His Short Subjects became the first American, Saturday morning, network cartoon to be shot in colour (the series was made by the same people who would later create the classic Underdog). Since then the vast majority of American cartoons, whether network or syndicated, were shot in colour. By contrast, the first anime series to be shot in colour, Jungaru Taitei, would not be made until 1965.

The second factor which ended the wave of anime on American television in the Sixties were protests against violence on television, particularly in children's shows. It is significant that the 1967-1968 was the last year of the wave, as it was in 1968 that the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy would spur concerns over television violence. Since many of the anime series tended to be more violent than their American counterparts, many of the shows found themselves the focus of many watchdog groups. As early as 1965 Giantor was condemned by Variety for being "violent." In 1968 Marine Boy was condemned by the National Association for what they thought was violent content. Even Kimba the White Lion, originally commended by parent's and education groups, was now being condemned for supposedly violent content. With the protests against violence on television growing ever more, many anime series from the Sixties found their syndication profits drying up in the Seventies.

The third factor which ended the wave of anime on American television in the Sixties was simply that many of the distributors went out of business. Trans-Lux, who distributed both Gigantor and Speed Racer, would leave television distribution to concentrate on real-time displays (they had started out manufacturing stock tickers). Their library was sold to Alan Enterprises, a much smaller outfit ill equipped to adequately market the shows. In the early Seventies the Federal government ruled that the television networks could not syndicate the shows they produced as this violated anti-trust laws (later this would be reversed). As a result NBC Films, who distributed both Astro-Boy and Kimba the White Lion, was shut down. Their library was sold to National Telefilm Associates (NTA for short). Eventually the American rights would expire, ending any chance that Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion would remain in syndication in America.

While the avenues for the Sixties anime dried up in America in the Seventies, many of the series themselves would not survive. The original, Japanese masters of Astro Boy were destroyed and many of the American masters were lost. Fortunately, the entire run would be restored through the efforts of collectors and it is now available on DVD. Amazing 3 suffered a worse fate. The American masters are believed lost or destroyed.

As big as anime was in America in the Sixties, it apparently was even bigger in Australia at that time, where even live action Japanese shows appeared. Indeed, anime that never made their way to America actually aired in Australia at the time (Ken the Wolf Boy is an example of this). In fact the first Japanese show to air in Australia was the live action show The Samurai. Well into the Seventies, anime series continued to air on Australian television.

Of course, this was not the case in America. The Seventies would see a dearth of anime on America television. Only Gatchaman (which aired in much altered form as Battle of the Planets in the United States) and Space Battleship Yamato (which was renamed Star Blazers in America), and the aforementioned Princess Knight would find their way to America in the Seventies. Regardless, the anime series of the Sixties were not forgotten, and many of them had a lasting impact on American pop culture. Astro Boy was referenced in the film 28 Days. With regards to the Lion King controversy, Kimba the White Lion was referenced in The Simpsons episode "Round Springfield." References to Speed Racer are even more prevalent, appearing in everything from the movies Slap Shot and Pulp Fiction to the TV show Scrubs. Fortunately, some of the old anime shows are even available on DVD. Astro Boy, Gigantor, and Speed Racer have all had DVD releases.

Gone but not forgotten, the anime shows that aired on America in the Sixties were the first exposure the United States would have to Japanese cartoons. It would not be the last by a long shot. While anime remained rare in America in the Seventies, the Eighties would see such series as Robotech and Voltron airing in syndication. Even anime movies started travelling across the Pacific, with Akira becoming a major hit. By the Nineties anime would become commonplace on America, with TV shows from Pokemon to Mobile Fighter G Gundam airing here and yet more feature films being released in the United States. While many younger anime fans are seemingly unaware of this, it was the anime series of the Sixties that started it all.

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