Friday, June 1, 2007

It Was 40 Years Ago Today...

It was 40 years ago to day that The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was first released. It was released in the United Kingdom on July 1, 1967, then released here in the United States the next day. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first concept album. There are several that predate it. It was not even the first rock concept album; however, arguably it is the most influential.

By late 1966 The Beatles had retired from touring. The band found themselves frustrated that no one could even hear them playing over the hordes of screaming fans. At the same time their sheer fame and the occasional controversy they provoked (they actually received death threats after a comment regarding the current popularity of Christianity from John Lennon after an interview with British reporter Maureen Cleave was grossly misinterpreted in the United States) caused realistic concerns for their safety. No longer touring as they once had, The Beatles now had more time to spend in the studio. Their album Revolver, recorded from April to June 1966, was the first album on which they were able to lavish the kind of attention that comes with not constantly touring. The result was a revolutionary record which introduced a number of stylistic advancements and a new sophistication to rock music. Like Revolver, The Beatles would seek to cover new ground with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was Paul McCartney who suggested that The Beatles should record the album as if they were another band entirely (hence "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"). The Beatles grew out their hair, grew facial hair, and even donned colourful band costumes for the album's legendary cover. Of course, not every single Beatle followed the concept through to the end. John Lennon was adamant in saying that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the concept. That having been said, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band would seem to have become a concept album regardless of whether the others followed McCartney's lead. Much of the album, from "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" and "When I'm 64" smack of Vaudeville and such old time entertainments as carnivals. Psychelia also played a large role on the album, particularly in the songs "Lucy in the Sky With the Diamonds" and "A Day in the Life." To complete the concept, the album came with cardboard cutouts featuring a picture of Sgt. Pepper, a moustache, badges, and sergeant stripes. In many ways, it is as if the album was recorded by someone other than The Beatles, but at the same it could only have been recorded by them.

Among other things, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band introduced a number of technical innovations. It was one of the earliest popular albums to use the Mellotron, essentially a sample playback keyboard. Using a whole bank of magnetic tapes, the Mellotron could play back samples of any number of sounds (from orchestral sounds to sound effects). Like Revovler before it, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the first albums to use automatic doubletracking or ADT (using synchronised recorders and an electronic delay, ADT could duplicate a sound instantly, simultaneously, and nearly exactly). It also used such techniques as flanging (an audio effect created by mixing two identical sounds together, but one delayed by a matter of milliseconds) and other forms of phasing (in which the same part is played on two different instruments, but with one gradually moving ahead of the other). Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band also used varispeeding, in which which various tracks on a multi-track recorder are recorded at different speeds. The album also made extensive use of reverberation, echo, and reverse tape effects, and snippets of sound, as well as instruments not usually found on a rock album (clarinet, harpsichord, harmonium, sitar, and so on).

The look of the album was almost as revolutionary as its contents. The legendary cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was created by art director Robert Fraser in conjunction with Paul McCartney. It was designed by pop art legend Peter Blake. It featured The Beatles dressed as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" standing amidst a crowd of cardboard cutouts portraying their heroes from pop culture (over 70 of them). EMI's legal department was concerned that the cover could result in lawsuits and required every single celebrity to be contacted for their permission. Mae West initially refused, asking "What would I be doing in a lonely heart's club?" She relented when The Beatles personally wrote her.

Musically, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was among the best albums The Beatles ever recorded. The title song was among Paul McCartney's best work, a simple, straightforward, guitar driven song with the sort of appeal that none other than Jimi Hendrix incorporated into his act. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is arguably John Lennon's masterwork, a travelogue of colourful images that some thought described an acid trip. "Good Morning, Good Morning" was an aggressive song by Lennon, describing the typical day of a typical Englishman. "A Day in the Life," one of the last true Lennon/McCartney collaborations, was a revolutionary song inspired by stories from the Daily Mail. The album hardly features a misstep, except possibly for Harrison's "Within You, Without You," which I have never found particularly listenable (Why didn't they use "Only a Northern Song" instead?).

Upon the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album received overwhelmingly positive reviews. In fact, some commentators and critics considered the album to be a milestone. Kenneth Tynan of The Times called it "a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation." Drug guru Timothy Leary went even further, describing listening to the album as a religious experience. With regards to the charts, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band debuted at #8 on the British album charts and stayed at #1 for 23 straight weeks. In the United States it spent 15 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard album chart. It won the Grammy for Best Album of the Year, becoming the first rock album to do so. Since then it has ranked on many lists of the greatest rock albums of all time, often in the #1 spot. In 2003 the American Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry of historically important recordings.

The album did meet with some controversy. Rumours have persisted not only that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" describes an LSD trip, but that the song's title is an anagram for the drug itself. The BBC banned "A Day in the Life" for alleged drug references. In more conservative quarters of the United States the album provoked some truly bizarre accusations. There were those who insisted that "Fixing a Hole" was about heroin, although it seems fairly obvious it is about plumbing repairs, while there were those who insisted that the "man in the motor trade" mentioned in the innocent song "She's Leaving Home" was an abortionist, despite no real evidence to support the claim!

The influence of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would be far reaching. While many artists (notably folk singer turned rock star Donovan, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane) explored psychedelia before The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would lead more musicians into the genre. And while there had been concept albums prior to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and there were even concept albums in development as the album was being recorded, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band arguably encouraged the development of the form greatly. The album would ultimately expand the range of instruments permitted in rock music and changed the presentation of rock albums forever. While Revovler was arguably more revolutionary, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band may well have had a more lasting impact.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Game Show Fixture Charles Nelson Reilly Passes On

Charles Nelson Reilly was a Tony award winning actor and director of the stage. He had appeared in such Broadway shows as Bye, Bye Birdie and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Despite this, he was perhaps best known as a regular on Match Game and a regular guest on The Tonight Show. He passed on May 25 from complications from pneumonia after a long illness. He was 76.

Nelson Reilly was born in the Bronx on January 13, 1931. His father was a commercial artist. While still young his family movie to Connecticut. At age 13 he was one of the survivors of the fire at a performance of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Harford, Connecticut that claimed the lived of around 170 people in 1944. The experience would make Reilly unable to sit in an audience for the rest of his life. He attended the University of Connecticut. He would later move to New York City where he would study acting alongside the likes of Steve McQueen and Hal Holbrook.

Nelson Reilly's acting career began with parts in off-Broadway shows and an uncredited role in the movie A Face in the Crowd. His big break would come in 1960 when he played Mr. Henkel on Broadway in Bye, Bye Birdie. He followed this role with a Tony award winning performance as Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 1962. He would win another Tony for the role of Cornelius Hackl in 1964 in Hello, Dolly.

His success on Broadway would eventually result in television appearances. He appeared in the TV special The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe in 1962. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Patty Duke Show. He was a regular on the TV series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, playing Claymore Gregg, the highstrung great nephew of Captain Daniel Gregg (the ghost of the title). He also appeared in the movies Two Tickets to Paris and The Tiger Makes Out. He continued his Broadway career in Skyscraper in 1965.

It would be the Seventies that would be the decade that would make Charles Nelson Reilly a household name. Starting in 1970 he made his first of many appearances on The Tonight Show. He appeared on such shows as Rowan and Martin's Laugh In and The Dean Martin Show. He would become best known, however, for being a regular panellist on the game show Match Game. There Nelson Reilly exchanged barbs with Bret Somers (an actress who would become best known, like Nelson Reilly, for her game show appearances) and throw out numerous double entendres. Nelson Reilly would also appear on other game shows, from Super Password to The $10,000 Pyramid. He was also a regular on the 1971 Saturday morning live action show Lidsville.

This is not to say that Nelson Reilly's career on stage ended. He appeared in the plays God's Favourite and The Belle of Amherst in the Seventies. That same decade he staged the play Paul Robeson and directed the play Break a Leg. In the Eighties he appeared in the play Charlotte and directed the play The Nerd. The Nineties saw Nelson Reilly directing the play The Gin Game (for which he won a Tony). From the late Nineties into the Naughts, Nelson Reilly appeared in his one man show, Save It For the Stage: The Life of Reilly (for which he also won a Tony).

Nelson Reilly also continued to guest star in TV shows from Evening Shade to Family Matters. Perhaps his best known guest appearances would be playing the same character in episodes of The X-Files and Millennium ("Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and "Jose Chung's 'Doomsday Defence'"). Jose Chung was sarcastic, cynical, mercenary, and absolutely hilarious.

As a youngster I must confess that I watched Match Game regularly (okay, we grew up picking up only three TV stations). And much of the show was Nelson Reilly, a bigger than life character who was shamelessly camp. Granted, a lot of his innuendos went over my head, but I still thought he was funny. Of course, later I would learn that Nelson Reilly was a talented actor as well as a gifted game show panellist. I never got to see any of his performances on stage, but he displayed a good deal of craft in his guest appearances on television. Indeed, Jose Chung, whom Nelson Reilly played on both The X-Files and Millennium, was a role that took considerable talent. In a way it is sad that he will primarily be remembered for Match Game. He was so much more than a game show panellist.

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.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Anime Wave on American Television in the Sixties Part One

If you are a fan of science fiction and fantasy, animation, or movies in general, chances are you have heard the term anime. The word anime is Japanese. In Japan anime basically means "animation (an abbreviation of the word animeshon)"--not only is Princess Mononoke considered anime, but so is Disney's Dumbo, for that matter. Here in the United States, however, the word anime has come to specifically mean "animation from Japan," whether referring to children's fare such as the TV series Hamtaro or more adult fare such as Ninja Scroll. And while the American Heritage Dictionary defines anime as "A style of animation developed in Japan, characterized by stylized colorful art, futuristic settings, violence, and sex," this is hardly accurate. Nor does all anime feature characters with large, doe like eyes (this was am homage on anime legend Osamu Tezuka's part to Walt Disney's Bambi). If anything, anime varies more in style and genre than American animation. Regadless, in the past decade, anime has developed a fairly large following in the United States.

Indeed, I have actually seen web sites that assert that while Americans were first exposed to anime in the Sixties, said exposure was only occasional. In reality, this is far from the truth. Not only was the United States first exposed to anime in the Sixties, but there was an outright wave of anime TV series that flooded American airwaves from the mid-Sixties nearly to the end of the decade.

Of course, at the time no one called these cartoons "anime"--that term would not come into widespread use in the United States until the Nineties. At that time the cartoons were not even referred to as "Japananimation," a word which would not be coined until the Seventies and is now scorned by most fans. Indeed, I rather suspect that most kids watching the many cartoons from Japan that aired on American television in the Sixties were not even aware from which country they originated. Indeed, in the American adaptations of some of the cartoons (such as Eighth Man, great lengths was gone to obscure the series' country of origin!

The first animated cartoon created in Japan appeared in 1907. Despite this, animation in Japan would not really take off until after World War II. Indeed, the first feature length Japanese animated film, Momotaro Umi no Shinpei (Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors), would not be released until 1945. Toei Animation, one of the major Japanese animation studios and the one responsible for such TV series familiar to Americans as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, was founded in 1956. In 1958 they would release the first colour feature length animated film, Byaku fujin no yoren. This film would also be historic as the first anime to be released in America (under the title Panda and the Magic Serpent). Released here in 1961 by Global Pictures, it performed poorly at the box office. Byaku fujin no yoren was followed in short order by Saiyu-ki, which was based on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King. It was released here in the United States as Alakazam the Great later in 1961. It fared no better here than Byaku fujin no yoren.

If anime was to have any success here in the United States, it would seem to be on television. The first anime to air on Japanese television was Mittsu no Hanashi (Three Tales). It was a black and white limited series and anthology which retold three folk tales from Japan. It first aired in 1961. The first animated TV series to air on Japanese television was Otogi Manga Calendar. It aired in black and white from 1961 to 1964. Perhaps the most historically important of the early anime TV shows to air in Japan was one called Tetsuwan Atom (that's "Mighty Atom" in English), the first anime series with continuing characters. First aired on New Years Day 1963, it was the first bona fide hit animated series in Japan. At its height a full 40% of the population watched the series. It would also be the first to reach American shores.

The TV series Tetsuwan Atom was based on a manga of the same name created by the "god of manga" Osamu Tezuka and first published in 1951. It would continue being published until 1968. It became one of the most successful manga in the history of Japan, as well as Tezuka's most famous creation. It centred on the title character, a robot in the shape of a boy who uses his enormous power for good. Among other things, the series explored such serious themes as racism, prejudice, heroism, and morality.

Given its popularity, it was a natural choice for adaptation as a television series. Tetsuwan Atom was produced by Mushi Productions, the studio founded by Osamu Tezuka to provide an alternative to Toei Animation. News of the success of the series reached America and NBC Films, then the syndication arm of the National Broadcasting Company. They quickly snatched up the American rights and called in Fred Ladd, who had considerable experience in adapting and dubbing foreign cartoons for American consumption. Among other things, they were forced to call the series Astro Boy here in the United States, DC Comics having had a character called "The Atom" since the Golden Age of Comics. Astro Boy first aired on American television in the fall of 1963. Out of the original 193 episodes of Tetsuwan Atom, only 104 would be adapted for American audiences. Among other things, Ladd had to downplay the violence that sometimes permeated the original series. In fact, six episodes would be rejected outright, dealing as they did with vivisection and a bachelor with girlie pictures on his wall among other things (Japanese network NHK had completely different ideas of what was acceptable in an animated cartoon than NBC). New episodes of Astro Boy continued to be aired until 1966, and the series would be rerun in American syndication for some time. And just as Tetsuwan Atomwas wildly successful in Japan, Astro Boy was wildly successful in the United States.

In fact, it was so successful that it would spark an entire wave of anime TV series that would make their way to America in the mid to late Sixties. The first of these to follow in the wake of Tetsuwan Atom was Tetsujin 28-go (at least in Japan). Tetsujin 28-go (literally "Iron Man Number 28") originated as a manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, first published in 1956. In fact, it was the first manga to feature a giant robot (Yokoyama would later create the legendary manga Jaianto Robo or "Giant Robo"). The manga centred on Tetsujin 28-go, a giant robot developed as a weapon of war by Japan during World War II. Allied bombs destroyed the facility in which the robots were being developed, leaving the 28th prototype (hence Tetsujin 28-go) surviving. Years later Shotaro Haneda, the son of scientist Dr. Haneda, learns that the mob is searching for the giant robot. Fortunately, he beats them to it. Tetsujin 28-go would then be used as a force for good.

Tetsujin 28-go was very popular, making it an obvious choice for adaptation as an animated TV series. Produced by TCJ Animation and debuting in 1963, the series also proved a success, running for 96 episodes. As fate would have it, Fred Ladd (yes, the same man who adapted Tetsuwan Atom as Astro Boy) happened to see Mitsuteru Yokoyama's artwork of Tetsujin 28-go being controlled by Shotaro Haneda. Quite aware of the success of Astro Boy, Ladd formed Delphi Associates to bring Tetsujin 28-go to the United States. Ladd renamed the TV series Gigantor and relied largely on the same team who had adapted Astro Boy. Only 56 of the 96 episodes would be adapted. Those episodes would have the considerable violence in the series toned down. Even so, Gigantor was an overly violent cartoon even for American television in the Sixties. Reviewing the series, Variety called it a "loud, violent, tasteless, and cheerless cartoon..." Regardless, following its debut in America in January 1966, Gigantor was very successful. The series has a cult following to this day. And due to Fred Ladd's foresight in preserving the series, it is one of the few early anime available on DVD.

While Tetsujin 28-go was the first anime to follow in the wake of Tetsuwan Atom, Gigantor was not the first anime aired in America after Astro Boy. That would be 8th Man, originally known in Japan as Eitoman (in English "Eight Man"). Like Tetsuwan Atom and Tetsujin 28-go, Eitoman was based on a manga, in this case one created by Jiro Kuwata and Kazumasa Hirai and was first published in 1963. The animated version, produced by TCJ Animation, ran from November 17, 1963 to December 31, 1964 on the Toyko Broadcasting System. Both the manga and the series centred on police detective Hachiro Azuma, who is fatally wounded by criminals. Azuma's body is retrieved by the scientist Professor Tani, who saves Azuma's life by turning him into a superhuman cyborg. The manga is historic in that Eitoman was the first cyborg hero in Japan. The character is also reputedly an inspiration for the movie RoboCop.

Eitoman was brought to the United States as 8th Man in 1965 by Copri International and ABC Films, anxious for a hit in the wake of Astro Boy. The series would see neither the success of Astro Boy nor Gigantor and only aired briefly on American television, usually on smaller television stations. An interesting bit of trivia is that director Ralph Bakshi did the opening sequence for the American version, 8th Man.

The failure of 8th Man in the United States would not stem the tide of cartoons coming from Japan. For the next few years there would be even more anime making its way to America. And some of it would be successful enough to have a lasting impact on Anglo-American pop culture.