Japanimate this! [Ice Cream Sundae]
Lots going on in my last few days officially living in the South of France!
While I’m packing boxes and looking for new work gigs I’ve kept recording and editing new episodes for the Ice Cream for Everyone audio podcast. I published a conversation with Heather about Brain Surfing, the book about learning from the top marketing strategy minds in the world she recently published. I also came across this interesting project on Kickstarter, a video games studio based in Taiwan with a project to finance a full feature length animation film based on a video game they published in 2015.
I thought the project sounded really interesting and pretty uncommon for an indie video games studio, to go into creating an animation movie. I sent them an email on a whim, they replied almost immediately and we organised a recording. Given they’re in the final stages of their crowdfunding project, pushing to go as high above their original goal of $400,000 as possible, I edited and published the episode quickly. If you appreciate anime films and have some extra cash hanging around you don’t know what to do with, it’s as good an answer as any
The conversation I had with these great guys in Taiwan and Tokyo reminded me of the TV shows I was hooked on as a kid.
As a small child, pretty much as soon as I could walk by myself, I’d sneak to the living room before dawn and turn the TV on. My parents would find me glued to the screen when they got up.
My favourite show on morning TV, before going to Kindergarten during the weekdays, was the old Batman TV series with Adam West. On Saturday mornings I’d watch the cartoons with my older brother in our parents bed. I remember watching the Dungeons & Dragons animated TV series that I loved immediately. Of course I also watched He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers. A girlfriend from Kindergarten who lived nearby had an almost complete set of He-Man toys so I’d go and play with her (and mostly them) at her house.
After we moved to France I discovered a whole lot of new stuff. The kind of American animation cartoons I knew traditionally dominated children TV programming, until France simply took a different direction. American cartoons were expensive, while local cartoon production quality was pretty low, and they were unpopular. Somehow a production company came across these Japanese cartoons, cheaper than the U.S. ones and apparently amazing production values for the price. Given they’d just negotiated to broadcast 20 hours of kids stuff a week on mainstream television they had some gaps to fill. They bought loads of this Japanese stuff without really paying attention to what was going on; thinking it was just harmless kids cartoons.
This was certainly true for some of the titles such as the classic Astro Boy, created by revered manga artist Osamu Tezuka. He is often considered the Godfather of manga and the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. He was also a big fan of Disney, and they met once in New York. Post World War II he became committed to using manga — the Japanese word for both comics and drawing cartoons — as a means to encourage people to do good in the world, have a positive influence.
France was one of the first countries to import masses of Japanese manga and animation series, which had a huge influence on my generation and following ones. I fondly remember Thundercats or Mask and was completely obsessed with the Mask toys for a bit, but that wasn’t much compared to how excited I was about the Japanese shows that same later.
They’d mostly started on a kids show called Recré A2 that was then bought to move on to another channel and became Club Dorothée. From 1977 to 1997, Dorothée was the TV headline star figure of kids’ entertainment in France. For an impressive twenty year stint, anything you wanted promoted to kids almost had to go through her show.
The newer Japanese shows that came on mainstream French TV shortly after completely blew the American ones of the water for most people — at least for me they did: Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac), Cities of Gold(considered one of the more educational for the history segments at the end),Fist of the North Star (Hokuto No Ken). I’ve linked to the French opening credits to share the joys of cheesy 80s French cartoon tunes with you.
This is where it was getting silly and the TV channels got a huge amount of negative press. The programming wasn’t particularly considered for children. There could be something as innocuous as the Care Bears on followed directly by Fist of the North Star, a ridiculously bloody and violent post-apocalyptic Mad Max like show. A few of the more conservative types in France were quite upset and wrote about it at length. The kids all loved it and screamed for more. Of course as a kid I had no idea some adults disapproved in fancy intellectual magazines.
The shows were also extremely diverse, from silly romance, to Cinderella-like stories, sex-changing comedy to science-fiction giant robots, insane college students, to knights that inspired a whole generation to pay attention to their Greek & Roman mythology classes.
Some of the first VHS video collections I bought were of animation shows I wanted to watch again and have. I’d go to specialised Japanese anime shops in Paris to check out what was new, like I remember buying the box set for The Vision of Escaflowne or The Records of Lodoss War Chronicles. Those were big purchases at the time. An important statement of what I was doing with my money. I can’t say for sure it was the best statement, though I certainly don’t regret either. My best friends told me of other now legendary series like Cowboy Bebop.
I don’t know if you’re still with me at this point, I’m totally showing off some of my possibly more geeky sides, though all this stuff is completely mainstream for anyone who grew up in France around the same time I did.
Somewhere as close as England, when I moved to London I realised few British people had any of these references from their own childhood. They looked at me weird when I mentioned any of these shows, and I’d return the favour when I heard of their weird references, like Danger Mouse. It seems like they kept their own home grown low budget animation productions.
I don’t watch so many Japanese animation films now, though I like to keep in touch with quarterly posts on a few blogs to hear recommendations of the best new anime series. I occasionally watch and enjoy a few, such as the recent No Game No Life where two genius online gaming siblings find a way into a parallel universe where all transactions are dealt with through games. The first season was pretty smart and fun. I haven’t watch the 2nd season yet.
Japanese anime and manga carry a rich diversity of themes and storylines, for all ages, genres and interests you can imagine. Sure there are giant robots and you may or may not be into that. How about cooking or wine drinking, teaching and education or even advertising?
The industry in Japan is so prolific there are titles for just about everything, and many are of exceptional quality from both storylines and art perspectives.
In case you were wondering, this might explain why this feature length animation film caught my curiosity. I’ve been primed to look out for and be curious about Japanese style animation from a young age. If you haven’t found any you like yet, I recommend trying some more. If the titles suggested above aren’t to your liking I’d be glad to give you more recommendations, just send a reply.
Till next week!
PS: I feel the need to specify I am only barely scratching the surface of the many titles that deserve featuring here by name and that I also grew up with. Including Cobra, Albator, Goldorak, Ulysse 31, Captain Flam, City Hunter, Cat’s Eyes, Olive & Tom, etc.
PPS: There’s a moment when I was a kid I wanted to be a gymnast. I think it’s either because of or thanks to this particular show.
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 17th January 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae on the Ice Cream for Everyone website.