John Cawley

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Frames of Time...

005_05 - Anime's First Steps...
This happy pup is Spank. He was the star of a 1970s animated series from Japan called "Good Morning Spank" (Ohayo Spank-u). It was only one of my introductions into the world of Japanese animation, now called Anime.

During the 1970s a growing interest in animation began to overcome me. I started seeing the Disney features during re-issue. I was getting involved with film societies that sometimes featured animation screenings. I began studying the history and craft of animation. I would eventually end up teaching courses, giving lectures, writing articles and books about the history and production of animation. Finally, in the 1980s, I entered actual production of animation.

But back to Japanese animation in the 1970s. It was a time when most U.S. animation fans and professionals called it 'jap crap'. I remembered watching KIMBA and SPEED RACER in the 1960s. In the 70s I met many folks who had similar memories. They even remembered ASTRO BOY, WONDER 3, GIGANTOR and others. They also LOVED them. It was my introduction to fans of Japanese animation or "Japanimation" as they called it. The key to their popularity was their slighty more sophisticated storytelling style than found in most U.S. animation.

By the late 1970s the availability of videotape (via the betamax) made it possible for folks to tape shows off the air and show them anytime. A key source for seeing Japanese animation in Los Angeles was the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (aka C/FO), a group that met monthly to watch animation. It mostly featured Japanese series and features. The most popular shows were the ones featuring funny animals or giant robots. I attended meetings on and off, with other friends of Japanese animation. However, the increasing emphasis on violent, sci-fi elements soon made it more of an animation group that watched giant robots and futurist female superheroes. (This is the style most folks think of when they say "Anime".)

It made me wonder if all Japanese animation had converted into nothing more than, what I called the "3-Bs" of Japanimation - Bombs, 'Bots and boobs. Then, I discovered a local Korean UHF TV station that featured an hour of two Japanese animated series in the original Japanese. The first was "Good Morning Spank!" It was a delightful series about a girl and her pet dog. The dog's head has often been described as looking like a slice of bread. The show had heart and a loopy sense of humor. I remember the dog would dress in a cape and pretend he was a superhero, though he had no powers. There was a small animal that he was madly in love with, who did not share his affection. Then there were the storylines around his owner and her love life. The series could be described as "charming". It rekindlend my interest in Japanese animation. (Years later, I discovered the series was actually created for girls, a fact that caused some friends in Japan to chuckle when I mentioned watching the show.)

Around that time, I struck up a correspondent in Japan. Like myself, he was an author on film history. We began exchanging videotapes. I would tape U.S. TV (live action and animated) and he would tape Japanese animated series. Whereas he would ask for specific U.S. TV, I said to send me anything animated. He was surprised, since most of his contacts wanted only sci-fi action shows like SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (shown here as STAR BLAZERS). I enjoyed the wide range of animation he sent me. I saw crime shows (my favorite was LUPIN III), kids shows, girls romances, fantasies, westerns, sports shows and more. I found out first hand that animation in Japan was for all audiences and genres.

When the "Anime" boom began to take shape in the 1980s and finally exploded in the 1990s it was mostly due to the success of the all the action series aimed at teenage boys. Much like the C/FO, Japanese animation became stereotyped as a sci-fi field. I was so happy when I saw SPIRITED AWAY. (Ironically, like GOOD MORNING SPANK!,SPIRITED AWAY was also originally conceived as a property for girls.) The movie reminded me that Japanese animation is so much more than just Anime. The film went on to gain much attention and win many awards. Hopefully it introduced others to the fact that Anima is more than just a dark view of the future. It can offer the simple pleasures of a girl coming of age... or a happy pup in the morning.

text, photo and format John Cawley


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