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Ganso Tensai Bakabon Episode 2

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After a long delay caused by numerous unforeseen complications, episode 2 of Ganso Tensai Bakabon has at last been subbed in English. This half-hour sees the arrival of more key players to the series, including a couple who had no previous involvement with Tokyo Movie shows, and moreover introduces certain recurring elements of the series’ run.

The first segment, written by Yoshiaki Yoshida, is the first of a number of fairy-tale parodies the series did over the course of its run. Here, Bakabon’s dad finds himself obsessed with the tale of Urashima Tarō, mistaking his wife’s request to buy fishcakes (kamaboko) for buying a turtle (kame) and obtaining one from two brats in a cynical twist on Tarō’s story. Amusing situations ensue, as expected, from Papa’s endearing stupidity as he attempts to coddle the turtle into bringing him to the mythical Ryūgū-jō; it all ends in the turtle’s shell being broken in a fight between Papa and his old university kouhai, Urashima Jirō (to whom the turtle supposedly belonged), causing the two idiots to lose their minds and delude themselves into thinking they’ve made it to Ryūgū-jō.

This was the first of a whopping 49 Ganso segments (out of 204 in total—almost a quarter of the series!) to be directed by Kyōsuke Mikuriya, who was essentially Tokyo Movie’s workhorse director; among his other involvements, he went on to be chief director of the non-Miyazaki episodes of Sherlock Hound, as well as a regular episode director on Lupin III Part 2 and the TV series of Isao Takahata’s Chie the Brat. Unsurprisingly, his Ganso episodes are almost always dependent on both the actual story material and the animators assigned to it; at this early stage, both were still exuberant enough that even the lesser episodes like Mikuriya’s could still be very entertaining.

The uneven, occasionally fluid and nuanced animation for this segment was outsourced to Oh! Production, widely considered one of the greatest subcontracting studios of the 70s and 80s. By this time, Oh Pro’s veteran animators were focused on projects for other studios—Kazuo Komatsubara on Tōei shows and Kōichi Murata on Nippon Animation shows (he was particularly crucial to Isao Takahata’s work), as the story goes—so the studio’s early Ganso episodes were in fact solo-key-animated by a newcomer named Hiroshi Kuzuoka, for whom this series appears to have been his debut in animation. (EDIT: Kuzuoka’s earliest known credit was in fact a few months earlier on the Great Mazinger vs. Getter Robo G: Kuchu Daigekitotsu crossover film animated by Oh Pro for Tōei, released July 26, 1975.) Born in Miyagi Prefecture in 1950, Kuzuoka was interested in painting from a young age; indeed, he would leave Ganso and Oh Pro less than a year later to study painting in Spain for a year. Since then, he has been fairly prolific, most notably as an animator on NHK’s Minna no Uta for which he contributed 11 segments (see here and here), but also as a storyboard artist and animator on various projects, including Gisaburō Sugii’s recent films Stormy Night and Cinnamoroll: The Movie, as well as episode 7A of the later Rerere no Tensai Bakabon. In addition, Kuzuoka has taught animation at Kyōto Seika University, and towards that end maintained an educational blog from April 2014 to May 2015; his actual website includes samples of his storyboards and paintings.

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One of Hiroshi Kuzuoka’s best cuts in episode 2A is a seemingly inconsequential scene towards the beginning of Papa running out of the restroom, realizing the toilet paper has gone loose, and running back in. The follow-through on the toilet paper is what really sells the scene, along with Papa’s clear expressions and movement in response to the situation.

The top-billed inbetweener on most of Oh Pro’s Ganso episodes, including this one, should be a name familiar to anyone who has delved into Japan’s independent animation scene: Nobuhiro Aihara, best known for his later collaborations with fellow indie animator Keiichi Tanaami. Aihara had in fact been creating independent films as early as 1965, but during the 1970s he primarily served as an inbetweener at Oh Pro; hence, his name can be also be found on such landmark films as Rintarō’s Galaxy Express 999 and Isao Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist. It was not long before his own talent as a graphic artist was recognized at Oh Pro: for Adieu Galaxy Express 999, Aihara was called upon (supposedly by animation director Kazuo Komatsubara himself) to provide a brilliant sequence of abstract animation, representing the protagonists’ entrance into Great Andromeda’s gravitational pull. For more details on Aihara’s career, please read this insightful article that Cathy Munroe Hotes wrote upon his death in 2011. (I should add, however, that her claim that Aihara did uncredited work on Night on the Galactic Railroad and Akira is questionable; the former, in particular, she likely confused with Galaxy Express 999, as their Japanese titles both start with “Ginga Tetsudō”.)

From a world-building standpoint, this episode marks the first appearance of Rerere, the 30s-cartoon-eyed perpetual town sweeper who is the source of a running gag in the series: he asks passerbys if they’re going somewhere, and regardless of their response, his response in turn is usually a confused “Rerere?”. It also establishes for the first time that Omawari-san, the recurring cop, is something of a lovelorn loser who cannot find a permanent girlfriend: in this case, Bakabon’s dad inadvertently tricks him into revealing he’s forgotten his first girlfriend’s name, causing her to dump him on the spot.

While the subject of Urashima Tarō is still fresh, it is worth noting that the first three months of 1975 saw the original 12-half-hour (or 24-episode) run of Group TAC’s Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (which I mentioned in the previous episode post). The second-to-last episode to air in this run, on March 25, was Gisaburō Sugii’s pleasantly odd and formalistic take on Urashima Tarō (#23), featuring backgrounds by Mihoko Magōri and Western-influenced animation by MNMB’s original chief director Tsuneo Maeda; both appear to have made their animation debuts on 1973’s Belladonna of Sadness (for which Sugii was animation director and animator of certain pivotal sequences), Magōri as a painter for art director Kuni Fukai and Maeda as lead animator, and both went on to be Sugii’s key collaborators on his best works. (One particular thing I enjoy about the episode is how most of the soundtrack consists of different renditions, by composer Jun Kitahara, of Tarō’s folk song, the same one sung by Bakabon’s dad and Urashima Jirō at the end of the first segment of Ganso #2.) As it happens, Osamu Kobayashi, the star animator of Ganso #2’s second segment, himself contributed an episode to MNMB’s original run (#10, Peas Rolled into a Hole, aired February 4); note the Ajia-do pseudonym, which would later be repurposed as the name of his and Tsutomu Shibayama’s own studio. On top of this, Kobayashi would end up creating his own take on Urashima Tarō for MNMB years later (#1174, aired March 17, 1990), featuring backgrounds by Hideo Chiba and animation by Ajia-do animator Takashi Asakura; his cut of Taro aging at the end is genuinely impressive.

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Given both Kuzuoka’s novice status in the industry and the fact that this was very early in the series, there are many instances in episode 2A in which the characters are drawn inconsistently, at times looking unpleasantly off-model.

The second segment of episode 2, written by Haruya Yamazaki, was the first segment in the series to be directed by A Pro’s Shigetsugu Yoshida. Storywise, it’s very much a continuation of Yoshida’s willingness to delve into more adult subject matter, as seen earlier in his episodes for Hajime Ningen Gyators: Bakabon’s dad has his self-doubt about whether or not he’s been a good husband provoked by an unfortunate encounter with a rival couple who shares a wedding anniversary with him and his wife (October 13th, the episode’s air date!), and in turn he begins to lash out in paranoia against what he believes to be his wife cheating on him with multiple men and even a cat. All turns out well, however: in an unusually heartwarming ending for the series, it turns out Mama was preparing to celebrate their anniversary the entire time, and Papa’s transgressions are forgiven as all the characters he attacked over the course of the episode gather at the celebration that night.

At this time, Yoshida was perhaps the director most influenced by Dezaki’s dramatic mode of directionhe had just been responsible for some of the more effective non-Dezaki episodes of Ganba no Bouken—and that influence comes through in the striking color cards (which at times even rotate behind the characters), freeze-frames, and rapid cuts peppered throughout the episode as a way of heightening the ludicrous drama. There are also a few truly inspired visual gags: the rival husband’s stammering as he tries to argue against Bakabon’s dad early on is represented as a skipping record player (which is promptly destroyed), and—most notably—Bakabon’s dad twice resorts to parodying the Downtown Boogie-Woogie Band’s then-recent (released on April 20, 1975!) hit song “Minato no Yōko Yokohama Yokosuka”, down to even dressing as a rock star and playing the song’s famous stinger, as a way of confronting his wife’s supposed lovers. The latter gag works brilliantly even without knowing the reference, as it fits perfectly with Papa’s own erratic character and the absurdity of the cartoon as a whole.

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Theatrical, pseudo-Dezakian direction by Shigetsugu Yoshida, as seen in episode 2B.

The segment also benefits from the animation of A Pro veteran Osamu Kobayashi and his protégés Eiichi Nakamura and Hisatoshi Motoki, who were teamed up for their entire time on the series. Kobayashi was, along with character designer and animation director Tsutomu Shibayama, one of A Pro’s true luminaries, and the episodes with his involvement tend to feature some of the richest character acting in the series, with its startlingly deft, lifelike movement that often resorts to ones when it counts and shatters the boundaries of limited animation; witness, for instance, the violent fight that erupts between the rival husband and wife over a bone, or Omawari-san’s gunslinging entrance followed by being kicked in the chin by Papa and then run over by Mama’s father.

Eiichi Nakamura, for his part, would become a major figure at A Pro’s successor studio Shin-Ei Doga, spending the remainder of his career as the character designer and chief animation director of the 1979 Doraemon TV series for almost its entire run (and even beyond that, for the first few years of the ongoing 2005 reboot); sadly, by that time the A Pro style had long since been reduced to a dull, vapid shell of its former self. Hisatoshi Motoki, meanwhile, ended up on a divergent path from the other ex-A Pro animators: he stayed on at Shin-Ei only briefly (his last credit for the studio is on the first episode of Ikkyu-san, produced at Shin-Ei for Nippon Animation, aired April 10, 1978) before jumping ship to join Madhouse proper, animating on such key works as Takarajima, the Ace wo Nerae! film, the lamentable 1981 Unico film, and Bobby’s Girl, as well for Dezaki’s splinter studio Annapuru on Ashita no Joe 2. (On bad Unico he’s credited in a separate category alongside Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Manabu Ōhashi, indicating he did some special animation in the film like those two, though at present I’m not sure what.) He appears to have become a freelancer at some point in the 1980s, though he continued to animate on certain prestige projects like Dezaki’s Oniisama e… and Junichi Satō’s Junkers Come Here; his name purportedly shows up as late as episodes of the 2011 Hunter x Hunter series.

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A sampling of beautiful backgrounds from episode 2B, crafted under the direction of Shichirō Kobayashi and his art setter Kazuo Oga.

As a special little bonus, here’s the original 1975 ED for Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, which was then used from when the show started up again in January 1976 to presumably the end of September 1978, when Tsuneo Maeda handed the chief directorship over to Mitsuo Kobayashi. I’m almost certain this was directed by Gisaburō Sugii and animated by Maeda; the illustrations could be by Shirō Fujimoto, as Ben Ettinger once wrote to me.

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