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Ganso Tensai Bakabon Episode 4

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To begin with, it has been quite an exciting revelation to discover that none other than Osamu Dezaki’s chief collaborator, Akio Sugino, was the animator of Ganso Tensai Bakabon‘s wonderful opening! It makes perfect sense in hindsight, since it’s just so Dezaki, and the animation looked nothing like A Pro’s work…and as it happens, Sugino was even the uncredited animation director and key animator of several of Dezaki’s earliest (and best) episodes on the series at Madhouse. Please read the rest of this long, career-spanning interview with Sugino if you haven’t already, it’s a must-read for Dezaki fans.

As for this half-hour: episode 4A, written by Noboru Shiroyama – special thanks to a very good friend of mine for stepping in and getting this one done – is the very definition of an intriguing misfire. It was the second Ganso episode directed by Dezaki, and it’s evident he was already trying to go further than 1B in terms of pure insanity: the very opening gag, for instance, is reversed footage of Bakabon and Papa walking past a persimmon tree (special thanks to music editor Seiji Suzuki, who would play such an important role in Ganso‘s successor series Lupin III Part 2 – several of the shorter music tracks on Ganso, in fact, would be reused in that series! – for reversing the music as well), to say nothing of the increasingly bizarre gags as Papa is forced to clean the continuously falling leaves at a temple, culminating in a man whose hair seems to fall along with the leaves. Even the sound editing is quite creative at times, ranging from the glass-breaking sound as the man loses his hair to the sports crowd cheering as Papa athletically bashes himself into the temple’s tree. (One notable change from the original manga is how Papa’s ability to fly with his crow suit became the ending twist here – in the manga, he was able to fly as soon as he put the suit on, but here Dezaki uses Papa’s lack of flight to expand the story with an extended interlude depicting the mayhem he causes around town.)

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Art setter Kazuo Oga and the other artists at Kobayashi Production did a particularly stunning job with the backgrounds in 4A – they’re easily the most successful aspect of the cartoon.

Unfortunately, the episode fails to coalesce into a true classic, due to one simple yet fatal flaw: the unusually sub-par animation. Even the more energetic, fluidly-animated scenes feel rough around the edges, to say nothing of the downright anemic-looking scenes that make up the majority of the cartoon, such as the entire climax in which Papa and the nearly-bald man beg the last leaf not to leave the tree – and, of course, you know something is horribly wrong when even the iris-out that closes the cartoon is badly-animated.

At first sight the awful animation seems strange, since the credited key animators are A Pro’s star team of Yoshifumi Kondō, Michishiro Yamada, and Shinichi Ōtake. However, a closer look at the credits reveals that the inbetweens were not done at A Pro as was usually the case but instead outsourced to Tsuchida Production, whose animator Hiroshi Kanazawa had just been a (not-so-good) solo-KA for a few episodes of Ganba no Bouken; moreover, it should be kept in mind that the Kondō-Yamada-Ōtake team had just been responsible for the episode that aired before this one, 3B, and for obvious reasons it is almost never the case in TV anime that the same key animation team is responsible for two consecutively-aired episodes. Indeed, if #4A is not counted as a Kondō episode, the other episodes Kondō’s team did at this time fall into a fairly consistent pattern of good work roughly every 3-4 half-hours (#1A, #3B, #7B, #10B, #14A, #17B, #22A, #25B, #31); altogether, this seems to have been a case in which Kondō, Yamada, and Ōtake rushed their KA drawings out for lack of time and then left most of the actual animation work up to the Tsuchida Pro inbetweeners, with expectedly disastrous results.

To provide some background: Tsuchida Production was the studio where certain key ex-Toei figures who had helped create the previous legendary gag comedy Fight da!! Pyuta, namely Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu, Eisuke Kondō, and Tameo Kohanawa, along with their associates at this point like the aforementioned Hiroshi Kanazawa, were gathered from 1974 to 1986. Between the end of Pyuta and the formation of Tsuchida Pro, these figures had been based at a transitory studio, Office Uni, from which they contributed to earlier Tokyo Movie shows like the first Lupin III and Tensai Bakabon series, The Gutsy Frog, and Dezaki’s Jungle Kurobee; Kondō and Kohanawa served as episode directors/storyboarders, while Uni’s main animators included Kanazawa, Saburō Masutani, Akira Kawashima, Yōichi Mieno, and Pyuta veterans Daizō Takeuchi and Kinichirō Suzuki (neither of whom stuck around very long, if at all, once Tsuchida Pro was founded).

Tsuchida Pro’s earliest credit was on Tatsunoko’s New Hutch the Honeybee, which ran from April to September 1974. Shortly afterwards, the studio helped produce the original run of Group TAC’s Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, aired in the first three months of 1975. Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu directed The Monkey and the Crab (#5, a lost episode for which only the audio and a few images survive), animated by Yōichi Mieno, and Tail-Fishing (#11), animated by Hisa Yamazaki who had been an inbetweener on the team’s earlier Tokyo Movie involvements; Eisuke Kondō directed #6 and #19, both animated by Hiroshi Kanazawa; and famed designer and erstwhile indie/advertising animator Norio Hikone, who had directed a few episodes of Pyuta, directed the series’ premiere episode Kobutori Jiisan (#1) and Kachi-kachi Yama (#15), both animated by the team K-S-R (Kiyomi Zama, Shidzuko Ikeda, and Reiko Saitō). Bizarrely, it was a moment in Mitsunobu’s #11 that went on to become infamous worldwide as the Dancing Otter meme, even becoming a critical part of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

From there, Hiroshi Kanazawa would move on to solo-KAing episodes 4, 10, 16, and 22 of Ganba no Bouken, with Kiyomi Zama being credited alongside Akemi Sugie, Sachiko Itō, and Mieko Takagi (who are credited on Ganso 4A) for inbetweens on those episodes, while Eisuke Kondō and Yōichi Mieno animated on Nippon Animation’s Maya the Bee; both series premiered in April 1975. It may well be that the higher-ups at Tokyo Movie or A Pro realized that Tsuchida Pro was no longer a good fit for their shows, as 4A would be the studio’s only work for Ganso immediately after Ganba ended; not until almost a year later would Tsuchida Pro be called upon to provide any further animation for the series. (As it stands, if there’s one thing that the studio is worth remembering for, it’s for bringing the world the infamous cult 80s gag anime Ranpou, also known as Rampoo the Flying Warped Boy; Kanazawa was actually the character designer for that one!)

It has been said that Yoshifumi Kondō served as the actual animation director of the Gutsy Frog episodes he worked on from A Pro, and he allegedly played a similar role on Ganso Tensai Bakabon. While this may be true for other episodes with his involvement, it most certainly does not seem to be the case here in 4A, where Papa, in particular, is conspicuously drawn in at least four different ways over the course of the cartoon.

As for 4B, also written by Noboru Shiroyama but directed by Kyōsuke Mikuriya and (like 3A) drawn rather poorly by Doga Kobo, there are two things worth noting about this segment: the basic plot seems to be a pastiche of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film Rear Window, with Papa using a telescope to spy on perceived criminals in the city, and early on in the episode none other than Chibita, a character from Osomatsu-kun (a different Fujio Akatsuka series!), makes a cameo appearance.

If there’s anything positive I can say this time, it’s that the next Ganso half-hour will be a huge step up from these past few episodes. Please stay tuned…

Bonus video: Karel Gott, nicknamed the Golden Voice of Prague in his glory days, suddenly breaks into singing the German theme for Maya the Bee (composed by Karel Svoboda) as part of a special New Year’s Eve Show on the ZDF network (where Maya aired in Germany) at the end of 1980.

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