Sunday, July 13, 2014

it's candy candy's world, we're just living in it

Our heroine’s about to be sold into Mexican child slavery, and that’s when the casual viewer begins to sit up and take notice, to realize that the girl’s cartoon Candy Candy is going to go way, way past frilly dresses, young loves, and funny animal sidekicks. Located somewhere near the kitsch-intersection of Mauve Decade tearjerker and 1970s anime, the struggles of Candice White Adley conquered shoujo manga, became a Toei anime and a worldwide phenomenon, and today are notable by the giant gaping hole its absence leaves in our pop culture map.

Want a forgettable romantic comedy starring a generic smiling tomboy and her charming pets? Go watch Lun Lun the Flower Angel, you wuss. Candy Candy is the real deal; a 100% tear-injected emotion-wringing pile-driving machine that spares nothing in its drive to deliver repeated jack-hammer emotional shocks to Candy.

But Candice White can take it. With a Shonen Magazine hero’s sense of justice and the horseback-lasso skills of a dime novel Wild West cowboy, Candy makes her own luck as she soldiers through an orphan’s life in the American Midwest, the social pitfall-infested lifestyles of the ultrawealthy, harsh British public school discipline, and the front lines of nursing during the pain and loss of a world at war.  Even though her heart is broken again and again, a healing return to Pony’s Home puts her right and before you know it, she’s back out in the world blazing her own trail.  

my Candy Candy cel
Author Kyoko Mizuki premiered Candy in a 1975 novel, shortly thereafter teaming up with mangaka Yumiko Igarashi to serialize Candy Candy’s adventures for several years in the venerable shojo monthly Nakayoshi.  Mizuki and Igarashi teamed up again with Nakayoshi’s Tim Tim Circus while Mizuki herself created kiddy comedy series Shampoo Oji in 2007. Igarashi’s post-Candy career includes the popular shojo series Lady Georgie, some work on the Anne Of Green Gables manga, and creating the seminal character “Boo Boo” in the 1983 anime Crusher Joe.

Toei’s  Candy Candy anime series would premiere in October of 1976, airing at 7pm Fridays on NET (now TV Asahi) for the next three years, and that’s when the Candy Candy merchandise train really got up a good head of steam, creating a blizzard of licensed goods for Japanese kids and eventual headaches for everybody’s legal departments. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Candy Candy showed up right as Europe was going crazy for Japanese cartoons and, as the girls’ counterpart to popular super robot mayhem, proved successful in France, Italy, Spain, Russia, China, Korea, the Arabic nations, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, Portugal, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Francophone Canada via the CBC.  Echoing the changes inflicted on Japanese anime by American localizers, some of the less fortunate characters in Candy wind up “hospitalized” rather than “dead” in foreign versions.  Sadly, the good old US wouldn’t get its Candy; apart from one videocassette release via ZIV, Candy Candy would never appear in her home country. Chances are the good citizens of La Porte Indiana have no idea their most famous daughter is actually a Japanese manga character.
Candy Candy 33rpm story record w/ extra crayon

Both Candy and her future best friend Annie were abandoned as infants in a snowstorm outside Pony’s Home orphanage somewhere near La Porte in the early part of the 20th century.  When Annie is adopted, her wealthy new family forbids any contact with the orphans, and young Candy’s heart suffers the first of many shocks. Her sorrow is eased by the appearance of a mystery boy in a kilt and bagpipes who charms Candy’s tears away and then vanishes, to be forever remembered by Candy as “The Prince on the Hill.”

Candy’s destiny would see her adopted into and buffeted by the social machinations of the wealthy and powerful Adley clan. Brought into the venal Leagan branch of the family, as a playmate for the spoiled Neil and Eliza, Candy is protected by their noble cousins, Archie and Alistair Cornwall and the boy who strangely reminds her of her hilltop prince, Anthony Brown.  Hated by the jealous Eliza, the malicious Neil, and their pretentious mother, Candy is saved from the Leagans’ ire when she’s officially adopted by the Adley family’s secretive patriarch, Grandfather William.

the spoiled rotten Neil and Eliza, who should die by leeching
Reunited with Annie, abused by Neil and Eliza, imperiled by the crazy inventions of Alistair, and saved from drowning by the teenage hermit Albert, Candy’s budding romance with Anthony is destroyed just as it begins, in the series’ first major tragic turning point that shocked a generation of young fans. Heartbroken, the children are sent to an exclusive English private school, and en route Candy meets the rebellious young man who will soon become very important in her life, the moody bad boy Terry.  At St. Pauls, Candy will again face the wrath of Eliza as well as the stern discipline of an English public school, but even being unjustly locked in the punishment tower can’t break her spirit.

Archie, Anthony, Alistair
Terry reveals his tender side one glorious summer in Scotland, but their relationship is sidelined by Eliza’s jealousy, and when Terry quits school and returns to America to follow his theatrical dreams, Candy follows.  She braves the Atlantic as a stowaway and survives a snowy death-march back to Pony’s Home.  Her newfound determination to become a nurse finds her in the Merry Jane Nursing School, where the stern Merry Jane labels her a “dimwit” and contempt positively radiates from her older fellow student Franny. The cataclysmic European war brings the young nurses to St. Joanna Hospital in Chicago to learn advanced surgical nursing training – where Albert, returning to the narrative as an amnesiac war refugee, needs Candy’s skill to survive.

Terry’s acting career takes off as he grabs the lead in Romeo & Juliet on Broadway, and in spite of every plot contrivance, Candy and Terry reconnect. The rekindled flames of the Candy-Terry romance are threatened by sabotage from both Eliza and Susanna, Terry’s desperately lovesick costar. However, a tragic accident with a heavy stage light that finally destroys everyone’s chance at happiness, and the love triangle is demolished forever one snowy night in one of the more impressive displays of passive-aggressive behavior seen in the anime field, and only a healing retreat to Pony’s Home can help Candy recover.
a rare scene of Terry not smoking or drinking

After a car accident Albert’s memory returns, and he’s faced with a momentous decision.  A chance encounter on the streets of Chicago between Candy and Neil sparks a long-suppressed and possibly unbalanced desire. Candy has to deal with the repulsive attentions of Neil, while Eliza schemes to cause Candy eternal misery – halted at the last minute by the sudden appearance of the family’s patriarch, Candy’s mysterious benefactor Grandfather William. Candy learns not only the identity of Grandfather William but also the truth behind Candy’s first love, the “Prince on the Hill” – just in time for the series to end.

Candy and Albert, living in sin

Even for 115 episodes that’s a lot of story to get through, and I’ve breezed past so much – threatened by white slavers, Candy’s raccoon pet Kurin who was created just for TV, defying customs by smuggling said raccoon into England, Candy’s gender-bending waltz with Annie, the casual way Albert and Candy violate profound social mores by sharing an apartment, Candy demonstrating the horrors of mass warfare to a confused boy via a field of massacred cattle. We see fights in bars, a clinic that treats humans and animals alike, alcoholism, urban poverty, disease and death, crippled nurses returning from the Western front, and the tragic end to the romance between Alistair and Candy’s school chum Patty. Even the late-period “catch-up” story detour – to let the manga catch up with the anime, so they’d end together – is filled with drama, pathos, and cattle-stampede action.
French Candy book
The anime series only occasionally matched Igarashi’s lovely manga artwork, and vast liberties were taken in regards to the geography of North America – there aren’t any mountain ranges in Indiana, and you can’t get to Mexico in a day via carriage- but even the limited palette of mid 70s TV animation can’t hide the power of Candy, whose reach was inescapable. If you’re a woman of a certain age who was anywhere near a television in 1977-1980, you probably watched Candy Candy, read the manga, or bought the toy purse or the play house or the rack toys or saw the 1979 stage show starring Caroline Yoko… unless you lived in the States.


Two short Manga Matsuri films and a 1990 Toei OAV retold key story points, and the third Mizuki novel carried the story further into the 20th century, but for millions the television series remains the Candy canon. It’s an entertaining show for all, no matter your age, ethnic background, or gender; the soap opera wizardry keeps you tuned in episode after episode to find out what fresh hell Candy will suffer next. I’m testament to this; I’m clearly so not the target audience for this show, and yet here I am, a middle-aged guy experiencing the confused stares of Mandarake clerks as I blunder through their shojo section, protected only by the presence of my wife.
Neil has totally lost it
 Beloved by girls on four continents, debate still rages over whether Candy should have ended up with Anthony, Terry, or Albert - Yumiko Igarashi married Anthony’s voice actor Kazuhiko Inoue, for what it’s worth in settling that controversy. Their son Namami Igarashi is a cross-dressing manga artist, the more talented Ed Wood of the mangaka set.

Candy Candy was even referenced on Saturday Night Live in their infamous “anime club” skit.  Sadly, this seminal shoujo series now languishes in Copyright Limbo, kept from a generation of fans who would love nothing more than to open up their wallets and hurl cash at Candy merchandise.  Locked away by dueling creator lawsuits and corporate unwillingness to approach a property located in such a legal minefield, Candy Candy bides her time.  Mark my words; when these petty legal issues are cleared up, there will be an explosion of pent-up Candy Candy enthusiasm that will rock the pop-culture world from Tokyo to Timbucktu.
Keep your candy in your Candy Purse
Candy Candy Ping Pong set (?) 
The problem?  Mizuki and Igarashi shared the copyright on Candy Candy with Toei taking a side interest. However, in the 1990s, Igarashi unilaterally started selling Candy merchandise, prompting Mizuki to file suit against her. The Tokyo district court awarded both Mizuki and Igarashi joint custody of Candy in 1999. This didn’t stop Igarashi from legally challenging Toei’s TV stake in Candy, the effects of which were to cause Toei to place a hold on both the original show and any new Candy productions.  With a checkered past on both sides of the law – 200,000 bootleg Candy Candy t-shirts were seized in 1979, and an attempt at selling Candy Candy puzzles in 2003 led to a 7.8 million yen judgment against the two management outfits who commissioned their manufacture – it’s easy to see how corporate Japan would shy away from the spunky orphan. 
Candy matsuri mask in its natural environment
This hasn’t stopped other Candy-crazed countries from releasing their own questionably-legal Candy merchandise, and right now the only way to see Candy Candy is through gray-market DVD sets with foreign dubs or iffy subtitles in three languages. Of course, here in the new age Candy Candy can be seen in various languages on the YouTubes, but streaming video is a convenient but temporary solution.  Will this embargo ever be lifted?  Will the three-way legal struggle ever be resolved to allow Candy Candy to once again return to and from Pony’s Home, to seek happiness and fulfillment wherever she can? One thing’s for sure; the melodramatic journey of Candice White Adley is far from over.


special thanks to my Candy friends James, Neil, and Dylan, and of course the hardworking staff at Pony's Home, La Porte, Indiana. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

the return of prince planet manga

Remember a couple years back when we posted some translated pages of Yusei Shonen Papii (aka Prince Planet) manga from the 1960s? Remember how those pages were scanned out of a tattered, yellowing 1965 issue of Kobunsha's Shonen and we figured we'd never see any more Prince Planet manga?  Well, we were wrong. Recently Japan's manga industry smiled on us and released a two-volume set of Yusei Shonen Papii manga.

This of course, allows us to enjoy the manga adventures of Yusei Shonen Papii, Riko, Strong, Adji Baba, and that doofus on Radion who keeps forgetting to keep Prince Planet's medallion powered up. You had ONE JOB, fella. This manga also enables us to present the next chapter in our exciting Prince Planet manga adventure! So sit back, try to remember where we were when we left off - and to read from right to left - and enjoy!




 



Thanks to Kayt for shipping these over and to Rick for the translations and to the planet Radion, without which any of this would have been necessary. Stay tuned to your local UHF station, or Let's Anime, for upcoming Prince Planet news!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Anime North time

Yes gang, it's time once again for Canada's pre-eminent Japanese cartoon festival, Anime North. And for me that means doing some panels and events, and THAT means a lot of time assembling clips and researching things and finding out when people are coming in to town and who can bring me Moon Pies.  What am I up to next week?  Let's see.


ANIME HELL returns for its tenth year of bringing crazy clip madness to the AN audiences. As always its 10pm Friday night in the big ballroom in the International Plaza Hotel, which used to be called the Doubletree and which we'll likely continue to mistakenly call the Doubletree for at least another year.


Saturday at noon Geoff Tebbets and I will attempt to blast our way through fifty years of Japanese anime TV goodness as we examine 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994, and 2004, and talk about the Golden Ani-versary blog that sparked all this discussion.


At 2pm Shaindle Minuk, Neil Nadelman, and myself will have some Candy! We'll be talking about Candy Candy, the immensely popular shoujo anime series that charmed the entire world with its blend of melodrama, romance, heartbreak, and world war.


Sunday at noon Shain and I will bring our popular "Stupid Comics" feature from Mister Kitty to the big screen as we take a look at some of the worst comic books ever sold to an unsuspecting public. Now with 50% more manga, fake manga, fake anime, and various iterations thereof.


And Sunday at 2 I'll be taking everyone on a trip through the history of what may be, pound for pound, the least competent anime studio to ever anime anime. Yes, it's Knack, the folks who brought us Charge Man Ken, Robby The Rascal, and Ninja The Wonder Boy.

Of course there's tons of other events and attractions at Anime North next week!  See you there!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sufficiently Directed: Insufficient Direction

Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno, published in the United States by Vertical Inc., $14.95 US/$16.95 CND  


Moyoco Anno is a manga artist whose body of work stars everything from cutesy magical girls to red-light district courtesans to modern corporate women, and who happens to be married to fellow creative Hideaki Anno.  Anno the filmmaker is not only the postmodernist director of, among many other things, GAINAX’s Evangelion, but is also wholly committed to the full otaku lifestyle. Dominated by his obsession with the colorful, childish, giant-monster-infested Showa-era end of the entertainment spectrum, Hideaki Anno’s all-consuming otaku immersion has arguably led to a successful entertainment career, but has also has rendered him incapable of interacting with the “straight” world. Dragging him kicking and screaming into the real-life situations of marriage, home ownership, and other real-life grownup adult details is a daunting task for anyone. Especially when you’re inexplicably drawing yourself as a crazy-eyed toddler in footy PJs.

This is the premise of Moyoco Anno’s Insufficient Direction, a collection of short, sharp stories detailing the trials and tribulations of “Rompers”- Moyoco’s toddler stand-in- and her life together with “Director” as their differing lifestyle choices meet and clash.

As a guy roughly in the same age range and sharing a lot of predilections as “Director”, it’s downright appalling to see him tooling along in the car singing along to the X-Bomber theme song. Because… I do that.  I too was obsessed with Ultraman as a child and know way too much about super-robot cartoons and who directed what World Masterpiece Theater production of which juvenile literary classic, and it is profoundly unsettling watching my life unfold in a manga written and drawn by complete strangers who, so far as I know, are not spying on me.  Still, the parallels are ominous. “Rompers” and “Director” were married, as my cartoonist wife and I were, in 2002 – and while neither groom sported a Kamen Rider costume, as shown in the manga, they DID distribute their own doujinshi to the guests (why didn’t we think of that?).  The couple faces the same questions many of us face today; what to do with the piles of DVDs and LDs? How best to handle the pot belly that results from the sedentary otaku lifestyle?  Where in their tiny apartment will the Kamen Rider figures go? How should a faithful wife react when – again, ominously paralleling my own life – she first sees her husband’s goofy amateur films? Thankfully for my own sanity, every time Insufficient Direction hits too close to home we come across a sequence where “Rompers” tries to convince “Director” that changing underwear and showering every day is critical, which I assure you is NOT an issue around HERE.

 “Rompers”, a successful josei/seinen manga artist prior to her relationship with “Director”, is fascinatingly distant from the otaku lifestyle. In the West, comics have been the realm of fanboys-turned-pro for so long that the idea of comics professionals un-obsessed with fandom trivia is a novelty, but “Rompers” could care less about tokusatsu shows or quotable Char Aznable quotes… at first, anyways.  Creative couples producing tag-team autobiographical comics are rare whatever hemisphere you’re in; the closest you’ll find to this work are perhaps the jam comics of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and Insufficient Direction thankfully steers clear of Crumb & The Bunch’s more confessional tendencies. In the manga-artist autobio field, Insufficient Direction’s nearest sibling available here may be Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, which deals with altogether heavier subjects like alcoholism and depression while sidestepping any discussion of its effects on Azuma’s relationship.

As Insufficient Direction and the couple’s relationship progresses, “Rompers” succumbs to some kind of otaku version of Stockholm Syndrome and starts peppering her speech with references to Akage no Anne while joining “Director” in belting out the Hurricane Polymar theme song. Will she become, finally, an Ota-Wife? Is this even a thing? How far should a spouse go in adopting the quirks of their partner?  Can a manga really deal with the mysteries of the human heart and at the same time explain what an Ultra Bracelet is and why somebody would spend 140000 yen on one?

 For those not completely consumed by the otaku world, Insufficient Direction comes fully annotated with vital stats about Battle Fever J, Moomin, Super Girl Asuka, Xabungle, various Ultramen, the J-9 series, and otaku cultural icons like BIC Camera and Kourakuen Amusement Park. The book also does a pretty good job selling us on the “Smarty” infrared sauna. “Director” is given a lengthy postscript that hands us a lengthy, unflattering description of “otaku” and compliments his wife on nailing the subculture without giving the readers any mercy. Of course, as it says in the beginning of Insufficient Direction, “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  So don’t take it personally, otaku.


Moyoco Anno’s direct linework carries a lot of information and her expressive characters are able to communicate every emotion in spite of being drawn as swirly-eyed babies or hidden behind Director-san’s glasses.  Their Felix-and-Oscar relationship makes for entertaining reading no matter which side of the Otaku Divide you’re on, and this semi-autobiographical roller-coaster ride is just getting started; the anime version of Insufficient Direction premiered April 3 2014. We can only hope a new generation of obsessives will devote valuable brain cells to memorizing every detail of the life of “Rompers” and “Director”. 

Moyoco Anno will be appearing at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival May 10-11, 2014.  Attendance is free. See you there!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

world's most wanted

(this review of Pioneer's 2003 DVD release "Lupin The 3rd: The World's Most Wanted" originally appeared in 2003.  Pioneer's no longer in business and this DVD is out of print, but I had a lot of fun writing this review and am glad to present it again.)

FROM:  INSPECTOR ZENIGATA
TO: ICPO (Interpol)  HEADQUARTERS, GENEVA
SUBJECT: LUPIN THE 3RD -THE WORLD’S MOST WANTED

Gentlemen:
I am saddened to report that once again the entertainment industry has demonstrated its contempt for the rule of law with the release of yet another in a long line of animated serials dealing with the notorious criminal, Lupin the 3rd.

This latest DVD release even has the audacity to poke fun at Lupin’s criminal status with its title “The World’s Most Wanted”.   I am shocked at the lack of respect for law that Pioneer, once a highly-regarded entertainment conglomerate, has demonstrated with this video.  It was bad enough that these supposedly comical cartoon “adventures” of that reprobate Lupin had been transmitted across the public airwaves during the mid 1970s, but to dredge these accounts of larcenous and immoral behavior from whatever pit of depravity they had been confined to is almost a crime in itself.



All of Lupin’s accomplices are fully implicated in the crimes this video depicts.  The gangster Jigen, the mercenary swordsman Goemon, and that curvaceous grifter Fujiko are all explicitly shown engaged in violations of the criminal codes of dozens of nations.  I am, as always, deeply embarrassed that the corrupt and malicious producers of these animated films have seen fit to include a painfully inept caricature of myself as a character in these shameful episodes.  It is a known fact that Lupin III has eluded capture so far - but not for lack of effort on my part, I am proud to say.  I only wish the same was true for some of our “brethren in blue”, who seem to regard this brigand as a harmless and entertaining thief rather than a menace to public safety and morals.


The six “escapades” contained in this DVD are fanciful recreations of some of Lupin’s most heinous offenses, as produced for Japanese television by the Tokyo Movie Shinsha animation studio.  “The Revenge Of Lupin The 3rd” features the destruction of an entire luxury liner, prompted by a madman driven to revenge after becoming the victim of one of Lupin’s previous schemes.  In the luridly titled “Buns, Guns, And Fun In The Sun”,  Lupin and his gang demonstrate what may be new heights of contempt for civilized society, as they not only rob the box office of Rio’s soccer stadium and make a mockery of the Brazilian penal system (here my opinion of the Rio police matches Lupin’s - I fear the tropical climate and moral lassitude of the inhabitants has contributed to the decline of this law enforcement unit) - but a priceless national landmark is perhaps irreparably damaged by Lupin’s unthinking greed.  “50 Ways To Leave Your 50-Foot Lover” is a fanciful tale of the supposed Loch Ness Monster, reportedly tamed by Fujiko’s singing voice.  “Gold Smuggling 101” is a primer in perfidy for anyone who wishes to embark on a life of crime.  I must say it was ingenious of Lupin to utilize a scheme straight out of the film Goldfinger, but then again, he IS a thief.  What disturbs me the most about this episode may be the depiction of the corruption of what was once a respected bank manager;  or perhaps it may be the depiction of myself, which literally portrays the author as a myopic crank from whom Lupin is able to escape without effort.  I assure you, my failure to permanently apprehend Lupin is a result of the criminal’s inhuman cunning and dexterity, not a lapse of attention from this detective.“Shaky Pisa” is remarkable not only for the earthquake-device that nearly destroys Pisa, but also for expecting the viewer to believe that Lupin the 3rd will retire from the scene while leaving millions of lire un-stolen.  In the “Cursed Case Scenario”, the ancient sands of Egypt are befouled by Lupin’s perfidious footsteps.  Not even national treasures are safe from his larcenous grasp!  Luckily his ill-gotten swag seems to be more trouble than it is worth.  
The animation of these criminal adventures is of the standard seen on broadcast television in Japan in the mid 1970s; adequate without devolving into primitivism, though bereft of the occasional flashes of artistry seen in other “cartoons” of the period.  The depiction of Lupin and his accomplices are realistic enough, though exaggerated for supposedly comic purposes.  Other than a garish series title in English, the opening credits are as originally presented, and the end credits are similar to the Japanese, with a rather weak instrumental replacing the original Japanese vocals.   Rendering these photoplays into English was obviously an attempt on Pioneer’s part to corrupt the morals of the children of the Western world, already known to be in a precarious state. 

Lupin’s English voice is remarkably similar to his Japanese.  This new Anglophone version, however, is closest of all to the rendition heard in the long-suppressed “Mystery of Mamo” film (though Lupin’s voice was the only point of accuracy in that otherwise scandalously erroneous production. “Ed Scott”, indeed).  Both Lupin and his crew of malcontents spout dialog that positively reeks of the disrespectful, flippant attitude that would lead one to a life of crime;  puns, insults, and innuendos of a leering nature abound in their speech.   I am positive that the intended audience for this low-class banter will find it quite amusing, however disturbing it may be to those of more refined tastes.

Seemingly tireless in its mania to promote lawlessness and crime, Pioneer has released this DVD with options of both English and Japanese language tracks.  A detailed section of line drawings of characters, devices, and locales acts as a veritable university education in wrongdoing for the interested viewer.  Previews for other of Pioneer’s perhaps more law-abiding productions fill the remainder of this digital video disc.
   

In conclusion, let me exhort Interpol to use every means at its disposal to prevent this latest affront to the public dignity.  How much longer will law-abiding citizens be forced to endure the glorification of criminality?  Is Lupin the 3rd the kind of figure we want held up to our children as a figure to be emulated?  Already reports are coming in about a new Lupin comic book in America, and the new year will see Lupin’s duplicitous face plastered across the television screens of that already criminal-infested country.  I urge you, sirs, to wait no longer.  For my part, I have just received information about Lupin’s latest target, and I must end this communication posthaste.  Rest assured, gentlemen, that this time I will DEFINITELY bring Lupin the 3rd to long-delayed justice.

Inspector Zenigata, ICPO

(transcription by correspondent Dave Merrill)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dr. Zen And the Magic And Poorly Animated Machine

We like to think of Japanese animation as brilliant world-class entertainment, able to hold its own against the cartoon arts from around the globe.  Occasionally that’s the case. But often what we see from Japan is, like the TV cartoons from anywhere else, hastily-assembled, produced on a punishing deadline by stressed-out minimum wage employees, and aimed only at filling a few minutes of broadcast airtime and selling a few ads for toys or candy. It’s this ‘makin’ the donuts’ attitude that’s allowed Japan to produce a prodigious amount of TV animation in the past fifty years, and like anything else, there are flashes of brilliance, stunning failures, and a lot of in-between (and a lot of in-betweening, that’s an animation reference.) Every once in a while, the surging tides of production come up against the shoals of ineptitude, the rocks of budget constraints, and the pillars of “just get it done already”, and we’re served up something that by its very awfulness has mutated into a singular viewing experience that becomes interesting in spite of itself. Something like Mysterious Thief Pride, or as we’d call it, Dr. Zen. 
Dr Zen is the world’s greatest thief, and as befitting his criminal status, he dresses like a stage magician in top hat and tails, with a giant mustache flanking his bulbous nose. He flies around in a rocket ship, like all great thieves do, with his assistant Walter, who is a dog. Together they plan the most incredible crimes ever devised, like stealing toys from children and using an enlarging machine to enlarge, say, a toy car, into a real-size car. Because you couldn't steal a regular car, apparently. Opposing these dastardly crimes is the young detective Doublecheck, his giant pal Gabby, and their friend Honey, who is a bee with a woman’s head, a horrific nightmare right out of a Vincent Price movie. Meanwhile, the “official” detective Supersnooper bumbles around getting in the way and occasionally having his clothes ripped off. Thus the amazing adventures of Mysterious Thief Pride enthralled Japanese youth in the mid 1960s.
Doublecheck and Gabby and kids

105 5-minute segments of Kaito Pride aka Mysterious Thief Pride were produced by Japan Tele-Cartoons aka Terebi Doga aka TV Films in 1965, perhaps designed to fill that important “rain delay” or “technical difficulties” programming segment of any TV station. Created by Kazuhiko “Panda And The Magic Serpent” Okabe, future stars like Noboru Ishiguro would hone their anime skills on this series. Kaito Pride would likely have remained as unknown to us as many other short-subject anime TV programs like Pinch & Punch or Shadar, but TV Doga knew of America’s hunger for cartoons and thought our good mysterious thief might be a good export.
Doublecheck and Honeybee the Woman-Headed Bee
Returned for re-grooving, Kaito Pride emerged in color as Dr. Zen, ready for the American market. But was the American market ready for Dr. Zen?  Apparently not; only a few segments of Dr. Zen were produced and it’s unknown if they ever made it to broadcast television. Turns out American syndication, which cheerfully aired drek like Super President, Spunky & Tadpole, and Clutch Cargo, finally found a cartoon they couldn’t use. And I don’t blame them, because Dr. Zen is one hundred percent terrible.

The animation is barely there, the character designs seem like they were taken directly from elementary-school sidewalk chalk drawing, and the slow pace of what little story there is makes a five-minute segment feel like that Andy Warhol film of the Empire State Building - and that movie is eight hours long!  The narration and voice work hit all the marks - squeaky, raspy, inaudible, comically low, and mumbly.  Animation, design, story, and sound, all bad, assemble to make Dr. Zen a difficult viewing experience that pummels the forebrain into submission, a hypnotic, consciousness-lowering ritual that lowers the IQ and suffocates higher mental functions beneath staticky fuzz. This is anime on downers, the cartoon version of a hangover. I cannot imagine the damage this show would inflict upon impressionable young people, and I applaud the good sense of America’s broadcasters in keeping it from our children. 

some of  Dr. Zen's quality animation  

a giant turtle laughs at Dr. Zen. No, you're not on drugs.
So if it never aired, how did we see it?  That’s thanks to Something Weird Video. This cult video distributor is a champion of the forgotten, the sleazy, and the otherwise unmarketable, and is single-handedly responsible not only for keeping the films of Harry Novak and Doris Wishman accessible to the public, but also in releasing compilations of movie trailers, educational films, commercials, and shorts that would otherwise have never seen the light of day. It’s on one of Something Weird’s compilation videos that I first found Dr. Zen, and it is Something Weird we must thank for this, and so much more. It’s with sadness that we note the recent passing of Mike Vraney, Something Weird’s founder, a pioneer in preserving and showcasing the legacy of the offbeat and the exploitative in film. Perhaps giving Dr. Zen to America was one of Something Weird’s lesser accomplishments, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.

It is Something Weird we must thank for shedding light on one of the mustier corners of Japan’s anime legacy, unleashing Dr. Zen from his 16mm film-can prison and allowing him to run free stealing toys and punishing viewers. Thanks, Something Weird, for proving the low end of Japanese animation can always get a little lower.

Dr. Zen will return? I sure hope not.