If you’ve been watching a lot of so-called “retro” anime, you’ve probably encountered one of these names : Tokyo Movie, Tokyo Movie Shinsha, or TMS. All these refer to the same company, established in 1964. From this date to the middle of the 80’s, this was one of Japanese animation’s most important studios, which produced works by some of the most famous artists in the industry like Hayao Miyazaki, Osamu Dezaki and Katsuhiro Otomo. The aim of this series is to retrace the studio’s “golden age”, from 1964 to 1980, and with it, offer a history of the anime industry during this period.
The goal will be to study the industry in “anime industry” : while I will offer some commentary on some of the works cited, I will focus on the history of production and careers. This way, I aim to see how anime became anime, that is, how the style and production process we know today have evolved and taken a somewhat definitive form.
This is the final part of a series. You can read Part 5 here.
In the 70’s, TMS and its subcontractors managed to create two aesthetics of their own, one centered around the A Pro comedies and the other the Madhouse dramas. Despite how innovative and influential these might have been, TMS was missing the tidal change known as the “SF boom” that started in 1974, with Space Battleship Yamato and risked, because of that, to fail to attract anime’s new audience, young men in highschool or older that would form the first generation of otaku. But the studio profoundly influenced early otaku culture with a series so enduring it’s still alive today : that was Lupin III.
The pilot film (1969)
Let’s go back to 1968. On December 6, just after the production of Hols, Prince of the Sun, its storyboard artist and animation director, Yasuo Otsuka, left Toei Animation. He did so for many reasons, some of which are probably unclear, but the one that interests us here is that he had been invited by his longtime friend Daikichiro Kusube to join his studio, A Production, to work on a new project : an adaptation of Lupin III, a manga that had started a year prior. There were three things that would have interested Otsuka in this project : a possibility for him to let loose his sensibility towards mechanical animation ; an opportunity to leave the stifling atmosphere of Toei for a new, more independant working environment ; and a chance, maybe, to pursue Hols’ ambition to make animated movies aimed at an adult audience.
Indeed, at the start, Lupin was supposed to be a feature film. The idea had been pitched to Yutaka Fujioka by Gisaburo Sugii [Ettinger, 2007], who was still working with Mushi at the time from his studio Group TAC – Sugii was probably aware that Mushi had neither the means nor the ambition to try Lupin out. However, at the time, Tokyo Movie lacked the resources and instead produced a first pilot film – made in CinemaScope, that is aimed at the big screen. Along with Sugii and the director, Masaaki Osumi, it involved those that would become A Pro’s aces : Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi worked as animation directors while Otsuka contributed to the animation.
The 12-minutes pilot film is good, and gives a good idea (just like the first series initial episodes) of what Lupin could’ve been from the start. The characters’ personalities and designs are very close to the original manga’s, and perfectly convey the atmosphere of violence and eroticism that pervade Monkey Punch’s work – Monkey Punch who himself did some supervision on the project before backing off. The animation is nervous, fully adapted to the very long-limbed and mature designs, just like the energetic direction full of very short cuts to make it all more dynamic. And notably, Lupin’s jacket in the pilot is red, not green.
Despite the quality of the pilot and the script projects that were underway, producers backed off the project because of its themes – animation for adults, involving sex and violence, wasn’t on anyone’s agenda. After a year, the pilot was remade, this time for television. It only got sold to Yomiuri TV, the station that aired and sponsored Star of the Giants, in 1971. During this time, many things had changed. In July 1969, Otsuka and Osumi were given work on the Moomin series, with the results I already evoked. Many of A Pro’s staff had gotten to work on other TV series, notably Star of the Giants and Attack no.1. But most importantly, the one that first had the idea for the project, Gisaburo Sugii, had left : he had wanted to direct the pilot and didn’t get the opportunity, which made him leave as soon as it was over. He got back to work for Mushi, and would have to wait until 1996 to direct some Lupin.
The first series (1971-1972)
With many of the original staff away or busy, the first Lupin series started airing in October 1971 with Osumi as director and Otsuka as character designer. It did, also, involve some new blood, such as the great Yuzo Aoki, who apparently made his debut as KA on the show’s opening scene. According to his fellow animator Toshiyuki Honda, when they both passed the entrance exam to enter A Pro, Otsuka immediately declared Aoki a genius and decided to take him in his team. Aoki would keep working under Otsuka’s animation direction on Samurai Giants, but Lupin was really the place where he delivered most of his work, becoming an ace animator on the second series and the Mystery of Mamo movie, and finally rising up the ranks to be Part III’s character designer and animation director.
Aoki wasn’t the only one raised by the formidable discoverer and teacher that was Otsuka. Already experienced animators like Osamu Kobayashi delivered some work (notably this impressive cut from #5), or Keiichiro Kimura who did some subcontracting from Neo Media. As for new names, this was also the second job of Yoshifumi Kondo as key animator after his time on Star of the Giants, while Hiroshi Fukutomi, that would become one of A Pro’s main directors, (notably on Ganso Tensai Bakabon) is credited as in-betweener. But the most famous names to have worked on the series were undoubtedly Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
The first 9 episodes, directed by Osumi, are still close to the atmosphere of the pilot, and of the manga. The animation, while good, feels very rough and the characters are dark, manipulative and violent. Star of the Giants and Ashita no Joe had shown the potential of more dramatic animation that could eventually appeal to older audiences, but this was too much for the time. The series had poor ratings and, as early as episode 2, producers asked Osumi to make changes – which he flat-out refused to do. Under pressure from the TV station, Osumi was progressively relieved of his duties as director while Otsuka introduced his two friends to the series to give them work after the failure of their Pippi Longstocking project.
According to Miyazaki, the production was a mess because of this sudden change [Miyazaki, 2009, p.280]. Maybe because of this, the credits were all over the place, with some episodes crediting no directors or the mysterious “A Pro’s directors’ team”. This credit, for the Miyazaki-Takahata duo, is interesting in at least three ways. One, it strongly associates them with A Pro as a studio, which would have cemented its identity but is a strange move from people who had just joined and would leave as fast. Second, it made the actual directors anonymous – which, if you consider the fact that Takahata storyboarded some episodes of other A Pro series at the same time under a pseudonym, might indicate that the two men didn’t want to be completely associated with their TV work at the time. Finally, the group identity almost works like a way to say that at this point, there’s no way to really make a difference between Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s style : they might as well be considered as one director.
While this makes sense in purely technical terms, it makes no doubt that Miyazaki’s visual imagination took over Takahata’s, who could not draw. The most eloquent proof of that is episode 10, the first real episode of the duo, which is full of miyazakisms. The scenario, involving a counterfeit money maker, is reminiscent of Castle of Cagliostro even in some scenes, such as Lupin getting stranded on a giant clock. The final scene, a fistfight in the snow, is very similar to Porco Rosso’s own fistfight. There are also all the car and plane chases you could wish for, with Miyazaki’s very recognizable mechanical designs contrasting against Otsuka’s very realistic ones.
However, it’s not like Miyazaki took for himself all the creative responsibility. In that regard, the best example are the 4 (#3,#7,#13 and #17) episodes storyboarded by Dezaki, who hadn’t even left Mushi yet – which is why he did them under a pseudonym, Sai Kuyo (probably a double pun on “saa iku yo”, “come on” and “kusai yo”, “it’s a pain”). This was his first collaboration with Miyazaki, and as can be expected, they’re among the best of the series. My favorite is #13, which by the way prefigures a later Lupin movie since its antagonist is time-traveller Mamo. It features all the classical Dezaki visual vocabulary : a strong sensibility towards lighting and depth of field, experimentations with superimpositions and color… But it also manages to be one of the most absurd and fun episodes (all of Dezaki’s are pretty absurd, but this one is a step further), while staying very dramatic all along – it basically plays perfectly between the two registers of Dezaki’s style.
But the fact is that Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s influence on the series was huge. You can see it by comparing their work with the Osumi episodes, but also by looking at what Lupin became in its later installments. While keeping the fundamental conceit of the series, they started changing the characters and atmosphere of the show. For example, Goemon stops being a dark and dangerous samurai but is used more often for comic relief : Miyazaki himself reminisces about the last episode, where the scenario is pushed to its limits when “we had Goemon tunnel below a huge, seemingly impregnable bank vault and then slice a hole in the floor with his sword, and we showed Inspector Zenigata reduced to tears” [Miyazaki, 2009, p.280]. The general impression given by Miyazaki is that of a chaotic production (he says the producers made apologies to the staff once the show was over), which didn’t stop the staff from having a lot of fun with the thing.
This sense of fun is probably what makes the original series so good and keeps transpiring in Miyazaki’s second approach of Lupin, The Castle of Cagliostro. The last episode in particular is full of in-jokes and easter eggs, most notably cameos from Otsuka and his signature jeep, and Miyazaki himself. The efforts from the new directors managed to make the series a bit more popular, but it was initially far from a hit – until there was a live-action adaptation in 1974 and, more importantly, a TV rerun which this time achieved popular acclaim [Clements and McCarthy, 2015, p.486].
Red jacket Lupin : the second series and The Secret of Mamo (1977-1980)
The second Lupin series, originally titled New Lupin, started airing in October 1977, 6 years after the start of the original show. In these 6 years, which I chronicled in the previous parts of this series, the work environment and atmosphere in and around TMS had drastically changed. Lupin took Ganso Tensai Bakabon’s slot once it had ended and a year prior, A Pro had severed its relationship with TMS to become Shin-Ei. With Madhouse working on their shows with their own experienced staff, and TMS’ boss Yutaka Fujioka more or less obsessed by his Little Nemo project, the apparent strategy adopted by the studio was to come back to lucrative properties that would make them money while helping them to train their animators : alongside New Lupin, there was a New Star of the Giants series in 1977, and in 1978 a New Aim for the Ace show – this trend would go on until the early 80’s with a newer version of Tetsujin 28-go, Ashita no Joe 2 and a New Gutsy Frog.
Despite not being an A Pro show by any means, New Lupin embodies the director-less philosophy of their works : the quality varies wildly from one episode to the next, depending on what studio or animators worked on it. If you also consider that the series had an impressive 3-years run over 155 episodes, I believe it’s fair to say that many of these episodes aren’t really worth it. But alongside these run-of-the-mill episodes, most of them handled by TMS’ own animators, there are some very good and interesting ones.
The first interesting subcontractor is one we’ve already met, which made a name for itself working with Ghibli and particularly Isao Takahata : Oh Production. At the time, their star animator was the young Kazuhide Tomonaga, who had started his successful career subcontracting for Toei shows (alongside Yoshinari Kanada, with whom he had a friendly rivalry that comes off in their spectacular duo on the Galaxy Express 999 finale) from a studio named Tiger Production. His most famous early work was his contributions to the Space Battleship Yamato series on which he managed to give a sense of realism both to character and mechanical animation – a sensibility that could only make him noticed by Miyazaki and Otsuka, who were arguably two experts in both fields. He then went to work at Oh Pro (somewhere between 1976 and 1977) and it’s from there that he did his first collaboration with the two men on Future Boy Conan in 1978. At the same time, he contributed significantly to Lupin, first from Oh Pro until episode 98, and then from Telecom, which he very probably joined to keep working with Otsuka once Conan was over. He did one solo episode, #14, but his best work was for the end of the series, on the Telecom episodes.
It’s actually interesting to see Oh Pro on Lupin, because at the time, they were mostly subcontracting for Nippon Animation and had stopped working regularly with TMS. But it appears that all this second series and its movie version, The Mystery of Mamo, was a way for Fujioka to bring back most of the A Pro staff that had left and were starting to feel disappointed in their work at Shin-Ei. As I mentioned earlier, Telecom had been originally created by Fujioka in 1975 to work on feature-length movies, and most notably the Little Nemo project. Things turned out differently and production was longer than expected, but Fujioka’s ambition to create high-budget animated movies had not disappeared – an ambition which would give birth to the Mystery of Mamo, the first feature length movie produced by TMS and the first in the Lupin franchise. The budget had to meet Fujioka’s great expectations : it was 500 million yen, the highest for an animated production in Japan at the time (but TMS would go even further with Akira). The production lasted for 15 months and apparently involved a staff of more than a thousand – all this was unprecedented and aimed to make the movie one of the most lavish animated works of the time.
For this occasion, many of the original staff of the franchise was brought back. The director was Soji Yoshikawa, an ex-Mushi employee which had worked alongside Dezaki on Ashita no Joe, Ace o Nerae and Rose of Versailles as an episode director, screenwriter and storyboard artist ; he had also notably storyboarded the first and last episodes of the first series (under pseudonym Kazumi Takahashi). Tsutomu Shibayama, who had done the character designs for the pilot, did the layout for the movie. That was probably a transitional work for him, I guess as a freelancer, just before he created Ajia-Do in 1978. Otsuka himself was supposed to act as animation director, but since he was already busy with Conan and quickly started working on the TV series as soon as he had joined Telecom, he only did late and very light supervision. The real animation directors ended up being Yoshio Kabashima and Yuzo Aoki, who also did his first work as character designer – with resounding success.
However, this mustn’t have been easy work for them, since most of Telecom’s staff were untrained animators. This is probably why Aoki’s style is all over the movie, since he must’ve corrected many, many cuts. It’s also one of the unofficial reasons Otsuka was brought over to Telecom : officially, Fujioka offered him supervision on Mamo and direction of the next Lupin movie (which he left to Miyazaki), but he very probably also wanted him to train the Telecom newbies. As the TV series was ongoing at the same time, Otsuka thought it would be best to just put them to work and have them learn the job by actually animating – the result was a dismal experience on episode 72, which he apparently had to almost entirely redraw himself and called the worst piece of animation he ever worked on [Ettinger, 2011]. However, because of Otsuka’s corrections, it ends up being a particularly good episode – the scenario, in which Lupin’s rival detective is none other than detective Columbo’s son, is already hilarious, but add to that excellent Otsuka-style animation and you have one of the most entertaining pieces of the series.
But before discussing Telecom’s and Otsuka’s work in detail, I’d like to stop on the animator who’s in my opinion the series’ real star, whom I already celebrated quite a lot here – Yuzo Aoki. As I already mentioned, Aoki was a real A-Pro thoroughbred : starting his career on the first Lupin series, he then worked on various TV shows and the Panda Kopanda shorts. He became more and more notable on Samurai Giants, then Gamba no Boken and finally Ganso Tensai Bakabon where his long sequences cemented his position as one of the most important animators of the studio. When A Pro became Shin-Ei in 1976, he was one of the first ones to leave and go freelance – and quickly set to work on The Secret of Mamo to supervise the unexperienced Telecom staff.
Aoki’s very stylized and cartoony style was a perfect fit for Lupin ; his long-limbed, sleek designs are very animation-friendly and some of my favorites in the franchise, especially his very 60’s looking Fujiko. At some point, background characters look straight out of some earlier A Pro work with the geometrical shapes of their bodies. Despite Aoki’s best efforts as animation director (along with Kabashima), because most of Telecom’s staff were beginners, this wouldn’t end up being the great and lavish spectacle Fuijoka had hoped for – this honor would probably go to Cagliostro. But it does have its moments, with some very strong acting clearly influenced by Aoki and a Duel-inspired chase scene that rivals Cagliostro’s. Moreover, it’s not like Telecom was the only one on the movie : TMS called some of its regular subcontractors like Oh Pro (which means that Tomonaga also did some cuts) and Mates, but also Madhouse subcontractors like ACT and Magic Bus (a Madhouse off-shoot created by Satoshi Dezaki in 1977).
At the same time, like most of the staff of the movie, Aoki worked on the TV series – though most of his work is on the late, post-Mamo part of the show. He did some significant contributions, storyboarding 16 episodes and animating on 5 among which one solo, #30 (although Benjamin Ettinger thinks he only did the first part), and some probably uncredited work. But his real masterpiece was his solo OP, the fourth and last of the show. It’s full of abstract shapes and effortlessly creates movement and expression through shading – I can’t believe Aoki’s design sense and seamless transitions weren’t an influence for Koji Morimoto’s famous Project Eden opening, which is another way of saying that, as in many other things, Aoki was 10 years ahead of his time.
To finish on Mamo, I’d have to say it’s Lupin at its best – that is its most absurd and fun. The plot is completely over the top but it doesn’t really matter, as it’s all superbly presented and accompanied by very well handled surrealist imagery. Moreover, the fact that most of the pilot’s staff was back on the movie is very visible – some of the movie’s more adult themes (gentle jabs at American imperialism, Lupin doing a very real Heil Hitler and Fujiko’s erotism) and imagery are directly imported either from the original manga or reworked shots from the pilot. It has a unique, absurd atmosphere that’s the perfect result of ex-A Pro animators, the specific Lupin niche, and Fujioka’s ambition to make big movies for older audiences – in other words, it’s one of a kind.
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
In contrast, Cagliostro is very different and pretty much looks like a different series altogether – which is part of the way it was received. Today, it’s still a debated entry in the Lupin franchise for its very different atmosphere and identity. But before delving into that, let’s go back to Otsuka and Telecom.
Otsuka had to wait for Mamo to come out and its box-office success to be confirmed to start working on a new Lupin movie ; during the meantime, he and his team worked on the TV series. After the disastrous episode 72, he managed to bring in some more experienced staff, like ex-Shin-Ei animators Atsuko Tanaka and Keiko Hara or ex-Oh Pro Tannai Tsukasa [Ettinger, 2011]. But as soon as the new movie was greenlighted, many of Future Boy Conan’s staff joined Telecom, most notably Kazuhide Tomonaga and Hayao Miyazaki – the key creatives behind the movie, who did a trio work on the famous chase scene : the original KA were by Tomonaga, but were corrected by Miyazaki, and Miyazaki’s corrections were in turn corrected by Otsuka. Even Takahata would have been inspired by this mass return to TMS, since his next work, the TV and movie versions of Chie the Brat, were produced by the studio (while at the same time he was also directing Gauche the Cellist at Oh Pro).
For Miyazaki at the time, Cagliostro would have been the pinnacle of his career : after a long time as an animator, he managed to become his own man directing episodes without Takahata, and finally his own show, Future Boy Conan ; the opportunity to direct a feature-length movie immediately after that was big luck and speaks to Miyazaki’s reputation and Otsuka’s influence. Though Miyazaki’s retrospective look on the situation is far from being the most objective, it is very probable that he wasn’t that comfortable with TV animation (remember he had to give up directing Conan for some episodes because of exhaustion and left it in Takahata’s hands) and that, as an ex-Toei, he already wanted to go back to the formula of mass-appeal, high quality animated films. The fact that Fujioka’s ambitions and Mamo went in quite a different way was probably a factor in Cagliostro’s very different directions : he might have felt that animated movies had to avoid the path of adult, dark, niche works like Mamo and recreate some of the playful and creative joy he felt he had enjoyed in his early days. The very choice of bringing back Lupin’s green jacket, as the red jacket series was airing, is telling.
I won’t go in detail into Cagliostro’s themes and production, since it’s a more well-known work, courtesy of its famous director and impact on anime history. Suffice to say it was one of the best animated features of the time, even better than Mamo, at a time when Toei was still the only major big feature film anime studio, before Madhouse got into the market and Sunrise started releasing its popular compilation movies of Tomino’s works. Much of its importance had to do with its intrinsic qualities – amazing animation, a prodigious sense of fun and adventure, excellent direction and character interactions – but also with the modifications it brought to the Lupin franchise. The element that stirred the most discussion – from outraged Lupin fans or from a devoted first generation of otakus – was the Lupin/Clarisse relationship.
Miyazaki’s sensibilities in character writing strongly modified the spirit of the franchise, and notably its main character : Lupin had always been a lecherous, relatively unsympathetic person, in spite of his antics and fun dialogue – a duality very present in Mamo, for example. But here, he became noticeably nicer, especially towards women : what Miyazaki thought was Fujiko’s “cheap eroticism”  was completely eliminated from the script, and replaced by the innocent but brave Clarisse, often believed to be the first major incarnation of the “Miyazaki girl” character you find everywhere in his works (though Lana, from Conan, is the first contender for the title ; and this character type probably has its roots in Takahata’s characters : Hilda and Heidi). It seems that, at the time, fans interpreted it as Clarisse changing Lupin’s character [Crawford, 2020] – as exemplified in the scene when Lupin tries to woo her with her skills as a thief and illusionist (a good occasion to showcase impressive character animation) or in the final scene when he resists hugging her and runs away as she’s close to declaring her love for him. Clarisse stood in such contrast with all other female characters from the time, especially in comparison with those from Lupin, that she was enough to trigger the “lolicon boom”, one of the foundational moments of otaku culture which saw the development of derivative fan works and magazines (like a Clarisse Magazine, or Clarisse Symphony), with more or less erotic content, and the rise of conventions such as the Comiket or the Osaka Sci-Fi Convention (aka Daicon). Clarisse was at the heart of those developments as “Shadow Clarisses” [Crawford, 2020] – clones or designs inspired heavily by hers – popped up everywhere in the 80’s. A detailed chronicle of this busy period is a story for another day, but it makes no doubt that, with the boom it contributed to trigger, Cagliostro was one of the works that kickstarted the golden 80’s for anime history.
The movie’s influence was also felt inside the Lupin franchise, ie on the TV series that was still running at the time. Before it, Telecom had realized 6 episodes (#72, #77, #82, #84, #99 and #105), all more or less supervised by Otsuka. Once the movie was finished, the team came back – with Tomonaga that had left Oh Pro – and made the most famous (and maybe the best ?) episodes in the second series : #143, #151, #153, as well as #145 and #155, the two renowned Miyazaki episodes. The influence of Cagliostro on those episodes, even when Miyazaki didn’t actually work on them, is impossible to miss. First, the character designs just look different, as Otsuka and the Telecom team probably also used the settei from Cagliostro. Tomonaga, already a talented animator, clearly received a lot of influence from Otsuka and Miyazaki and delivered some of his most fun and entertaining scenes. Even apart from that, you can see clear visual references to the movie : episode 153, for example, has a very Cagliostro atmosphere with its Swiss setting, its pretty young nun character, and ending in which Lupin abandons the money.
The Miyazaki episodes are famous enough, so I’ll just say they’re obviously Miyazaki, with all the mechanical designs, brave young girls and chivalrous Lupin you can wish for. More importantly, those episodes are so well animated they basically set a new standard for what TV animation could look like. Everything moves and is as fluid as possible – this is basically movie quality or, to anticipate a few years, OVA quality. With this, and later with his work on Sherlock Hound, Miyazaki once again did a little revolution in TV anime, his last one before he’d definitely leave TV and turn to movies – but the rest is history.
I started this series with Toei, and end it with Miyazaki and Cagliostro – basically some of the most conventional moments for any history of anime, following what I call the “Ghibli narrative”, that reads 60’s and 70’s anime history through the lens of the development of the artists that would go on forming Ghibli. These are obviously important people and events, which I have highlighted, but what I’ve discovered over the course of this series is how limited such an account is. If TMS was such a big and important studio, it’s not just because important people spent some time there and then left to do better and more important things. It was their productions that really set a large part of anime’s aesthetic. Animators at the time, and critics today, evoke the opposition between a Mushi and a Toei school of animation, but I believe we should rather talk of a Madhouse and an A Pro school, that both developed thanks to Tokyo Movie and made them the leader of 70’s Japanese animation.However, we should be wary of fetishizing studios, and I hope I’ve done a good job of highlighting that most of what happened in the anime industry between 1963 and 1979 was the result of a larger context that involved all of anime, or just individuals moving from one place to another and meeting, or missing, each other. It all comes down to the fact that animation is a collaborative medium, and that part of what makes anime so special is its capacity as an industry to bring out the best of these collaborations. Besides the incredible artistic achievements made, I believe that’s the most enduring legacy left by those first 16 years of anime : establishing a production process that, while far from perfect and often crushing, always manages to make the most out of its limitations.
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2 thoughts on “The history of TMS – Part 6 : Lupin the Third”
As a fan of Lupin and of animation in general, this was a really great read. Thank you for this article.
P.s.: I love Yuzo Aoki work on Lupin and I was wondering: what happened to him after Part 3?
Thanks for the comment !
Tbh I haven’t looked at Part 3 and Aoki’s later career yet but he did keep working in anime, mostly as a storyboarder (he seems to have done a lot of work on the City Hunter series)
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