The origin and core of this piece is my personal interest in Daikuhara, but it will not be another biographical piece like my previous one. I will rather explore the area which I wrote the least about last time: Daikuhara’s pre-Tôei work. More generally, this will therefore be an exploration of Japanese animation production from the time of the Sino-Japanese War to Tôei’s first animated feature film, The White Serpent - that is, an exploration of roughly two decades of animation in Japan, from 1937 to 1958.
The World Masterpiece Theater entry for the year 1976, Marco, pushed studio Nippon Animation and the artists associated with it to their limits. As a result, the year 1977 was marked by disorganization, as most of Marco’s staff temporarily or definitively left the WMT, and the series for that year, Rascal the Raccoon, brought on new, possibly inexperienced, and simply less notable artists. This article will therefore not only focus on Rascal, but on two other works: the first is another Nippon show, Jacky the Bearcub, which counted among its staff most of Marco’s main artists: directors Isao Takahata and Seiji Okuda, and animators Toshiyasu Okada, Kôichi Murata, Reiko Okuyama and Yôichi Kotabe. The other is a completely different production, the first film by studio Shin-Ei, Tenguri, Boy of the Plains, which reunited Yasuo Otsuka and his students outside of Nippon Animation. Just a year before Future Boy Conan, 1977’s Rascal and Tenguri were the last works on which Hayao Miyazaki made significant contributions as a key animator. They therefore represent a turning point in his career, as well as that of all other artists who had been revolving around World Masterpiece Theater productions.
Many of Tôei’s promising artists, who had for the most part worked on Fujimaru, were determined to follow up on the possibilities the TV show had opened. This meant making a decisive move towards “adult” animation, that is complex storylines, visual experimentations, and a kind of animation that would go beyond the simplistic, round and friendly shapes of the characters of so-called “TV manga”. Just like young manga artists in the 60s had rejected Osamu Tezuka’s "story manga" style to create their own graphic novels called gekiga, artists in Tôei would slowly start making the move towards what would later be called gekiga anime.
For Japanese animation fans and historians, the name of Akira Daikuhara (sometimes spelled Daikubara) should ring a bell as belonging to one of the major artists in postwar Japanese animation and to the core member of studio Tôei Animation’s team throughout the 1960’s alongside Yasuji Mori. However, despite this universally-acknowledged importance, Daikuhara seems like a forgotten figure: he has no Wikipedia page in any language, his personal page on the Japanese sakugawiki encyclopedia is blank, and until recently, he barely had any uploads to his name on sakugabooru. Although I will try later on to understand the reasons behind this state of affairs, the first goal of this article is to correct it by giving a detailed account of Daikuhara’s career, work and legacy.
Flanders is among the most well-known works in the World Masterpiece Theater canon, both in Japan and overseas; it is perhaps the most famous outside of the select list of Isao Takahata’s entries in the series. Such fame is not surprising when one considers Flanders’ tragic finale, and the fact that this ultimate episode reportedly reached the highest audience rating in the history of the World Masterpiece Theater - an impressive 30.1%. However, it is also questionable whether such fame is really deserved - indeed, Flanders is perhaps the most imperfect show among 1970’s World Masterpiece Theater entries. There is of course a sort of contradiction here - how is it that such a poorly made series became so popular? The aim of this article is precisely to answer this - to illustrate the elements that make Flanders a subpar work, and to understand how it could have been such a success nevertheless.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps needs no introduction. One of the most important and influential works in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata’s first series for Zuiyo Video would set a gold standard for all subsequent World Masterpiece Theater entries. Much has already been said about Heidi, especially on its status as a so-called “pre-Ghibli” work or on how representative it is of Takahata’s style and philosophy. Considering the theme of this series, this article will instead put Heidi back in its historical context: that of the extended World Masterpiece canon, and of 1974 anime.
Yama Nezumi Rocky Chuck, known in the English-speaking world as Fables of the Green Forest, can be considered the first show to fit into the extended World Masterpiece Theater canon: it was the first production of studio Zuiyo Video, which would become Nippon Animation, to take place in the consecrated Sunday 19:30 time slot on Fuji TV.