The Toei “Manga Matsuri” or “Cartoon Festivals” began in 1964, and lasted until the 1990s. At spring or summer vacations, kids would pile into their local cinema for a 200-minute programme of anime. There would be a movie re-edit of a TV series, and a couple of episodes from whichever shows were the flavour of the moment – a big deal in an age when many kids lacked colour tellies, and nobody had a video recorder. The Cartoon Festival, and its Toho rival, the “Champion Festival”, must have been welcome reliefs to hard-pressed parents, as at least they got rid of the rugrats for a few hours in the holidays. In the anime world, they were an ideal way of burning off all the dross lying around in the studio bins – aborted pilots and 15-minute apprentice pieces, shoved into the programmes like animated ballast. Every now and then, they also sneaked in something classier like Puss in Boots.
I’ve always found the Cartoon Festivals interesting because they turned anime into “events”. This wasn’t about watching TV with one eye while slurping your breakfast; it was a grand day out, and the chance to be fans together.
I was, however, a little baffled by the news that Toei was releasing the Cartoon Festival programmes on Japanese DVD this August. Historically, it’s fascinating: a chance to experience these forgotten moments of anime enjoyment just as the ten-year-olds of 1968 or 1970. Although probably in your own home, without 500 other screaming children making it difficult to hear anything. But in terms of straightforward entertainment, how many people do Toei really expect to fork out their £40 asking price? In some cases, it will literally be the only way you can get to see obscure cartoons like the 60-minute 30,000 Miles Under the Sea (1970) or the 25-minute Hitoribotchi (1969), designed to sell Toyota cars to squirrels. But is that really going to be enough to pull in the punters? I doubt we’ll see this in the UK, although it would be nice to give it a whirl… what about a one-night-only performance, including 1970s Japanese cinemas ads…?
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #102, 2012.