Cheeky soldier Malakias Paavonen (Kaarlo Angerkoski) is supposed to be peeling potatoes but is caught sculpting one, instead, into the image of a woman. The angry Sergeant Tiainen (Ossi Elstelä) orders him confined to kitchen duties for the duration of the ongoing military manoeuvres, which are just about to be thrown into chaos. Battalion commander Major Harteinen (Tauno Palo) insists on conducting the military exercise on the grounds of the Mäkipalo estate, chiefly because he has designs on the lady of the manor, Oili Mäkpalo (Ansa Ikonen).
For reasons that defy understanding, an earlier Suomen Filmiteollisuus military farce by “Topias” (Toivo Kauppanen), The Regiment’s Tribulation (1938), was one of the biggest successes of the decade at the Finnish box office. This half-hearted respray, which crams many of the same actors into similar roles and situations, was intended to rake in more money from the punters, but failed to garner quite the ticket numbers as its predecessor, both in the theatre in 1938 and at the cinema the following year. Notably, the outdoor location shots were all completed first to make the most of the short Finnish summer in June and July 1939. The interiors, comprising the bulk of the footage, were shot in September, when the decline in good weather would not be an issue. The film was planned for a national release in November, but was held up by the outbreak of war. A few scattered provincial screenings did occur before the official Helsinki opening night on 1st January 1940, which is why I, along with the Finnish film archives, continue to list this film as a 1939 release.
As with The Regiment’s Tribulation, (and indeed its 1939 imitation Kalle Kollola, Cavalryman) the most interesting element of Serenaadi Sotatorvella is the primitive nature of the military equipment. Paavonen’s mess unit entirely comprises horses and carts. The sergeant tries to interfere with Paavonen’s cooking of that old military staple, pea soup, which ends with a bag of salt dropped into the pot and a ruined meal. Paavonen falls for local milkmaid Sandra (Siiri Angerkoski), providing a rare element of meta-textual comedy, in which Kaarlo Angerkoski is obliged to woo the actress that everybody in the audience knew to already be his wife.
Unfunny comedy business is provided by Korni-Mikko (Toppo Elonperä), a venerable veteran of the Turkish Wars, determined to befriend the young Finnish conscripts and lead them in a bunch of hearty shanties – as with Our Boys in the Air (1934), the film that began this watchathon, the script repeatedly calls for the cast to burst into song in precisely the same way that Finns don’t.
Misunderstandings and hijinks subsequently ensue, the Major loses his trousers and mistakenly believes that Oili doesn’t love him, and all’s well that ends well in a war game that entirely downplays the vicious conflict that Finns were already knee-deep in by the time this film actually saw the light of day. In theatrical exhibition, it laboured under the unfortunate alternate title of Soldier Paavonen’s Lucky Pants.
Perhaps luxuriating in the fact they got to see the film before all those hipsters in Helsinki, the provincial press acted like it was the best thing since non-stick frying pans. “A great stimulant to the mind” wrote an anonymous local critic in Vaasa, where people are apparently easily impressed. “Vigorously and briskly performed,” wrote some toady in Tampere. It may well be that they were moved to give the film more credit than it deserved because like the same year’s Rich Girl, it was tinged with tragedy. Leading man Angerkoski died shortly after filming was completed, suffering a heart attack in Kotka at a stage performance of The Jäger’s Bride. He died in his wife’s arms, and the Finnish media made much of the punishing hours of Finnish film-making, and the toll they had taken on him in late-night shoots, coffee and cigarettes.
I haven’t seen a map for a week. I am not entirely sure where I am, but it is Jianchuan, another picturesque village in another mountain valley, green hills topped by wind turbines in the distance. This is another Bai area (they are the dominant minority in this region), where the Dong family make old-style black pottery. They dig clay from the mountainside and leave it to bake in their courtyard for a year, before breaking it up with a hammer, sieving it and wetting it, to make their sludge. Then they fashion it into pots, and throw in charcoal that bakes in a black or silvery-grey finish. Their specialities include wamao – a fearsome tribal totem cat with an open-mouthed roar that makes it look like a triffid, used as a roof guardian. And pots and cups and the usual ceramics.
The potter is in his fifties and only speaks halting Mandarin. His son trained as a woodcutter, but then went back into the family business because he feared his Dad was lonely. Since it is too familiar to address them by their given names, and “Master Dong” doesn’t make it clear which one I am talking to, I resort to addressing them as Big Dong and Little Dong.
Big Dong has been chatty and affable all the way through the morning. He has been trying to push pungent Yunnan cigarettes on the crew, and boiled tea in the Yunnan manner, heating the pot rather than the water, until the water fizzes on contact with the ceramics. But the moment the camera is on him, and the light is on his face, and he is being urged to look at me and not the director, and the sound guy is rolling and the clapper loader is snapping a board, he clams up in stage fright. He swallows, he stammers, he offers one-word answers and looks nervously around him. It’s almost impossible to get a clean sentence out of him, and he knows this isn’t how it is supposed to be, so he starts to sweat. This means more dabbing, more light changes, and more faffery, and it just becomes a vicious circle of bad takes.
People feel the camera lens staring at them; they feel the weight of the attention of the crew suddenly focussed on them; they feel the importance of this moment, above all the other moments they have lived that day, and a relay blows somewhere in their brain. Some interviewees turn into emotionless robots, declaiming facts at the camera, purged of all personality and humour. Others become hyper-conscious of every word they utter, double- and triple-thinking every sentence until they clam up. Some, like Big Dong, suffer from a different kind of panic – the sudden realisation that they are talking not to my smiling, nodding, solicitous face, but to millions of people in thirty different countries. At times like this, we have to cheat their brains back into forgetting that fact.
The director puts Little Dong on camera instead, with Big Dong nodding assent at his side. Little Dong is at ease and chatty, knowledgeable about his people’s heritage and the history of pottery. He laughs and jokes, and delivers a far better set of responses, sufficient for Big Dong to come back on camera and ape some of his son’s answers.
We sit and drink bitter Yunnan tea from little thimble-cups as the crew faff around. The director of photography sneaks some shots of Big Dong laughing and joking in an attempt to find footage to cut in that doesn’t look like he is being interrogated by the Gestapo. Little Dong reveals that he is a graduate of a Xi’an polytechnic – where he learned wood-carving – and I start to suspect that the fluency of his answers reflect academic study rather than traditional artisanal knowledge. Whatever, the director just wants to get something in the can.
The trick has worked. Both Dongs are now happily chatting away to me. I sneak a sideways glance at the camera, and see the Record light is back on, but Big Dong has been ushered back to normal by the simple expedient of not being reminded that this is his big moment.
There will, I am sure, be no change at all at NEO magazine, as the lunatics are already in charge of the asylum. But for much of the rest of the British press, the onset of summer sees the beginning of “silly season.” The media slows down, even more than it has in pandemic times. There are less product launches, less premieres, less new books. Half of the world goes on holiday, and the people covering for them might let a few things through that might not otherwise
All of which goes to say that the media might get even weirder for the next month, and you’ll have to do a double-take at some of the stranger sounding stories that make it past sub-editors. But June’s Guardian piece on the imminent danger prevented by “racoon-dogs” was not part of silly season at all, but another dire addition to our annus horribilis.
Native to China, Siberia and Japan, and better known to any anime fan as tanuki, the raccoon-dog is “an exotic member of the fox family,” and notoriously skillful at escaping from cages. Introduced to Soviet-era fur farms in eastern Europe, the species has been inexorably working its way across the continent, and constitute one of the most potentially dangerous “invasive non-native species.”
Now, zoologists are clutching their pearls in horror because one was caught in the wild in Wales last year. Another was seen near Lincoln, and another was reportedly stolen from an illegal back-garden cage in Oldham. The Mammal Society (of whom, I confess, I have not heard until today) is warning members of the British public to stay vigilant, because raccoon-dogs will eat anything, breed like, well, like raccoon-dogs, and pose a clear and present danger to voles, frogs, other small mammals and ground-nesting birds. Oh, and they are also riddled with a number of diseases that can be passed on to humans. Because the last year hasn’t been surreal enough already. Isao Takahata has passed away, so he’s not around to defend the loveable trickster tanuki made famous by his Ghibli feature Pom Poko. There was not a word in the Guardian of their shape-shifting powers, their ancient wisdom or their entertainingly magical testicles. They are, it turns out, bad news, as unwelcome as Japanese knotweed and murder-hornets, and not the least bit like the fun-loving furries depicted in the anime classic. Maybe it’s time to watch Pom Poko just once more, before the real world ruins the fantasy.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #210, 2021.
“In search of muscular realism, animators on Toei’s Arabian Nights’ Sindbad the Sailor brought Chiba in to generate footage of the actor running, jumping, fighting and rolling. The film was them rotoscoped to create some of Sindbad’s action scenes, although the role of Sindbad in the anime was credited only to his voice actor, Hideo Kinoshita.”
Pretty sure my obituary of Sonny Chiba over at All the Anime has a number of things in it you won’t see anywhere else, including his secret anime role and his pirate musical.
“Lu makes fluent and enlightening use of Chinese resources to show just what a mess kung fu legend really is. In particular, he patiently outlines the massive shift in allegiances that accompanied the regime-change from Qing to Republic, with novelists of the 1930s suddenly declaring that the many Shaolin Temple bad-guys of 19th century fiction were in fact heroes whose true nature had been reversed to elude the censor, as if Star Wars were remade with Darth Vader as the hero.”
“When I try to develop a character, the first thing I think about is the pose, how I’m going to represent it and how to get the most out of the character, it’s from this line that I start creating it.” Such a comment rather downplayed his own undeniable talent in animating his characters, too, but helps explain how he could be the figure behind so many icons whose physicality and character can be revealed in a single image.
Over at All the Anime, I write an obituary for the anime artist Masami Suda.
Anxi is a mountain village, sitting on top of hills that have been entirely carved with tea terraces. There’s not a lot else you can do with the mountains in Fujian, as they are too steep for any other kind of cultivation. So it’s lucky they can grow tea.
The director has spent the last two days hectoring me about the difference between the languages of south Fujian (Hokkien) and north Fujian, around Fuzhou (Hokchew). It often sounds like a real-ale drinker buttonholing one in the pub about the differences between the dialects of Norfolk and Suffolk, but it’s a big deal for her, and supposedly for the locals, too. She is particularly pleased because her own native dialect, Teochew, is cognate with Hokkien, and so she can rocket off in conversation with the locals.
Hokkien is a big deal because in the local language the word for tea is not the Chinese chá, but té. Or in Hokchew, tē. I think you can see where this is going; when the drink was first exported, it was shipped by Hokkienese, who told the English and the French how to pronounce it.
Being in a warm place with pointy roofs, while a bunch of people yell at each other in Hokkien all around me feels oddly like being back in Taiwan. We are in what was once a plush 19th century farmhouse with upswept Min eaves, now converted into a centre for tea excitement. You may wonder what is exciting about tea, and I am still wondering myself, but the manager, Jasen Lim, is an affable former designer who has made tea his new tourist mantra. Visitors can come and sample the varieties of Iron Guanyin, which happens to be my favourite Chinese tea.
He sets out three bowls in front of me. One is Iron Guanyin made from one-year-old leaves, and tastes faintly of orchids. At least that is what he tells me – never having tasted an orchid, I can neither confirm nor deny. The second is from three-year-old leaves, and has a smokier aftertaste. The third is from five-year-old leaves, and has a darker, brownish colour, looking more like oolong. I obligingly sip and comment, and only choke a couple of times when I am exhorted to suck and gargle with it like a wine connoisseur.
“You are the first English person I have met,” Jasen says. “Although not the first English person to try this tea. That was Queen Victoria, back in the days when the English drank real tea.”
Half an hour’s drive further up the mountain, we come to Wei Yuede’s compound. Master Wei is such a tea celebrity that he only has two hours to shoot with us before he rushes off to a tea conference in Beijing. One wonders what they serve in the breaks. He is clad in Qing-style silk and is an ideal interviewee. I have a set of questions to ask him, but when I ask him the first, he launches into a ten-minute soliloquy about the meaning of tea, answering with a series of four-character phrases, each one of which is unpicked into a series of poems about the wondrous properties of tea, particularly Iron Guanyin. I ask him how it differs from Pu’er, and he goes into one.
“Pu’er is rubbish! They don’t know what they’re doing. They roast it too much. They use the wrong trees. They’re all idiots. There’s a poem that says…” And off he goes for another ten minutes, until I ask him what he thinks of English tea.
“English tea!? Ha! That Indian crap! They steal our tea and plant it somewhere foreign, and then they leave it in the hands of lackwits who don’t know how to bruise it, don’t know how to roast it, don’t know how to store it and don’t know how to ship it. They cart it ten thousand miles on ships damp with saltwater, and they hand it over to a bunch of foreigners who don’t know how to make it. It turns out brown! We have a poetic saying that goes…” And he’s off again.
Usually, our problem with Chinese interviewees is that they don’t know anything. Master Wei knows everything, and is determined to preface any statement with a nine-point rebuttal, in blank verse, of any likely dissent. I just wind him up and watch him go. When he finishes, with an appeal to the peanut gallery about the future of tea, there is applause from the assembled visitors.
“My ancestor,” he says, “discovered Iron Guanyin tea. He was visited in a dream by Guanyin herself, the Goddess of Mercy, who told him how to make it.”
Master Wei has half a dozen children. This is somewhat in contravention of the one-child policy, but he makes so much money from selling tea that he just pays the fine and keeps on trucking.
“My most expensive tea,” he says, “is £36,000 a kilogram. It is so pure that it actually GETS YOU HIGH. And hard. All night.” There is a long pause, which segues into a Pinteresque silence. “Do you want some?”
I confess that I have little need for any of these benefits right now, particularly since the director and our fixer have each taken the bedrooms on either side of mine, in order to protect me from what they believe to be an army of prostitutes converging on the hotel. I have seen no evidence of this, but I appreciate their concern. As for Master Wei, he is living proof of his beverage of choice’s medicinal benefits.
Checking some of the subtitles for Arrow’s forthcoming Shaw Brothers box set, pausing to admire this lovely moment from Five Shaolin Masters, where a former rebel, chastised for becoming little more than a mountain bandit leader, sits in shame beneath a grand banner that calls for the downfall of the Manchus and the restoration of the Ming dynasty. The shot comes and goes in just two seconds.
As all you Chinese linguists will have surely noticed, the second character from the right is a deliberate mis-spelling of 清 Qing, leaving off the “master” radical from the name of the Manchus’ dynasty in a pointed political comment.
The film is packed with subtle call-backs to the Manchu invasion, and occasional references to Zheng Chenggong (Coxinga), the unseen resistance leader whose son continues to oppose the Manchus from off the coast of Fujian. The rebels in the film use the secret code 319 to signal their allegiances, a reference to the 19th day of the third lunar month in 1644, when the last Ming emperor took his own life.
I once sent a BBC researcher away with a flea in her ear, after she asked me if I’d like to appear on a documentary about SEX. Oh yes, she said, it’s all going to be very exciting. We’re going to talk about all those schoolgirls in Japan who’ll bang old men for money. Do you know anything about them?
No, I replied. Although I’m pretty sure that there are “schoolgirls” in Manchester who’ll bang old men for money as well, and I’m guessing that’s nowhere near as photogenic or titillating for you.
She wasn’t very happy to hear that, although I suggested that if she really wanted to find out all about schoolgirl prostitutes, she should give Sharon Kinsella a call, as she loved talking about them. That may have been the unkindest cut of all, as I’m sure if the Beeb did call Dr Kinsella, she would have given them a tongue-lashing that made mine look like a fireside chat with tea and cake.
It’s a truism widely acknowledged in the anime world that so many Japanese cartoons are obsessed with fantasy figures of fifteen-year-old schoolgirls because they are aimed at audience of desperate teenage boys. But Sharon Kinsella’s book, Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan, points to a wider media malaise, rising to fever pitch during the 1990s, based on a fervid, prurient obsession on the part of newspapers and TV programmes, determined to uncover a nest of vice and corruption that, frankly, wasn’t there. Drawing on the media research of Stuart Hall, Kinsella points to hidden subtexts of patriarchy, ownership and control. “Our” women are being corrupted. What can “we” do about it? And can we watch…? How much do they charge…?
Drawing on articles, TV coverage, novels and films, but also a timeline of changes in law and demographics, Kinsella talks us through the rise and fall of the enjo kosai (“Compensated Dating”) furore, and sets it within the ongoing narrative of the media’s obsession with teenage girls, as models, muses and commodities.
Kinsella pokes around in the archives to work out just who was quoting whom in the original scare-mongering articles, and soon discovers that absolutely nobody had any firm data to go on. Foreign newspapers quoted posh-sounding statistics, themselves harvested from “academic” articles that, on closer examination, she finds to be grounded in a few vox-pop surveys conducted by gutter-press journalists in Shibuya. This is a little like standing in front of a row of drunken Black Sabbath fans at an Ozzy Osbourne concert and asking if anyone likes eating bats. The answer you receive will more reflect peer pressure and jollity than actual truth. And nobody in their right mind would expect a foreign newspaper to extrapolate such a response into a commentary on bat-eating habits in Birmingham. And yet, it seems, this is what happened with compensated dating.
Kinsella breaks the politics of such interviews right down to their bare bones, and paints a picture of bolshie, amped-up soubrettes, bragging that they’ll do anything for 50p and a bunch of grapes, as long as they are talking to dorky researchers who look shockable. No-nonsense female researchers got immensely more sensible and demure replies, and handsome male researchers got hardly any replies at all, because their interviewees were suddenly bashful and giggly. Meanwhile, an entire slew of schoolgirls, wandering through the middle of Tokyo, had never even heard about prostitution until a bunch of journalists rounded them up and asked them if they’d ever consider trying it.
Kinsella smartly relates all this to earlier media panics, such as the British obsession with Mods in the 1960s, which similarly saw a prominent thoroughfare (Piccadilly Circus) jammed with reporters on a Bank Holiday hoping to see something kick off, and eventually outnumbering their interviewees. But she is more interested in precedents for a male-run, male-focussed media getting worked up about the activities (or alleged activities) of women, such as Japan’s 1920s media kerfuffle over the scandalously short-skirted, bob-haired “modern girls” of the flapper era. She also offers an entertaining aside about the conniptions of feminists, wringing their hands and entirely unsure whether they should be tutting with the men or cheering from the sidelines about females who take control of their own fate.
A common criticism of modern, Foucauldian discourse is that it chases its own tail for so long that it forgets about the issue at hand. But this is one of Kinsella’s points, that the entire media “issue” of Japanese schoolgirl prostitutes was built on phantom foundations, and amounted to a man in the pub fulminating to the Japanese equivalent of the Daily Mail that girls today were a bunch of slappers, dressed like hookers, and would probably sit on his lap for a fiver. Three or four repetitions of the story, and some random chats with passing teenagers, and suddenly respectable foreign newspapers like the Guardian are reporting schoolgirl prostitutes as an empirical reality, despite no actual evidence. Kinsella doesn’t say that there is no such thing as a teenage prostitute in Japan, but she challenges anyone who wants to talk about them to actually stump up some meaningful data.
I’ve got nothing. In twenty years dealing with Japan and the Japanese, the only time I have ever knowingly encountered a prostitute was at a London convention in the late nineties, when a large Welsh woman in a micro-skirt landed on top of some producers from Pioneer in the hotel bar, was mistaken for an Armitage III cosplayer, and plied with drinks until she revealed her true colours and scared them all away. And there are anecdotes, of course, most memorably the encounter recorded in Donald Richie’s memoirs, when he runs into two schoolgirls who offer to fellate him for “pocket money.” Barking up the wrong tree, there, dears.
Kinsella notes that for certain listless teens lurking around Tokyo, the easiest source of income was not “pocket money” from sugar-daddies and aging film critics, but appearance fees and consultation bonuses from over-eager journalists, who inadvertently created a new class of “professional schoolgirls,” who would show up at teen magazines armed with stories of scandal. If their lives were disappointingly secure and middle-class, they’d simply make something up.
True to her title, Kinsella also follows the money, coming up with some interesting statistics about the way that the girl-focused industry rakes in its cash. She supplies, for example, the magic sales figure, above which a manga magazine is regarded as “popular” enough to be stocked in convenience stores (25,000), as well as the real reason that Sega made so much money out of photo booths (they’re also the sole supplier for the printing paper, and hence have operators over a barrel).
As part of an industry that glamorises and fetishes young girls, anime is, of course, part of this. Kinsella’s grasp of the medium is second-hand and wonky – she confuses Wicked City with Twin Dolls, and at one point appears to be suggesting that San in Princess Mononoke wears half a school uniform – but hits the crucial points where relevant. She alludes to the brothel subtext in Spirited Away – once a controversial assertion, now widely accepted – and to the psychosocial moratorium of modern otaku, drawing on her own earlier research into infantilism in Japanese media. Which is to say that nobody is all that surprised if a fifteen-year-old boy thinks that a fifteen-year-old girl is the most exciting thing in the world; it’s just a bit creepy if a thirty-year-old man agrees.
Unlike the hack journalism it uncovers, Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion is richly referenced and meticulously cited, and will form a strong, robust foundation for further research into Japanese media, gender and issues of race. Race? Oh yes, for Kinsella’s closing chapters outline the various ways in which Japanese teenage girls respond to their characterisation in the media, including the grotesque blackface make-up that came into vogue at the turn of the century. It is, to be sure, no weirder than the young ladies of my native Essex painting themselves so orange that they look like they have been rolled in Wotsits. But it has become iconic of modern Japanese youth, and that’s what Kinsella has always pursued and analysed, to our great edification.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Manga Entertainment website in March 2014.
Like its title, Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas: An Insider’s View of a Pop Culture Phenomenon is a game of two halves. The first is a riveting first-hand account of life in the broadcast media by the producer who stumbled from radio into television just in time to be part of the scramble for syndicated content in the 1960s. Fred Ladd (1927-2021) was a man with many irons in the fire, hacking together Eastern bloc hokum to make throwaway six-minute sci-fi serials, tinting monochrome movies to meet the demands of the gaping maw of colour television, and repurposing old wildlife documentaries to make cheapo jungle stories. He also carefully rewrote and cut up a black-and-white cartoon show from Japan, inadvertently becoming one of the pioneers of the modern anime business. This book is the closest thing we will get to his autobiography, and presents a gripping account of forgotten technologies and faded films.
More than aware of the cheap nature of the visuals, Ladd deliberately pepped up the soundscape on Astro Boy with traffic noises and offstage business in order to create a busier illusion of action – I don’t doubt this claim for a moment, but note that Astro Boy’s creator, Osamu Tezuka, said that he did similar things at the Japanese end: was this something that Tezuka learned from Ladd, like the idea to have lyrics to the Astro Boy theme? With a budget of $1800 per episode for dubbing, Ladd hothoused his staff until they could do an episode a day, running two projectors in tandem in order to scrape vital minutes when film would otherwise be loaded by union jobsworths while the actors wait. Ladd also saw Tokyo and Seoul for himself, delivering invaluable slice-of-life accounts of the Asian animation industry at home.
This was the age when foreign cartoons were so much ballast – often literally, since they were bartered in lieu of hard currency, which some foreign countries were unable to export, in return for American TV programming. We get Ladd’s first-hand perspectives of the birth of Gigantor, Battle of the Planets, Kimba the White Lion, and Marine Boy, each arriving in a chaotic whirl of meetings and negotiations, compromises and disasters, skulduggery and gazumping. Although modern anime fans might reel in horror at Ladd’s attitude towards the original Japanese, he was still a master of his craft, and a loving shepherd of these shows into their English-language forms. Like Carl Macek in the generation that followed, his invasive rewrites are what made the broadcast of the English versions even possible in the first place. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ladd’s face-to-face crisis meeting with Osamu Tezuka himself, where he talks Astro Boy’s creator through the changes that have to be made in dubbing and editing in order to get around the American censor. Here we hear not only of the notorious unbroadcast episodes, but of several others that would have been banned without Ladd’s careful attention.
It’s fascinating to see Astro Boy’s story told from the American end of production, particularly in the form of US issues over censorship and technology, which would end up steering Tezuka’s production thousands of miles away. Ladd is a witty and lucid memorialist of anime’s first steps into foreign broadcast media, aided by his amanuensis Harvey Deneroff, who pops up occasionally to offer crucial notes on context. It’s Deneroff, one presumes, that we have to thank for many of the incisive asides that correct common fallacies about the international animation business, including the vital semantic distinction between Astro Boy’s widely reported sale to NBC, and its actual sale to the very different entity NBC Enterprises. Sometimes, however, one gets the feeling that genuine recollections have been spruced up with unwelcome trivia from doubtful sources. Someone, for example, has added the notion that Nippon Sunrise sprang up in the 1960s amid the first flush of Astro Boy’s success, which Ladd cannot possibly remember, since Sunrise wasn’t founded until 1972, after the collapse of Tezuka’s studio. Similarly, entertainingly lively accounts of certain events come with problematic dates – why does Ladd claim to be sorting out the first 12 episodes of Astro Boy in Japan in mid-1964, when they had surely already been broadcast in America almost a year earlier? And although there is much information in this book that will surprise readers even in Japan, the authors’ linguistic knowledge is wanting – throughout the text, they consistently fail to spell Astro Boy’s Japanese title correctly.
The book is published by McFarland & Company – an outfit with academic aspirations that even extend to the paperback cover price. But Ladd’s reminiscences are so essential to understanding the 1960s anime business, it is well worth it for those alone. Unfortunately, Ladd’s contribution appears to comprise a novella-length 100 pages, and Deneroff’s additions, while genuinely useful as a focus for Ladd’s early testimony, also bulk it out with pointless padding for the latter half of the book, seemingly salvaged from a bunch of old articles. Far from presenting an “insider’s view of a pop culture phenomenon”, the back-end is more like a baffled description from the sidelines, reeling off names and brief synopses of dozens of newer shows simply, it seems, because they are there. Present-day errors reach far greater proportions: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is inexplicably included in a run-down of Korean films, and the outrageous claim is made that animation in Japan was “virtually dormant for almost half a century” after 1918. But this should not detract from the undeniable value of Ladd’s horse’s-mouth reminiscences, or Deneroff’s efforts in guiding them into print: an irreplaceable narrative of anime in the 1960s.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Manga Entertainment website in November 2011, and is reprinted here following the news of Ladd’s death, aged 94.