The Day Heidi was Born

Over at the All the Anime website, I review Kaori Chiba’s new Japanese-language book on Heidi, Girl of the Alps, the landmark anime series that carved out an entire niche in evening programming.

“Chiba deals with the anime’s planning, the shooting of its pilot, and the crew’s location hunt in Switzerland, wherein Miyazaki, Takahata and their long-term collaborator Yoichi Kotabe descend like dervishes on the farmhouse of a baffled local family, demanding to photograph their kitchen table and their cows. From Maienfeld, they head up to Ulm and Frankfurt, soaking up the metropolitan imagery for Heidi’s later adventures in Germany.

“Chiba devotes ample space to the production of the first episode – the scoring of the music, the theme song, and the auditions for the voice actors, the character designs and the backgrounds. It’s only towards the end of the book that her account takes a darker tone, drawing on the complaints of the staff, particularly Miyazaki himself in many later articles and interviews, that television animation was a brutal, relentless, unending task, gobbling up talent and time. The animators put their all into Heidi, only to find that television networks greet its manifest quality with an indifferent shrug.”

When Miyazaki Was There

himarnie

Asthmatic, blue-eyed Japanese girl Anna is sent away by her adoptive family to recuperate in north Hokkaido. She finds herself in an idyllic rural retreat, where the sea has a haunting habit of invading the marshy land; where a dilapidated mansion seems to call out to her, and where she befriends the ethereal, blonde stranger Marnie, who assures her that this is not a dream.

Based on the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There is a melancholy, elegiac account of a disappearing countryside and forgotten melodrama, set in Japan’s far north. Although there are twists of a sort in the tale, they are so obvious even in the above synopsis that the film becomes much more invested in the how rather than the what, and in the recreation of stunning vistas of the natural world. Such forests, such mountains, such skies, the animators whisper, are not a dream, either.

Marnie was the last feature-film production from Studio Ghibli, coming at the end of a decade-long series of fixes and bodges designed to keep the studio going after Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement. Producer and all-round svengali Toshio Suzuki tried to hire big-name directors to replace him; then he tried to train up new talents. He lured Miyazaki himself back for two more films, cunningly spacing them wide apart, and obscuring the precise details of who did what with an entirely alphabetical crew listing, so that when other directors took the reins, only the attentive audience members would even notice. Suzuki’s biggest and most controversial coup came with Tales from Earthsea, for which he dragged Miyazaki’s son Goro, a landscape gardener by trade, out from the rose bushes and into the director’s chair.

Goro had spent his whole life playing second fiddle to his parents. Before he even went to school, he and his brother had been the unwitting subjects of a book, Goro & Keisuke: A Mother’s Childhood Picture Diary. Hayao Miyazaki himself has publicly acknowledged that he neglected his own family while entertaining everybody else’s, and Goro rejected animation as a career. He contributed admirably to the Ghibli legacy by helping design its world-class museum, but was deeply reluctant to ride his father’s coat-tails. The critical failure of Tales from Earthsea, which begins with a prince stabbing his kingly father to death, was a foregone conclusion, but Suzuki milked the controversy, daring audiences to come and see the wreckage, and then daring them again to see how the two Miyazakis worked together on From Up On Poppy Hill, with dad writing the script and junior directing once more after a public burying of the hatchet.

Throughout all of this drama, Hiromasa Yonebayashi was the quiet labourer in the shadows. Rising through the ranks from in-betweener to key animator, Yonebayashi was arguably the most successful of Suzuki’s trainees. A cynic might infer that Yonebayashi did all the real work on Tales from Earthsea while Goro was just a figurehead. But Yonebayashi has had little chance to stamp his own imprimatur on his work. He’s spent the last ten years diligently pastiching Miyazaki’s world-beating style, helping to carry Studio Ghibli through a vital transition as its founders retire and its output devolves into “legacy management” – the museum, the gift shop, and the retrospective Blu-rays.

One of Miyazaki’s parting gifts to his studio was a list of 50 recommended “children’s books” – although some of them, like Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers are hardly childish. It’s this list, it seems, that is a working document for the studio’s swansong, with Marnie picked from it in order to regenerate a bit of the old Ghibli magic.

There have been a lot of tears shed over the shuttering of Studio Ghibli’s animation division, but true geeks should celebrate the boldness of the move. Do we really want Totoro II or Spirited Away Again? Instead of devolving into slapdash sequels, with the leading lights retiring, what better way to preserve its legacy by quitting while they’re ahead? But spare a thought for poor Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who was nominated for an Oscar for Marnie, but who is little-known or recognised in the anime world, having worked for a decade to keep someone else’s reputation alive.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in Geeky Monkey #9, 2016.

What Next?

marnie_hires_6There were two notable absences from the screenings at this year’s Scotland Love Anime – or rather, two notable presences at the London Film Festival. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie was There, the last feature film from Studio Ghibli, and The Boy and the Beast, the latest feature from Mamoru Hosoda, both made it onto the LFF roster instead. You might call this a victory all round – Hosoda’s films are often snatched by the LFF ahead of SLA, thereby leaving a slot in Scotland for less mainstream fare, as well as guaranteeing that Hosoda doesn’t sweep the Scottish Judges Award every year. But London’s programmers, as they are wont to do, are also snatching the most commercial and audience-friendly Japanese animated features. What are they going to programme next year?

Almost everybody in the anime business is tired of the “next Miyazaki” argument, in part because there can be no such thing. Hayao Miyazaki was a one-off, as was the synergy formed by his partnership with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. Moreover, the conditions that made their Studio Ghibli such a world-beater were also, in themselves, unique. The putative successors to Miyazaki are competing in an environment that is worlds away from the situation that saw Princess Mononoke rise to fame.

But concerns about who might be anime’s new poster-child aren’t just about the search for a new creative force. They are also all about money. For a Japanese movie to break even at the domestic box office, it has to be in the top twenty films released that year – a benchmark that only Studio Ghibli and a couple of long-running franchises (your Pokémon, your One Piece) could ever manage. A Studio Ghibli film (let’s be honest, a Miyazaki film), was a blue-chip investment, guaranteed to put bums on seats in Japan, and to monetise in foreign sales. Nobody else in Japan currently comes close, and that doesn’t just affect the likely enjoyment of family audiences. It affects festival programmers looking for something Japanese for their slates; it affects retailers planning how many feet of shelves to give to anime; and it affects distributors allotting budgets to those weird Japanese cartoons we keep hearing about. With Ghibli removed from the equation, the investment value of the entire anime medium drops by a significant factor, forcing everybody – distributors, retailers, and cinema owners, to work a lot harder to keep it in the public eye. So do your bit: go and see a Japanese animated film in a cinema this year… It’ll show up on someone’s balance sheet, and might make all the difference.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #143, 2015.

Anime Futures

With Mark Schilling’s permission, I’m putting up the unexpurgated text of the interview he conducted with me six weeks ago for his article on Japanese animation futures in the South China Morning Post, in part to show how much work goes on behind the scenes to get a sound bite and an article.

the-wind-rises-creating-planes-clipMark Schilling: You mentioned recently that several well-known anime studios might soon go kaput, but without naming names. Is it mainly a problem of rising costs? Declining revenues? Stiffer competition from Hollywood and elsewhere? All of the above?

Jonathan Clements: Some of it is economics — we’ve lost several minor studios recently, and their rise and fall, or restructuring and rebirth as “New” incarnations of themselves has been a common factor of the industry for decades. Ghibli itself was at least partly formed from the ashes of Topcraft, for example. Japanese studios in the twentieth century were able to function as subcontractors for American animation. That’s sometimes still true, but so many elements of anime production is now off-shored to China or South Korea that anime studios are smaller, and leaner, and more flexible in their behaviours. As Gonzo showed in the late noughties, it’s possible for a company to go almost completely dark, to give up its studio space, to lay off its animators and just coast for a couple of years as little more than a filing cabinet in an accountant’s office, waiting for the foreign residuals to roll in. That’s good for robust business, but bad for an animator’s job security!

There’s a generational issue that many people have spotted in the case of the high-profile retirements at Ghibli, but which is also common to the anime industry. The vision of a single creator, or team of creators, can steer a company and give it a distinctive style or brand, but nobody is immortal. People retire. The anime industry went through something very similar in the 1990s, where a bunch of the first-wave producers cashed in their shares, took their pensions, and handed over their companies to others — it’s what led to some of the big corporate buy-outs like Bandai taking ownership of Sunrise. That was seen at the time almost as a hostile take-over, but for many of the staff it was a welcome hand-over, with one of Sunrise’s biggest and most trustworthy clients taking a direct interest in its output, and thereby preserving the jobs of the employees.

What we have now, and have had for the last few years, is the aging of the Astro Boy generation, not of fans, but of animators. In 1963, Tezuka quadrupled the size of the animation industry, both directly through hirings at Mushi and indirectly through the creation of competition in the market. Those fresh-faced graduates are now in their seventies. Many of them are the leading lights of specific studios and, you know, some of them want to go off and play golf.

frozenIs the enormous success of Frozen in Japan a one-shot — or a game changer? Will more Japanese studios switch to Hollywood-style 3D CG animation, following the lead of the new Doraemon film? Will Hollywood exploit the fading of Studio Ghibli and become the dominant player at the Japanese box office, especially the animated segment of it?

Hollywood has always been the dominant player at the Japanese box office. There have been occasional spikes in local interest for particular directors or franchises, but Japanese cinema is eternally fighting a rear-guard action to push local product ahead of flashy foreign imports. Until Miyazaki’s late twentieth century successes, Japanese animation flourished like a weed, only in the spaces that The Lion King and Aladdin didn’t grow. Even in the 1990s, only a tiny handful of players like Gainax and Ghibli gave Disney anything close to a run for its money on home video. I think it’s worth considering Disney’s acquisition of Ghibli titles in that light — when Disney (or their subsidiaries) put money directly into Spirited Away, they weren’t just investing in a Japanese talent, they were ensuring that they got a piece of the pie from their main competitor in the Japanese market.

Japan has been slow to take up 3D CG, because it involves massive reskilling and investment in software and hardware. It’s a return to the state of the industry in the 1950s, when Disney product, made at a substantially greater cost to Japanese competition, was swamping the market with a relentless onslaught of material.

I don’t see Hollywood filling any new niche in Japan. Hollywood, in the form of Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks, will keep releasing its big family films and rolling on as before. The likely competition to do what anime does, to compete at a more domestic, perhaps even consciously “Asian” level, is going to come from China. Miyazaki’s retirement merited a sixty-page feature on Japanese animation in one of China’s biggest news-stand magazines, Lifeweek, last October. The implication was clear that this was a business feature, identifying a new market opening, and asking if China had what it took to move in on it.

I’m not saying that China is the new Ghibli. Far from it, the Chinese animation business has a lot to learn, and much of its output is highly derivative. But it is generating an animation labour base bigger than Japan’s every year. Kung Fu Panda 3 is going to be a “Chinese” film for contractual purposes, so even DreamWorks is relying increasingly on Chinese labour. The Chinese already represent two-thirds of the labour pool for what we call “Japanese” animation. Granted, that’s all concentrated in the lower, less-”skilled” echelons, but that doesn’t bode well for the future when the upper ranks of Japanese animation companies are increasingly drawn from the ranks of marketers and managers. It means that there is a very palpable risk that Japanese animation won’t have any actual animators steering it.

wind-rises-main_0You’ve no doubt read the anonymously sourced story about Studio Ghibli stopping production and becoming a rights management company. Do this strike you as credible? Some of the claims in that piece, such as The Wind Rises still being in the red, seem rather far-fetched to me…

You can see the signs very easily. When Toshio Suzuki was sitting on data that told him that “Studio Ghibli” had a 43% trust rating with the Japanese public, but that the name “Miyazaki” had a 64.2% trust rating, what did he do? He got Miyazaki’s son to direct Tales from Earthsea! I think you can see Suzuki’s very canny, very sharp management insight steering much of the last decade. Even as he retires, he puts a former Disney Japan executive in charge of Ghibli. He builds the Ghibli Museum, which is a classy theme park that generates a movie’s worth of revenue every year. He tries the Goro Miyazaki bait-and-switch manoeuvre, and essentially dares the Japanese public to come and watch the car-crash for themselves. He hypes up this father-son tension in the media, but then gets the Miyazakis working together on Poppy Hill. In the case of The Wind Rises, I see it as another calculated move by the studio, to wring one last box office winner out of Hayao Miyazaki. I like to think of them going to his house and begging him to make one last film to keep the momentum going at the museum and on video, and telling him he can make ANYTHING he likes. Because the subject of that film is so personal, and indulgent, and risky, that I can’t imagine anyone else being allowed to get away with it.
My prediction: in a couple of years’ time Ghibli will go into production on a script “written by” Hayao Miyazaki, just to ring that bell again. He’s effectively given them a 50-title wish-list of children’s literature worth adapting. There is undoubtedly a faction at Ghibli who wants to pivot it towards doing World Masterpiece Theatre, and carrying Miyazaki’s legacy in a different direction, by copying his early TV successes adapting children’s books. That’s why they’re moving into TV with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, but you can see the Ghibli is only co-producing it. The animation is actually being done by Polygon Pictures.

That The Wind Rises is still in the red sounds ludicrous to me. If it is, it’s only in the movie-accounting sense that Forrest Gump is still technically “in the red.” The Wind Rises did fine.

garden of wordsPeople have been talking about various “new Miyazakis” for years, but that we are truly in the post-Miyazaki era, who do you see as leading the industry, if not necessarily inheriting Miyazaki’s crown? If none of your names are from Studio Ghibli, why not?

It’s a cliche to talk about the “new Miyazaki.” Japanese animators hate the whole argument, because it usually implies nothing new at all, just a magical cloning of his unique skillset, and his unique, timely rise in the movie market, and with supporters like Takahata and Suzuki. Ghibli was a three-man success story, very much of its time, and you can’t have a new Miyazaki without having a new Takahata and a new Suzuki. It also requires some awareness of what we mean when we ask for a “new Miyazaki”. Because Makoto Shinkai has a lot of Miyazaki’s heart, but none of his “family” appeal. Shinkai has cornered a market in films for people who grew up watching Miyazaki movies, but he doesn’t make movies for tomorrow’s families. I guess that’s the problem, there. It’s not about who the new Miyazaki is, it’s about who the new audience is. It’s now easier in Japan to buy diapers for old people than for kids. The kids’ market is shrinking, and that further reduces your chances of making blockbuster money on a family film.

Studio Ghibli actually tried to grow the new Miyazaki themselves, in several abortive attempts to co-opt big-name talents like Mamoru Hosoda. The fact that Hosoda didn’t fit in at an increasingly management-oriented Ghibli is actually a sign of his true potential, far more than staying there would have been!

They also brought in a dozen promising animation assistants and put them to work directly with Miyazaki and Takahata to foster a new generation of talents. That was called the Higashi-Koganei Sonjoku scheme, and its graduates stand a good chance of making waves over the next ten years. People like Masayuki Miyaji, for example, Masashi Okumura and Kenji Itoso.

But ironically, Miyazaki’s own shadow looms so large that it’s difficult for someone to turn up at Ghibli with a distinctive voice and not have it shouted down by risk-averse managers. Goro Miyazaki’s films often look like a committee trying to recreate his father’s successes, and that should come as a surprise to nobody. Ghibli was lightning in a bottle, and rumours about its move into legacy management are only logical — I think what people forget was just how darn lucky Disney was that Pixar could show up at the right moment and completely revitalise its output with fresh ideas and fresh technology, and real talents. Ghibli doesn’t have that. Ghibli doesn’t have a powerful competitor that it can embrace and merge with.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History and Modern Japan: All That Matters.

Podcast: A Dingo Stole My Anime

close_ghibliJeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements in the 26th Manga UK podcast to discuss last week’s Studio Ghibli news, the San Diego Comic Con, upcoming releases, and your questions from Twitter and Facebook. Includes an inadvisable impersonation of Meryl Streep, commentary track shenanigans, and Jerome’s skateboarding stunts. You can download the podcast here.

01:00. Jerome encounters the Suicide Girls. Notes on the inadvisability of branding the name of your favourite anime show into your flesh.

03:00. The introduction of the swear jar, and its purposes.

04:00. The controversy over this week’s Studio Ghibli news. Is the studio shutting down? The background to Toshio Suzuki’s various plans to keep the flame alive at Studio Ghibli – Plan A, Plan B… Plan F, Plan G.

07:00. Some unconfirmed and entirely speculative things that you might find in Mamoru Hosoda’s One Piece movie. Other people who have worked with Studio Ghibli and never quite replaced Hayao Miyazaki.

10:00. Suspending production; the former Toei staffing policy and how Ghibli copied it. The prospect that what we are seeing now is the return of “Silver Ghibli”. Goro Miyazaki and the power of nepotism.

lotteria-114:30. The prospects of a Ghibli-Disney tie-up, which are remote indeed. The unlikely story of a Berserk happy meal. Ghibli and children’s literature, and what made Ghibli such a good studio.

22:00. Manchester MCM Comic Con. Manga Entertainment’s “Road Dogs”, or should we call them Manga Dingos? Forthcoming changes to admissions policy at the October Comic Con in London.

27:30. Announcements from the Manchester MCM Comic Con. Ghost in the Shell Arise, and the typographic misery of Production I.G’s name.

31:30. Bayonetta: Bloody Fate out on the 24th November.

34:00. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods coming to DVD on 10th November. Some theatrical screenings coming up, including the chance to demand your own at Ourscreen.com. How does “crowd-sourcing for cinemas” work?

42:00. Harlock: Space Pirate, coming on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2015, but available now on Netflix. The 3D version will be included on the Blu-ray. More on Jerome’s obsession with steelbooks.

45:00. Jerome’s adventures at San Diego Comic Con. The Mondo poster company and their fantastic Ghost in the Shell poster, and the behind-the-scenes concern that make premiering it at San Diego such a cunning marketing decision.

51:00. Jerome’s Hulk sandwich and his karmic skateboarding injury.

54:00. How did you licence Jormungand when you’ve said before that it’s difficult to get Geneon shows?

55:30. Promising recent releases, not necessarily coming from Manga Entertainment.

63:30. Legal streaming sites such as Crunchyroll, Animax, and Wakanim.

69:30. Expanding into streaming services.

71:00. The cost and economics of releasing on Blu-ray. Do some people really not yet know that Blu-ray players will also play DVDs? Why hasn’t Blu-ray been as fast as the DVD to be taken up by consumers?

76:20. How much easier is it to licence anime in the days of email? Face-to-face meetings still required in the modern age.

81:00. The departure of Jerome to another meeting, leaving the lunatics in charge of the asylum.

82:00. Why aren’t there any more UK-based commentaries these days? All kinds of behind-the-scenes shenanigans making commentary tracks difficult and/or expensive.

91:30. No news on Black Butler or K-On Blu-rays. Well, no good news, anyway.

93:00. Changes in the prices of older products. The politics of bundling, and how that leads to crappy releases when the accountants demand you actually release the thing that you never actually wanted to buy in the first place.

98:00. With the world going eco, do you think that the time is right for a release of Marine Boy?

100:00. Some of the past Manga Entertainment releases that we have almost completely forgotten about, including the marvellously titled Red Hawk: Weapon of Death and the problematic Dark Myth.

105:00. And we’re out! Thank you for listening.

And we’re out. The Podcast is available to download now HERE, or find it and an archive of previous shows at our iTunes page. For a detailed contents listing of previous podcasts, check out our Podcasts page.

Turning Point

Turning-Point-1997-2008-postMy review of Hayao Miyazaki’s second volume of collected writings is up now on the Manga UK blog. Just a taste:

“It’s crucial, for a long-term understanding of Miyazaki’s legacy, to know just where his priorities were, and the answer is often surprising – more space is given in his afterword to the construction of the Studio Ghibli crèche than to his movies. Nor is this an idle comment – with typical eccentric insight, Miyazaki sees the Three Bears daycare centre not only as a place for his animators to leave their kids, but as a place for Studio Ghibli’s workers to observe their audience in its natural habitat. As ever, he cares passionately about the Child. His producer Toshio Suzuki might always have his eye on the ticket buyer and the bottom line, but Miyazaki remains touchingly involved with the world of the under-tens.”

Tartar Source

Determined to make a trip to the dairy more fun for all the kiddies, the Snow Brand Milk Products company decided it needed a cartoon. The result was Tengri the Boy of the Steppes (1977), a 21-minute promotional film pointing out to people just how tough dairy production was in the bad old days. Set on the plains of Central Asia, it showed scenes in the troubled life of Tengri, a hunter boy who develops a brotherly relationship with Tartar, a young calf. We learn all about life on the steppes, until a fateful winter when Tengri is ordered to kill the calves for food. Unable to bring himself to off his bovine best friend, Tengri “loses” Tartar in the snow.

Years later, a grown-up Tartar somehow saves the village, and the previously unknown Recipe for Cheese allows Tengri’s fellow villagers to bring aid to the starving. Cheese is the saviour of the steppes, as it allows milk to be preserved long past the date it is extracted from a cow. Consequently, the villagers have food all through the winter, and don’t need to kill cattle for meat.

This odd story, seemingly not mentioning that all dairy cattle end up slaughtered for meat, was dashed off by Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka at Snow Brand’s request. His contribution, described as “a character sketch and a four-page story outline,” was thrown at the animation company Group Tac, which sat on it for two years. They were, it seems, rather busy at the time on Manga Fairy Tales and the animated Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With time ticking away, the project landed at Shin-Ei animation, where animator Yasuo Otsuka finally took it on in what would be his sole directing credit, obliged to crank it out on a 45-day production schedule.

Otsuka was plainly not a fan of Tezuka, a man whom he regarded as largely responsible for the collapse in the quality of Japanese animation. To put things bluntly, while Tezuka readily lapped up any praise that called him “the Japanese Disney”, he owed much more in his working practices to the extremely limited animation practices of Hanna-Barbera. Tezuka’s production-line system and cost-cutting measures might have made it possible to make anime on weekly television schedules, but they also irredeemably cheapened animation, Otsuka thought. Animators worked hard before Tezuka, but after Tezuka they worked like dogs, in an industry notorious for chewing up its practitioners and spitting them out.

Otsuka was hence not all that impressed with Tezuka’s tales of “Tartar source”, particularly since he got the impression Tezuka had dashed off a vague story in less time than it took to smoke a fag. Otsuka also had problems with Tezuka’s outline, particularly the original Shane-inspired ending where Tengri heads off towards the west, a lone drifter, with the implication being that he takes cheese to Europe, like a dairy Prometheus.

Otsuka began planning a rewrite, only to be told by the producer Eiji Murayama that the ending was “suffused with poetic sentiment” in depicting a hero who “leaves the trifling human world” in order to journey to Europe. Which is, presumably, not populated by humans.

But this was supposed to be a cow + boy story, not a cowboy story. Otsuka understood the elegiac quality, but he thought that a children’s film should end with its protagonist welcomed back by the village. Risking the ire of Tezuka and the dairy, he changed the ending by hiding the horizon behind a bunch of cows, so that it wasn’t immediately plain to see where Tengri was heading. If you wanted to believe he came home at the end, you could now believe that.

Not that the horizon needed much hiding, as Otsuka had to use standard-sized cels. Despite a setting on the rolling grasslands of Asia, a union rep had told Otsuka there would be no great vistas in the background, as that was too much work for the colorists. Otsuka protested that even staunch union men in the animation business took enough pride in their work to draw a wide plain if a wide plain was called for, but he was overruled. What really wound Otsuka up was that the union had accepted the job, claimed they could do it, and then threatened to walk out when it proved impossible. He’d have preferred it if they’d refused from the outset, so he could have gone back and asked for a budget increase to do a better job.

In the end, Otsuka was forced to sit with his arms folded, sulking bitterly, at the preview screening, as his under-funded anime rolled out to a largely unappreciative audience. People filed out saying that it would “do”, and Otsuka – one of the greatest animators in 20th century anime – never directed a film again.

Although some online reviewers on Amazon Japan claim to have seen Tengri the Boy of the Steppes on TV, for thirty years it was officially only available to people who either visited the Snow Brand factory showroom, or rented it out from the dairy as a 16mm film print. But then, a series of events propelled Otsuka’s obscure cartoon back into the media.

In 2000, Snow Brand Milk Products achieved a different kind of notoriety when over 14,000 Japanese reported unpleasant side effects of consuming “old milk”, past its sell-by date.

The following year, Yasuo Otsuka discussed the film’s production history in his autobiography. In the process, he mentioned something that revealed to Snow Brand they were sitting on a dairy anime goldmine that could help dispel their media milky crisis. As a result, Snow Brand authorised the release of Tengri the Boy of the Steppes as a deluxe DVD in 2007, bringing this forgotten anime back into the limelight once more.

Of course, it probably helped that the new credits acknowledged the contribution of Yasuo Otsuka’s young layouts assistant, a previously uncredited young animator called Hayao Miyazaki.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.