Japanese Television Anime
As with comics, some may not take Japanese animation very seriously. But for the young, the young at heart and students of the language, these same shows are entertaining, useful and in demand all over the world. And the amount of merchandising revenue these shows bring in is very serious indeed. It sometimes seems that no Japanese company can afford to be without its cutesy cartoon 'image' character. No high school girl can be seen without stuffed toys or toy figures on her person, warning signs on automatic doors show a startled bunny rabbits, train ticket machines have cartoon staff bowing and thanking you for your purchase. These images are so pervasive that after a while you tend not to think of them as strange anymore.
Anyway, the following are some of the most popular Japanese TV cartoons for kids of recent years.
Pokemon, whether it be TV cartoons, movies, trading cards or one of the more than 1,000 associated products, has generated billions of dollars for its parent company, Nintendo, since its launch as a video game in early 1996. And the phenomenon is not confined to Japan. Led by the hero Satoshi and point man (monster) Pikachu, it swept across the world in just three years.
Introduced to the US as a TV cartoon in September 1998, Pokemon generated an estimated 700 million dollars in retail sales in the following year. The weekly cartoon became the top-rated kid's TV show and the video 'Pokemon: Seaside Pikachu' topped the bestsellers list. Sociologists engage in serious debate about the educational value of kids' obsession with Pokemon cards. The logistics, tactics and pure arithmetic involved in pitting the various monsters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, against each other certainly make kids use their brains. And the fact that the monsters don't die as a result of their battles - they just faint - is a welcome change from the usual cartoon carnage. But stories of schoolyard fights over cards and the kind of money changing hands - some cards are traded at over 100 dollars apiece - also cause concern.
Japanese TV doesn't just show the cartoons themselves but also a program on which young contestants battle each other to become 'Pokemon champions'. What with Pokemon movies and stuffed Pikachu dolls everywhere, how can kids possibly resist getting on the bandwagon? One of the crazes started by Pokemon was to be able to sing along with a single associated with the show. Not so much a song as a list of the names of the 150 or so monsters in the Pokemon collection, the memorisation involved seemed to appeal to kids who are taught that remembering stuff is the key to a good career and a happy life. Needless to say, the single recorded sales in the millions.
The undisputed 'queen of cute' these days is Hello Kitty. Although she's been around for 25 years, her finest hour began in 1996. The girls who had made Kitty-chan a success back in the 1970's were now the baby-boomers with money to spend. Kitty's parent company Sanrio launched a series of pink satin keitai (cellular phone) pouches that became the only ones to be with in the youth style centers of Tokyo and beyond.
When baby-faced pop star Kahala Tomomi announced that she was a Kitty-lah (Kitty groupie), sales went through the roof. New products were knocked out almost daily, anything from Kitty stickers and hair clips to Kitty cars - real cars for the girl who has everything, painted pink and with Kitty plastered all over. Sanrio even has its own theme park, Puroland in Tama City, near Tokyo where you can meet Kitty and her friends, including Peckle the Duck and Keroppi the Frog. She has even managed to spread her feline empire to Asia, Europe and the US, where Sanrio has 40 stores. The little cat with no mouth (who incidentally was born in London to George and Mary White,has a twin sister Mimi, weighs the same as three apples and is stuck in the third grade) almost single-handedly helped Sanrio to increase profits by 1300 percent in 1997.
Doraemon, the robot cat from the twenty-second century, and his human pal Nobita are the Japanese equivalent of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Nobita is a classic 4th-grade underachiever who desperately wants to be liked but can't hit a baseball or even ride a bike and is always bottom of his class. Together with Doraemon and the other members of his neighborhood gang, he has adventures that entertain while gently educating its young audience.Doraemon's pouch is the source of all kinds of wonderful devices from the future that can be used - and abused - by Nobita to deal with his everyday problems. He also has a dokodemo-door, through which the youngsters can visit anywhere in the world, and of course a time machine.
Doraemon first appeared in a comic book by Fujimoto Hiroshi (1934~96) in 1969, when he came back in time to save Nobita from his own future.Since then, in paperbacks (over 100 million copies sold), TV cartoons and over 20 movies, Doraemon has been the voice of reason guiding Nobita through one adventure after another. In a sense, Nobita represents all the youth of Japan and the lessons he learns are those faced by everyone in the rapidly developing world. The show airs at 7pm on Friday evenings.
Less in the realm of cute are cartoon 'people', such as Sazae-san, Chibi Maruko and Crayon Shin-chan. These characters and their families represent different takes on Japanese life and culture. They encapsulate the generational changes of the postwar years as well as any sociological study could do. Perhaps the best-loved and certainly the longest-running cartoon series is Sazae-san, shown at 6:30 on Sunday evenings. Sazae (a type of shellfish - like all the characters, her name is related to the sea) is a 23-year old housewife who lives with her parents, younger brother and sister, husband and baby son.At home, Sazae is surrounded by the usual electrical appliances, drawn to resemble the latest models by Toshiba, the show's sponsor! But otherwise life is firmly rooted in a world that is no more than a fading memory for today's Japanese. The characters were created in a comic book (right) by manga artist Hasegawa Machiko (1920~92) shortly after World War II and have been on TV since 1969. Hasegawa was something of a recluse and the darker side of life in postwar Japan was part of her work.
But modern-day problems rarely intrude into the TV show and key features are the opening credits showing various scenic spots around the country and the timely inclusion of seasonal and festive elements. This together with the always-polite language of the characters, makes the show excellent for students of Japan's language and culture. For Japanese, Sazae-san - like the Tora-san movie series - provides a chance to shake off the worries of work and school and soak in the warm glow of nostalgia.
Rooted more in the semi-rural Japan of the early 1970's, Chibi Maruko-chan (Little Miss Maruko) was originally created to appeal to the childhood memories of young women. As it turned out, its appeal was broader than that, with children the same age as the third-grade heroine tuning in and snapping up all the merchandising. The characters and humor are more rounded and endearing than those in Sazae-san. Maruko does what she can to avoid homework, takes advantage of her doting grandfather and squabbles with her sister. All ends well, of course but never without a bit of embarassment and comeupance.
Created as a manga in 1986 by Sakura Momoko, the TV show was launched in 1990 and reached record-high ratings for a 30-minute animation. Apart from a one-year absence in 1993, the show has run ever since, in the 6pm time slot before Sazae-san on Sunday evenings.
The crazed antics of the 5-year old Crayon Shin-chan are a far cry from those of other animation characters. With a habit of dropping his pants, drinking his father's beer and mooning over centerfolds, Shin-chan (his full name is Shinnosuke) is a young Japanese Bart Simpson for the 90's if ever there was one. The show was always at the top of one poll every year - TV shows that parents did not want their children to watch. But Shin-chan's long-suffering parents are not much better than their deviant son and are usually shown indulging in vices of their own. It is often pointed out that the materialism and aimlessness of young Japanese today stems from the attitudes of their parents. Shin-chan seems to embody that kind of theory. It was a surprise hit when it was launched in the mid-1990's, the time when this kind of social criticism was beginning to become popular. This cartoon may not have had the same level of popularity as Sazae-san or even the Simpsons, but in a way it did reflect the values of its time. The show came to a somewhat tragic end when its creator, Usui Yoshito was found dead in the mountains in September 2009. It is believed that he died in a hiking accident.