Prelude to Ganso Tensai Bakabon

ganba tensai bakabon

(with apologies to any readers who are fans of Dragon Ball Z (Kai) or—gosh forbid—Filmation cartoons)

Where to begin in talking about this landmark show?

Ganso Tensai Bakabon was the last of the classic Tokyo Movie-produced gag comedies, and easily one of the most delightfully unhinged anime to ever hit airwaves in Japan, superseded only by the best episodes of Goku’s Big Adventure (1967) and Fight da!! Pyuta (1968). The studio and its various subcontractors, chief of which was A Production, had already tried adapting the material a few years in Tensai Bakabon, albeit this was toned down significantly from Fujio Akatsuka’s original manga; for this iteration, the staff would hew closer to the insanity and black comedy of Akatsuka’s work (hence the “Ganso” in the title, meaning “Original”).

Ganso was the show that replaced Ganba no Bouken, which SenritsuSubs has done a fine job subtitling for over a year now, in its 7:00pm Monday timeslot on Nippon Television beginning October 6, 1975; Ganba‘s finale had premiered the previous week. Most of Ganba‘s crew, including director Osamu Dezaki, art director Shichirō Kobayashi and his protégés (chief of whom was future superstar Kazuo Oga), and the animators at A Pro (Tsutomu Shibayama, Osamu Kobayashi, and Yoshifumi Kondō, among others), Madhouse (Manabu Ōhashi, Ikuo Fudaki, Kōichi Tsuchida), and Studio Mates (Kenzō Koizumi and Masayuki Ōzeki), began working on Ganso almost immediately afterwards. They were soon joined by many other notable studios and animators of the period, among them Kazuo Tomizawa (then based at Doga Kobo—before that, he was at Shingo Araki’s Studio Z where he worked on Tokyo Movie’s The Gutsy Frog alongside a young Yoshinori Kanada—but later the animation director of some 80s Madhouse films like Barefoot Gen, Unico in the Island of Magic, and Lensman), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (who grew to be one of Madhouse’s most distinctive visionaries), Yūzō Aoki (who afterwards became a key figure in Lupin III Parts 2 and 3), Studio Junio’s Minoru Maeda (who became the Dragon Ball franchise’s character designer in its early years), and even the legendary Yasuo Otsuka (of Toei Doga, Lupin III, and Miyazaki/Takahata fame). In effect, Ganso was a crossroads of many talented artists within a transitional period of anime history—several of these artists went on to bigger things, but some, alas, ultimately peaked on this show before beginning a downhill slide.

otsuka ganso

Frames from a shock scene in episode 61B, one of three later episodes key-animated with flair by Yasuo Otsuka under the direction of Shigetsugu Yoshida at A Pro.

Indeed, the first 79 half-hours of the show, with Tsutomu Shibayama as character designer and de jure animation director, would be the final show that A Pro animated on before the studio ended its partnership with Tokyo Movie to form Shin-Ei Doga. By this time, Shibayama had reached the height of his powers, with refined, appealingly stylized characters who could easily be moved around in fun, lively poses and movements; in the hands of the best directors and animators, the character animation becomes an outrageous wonder to behold, heightening the absurdity of the gags and situations. It has been said that, while Shibayama was credited as animation director, he did not do much drawing correction on these Tokyo Movie shows, allowing the animators’ individual styles to come through—this was not quite the anarchy of Tokyo Movie’s concurrently-running Hajime Ningen Gyators (which Dezaki, A Pro, Madhouse, et. al. had jumped ship from once Ganba got going, and the remaining crew of which would join Ganso once it ended), in which Studio Junio’s Takao Kosai laid down the rule that the animators could draw the characters however they wanted without any corrections, but it still makes for an engaging, if variable, visual feast of sorts. (Unfortunately, the only surviving version of the show’s OP comes from after Shibayama had departed, with Tokyo Movie’s own Takeo Kitahara taking his place; therefore, current copies of all the half-hours, including the first 79 that involved Shibayama, bear Kitahara’s name as animation director in the OP.)

Ganso does take after Gyators‘s production in one significant respect, though: there is no chief director, allowing the episode directors the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Osamu Dezaki, in addition to directing Ganso‘s wild OP which sets the series’ tone perfectly, was the most prominent episode director for its entire run; he had in fact distinguished himself years before as the best director of Goku’s Big Adventure. Poignantly, Ganso would be the last time in Dezaki’s career that he flaunted his earlier wild, satirical, gag comedy-oriented side, with stellar results. Other notable episode directors over the course of the series were frequent Dezaki collaborators Yoshio Takeuchi and Hideo Takayashiki, as well as A Pro’s Shigetsugu Yoshida (later responsible for the Gold of Babylon Lupin III film, among other things) and relative newcomer Hiroshi Fukutomi (who continued the oddball experiments with direction he had been making on Gyators before going on to influence a young Yoshiji Kigami). Special mention must go to the series’ audio, like Takeo Watanabe’s contemporary musical tracks that often quote famous motifs in music history—the eclecticism and abrupt editing (by Seiji Suzuki) of which complement the bizarre twists and turns of the show—sound firm Miyata Audio’s heavy use of Hanna-Barbera sound effects, and of course the charismatic voice acting by many legends within the industry, in particular the late Masashi Amenomori’s beautifully idiotic yet gravelly voice for Bakabon’s Papa.

ganso 20a.png

At its best, Ganso Tensai Bakabon offers deranged insanity of a kind unparalleled in most anime made since. Witness these scenes from episode 20A, one of a number of stellar episodes directed by Osamu Dezaki and key-animated by Manabu Ōhashi (whose idiosyncrasies as an artist were blooming by this time) at Madhouse.

So…how did it come about that Ganso would finally be subbed? The story is perhaps worthy of the series itself in its utter inanity, but in the end the one to thank first and foremost is my BFF, Poppy. You see, this past January 26, I found my real-life self uncomfortably sitting through Dragon Ball Z Kai on Adult Swim (dubbed, too) because my older brother was watching it in the living room. To me, one of the show’s worst aspects is Shunsuke Kikuchi’s dated stock music (reused from the original DBZ); I have felt for years that his tracks are essentially glorified big-band versions of the violating dreck that Ray Ellis and Norm Prescott composed for the Tom and Jerry Comedy Show and other Filmation cartoons of that vintage. So, the following Monday I ranted to Poppy about the ordeal (she and I chat regularly on Discord), then I found myself trapped in a masochistic fit watching those 80s T&J cartoons while playing Dragon Ball Z music over them, just to spite both shows. I sent a message to Poppy about what I was doing and, well….

dbz sux

In perhaps the strangest twist of fate in subbing history, Dragon Ball Z Kai and awful Tom and Jerry shorts from the early 1980s became partly responsible for Ganso Tensai Bakabon’s deliverance from near-total unavailability in the West.

As Poppy put it later: “I’ve been on the hunt for certain anime for a while. Every now and then I’d input the anime’s Japanese name into the Nyaa search bar, but often I was met with nothing. Until now.” It turned out that the torrent had been up since earlier that month, but no one noticed until Poppy did—an unfortunate oversight, considering I was working on my retrospective for Manabu Ōhashi in honor of his 70th birthday at that time, and I could have easily incorporated more clips of his delightful work on Ganso into it.

I then notified my friend Kenji, the leader of SenritsuSubs, about the discovery, and he in turn tweeted about it in public: after a lengthy search, Frany eventually stepped up and offered to do translation, and the rest is history. As for me, I will be doing quality control for the subs, as well as providing the credits and writing about the episodes on this blog—so now we will know exactly who to credit for an exceptional episode or moment, lest certain popular miscreants who are clearly ignorant about Tokyo Movie’s subcontracting to other studios in the 70s continue using their large platforms to spread the blanket statement (among other falsehoods) that these were “A Pro shows”.

Toadette is an odd, precocious little shroom who is obsessed with animation and the arts in general. You can find his occasional articles on international animation at On the Ones, and he sometimes posts things on Twitter too; in his spare time, when he is not finishing college up at the age of 20 or helping his family (you could say he’s the hard-pressed, tormented middle child holding them together), he reads, researches, and watches things and chats with his friends. His current subjects of interest for OTO are Zagreb Films and the great Czech satirist-intellectual-filmmaker Jiří Brdečka.

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