The very first episode of Ganso Tensai Bakabon opens with a short sequence that establishes the show’s aim to fulfill the unique insanity of its source material. A mysterious figure runs into the street, causing a massive pile-up, and asks if the genius Bakabon’s dad is around. A whole slew of doppelgangers begin to claim his identity, which causes the figure to unveil himself as being the original Bakabon’s dad.
This debut half-hour is something of a triumph for the Dezaki school of direction. Yoshio Takeuchi, who was one of Osamu Dezaki’s main protégés in the 70s, directed the first segment, while the master himself directed the second.
The basic plot of 1A, written by Yutaka Kaneko, is at least as old as the animated TV sitcom itself, having shown up as early as Mike Maltese’s Augie Doggie cartoons for Hanna-Barbera in 1959: son wants to keep strange pet, father won’t allow it, gags ensue over the conflict of interests. But Ganso‘s uniquely demented take on the concept, in which Bakabon finds a pig as a pet (mistaking it for a cat at first) only for his dad to want to butcher it to make tonkatsu, exudes with a delightful, nonsensical idiocy and blatant cynicism. In one particular sequence, Papa steals what he assumes is the pig—in reality a pillow—while Bakabon is sleeping and fries it up; Bakabon bawls loudly in reaction to the supposed death of his pig, but Papa casually disregards his hurt son, noting with minimal remorse that the pig is now a star in the heavens and then chowing down with relish on the fried pillow. It’s a testament both to Papa’s own darkly humorous self-interest, even at the expense of his family, and to father and son’s shared stupidity.
Dezaki’s strong influence on director Yoshio Takeuchi is plainly evident in Bakabon’s shocked reaction to his dad having apparently killed and fried his pet pig.
Takeuchi’s storyboard is brought to life by A Pro’s star trio of Yoshifumi Kondō, Michishiro Yamada, and Shinichi Ōtake: their work delivers beautifully-staged, frenetic action from the very beginning, in which Papa uses a cat as a soccer ball and is in turn severely punished by its harridan owner. Kondō is considered a legend for his later work with the Miyazaki-Takahata-Ghibli cadre—among other things, he directed Whisper of the Heart, which happens to be one of the all-time favorites of a dear film-reviewing friend of mine’s—but his earlier work at A Pro is well worth seeking out for its sheer ingenuity within the confines of limited animation. Yamada and Ōtake, on the other hand, are far lesser-known, though Yamada went on to be a fairly active figure at one of A Pro’s successor studios, Ajia-do (founded by luminaries Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi), and both became regular contributors to Group TAC’s Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi from 1978 onwards; additionally, Yamada was the animation director of TAC’s 1993 Bonobono* film, while Ōtake animation-directed the unfortunate Noel’s Fantastic Trip in 1983 and Kōsei Maeda’s obscure classic Gon, the Little Fox in 1985.
*Caveat emptor (which goes for any older Anipages articles, really): Ettinger’s insights on the film itself are great as usual, but the discussion of Yamada’s earlier career has yet another example of the tendency (which was excusable back in 2008 when it was published) to generalize these old Tokyo Movie comedies as “A Pro shows”. As I alluded in my introductory post, Hajime Ningen Gyators in particular went through an extended period in which not a single frame was drawn by the A Pro animators; once we reach a certain point in Ganso I will discuss this in more detail.
If 1A is a twisted take on a conventional story, then 1B, written by Noboru Shiroyama, is an exercise in how to take a vacuous concept and turn it into an unrelenting stream of comedic genius, courtesy of Osamu Dezaki and the animators at Madhouse. What little plot there is—father-and-son somnambulists go around at night dressed as pirates to dig holes and rebury them, convincing Bakabon’s Papa that there’s treasure buried in his backyard—is a loose thread that ties together a variety of strange gags and funny character interactions between Papa and almost everyone else involved; like Papa’s own mind, the episode veers aimlessly in no particular logical direction other than what will keep up the flow of insane action and dialogue, culminating in a bullet being fired straight up to the sun where it burns.
The star animator of the episode is Ikuo Fudaki, who I’ve long considered to be an unsung talent. He began as an inbetweener at Mushi Pro (his name is in Tezuka’s endearingly uneven misfire Cleopatra), and by the time Madhouse was formed he had graduated to key animation, serving in that capacity on The Gutsy Frog, Jungle Kurobee, and Gyators, among others. He was one of the four key animators of Dezaki’s brilliant PSA film The Fire G-Men alongside Akio Sugino, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Manabu Ōhashi, but never received the renown of those three—which is a shame, considering that what I’ve recognized as his work is very fun to watch. Taken on its own, Fudaki’s animation is characterized by a sort of rough exuberance and pliability, with a particular knack for distorting the characters’ faces to reflect their states of mind; his characters will sometimes make intricate movements and gestures, coming off all the more believable in turn. Fudaki’s work is supplemented by that of two lesser animators, namely Kōichi Tsuchida and Shintarō Horikoshi, although Tsuchida was certainly capable of nice animation of his own (as we will see in the coming episodes); the trio as a whole was fresh off of animating episode 23 of Ganba no Bouken (which should be released by Senritsu in the coming weeks).
The recurring bug-eyed cop who debuts in this episode, voiced beautifully by Kaneta Kimotsuki, is especially excellent in Fudaki’s and Tsuchida’s hands. Witness the end of his initial confrontation with Bakabon’s dad, in which he trembles and recoils with a clearly disturbed fright as he is outsmarted by the idiotic Papa, eventually finding himself completely bent over beneath his crotch; he then realizes he’s been had and goes ballistic, unleashing his trademark barrage of bullets as he sprints around Papa declaring he’ll be arrested. Also a joy to watch is his amusingly pathetic obsequiousness towards Papa and then the fake pirates, beneath which lies an increasingly short temper, as he tries to get in on the supposed treasure.
How to intimidate a cop, as drawn likely by Kōichi Tsuchida. These screencaps, alas, do not get across the cop’s frightful staggering; that extra detail is what makes it a particularly nice piece of character animation.
The art setter for this half-hour under Shichirō Kobayashi was none other than the great Kazuo Oga, who would come into his own as an art director within a few years. His time on Ganso was brief, however; he worked on only the first 7 half-hours before leaving Kobayashi Production (where Kobayashi and his team were based) for a few years to work elsewhere, eventually returning in time for Dezaki’s bombshell Nobody’s Boy Remi (which immediately succeeded Ganso and began Dezaki’s mature period as a director—more on this at a much later time, though).