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 | Hello Kitty | Doraemon | Sazae-san | Chibi Maruko-chan | Crayon Shin-chan
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
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
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
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.
Check out our background info on anime,anime movies and selection of Japanese movie posters.