Sunday, February 26, 2012

History Over Nostalgia

Like a lot of kids growing up in the 1970s and '80s, Saturday mornings for me meant cartoons. We had three broadcast networks, one UHF station and one PBS affiliate. And on Saturday mornings, those three networks filled their airwaves with cartoons. I recall that, at the beginning of each new season, I would take the TV listings from the local paper and spend far too much time plotting out which channels I would watch at which times. Super Friends was on one network, The Batman/Tarzan Hour on another, and Flash Gordon on the third.

Superheroes figured prominently in my selections, even if they were characters I'd never heard about. (How many of you remember "Hero High"?) And when there weren't any superheroes or decidedly-boy-targeted-action-shows on, I'd still have made selections about what to watch as I waited for the next show. Often my channel decision was based on the show AFTER so I wouldn't miss anything.

I don't recall when exactly, but I woke up unusually early one morning and turned on the TV before anything I knew about had started. The TV listings began, I think, at 6:00, so I must've been in the family room around 5:45 or 5:50. It had never really occurred to me previously that anything was on before 6:00 -- if there were, the newspaper would've listed it, right? So imagine my surprise when I caught the last few minutes of Battle of the Planets. I had no clue what it was, but it was radically different than anything else I'd seen on Saturday mornings! It was like Star Wars but with superheroes!

Well, getting up at 5:30 to watch this was quite a bear for a non-morning person like myself, so I missed it at least as often as not. And what I did catch was often only the last half of an episode. But one day, I recall, I forced myself to get up EVEN EARLIER to make sure I saw the whole thing. And I caught the ending credits for Star Blazers before BotP started.

I had even less idea what this was, but they had a huge space ship that was essentially a BIG FRICKIN' GUN! That looked even more awesome!

Except, I could never get out of bed any earlier to see anything more than the end credits.

I was far too young to understand either of the shows anyway, and barely retained enough memory of them to warrant even trying to hunt them down prior to the internet. I did eventually buy some of the Battle of the Planet DVDs, largely to wax nostalgic a bit and see if they really were as good as I remembered. They hold up reasonably well, although the original Japanese versions (also included on the discs) are much better.

Even more recently, I discovered that Star Blazers is available on Hulu. Thirty-some years later, it's high time I see what I missed.

The show is actually pretty dull from the first dozen or so episodes I've seen so far. A combination of inadequate animation, poor voice acting, and too many talking heads explaining the action instead of actually showing it. That said, I can still see how it would have been unlike anything on American television back then.

I plan to continue watching it, as it's one of the first real breakthroughs in bringing anime and manga over to a mainstream U.S. audience. I was hoping to relive some childhood nostalgia for a show I'd never seen, but it turns out that I'm getting a history lesson instead. And I can't say that I'm disappointed in that regard.

2 comments:

Conventioneering said...

Ah, Battle of the Planets, such fond memories! I think that's what got me into anime (along with Outlaw Star and later, I admit with some shame, Inu Yasha). Maybe I should look into this as well, along with Space Battleship Yamamoto (which is apparently responsible for the first US anime convention...)

Matthew E said...

Star Blazers did have an awesome theme song. You can't take that away from it.

And I totally remember Hero High! The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! Is that the only time Mr. Tawny has been on TV? And the Hero High stuff was okay too. Basically an off-brand Archie with superpowers, but none the worse for that. I still admire the name of the one character, "Dirty Trixie". Perfect.