Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pyun Pyun Maru (1967; 1969-70)

Recently Toei Video began releasing smaller volumes of 1960s anime Pyun Pyun Maru. It was released as box-set few years back, now out of print. Japanese DVDs are notoriously expensive; the box set was worth over $400 alone. The volume discs are about $50; expensive, but manageable for curious buyers. And with six episodes, it's a bargain for an anime disc.

Pyun Pyun Maru (ピュンピュン丸was produced by Toei Animation in 1967, and it's one of their first color TV productions; their other shows from the era were black and white.



 





It's about a detective agency run by ninjas. The name of the agency is Nandemo OK Jimusho, which literally translates to Everything OK Office. The ninja in question is the titular Pyun Pyun Maru ("Pyun Pyun" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for hopping, skipping) and his younger brother Chibi Maru; "Chibi" means short, tiny, and he wears red mask over his eyes (looks like glasses, actually). Their boss is, well "Boss" (or "Sacho", as that's how bosses are called in Japan). The crazy thing about him is that he has a long beard that acts as a second pair of arms. Seriously, he can manipulate his beard as arms and would often hold things with him, even though he has functional "real" arms on his own right.

There are two female characters, both ninjas. One is Sayuri,  an attractive ninja whom Pyun Pyun Maru has a massive crush on. Her special power is that she is able to make men faint by winking at them, causing them to pass out with hearts in their eyes. She usually teams up with Pyun and Chibi Maru whenever disaster strikes. The other is Kemeko, a more "homely" girl who wears helmet over her head, and has a crush on Pyun, much to his dismay. That said, she has her own strengths, although much less so.



You can figure from the description that this show is very out of this world, and it is. This is very much influenced by Looney Tunes, full of self-referential humor, slapsticks, and just plain silly gags. Characters would be blown up by bombs, but survive Wile E. Coyote style; fearsome Samurais would complain about having to get up at 6 AM the way school kids would do; the said Samurai would skip to work while holding hands, again, the way school kids do...you get the picture.




Even though the Warner Bros influence is obvious, it's still its own thing. There are a ton of jokes relevant to Japanese society and the way of life, lots of references to Japanese pop-culture, as well as pokes at influences from "Gaijin", including USA, France, and even Africa (one episode had a gag about African cannibals, which will probably be regarded as racist today).


In spite of its frantic nature, there are actual stories in the episodes. The characters frequently go into an adventure, being Ninjas after all. And despite the silliness with the main characters, they are surprisingly competent. Pyun Pyun Maru is actually capable of defeating bad guys and is an expert swordsman. Even the two female characters are good at what they do, although the male Pyun Pyun is still the ultimate hero.



Here's a scene from one episode that shows how ridiculous this show's humor can be. Pyun and Chibi Maru are going after a buried treasure in a faraway mountain. The bad guys are to trying to get there first so they leave booby traps. One of them is a street crossing signal that's constantly flashing red light. The two main characters actually stop in order to wait for the light to turn green. This turns into a montage that goes on for about two minutes. As time goes by, more and more people suddenly show up, waiting for the light to change to green. While this happens, the two brothers play games, watch TV, have dinner, and takes a bath while trying to pass the time.


Then we cut to next morning (where, for some reason, a gorilla ties up a rooster so he can say "cock a doodle" instead), we see that there's a whole CROWD of people, patiently waiting for the light to change. Not only that, we see a truck and an airplane waiting in line! Finally somebody comes in and removes the street crossing signal, saying it's broken. Everybody rushes off and the story continues from there.

Like most made-for-TV anime from the era, the animation is poor. The drawings are sloppy, with characters drawn inconsistently between shots. That said, the artists clearly had fun drawing this, poor draftsmanship be damned. It reminds me of early-era animations from the 'States: crudely drawn but has its own charm.

I also have to give credit to the soundtrack. They really shine here. Because of the show's nature there's a liberal use of sound effects, some of which I swear are lifted from American cartoons. But Toei's SFX library is pretty impressive and it's all over in this show.

The show had 26 episodes, all produced in 1967. However, the network (NET; now known as TV Asahi) cancelled the show and yanked it off the time-slot after only 12 episodes aired between July and September of that year. The reasons are unclear. Some say the ratings were too poor, while others say the kind of humor present in the show was too extreme and radical for Japan at the time (nowadays it's pretty tame). Regardless, the network finally resumed airing the left over episodes in Dec. 1969-March 1970.

In short, this is an anime equivalent of Jay Ward and Roger Ramjet, with Tex Avery humor thrown in. But that's just my comparison. The show stands on its own for the most part, especially knowing the time-frame this was produced in.

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