Classic anime Renaissance: Nostalgic characters winning over new generation of fans


A scene from the latest anime adaptation of “Captain Tsubasa.”

By Yayoi Kawatoko / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSoccer prodigy Tsubasa Ozora, charming android fighter Cutie Honey, yokai monster hero Kitaro and the famous father from “Tensai Bakabon” (The Genius Bakabon) — these main characters from classic anime adaptations are back on TV with some contemporary twists.

These new anime adaptations are targeting not only old fans but also younger generations, putting the characters in modern settings or modifying their designs.

The latest anime adaptation of “Captain Tsubasa” has started on the TV Tokyo network and other stations, coinciding with the FIFA World Cup in Russia. The work shows Tsubasa developing his career by competing against rivals such as Genzo Wakabayashi and Kojiro Hyuga, and is considered a “bible” for members of the Japanese national team today and young players around the world.

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  • © Go Nagai/Dynamic Planning-Project CHU

    A scene from “Cutie Honey Universe”

  • © Fujio Akatsuka/Mr.Osomatsu-Project

    The sextuplet protagonists of “Osomatsu-san”

The protagonist eventually grew up and competed overseas, but the latest anime adaptation — the fourth for the manga — goes back to its starting point, using the latest technology to re-create the story told when the original started its serialization in 1981.

“With soccer in a fresh spotlight this year [for the World Cup], we thought that we’d have to show children the very beginning of the story once again, to promote Tsubasa to global audiences,” said Keita Kodama, an official of Shueisha Inc.’s copyright management business division who planned the latest anime adaptation. This belief was shared by Yoichi Takahashi, the creator of the manga, according to Kodama.

While the latest anime adaptation is loyal to the original in character design, drawing lines, visual angles and story development, its setting is adjusted for modern times. For example, the characters use smartphones and refer to the “pitch” rather than the “ground.”

The program airs late at night in many areas, and grown-up viewers post live on social media while watching it, while children watch a recording the following morning, according to Kodama.

“Our efforts to let many generations watch [the latest adaptation] have been successful,” he said, adding the program also broadcasts in China, Taiwan, South Korea, France and Germany.

“Cutie Honey Universe,” which is based on the manga that started in 1973, aims to present a new image of the heroine. As its signature scene, the new anime adaptation uses computer-generated images to show how the protagonist, Honey Kisaragi, transforms into a “fighter of love.”

She changes not just into Cutie Honey, but into six other people as well, including Misty Honey, who has outstanding singing skills. Different performers provide the voice for the fighter’s different manifestations.

There have been other anime and live-action adaptations of the manga, but the latest anime adaptation, which was aired on AT-X, Tokyo MX, BS 11 and other channels, is “a restructured work that is more loyal to the image of the original,” said Ichinao Nagai, who planned the program,

For example, the anime adaptation features some contemporary settings, such as swimming in a pool at night. But the characters are drawn in the style of the Showa era (1926-89) while keeping the allure of the original.

“Even though the era, [the characters’] looks and the story have changed, their mind-sets remain unchanged [from the original],” Nagai said. “That’s why Honey is still loved by fans.”

According to a 2017 report by the Association of Japanese Animations, 356 anime titles were aired on TV in 2016.

The figure has been rising, and some nostalgic characters have been revived “partly because of their brand power,” said Tadashi Sudo, a journalist who covers anime.

“The number of anime titles [aired on TV] has hit such a high level, so [works based on] already familiar titles won’t be overshadowed and are also eye-catching,” he said.

Sudo also cited the shortage of original manga available for anime adaptations and — more than anything else — the hit of “Osomatsu-san” in 2015.

Based on the manga titled “Osomatsu-kun” about sextuplet boys by Fujio Akatsuka, “Osomatsu-san” followed their days as NEETs, or young people who are not in education, employment or training. The drastic changes in its setting have helped make the program popular, particularly among young women.

“Osomatsu-san” shows an adaptation based on a classic work “can be successful by changing the manner of presentation,” Sudo said. “[‘Osomatsu-san’] has had a positive influence. The number of new anime adaptations featuring nostalgic characters will surely increase.”

The latest anime adaptation of “Gegege no Kitaro,” which is now being aired, has drawn attention by showing Neko Musume, a cat girl monster, depicted as a slender character with a much smaller head than in the original.

“Shinya! [late night] Tensai Bakabon,” the latest anime adaptation of “Tensai Bakabon,” is set to start on July 10.

Lupin the Third for all

The TV anime adaptation of “Lupin Sansei” (Lupin the Third), the saga of the eponymous thief, which was first released in 1971. The latest adaptation “Part 5” is currently being aired on Nippon TV at 1:29 a.m. on Wednesdays, and on other channels.

The secret to the popularity of “Lupin the Third” is said to be its timeless appeal and the relationships among the protagonist and his allies, who keep a certain distance from each other. The latest season features such modern items as virtual currency and drones.

“Based on the past seasons, we’ve established a theme of what Lupin the Third would fight against if he lived today,” said Masaki Shiode, an Nippon TV producer.

The latest work consists of four story arcs that each consist of multiple episodes — an approach tailored to today’s anime fans, who prefer complicated story developments. There are also several stand-alone episodes broadcast between these arcs, which feature Lupin the Third with a more classic look from the series’ past seasons, as a treat for older fans.

“Those in our production team [for the latest season] are also from a generation that grew up watching past seasons of Lupin the Third,” said Koji Nozaki, a producer of TMS Entertainment Co. “We all have our own impressions of Lupin the Third, and that’s why we can take this approach [for our latest season].”Speech

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