For over 5 decades, Tatsunoko Pro has been an industry leader, pioneering an art style that so easily blended traditional Japanese storytelling with robots and monsters and laugh out loud comedy.
Founded in Japan in 1962 by renowned Anime producer Tatsuo Yoshida and his brothers Kenji and Toyoharu, the company brought us classic after classic, with titles such as Speed Racer and Neon Genesis Evangelion, both of which are as big today as they were when they first debuted on television.
But what about their other works – the less known or not so well remembered output? Never one to shy away from educating our readers in niche genres, HorrorGeekLife brings you 5 forgotten gems from their back catalog that you should check out straight away.
What are you waiting for?
5. Mokku of the Oak Tree (1972-1973)
There are only a handful of TV shows from my childhood that I still, to this day, sing the theme tune on a regular basis. The theme to Mokku of the Oak Tree, or The Adventures of Pinocchio, is one of them.
As the English translation would suggest, Mokku is Pinocchio, a small boy carved from the Oak of an enchanted tree by lonely carpenter Gepetto. Unlike the charming Walt Disney version, Mokku is a petulant, arrogant little prick who often carries out the most heinous of acts over the course of an episode just so that we can learn a life lesson of some kind. In one episode, realising that he needs a heart to be considered truly human, Mokku attempts to kill another child in order to claim his heart as his own. We’re dealing with some pretty dark content here folks.
The show originally aired on Fuji Television in 1972 and lasted a year. It made its way over to the USA on HBO, as well as the UK on various stations.
4. The Adventures of Hutch the Honeybee (1970-1971)
If you thought Mokku of the Oak Tree was a harsh reminder of the hardships of life then by gum, The Adventures of Hutch the Honeybee is enough to make you turn to the demon drink. It might sound sickly sweet, like it’s some cute adventure story about a Honeybee named Hutch (curse you you misleading title), but it’s actually a series of episodes in which our titular hero – who is looking for his probably long dead mother – finds a like minded soul, befriends him or her, and then watches them die in the most horrible way imaginable. At least by kids TV standards anyway.
The show was remade in the late 1980’s and was much more fitting of the saccharine title.
3. Temple the Balloonist (1977-1978)
As well as its dark side, Tatsunoko was also known for it’s light hearted, often childish humour, and Temple the Balloonist was on of it’s most prominent examples.
Temple – who is not so loosely based on Shirley Temple – is a fun loving little girl who loves nothing more than to sing, play music and talk to her animal friends. One day she happens upon a hot air balloon and decides to investigate. Losing track of time she soon finds herself in the midst of a substantial gale, which sends the balloon soaring off into the sky.
Lost and afraid, Temple sets about trying to find her way back home to her father’s farm, with a little help from a colourful bunch of characters she picks up along the way. Heck, that balloon sure can hold a lot of weight.
The title is incredibly important as it was the last animation Tatsunoko co-founder Tatsuo Yoshida worked on before his death in 1977. You can enjoy it in its original format as the show was never translated into English.
2. Time Bokan (1975-1976)
If there’s one thing our Japanese chums like it’s bat shit crazy attacks on the senses, and Time Bokan was just that. Released in 1975, the show looks like something that could easily have been released last week, with its vibrant use of color and acid trip like visuals.
The plot, for what it is, focuses on a bonkers scientist who uncovers the secret of time travel. Volunteering himself as the ‘guinea pig’ for the first trial, the Dr vanishes, and it is up to his team of young, but unready assistants to track him down before he is lost in time forever.
1. Samurai Pizza Cats (1990-1991)
Perhaps the most unique idea the company ever came up with was that of the Samurai Pizza Cats, a bunch of feline anthropomorphic cats who work in a pizza parlor by day, and as mecha-heroes by night.
Perhaps more than any other production to come out of Tatsunoko, Samurai Pizza Cats presented a kind of humour that so often broke the fourth wall, and was hip and cool when it came to pop cultural references at the time. It could so easily work in 2017, just as much as it did 27 years ago, and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts on Crunchyroll, an app for fans of anime.
Were you a fan of Tatsunoko Pro? What were your fondest memories of their creations? Share your memories in the comments section below.