Ganso Tensai Bakabon – Episode 1

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be checking out a feature that’s a little distant from our usual selections, as we explore the first episode of the ‘70s comedy Ganso Tensai Bakabon. This is actually the second adaptation of Fujio Akatsuka’s original Tensai Bakabon manga, focused on the original’s breakout character: Bakabon’s idiot father, famed for his nonsensical neighborhood schemes.

The manga is one of those Japanese cultural institutions like Sazae-san that never really got much traction abroad, presumably due its culturally embedded perspective and the general difficulty of adapting comedy between languages. Of course, all those challenges only make this viewing more interesting to me, as a snapshot of a particular moment in mid-century Japanese culture. And beyond its historical relevance, this particular adaptation happens to benefit from the presence of Osamu Dezaki, one of the greatest titans in anime history. Dezaki directed over thirty episodes of Bakabon under his Makura Saki pen name, including the one we’re about to get on with. I’ll admit this seems like a somewhat unusual place to begin my Dezaki investigations, but I’m sure you’d all agree that some Dezaki is better than no Dezaki, and I’m happy to provide. Let’s see what Ganso Tensai Bakabon has in store!

Episode 1

A charming sing-along serves as our opening, firmly establishing this work as a piece of family entertainment

The art design is largely abstracted and simplified, but there’s actually a fair degree of cross-hatch shading being employed. This helps make everything feel more like a “comic book in motion” than animation, emulating the scratchy, hand-drawn feeling of comic panels

And the progression of images is… totally demented? Bakabon’s father rides a tank and witnesses a meteor destroy the earth, all while children sing “it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright”

Interesting to see the wildly distinct approaches to the male and female character designs. Like with Osamu Tezuka or Leiji Matsumoto, the male characters get to embrace gremlin-like abstractions reminiscent of gag comic characters, whereas the women fit to a consistent model of conventional attractiveness

Apparently Dezaki himself directed this opening!

Oh man, I love this background art as we enter the episode proper. Hastily scribbled buildings surge upwards at uneven angles, converging towards a sun illustrated in loosely scratched crayon. In fact, all the background objects are colored in erratic crayon scribbles, making this world feel like a child’s dreamland. In contrast, the surge of cars all roaring down the street are carefully animated, making it look like a fleet of vehicles headed towards a painted tunnel. It’s very striking!

The man who caused this traffic collision asks if Bakabon’s dad is present, and a million Bakabon’s dads pop up in all manner of costumes

Bakabon’s dad proceeds to introduce his whole family to the audience, literally carrying his wife on-screen

More wild visual flourishes as the episode proper starts, framing us as charging alongside Bakabon-papa’s shoes and colliding with the episode to come. Extremely limited animation is certainly not preventing extreme ambition here

“Mr. Pig is Pork Cutlets!”

Love the background art in the actual show as well. Loose linework gives the whole neighborhood a lived-in feel, an effect amplified by the rough splashes of watercolor paint. Everything here screams “texture,” the precise thing that digital photography tends to lack

While a woman shouts for “Tama-chan,” Bakabon-papa impresses his son with his soccer juggling abilities

It turns out the ball was actually Tama-chan in a bag. Everyone’s faces are wonderfully expressive, prone to hideous distortions in support of their dramatic emotions

Oh my god, Tama-chan is the ugliest cat I have ever seen. He is perfect

Bakabon now wants a cat too, bringing home a pig that he has declared is a cat. All of the animals in this show look like tiny angry men who’re dressing as animals for free food

And Bakabon-papa wants to turn the pig into cutlets, of course

It’s clear that Bakabon’s mother runs the household, and treats her husband more as an unruly pet than a co-decision maker

The show proper’s offering a nice mix of cross-hatching and more animation-traditional shading fills for its shadows, which are better for creating a sense of depth in the composition. Just as traditional comic shading methods create a more ostentatious “someone drew this” effect, so do more naturalistic choices better maintain an illusion of an internal reality within the frame

Bakabon-papa then goes on a tear of holding up objects whose names resemble “buta,” the word for pig. Yeah, it would have been a hell of a thing to translate this for foreign audiences

Some limited but highly expressive loops of animation as Bakabon-papa chases the pig around. This show’s looseness of character design helps make the most of its limited animation, ensuring each frame expresses the maximum amount of personality possible

Bakabon-papa is soundly defeated by his own idiocy. Nice unspoken gag as we jump from his fall to a shot of shrimp tempura, emphasizing that dinner was absolutely not pork cutlets

It occurs to me that I’m basically critiquing Japanese Simpsons here

Excellent shocked reaction from Bakabon as he discovers Buu-chan has been made into cutlets. I get the feeling these rapid explosion effects and color filters couldn’t be used in a post-Pokemon seizure world

One thing that definitely stands out as distinctively non-American about this comedy is the playful framing of animals as potential food. Americans generally don’t like to think about where their meat comes from, and thus their comedy is less willing than other cultures to joke about this sort of thing

Some nice dramatic storyboards for Buu-chan’s tearful goodbye. Dezaki applying his eye for emotionally drenched, almost inherently melodramatic compositions to this goofy gag comedy is a great trick

So much personality in such simplified linework as Buu-chan returns home. It’s reminding me to appreciate the emotive power of abstraction – something that is generally most apparent in children’s anime, like the wildly expressive distortions of Ojamajo Doremi. Masaaki Yuasa also tends to embrace minimalism and distortion of form in his designs, likely in part due to his own origins in children’s anime, but also because of his fundamental fascination with animation as a mode of expression in its own right. The man who created Mind Game is clearly passionate about animation’s singular dramatic possibilities

Part two: “Find the Buried Treasure!”

Absolutely gorgeous background art as evening falls, and the local buildings are reduced to silhouettes lit by the sun’s pink glow. Relying on painted backgrounds obviously limits the amount of total “setups” you can create, but I’d take that cinematographic limitation in exchange for lovely painted shots like this

Bakabon discovers a buried treasure trove of bottle caps and empty cans

Bakabon’s mother understands the treasure is fake, but asks Papa to play along with Bakabon’s triumph

An excellent gag as Bakabon-papa is awoken by the sound of cicadas, only to reveal he’s been keeping a cage of cicadas under the covers with him

He steps outside to find some actual goddamn pirates burying treasure in his backyard

All of this show’s playful approaches to character movement are great. I like this whimsical moment of the pirates just vertically walking up the yard’s fence and then back down the other side

“You’re sure the animal that digs holes is the mole? Then are you saying that shrews don’t dig holes?” It seems like the only character in this universe that Bakabon-papa is able to outsmart is the local cop, though even his intellectual triumphs over this man are their own kind of stupid

“Redistributing wealth is one hell of a job!” In a single episode, Bakabon-papa is taking on capitalism and the police state at once. What a guy

This show’s comedy seems at its best when it pursues farce or exaggeration to the point of madness – like Bakabon-papa getting defensive on behalf of all digging animals, or this sequence of “I’ll up your ten-yen coins” resolving in two characters ineffectually throwing wads of cash at each other

When morning comes, the “pirates” are revealed to be a sleepwalking father and son, who have a tendency to sleepwalk while acting like pirates burying treasure. You know what, I can’t really blame Bakabon-papa for his confusion on this one

And Done

That was very charming! There were lots of fun jokes scattered throughout this premiere, but more fundamentally, both the background art design and limited character animation are terrific. Each in their own way, as well – I love the loose linework, evocative watercolors, and striking compositions of the background art and storyboards, and also greatly enjoy the playfulness and expressiveness that the show’s simplified character art facilitates. Bakabon’s world is an amalgamation of distinct visual delights, so even when the comedy’s not at its best, there’s always plenty to enjoy here. A breezy and rewarding watch!

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