Early Japanese Animation: Tobor The 8th Man
TV kiddie animation today is dominated by cartoons made in Japan, as well as shows inspired by the look of Japanese anime. TV animation has always faced tight budgets and even tighter deadlines, so the efficient anime style is a good fit for rapid affordable production. Osamu Tezuka created Astro Boy for the printed page, and then set out to find a way to bring his creations to life in cartoons. Disney cartoons were a huge influence on him, but Tezuka knew that he had to reduce the normally high cost of animation to make his projects financially feasible in 1960s Japan.
Tezuka simplified the Disney house (mouse?) style, and reduced the number of drawings per second of screen time. At first this was an expediency to keep budgets down, and to be able to deliver cartoons with an inexperienced staff. What started out as a budgeting and scheduling shortcut evolved over into a style and aesthetic all its own.
For most english-speaking audiences, their first contact with anime was with black and white series in the 60s. Astro Boy was first in 1964, and the show was a massive success. TV syndicator Fred Ladd bought up a number of other Japanese series to make up the second wave of anime with series like Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion, and Tobor the 8th Man. These early series were somewhat less stylized than the anime that came later. At the time, these series were simply cheap imports to sell to local TV stations after a quick dubbing session.
8 Man started out in Japan as a comic (manga) before hitting the small screen with 56 episodes. In the US dub, the character was renamed "Tobor" ("robot" spelled backwards, donchaknow...). Other characters received similar kooky identities - Police Chief Fumblethumbs, Professor Genius... Also unusual is that the dubbed-in dialogue is a little irreverent at times, as if the voice artists had quickly become bored with the job. There are a few weird moments when characters come across on-screen text written in the original Japanese. I remember one episode in a museum, where characters complained that it would be a lot easier to find their way around "if all the signs weren't in 'Oriental'". Hmmm.
The premise of Tobor is a bit grim. Tobor is a detective run down in after an alley fight. Professor Genius picks up the dying detective, and conducts his 8th attempt to transfer the consciousness of a person into a robot body. The procedure works, and the super-powered Tobor goes back to work. His plastic skin can transform into any face, and when trouble strikes Tobor is able to convert to robot form. When he needs a little power boost, he has his "energy cigarettes". Ahem.
8th Man isn't as well remembered as some of those early shows, though fans still argue of Tobor's significance. I suppose there's some chance that Robocop was influenced by the show's premise. If you want to relive the thrills of Tobor, the series in is in the public domain so you can find episodes on YouTube. If you're a connoisseur, there's a DVD collection that's been "restored" from 16mm film prints, with audio remixed for Dolby (from the examples I've watched online, it seems that there are new sparkling sound effects layered over the old mono lo-fi recordings).
With fewer and fewer smokers these days, I wonder how long it'll be before Big Tobacco rolls out "Tobor Energy Cigarettes".