Episodic storytelling can engender an addictive loyalty in fans. If you have never seen these shows at all, my suggestion is to try a half-dozen episodes before giving up – usually you need a few shows to detail the relationships between characters. I was watching Voltron and Sailor Moon when they came out in America. This is my first experience with the super early Astro Boy show or watching Speed Racer, the original show.
Astro Boy (1963) Japan rated PG
Summary: Astro Boy, a young robot boy modeled after the son of a research scientist, can swim oceans, leap over mountains, and even fly into space. This set features the first 26 episodes of the original animated series about a boy robot who becomes a superhero.
Recommendation: I watched the first two episodes; the first episode is totally worth it if you’re ok about butt-attaching power cords, but the second episode was of a poorer audio quality. This work does not come with subtitles so you are relying upon your ears to give you context clues and dialog. If you ‘need’ to see more of Astro Boy, good luck to you, but you can also try the remakes (1980, 2003) and movies available (2009) instead of the original black and white show. Considering Astro Boy came first, he should be recognized and acknowledged in many corners of anime.
Speed Racer (1967) Japan rated PG
Summary: An eighteen-year-old boy dreams of driving his car, the incredible Mach 5, in professional races around the world. When the going gets tough and meddling crooks keep him from the finish line, he always finds a way to make it through. Join Trixie, Pops, Spritle, Chim Chim, and the whole gang as they root for Speed in the most nail-biting, death-defying races in history.
Recommendation: What hasn’t Speed Racer got?!? One of the best theme songs for an animated hero; check. Fascinating ‘camera angles’ and a decent attempt at 3D effects with movement; check. An assistant girlfriend in Trixie that is capable and solves problems aside from piloting a helicopter (1st ep) and a single-prop plane (2nd ep); double-check. There’s still plenty that is unrealistic (you wouldn’t believe how many times Speed leaps from one moving vehicle to another!), but it’s an upbeat and intriguing adventure with squads of henchmen on the bad guy’s side.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984) USA (sort of) rated G
Summary: “Collection One, Blue Lion” brings you 15 episodes of the first season. This series focuses on a team of five robot lions and their pilots (who combine to form Voltron) as they defend the galaxy and Planet Arus against the forces of King Zarkon and Prince Lotor from Planet Doom.
Recommendation: If you don’t already know Voltron’s connection to St. Louis, the story is fascinating. Portions of previously viewed Japanese shows were licensed for USA viewing in the early 80s. Considering the cultural differences and language barriers, a lot of adjustments had to be made for the new show to make it past censors and ‘read’ smoothly on American TV. Thusly named Voltron, Defender of the Universe, you don’t even see the whole five-part humanoid Voltron until the fourth episode. You do however get to see the mice dancing the can-can in skirts (I love the silly parts). I cannot overstate the excitement of nostalgia within me as the first theme music blared into being.
Sailor Moon (1992) Japan rated PG
Summary: “Season One, Part One” provides episodes 1-23. Usagi Tsukino is a cheerful fourteen-year-old schoolgirl who often finds herself in unwanted trouble. One day, she saves a talking cat named Luna from some mean kids, and her life is changed forever. Luna gives Usagi a magic brooch that transforms her into Sailor Moon, defender of love and justice! Now Usagi must work with Luna to find the other Sailor Guardians and the Moon Princess, whose Legendary Silver Crystal is Earth’s only hope against the dark forces of the evil Queen Beryl!
Recommendation: Note that the alter ego of Tuxedo Mask is a college student when he meets Usagi/Serena at the age of 14. That means a 4-year difference between their ages (he appears 18 in the anime while written as if he were 16 in the manga). Magical Girl themes start here with inspiration from Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman with the spinning and clothes changing. The beauty, the cuteness (kawaii!), the gorgeous outfits and hairstyles, the talking animal sidekicks (kawaii again!), the flashy special effects, the encouraging messages… all of this runs up against the horrendous and repeated need to “call out your attacks” like a kiai. I mean… “Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss!” ??? (cringe but kawaii at the same time!). It’s all too much fun from a girl’s perspective.