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Way back when I first started writing this blog in 2004 I wrote about Mankatsu, an omnibus of Monkey Punch shorts with an interesting format. It took 8 years but I finally got to see some of the show, and it's pretty fun and pleasant to watch, if not phenomenal.
Shown on late-night TV on satellite station WOWOW, it's got an unusual format: 12 hour-long episodes, each one a mix of 1-minute standalone gags and two longer-format narrative stories: a 15-minute "mini stage" and a 30-minute "grand stage". The head writer of the show is gag anime writer Yoshio Urasawa, whose debut in Lupin III series 2 I wrote about before. Another writer is Hiroshi Kashiwabara, whose work in Part III I mentioned before. Kashiwabara became a staple writer of the TV specials. Both of them were ideal choices to put together this interesting show. While the humor is often more groan-inspiring and bemusing than funny, it's a densely packed grab-bag that encompasses the wild creativity of Monkey Punch better than any anime before or after.
I like this omnibus format and wish there would be more programs like it, perhaps because I'm tired of the long-running narrative form, which most anime don't do well enough to engage me. It's got a good variety of style and is adult in its humor, though not very sophisticated. Most of the gags are overtly sexual, often with a healthy streak of black humor. One of the running jokes is about people dying embarrassing deaths while engaged in bizarre sex acts. The longer format stories involve a lot of cultural crossovers - a samurai meets the three musketeers, a gunslinger joins the Shinsengumi - as well as caper stories involving variations on the Lupin gang. This show is a big, fun smorgasbord of Monkey Punch, with all of the irreverent sex, violence and silliness that entails.
The closest analogy is to Alice, which was one of the first anime adaptations of a manga other than Lupin III by the prolific Monkey Punch. The other stories are usually just as crazy and unpredictably weird. Monkey Punch's stories are a refreshing change from the usual anime stories, dark and adult but broad and silly, with a bizarre narrative sensibility entirely his own. The only thing predictable about his stories is death and sex. Otherwise, the plots are always some new, twisted mixture of sci-fi, occult, espionage and chambara. In his hands, brutal violence and sex are two faces of the same coin, and everything is a treated as a grim joke. The pace is brisk and the lines are witty and snappy. The gag shorts reveal a side of Monkey Punch I wasn't familiar with, less Mort Drucker but equally MAD.
The animation has variety because a lot of different animators handled each section. Strictly from an animation standpoint, it's pleasing to watch but not amazing. They did a good job bringing alive Monkey Punch's drawing style, but it feels a little too clean. The staging, storyboarding and timing of the animation is all staid and uninspired. There's no spark or excitement or surprise in every shot the way there is in the hands of a talented animator like Masaaki Yuasa or Hiroyuki Imaishi. It would have been nice if they had gotten animators with a little more flair. But the refreshing designs are amply sufficient to make the show watchable, and the quality is impressively even, even if the animation itself is not particularly remarkable. It's always more than functional, and there are never wince-worthy moments with bad drawings.
Incidentally, Mankatsu re-adapted Alice, and the stylistic contrast between the earlier OVA and the new version throws into relief how clean but tame and uninspired the animation of Mankatsu is in comparison with the earlier Lupin III work. While cleaner, brighter and more pleasingly drawn to current audiences, Mankatsu doesn't have the edge of the drawings of the old Lupin III adaptations of Monkey Punch. It's hard to tell whether the designs of Mankatsu, which are technically closer to Monkey Punch, feel less authentic because I'm used to seeing Monkey Punch through the lens of Lupin III anime, or because the animators of Lupin III were more talented and playful and hence their animation has more impact.
There are a few moments where the animation perks up. Windy Tales mastermind Masatsugu Arakawa animated the "Traveller" and "Reverse Aesop's Fables" segments in episode 2, and his style is incredibly interesting. I wish he had done more. Ajia-Do founders Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama storyboarded the "Reverse Aesop's Fables" and "Traveller" segments, respectively, and it's great to see more work from these two, as they are the grand masters of short-form gag anime like this, having started out in the early 1970s doing stuff like Tensai Bakabon and Dokonjo Gaeru.
Group ZEN star animator Masao Okubo animated the segment called "The Panic" in every episode. He has perhaps the most personal and identifiable style in the show. His work is identifiable from project to project in the way the work of an idiosyncratic animator like Shinya Ohira or Yoshinori Kanada is. In fact, he seems like a distant relative of the Kanada school. His work is worth exploring. His drawings are identifiable because he varies the thickness of the line in a way nobody else does, and he has a great animator's instinct for coming up with fun layouts and exaggerated movements. Some of his most characteristic work can be found in Onegai My Melody and School Rumble.
Telecom animator Toshihiko Masuda was the character designer of the show, and he animated the "Lupin Gang" segment in every episode. His drawings are free enough and the posing quite pliable, although the movement lacks zip and excitement. He's a craftsman capable of adapting to different projects and styles, rather than an animator who's very talented but only has one style. They're two completely different types of animators, but there's a time and place for both.
Lupin III series 2 & 3 episode director Kenji Kodama, better known for City Hunter and Detective Conan, here storyboards a lot of the longer-format segments.
The short gag segments aren't labelled, but they're always in the same basic format from episode to episode:
"The Lupin Gang": The Lupin gang being chased by Zenigata in various locales
"The Traveller": A traveler in medieval Japan runs across dead people
"Reverse Aesop's Fables": Nonsensical modern twists on the fable
"Riddles": Cheesy wordplay, always with an 'author' explaining the joke at the end
"Male-Female": A man and woman make sexual sounds that turn out to be something else entirely
"Mankatsu Monkey": A monkey engages in antics with the Lupin gang
"UPUP Balloon": Gags involving a guy in a hot air balloon
"The Panic": People die in the middle of sex acts
The series director is Shunji Oga, who trained under the late Osamu Dezaki. He has primarily worked at TMS. Most recently he directed the Golgo 13 TV series (he was assistant director of Dezaki's 1983 movie), although the bulk of his career has been devoted to directing slightly different material: the Anpan Man movie series. One of his more memorable pieces is the OVA adaptation of Ken Ishikawa's bloody Maju Sensen. He puts what he learned directing the comical Anpan Man to good use in Mankatsu, with its variety show format and focus on visual gags. In 2008 he directed an omnibus of stories by illustrator Takashi Yanase - Mankatsu for the author of Anpan Man.
Monkey Punch Manga Katsudo Daishashin モンキーパンチ漫画活動大写真
(TMS, TV series, 2004, 12x50 minutes, d. Shunji Oga)
Director: Shunji Oga
Supervisor: Junichi Ioka
Character Design: Toshihiko Masuda
Art Director: Toshiharu Mizutani
Brains: Yoshio Urasawa, Hiroshi Kashiwabara, Junichi Miyashita, Nobuo Ogisawa
Program Organizers: Yoshio Urasawa, Nobuo Ogisawa
|1||Yasuyuki Suzuki||Fumio Maezono||Shinichi Suzuki|
|2||Yasuyuki Suzuki||Fumio Maezono||Shinichi Suzuki|
|3||Atsushi Muroga||Kenji Kodama||Kiyoshi Fukumoto||Shinichi Yoshikawa, Yuuki Kinoshita|
|4||Hiroshi Kashiwabara||Hiroshi Ishiodori||Katsuji Matsumoto|
|5||Nobuo Ogisawa||Kenji Kodama||Daisuke Tsuji||Taido Hanafusa|
|6||Hirohisa Soda||Yoshio Takeuchi||Kazuhisa Takeda|
|7||Atsushi Muroyoshi||Kenji Kodama||Kiyoshi Fukumoto||Shinichi Yoshikawa, Yuuki Kinoshita|
|8||Takeo Ono||Masaharu Okuwaki||Katsuyoshi Yatabe||Kenji Yazaki|
|9||Nobuo Ogisawa||Hiroshi Ishiodori||Katsuji Matsumoto|
|10||Takeo Ono||Masayuki Sakoi||Masayuki Sakoi, Hiromi Yokoyama||Kimiko Tamai|
|11||Toshimichi Okawa||Noriaki Saito||Kiyoshi Fukumoto||Shinichi Yoshikawa, Yuuki Kinoshita|
|12||Hiroshi Kashiwabara||Hirofumi Ogura||Toshihiko Masuda|
|1||Kenji Kodama||Daisuke Tsuji||Shinichi Yoshikawa|
|2||Takeo Ono||Yoshio Takeuchi||Shunji Oga, Takeyuki Satohara||Ichiro Ogawa|
|3||Yasuyuki Suzuki||Fumio Maezono||Shinichi Suzuki|
|4||Haruhisa Soda||Yoshio Takehisa||Kazuhisa Takeda|
|5||Haruhisa Soda||Yoshio Takeuchi||Tenshi Yamamoto, Kazuhisa Takeda|
|6||Toshimichi Okawa||Masaharu Okuwaki||Shunji Oga||Ichiro Ogawa|
|7||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Toshiharu Sato||Kimiko Tamai|
|8||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Mitsutoshi Sato||Kimiko Tamai|
|9||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Mitsutoshi Sato||Kimiko Tamai|
|10||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Daisuke Tsuji||Kazuhisa Takeda|
|11||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Takanori Jinbo||Kazuhisa Takeda|
|12||Junichi Miyashita||Kenji Kodama||Daisuke Tsuji||Kazuhisa Takeda|
|1. The Lupin Gang|
|Ep 1: Storyboard/Director/Animation Director: Satoshi Hirayama|
|Ep 2-12: Storyboard/Director/Animation Director: Toshihiko Masuda|
|2. The Traveler|
|Storyboard: Tsutomu Shibayama (Ep 2: Director: Atsushi Yano, Animation: Masatsugu Arakawa)|
|3. Reverse Aesop's Fables|
|Ep 1: Storyboard/Director: Osamu Kobayashi|
|Ep 2-12: Storyboard: Osamu Kobayashi, Director: Atsushi Yano, Animation Director: Masatsugu Arakawa (2), Tomoyuki Matsumoto (3-6), Yasuhiro Endo (7, 10-12), Yoshihiko Takakura (8), Masaya Fujimori (9)|
|Ep 1: Storyboard/Director/Animation Director: Yoshinori Kanemori|
|Ep 2, 3, 8, 9: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Shuhei Tamura|
|Ep 4, 6, 11: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Toshiharu Sato|
|Ep 5: Storyboard/Director: Jun Shishido, Animation: Toshiharu Sato|
|Ep 7: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Fumio Takahashi|
|Ep 10: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Jun Shishido|
|Ep 12: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Shinya Matsui|
|Ep 1: Storyboard/Director: Akio Sakai, Animation Director: Kazuo Watanabe|
|Ep 2: Storyboard/Director/Animation: Akio Sakai, Key Animation: Midori Otsuka|
|Storyboard/Director/Animation: Shuhei Tamura (4-7, 10-12), Masayuki Sakoi (3, 8), Takeo Takahashi (9)|
|6. Mankatsu Monkey|
|Storyboard/Director: Shunji Oga, Animation: Minoru Maeda (1-7, 10), Shinichi Suzuki (8, 9), Yoshio Chaya (11)|
|7. UPUP Balloon|
|Storyboard/Director/Animation: Akio Hosoya|
|8. The Panic|
|Storyboard/Director/Animation: Masao Okubo|