Speed Racer by Tatsuo Yoshida
Speed Racer

Tatsuo Yoshida (吉田竜夫) was a Japanese manga artist, who also had an interest in anime. He is best known as the creator of 'Mahha GōGōGō' ('マッハGoGoGo', 'Speed Racer', 1966-1968), which gained international popularity as a 1967-1968 anime TV series, produced by the company Tatsunoko, founded by him and his brothers. Over the decades they created many other internationally succesful anime series, of which 'Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman' ('科学忍者隊ガッチャマン', 'Science Ninja Team Gatchaman', 1972-1974), better known under its American translation, 'Battle of the Planets', are the most famous. Yoshida's work was heavily influenced by American superhero comics, which helped them appeal better to Western audiences.

Yoshida was born in 1932. He showed talent for drawing at a young age. After Japan's defeat in World War II, American troops temporarily occupied the country. Some soldiers brought comics with them, which brought Yoshida and his brothers Kenji (1935) and Toyoharu (1940) in contact with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's 'Superman'. Yoshida was fascinated by the dynamic, action-packed stories and from that moment on he wanted to become a comics artist. Another major graphic influence was Walt Disney. He found his first job as an illustrator for the Kyoto newspaper Mayako Shimbun. In 1954 he moved to Tokyo, since this was the comics centre of Japan. Together with writer Ikki Kajiwara he created the wrestling comic 'Iron Arm Rikya' (1954), which became an early success. Yoshida started drawing and writing more comics, eventually receiving help from his brothers in 1955. Kenji became business manager of Yoshida's comics enterprises, while Toyoharu assisted Yoshida. Toyoharu Yoshida would later became a succesful manga artist in his own right under the name Ippei Kuri.

Iron Arm Rikya
Iron Arm Rikya and the Japanese Superman

The Yoshida Brothers made a name as creators of many sports, costume drama, sciencefiction and war comics, as well as the racing comics 'Pilot Ace' (1960-1964), 'Mach Sanshiro' (1960-1961), 'Hayabusa Q' (1961-1963) and 'Speed Bun-Chan' (1962). Other titles produced during this period were 'Iron Arm Rikiya' and 'Boy Ninja Squad Moonlight'. In 1959 Tatsuo Yoshida even received a thrilling honour when DC Comics provided him with the task of creating a 'Superman' comics series for the Japanese market.

On 19 October 1962 Yoshida and his brothers Kenji and Toyoharu founded the Tatsunoko Productions company. This company with its iconic seahorse logo brought all their comics productions together under their own name. A year later they also established an animation studio, encouraged by the success of Osamu Tezuka's TV adaptation of 'Astro Boy' (1963-1966). One of Tezuka's assistants, Hiroshi Sasagawa, happened to be a friend of Yoshida and thus provided him with valuable information on how to make animated cartoons for television broadcasting. The Yoshida Brothers even took lessons at the Toei Doga Laboratory. Soon they built their own animation studio entirely from scratch, with Hiroshi Sasagawa and Seitaro Hara leading the production staff. To finance everything, the Yoshida Brothers mortgaged their entire family lands in Kyoto, found a sponsor in cosmetics company Kanebo and kept producing comics as a way of extra income. Several new titles were intended as promotion in advance for their upcoming TV series. 'Uchū Ēsu' ('宇宙エース', 'Space Ace' , 1964-1966) and 'Mach Go Go Go' ('マッハGoGoGo', 'Speed Racer', 1966-1968), were prepublished in Shōnen Book. 


Mach Sanshiro

The studio made many succesful anime TV series, such as 'Ninja Butai Gekkō' ('忍者部隊月光', 'Phantom Agents', 1964-1966), which dealt with a group of government-sponsored ninja's who fight against an organization named the Black Flag. The show was the first Japanese TV show to be broadcast in Australia and became a huge hit. A 1960s Melbourne rock band even named themselves The Phantom Agents as a tribute to the program. 'Uchū Ēsu' ('宇宙エース', 'Space Ace' 1964-1966) also caught on with viewers. Clearly inspired by 'Astro Boy' it told the story of an extraterrestrial boy, Space Ace, who regularly fought crime. The name of his mentor, Dr. Tatsunoko, was a nod to Tasunoko Productions.

Space Ace by Tatsuo YoshidaSpace Ace by Tatsuo Yoshida
Space Ace

Both shows were surpassed by Tatsunoko Productions' next endeavour, 'Mach Go Go Go' ('マッハGoGoGo', 'Speed Racer', 1967-1968). The series was basically a rehash of Yoshida's earlier comic 'Pilot Ace', but dropped a subplot where the main character wants to use his auto race prize money to build a space rocket which will make Japan the first country to bring a man into space. Yoshida felt this storyline was quite dated, considering the Russians had brought Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. Jinzo Toriumi, who wrote stories for 'Astro Boy', was brought in to adapt a screenplay for 'Pilot Ace'. Under its new name of 'Speed Racer' the show now dealt with a young boy, Go Mifune, who enjoys car racing. His parents, Pops and Mom, younger brother Spritle and his pet chimpanzee Chim-Chim and Go's girlfriend Trixie support his hobby, even though he often brings himself in danger. Go's vehicle, "The Mach", was designed by Mitsuki Nakamura, a former Toei Doga animator, and became one of the most iconic TV cars of all time. Nobuyoshi Koshibe composed a memorable theme song, with lyrics by Tatsuo Yoshida and further help from Akira Ito.

'Speed Racer' stood out as the first anime TV show to be broadcast in colour. It was a huge ratings hit in its home country, but also gained popularity in foreign broadcasts, such as Latin America. Particularly in the United States it became one of the first anime TV series to gain a cult following among American audiences. Yet some episodes were edited a bit to censor out violence or make things a bit more comprehensible to the target audience. The franchise inspired toys, video games and a 1993 American animated TV series, 'The New Adventures of Speed Racer', which was so Americanized, sanitized and devoid of the charm of the original that it got cancelled after only 13 episodes. 'Speed Racer: The Next Generation' (2008-2013), was an another reboot made in the USA and allowed a longer lifespan. In 2008 the Wachowski siblings directed a live-action version of 'Speed Racer', which was both a critical and commercial flop.

Speed Racer

'Speed Racer' was popular enough to inspire translations of the original manga series. From the 1990s on English translations of the comic were published by respectively NOW Comics, Wildstorm Productions (associated with DC Comics) and Digital Manga Publishing. Some countries even produced their own comic book versions of the franchise. In the 1970s an Argentinean version by the Editorial Abril company of César Civita was released. From the 1980s on the U.S.A. followed up on this. Ken Steacy drew a comic book about 'Speed Racer' in 1985, published by NOW Comics. Oscar González Loyo made the mini-series 'The New Adventures of Speed Racer', while Tommy Yune and Jo Chen drew respectively 'Speed Racer: Born to Race' and 'Racer X' in 1999. Between 2000 and 2001 American artist Mort Todd also drew a daily newspaper comic based on 'Speed Racer', published in The New York Post. Dwayne Alexander Smith and Elmer Damaso made a 2007 adaptation published by Seven Seas.

Tatsunoko Productions made several other TV anime series in the 1960s and 1970s, such as 'Oraa Guzura Dado' ('おらぁグズラだど', 1967-1968), 'Dokachin' (1968-1969), 'Kurenai Sanshiro' ('紅三四郎', 'Judo Boy', 1969), 'Hakushon Daimaō' ('ハクション大魔王', 'The Genie Family' (also known as 'Bob in a Bottle'), 1969-1970), 'Konchū Monogatari: Minashigo Hatchi' ('昆虫物語 みなしごハッチ', 'The Adventures of Hutch the Honeybee' 1970-1971), 'Kaba Totto' ('カバトット', 'Hyppo and Thomas', 1971-1972), 'Animentari Ketsudan' (1971), 'Kashi no Ki Mokku' ('樫の木モック', 'Pinocchio: The Series', 1972-1973), 'Kaiketsu Tamagon' ('かいけつタマゴン', 'Tamagon the Counselor', 1972-1973), 'Kerokko Demetan' ('けろっこデメタン', 'Demetan Croaker, The Boy Frog', 1973), 'Shinzō Ningen Kyashān' ('新造人間キャシャーン', 'Cashan', 1973), 'Hariken Porimā' ('破裏拳ポリマー', 'Hurricane Polymar', 1974-1975), 'Uchū no Kishi Tekkaman' ('宇宙の騎士テッカマン', 'Tekkaman: The Space Knight', 1975), 'Taimubokan' ('タイムボカン', 'Time Bokan', 1975-1976), 'Gowappā Faibu Gōdamu' ('ゴワッパー5ゴーダム','Go-dam', 1976), 'Gowappa 5 Pōru no Mirakuru Daisakusen' ('ポールのミラクル大作戦', 'Paul's Miraculous Adventure', 1976-1977), 'Yattāman' ('ヤッターマン; , 1977-1979), 'Ippatsu Kanta-kun' (1977-1978) and 'Fūsen Shōjo Tenpuru-chan' ('風船少女テンプルちゃん', 'Temple the Balloonist', 1977-1978). The series 'Inakappe Taishō '('いなかっぺ大将', 1970-1972) was the studio's first adaptation of a manga by a different creator, namely Noboru Kawasaki's eponymous judo manga of the same name. Another manga by Kawasaki, 'Tentomushi no Uta' ('てんとう虫の歌', 'The Song of Tentomushi', 1974-1976) was also adapted.


Judo Boy

The most popular of their later TV series was 'Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman' ('科学忍者隊ガッチャマン', 'Science Ninja Team Gatchaman', 1972-1974), about a group of five young ninja superheroes who fight for environmental issues against the supervillain Galactor and his robotic monsters. Each member of the quintet has a bird-like costume. The show was so popular that it spawned a 1978 animated movie adaptation and two sequel series, one in 1978-1979, and another in 1979-1980. It became equally popular in foreign translations, such as the American version, 'Battle of the Planets' (1978-1985), which removed scenes with too excessive violence, swearing and occasional nudity. Several American comic book adaptations were also produced by Gold Key Comics (1979-1981, scripts Gary Poole, art Win Mortimer) and Top Cow Productions (2002-2003, script Munier Sharrieff, art Wilson Tortosa). Some cross-overs with other Top Cow series followed, as well as a six-issue limited series called 'Battle of the Planets: Princess' (2004) by David Wohl and Wilson Tortosa. In 2013 Toya Sato directed a live-action film version of 'Gatchaman'. The 'Gatchaman' franchise had quite an influence on popular culture too. Shotaro Ishinomori's long-running superhero team 'Sūpā Sentai Shirīzu' ('スーパー戦隊シリーズ', 'Super Sentai', 1975) and the Americanized version 'Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers' (1993-1996) have similar set-ups. 

As their animated TV shows gained more success Toshida had less time to preoccupy himself with drawing comics, since he concentrated on so many aspects of the TV production. He was president of the company, as well as director, scriptwriter and character designer. Nevertheless he still received the 1972 Shogakukan Manga Award for 'Minashigo Hutch'. He died in 1977 from liver cancer at the age of only 45. His brother Kenji succeeded him as producer at Tatsunoko.

Tatsunoko Productions still produces new anime TV shows today. They have made TV adaptations of popular manga series, such as Noboru Rokuda's 'Dash Kappei' ('ダッシュ勝平', 1981-1982), Hirohisa Soda and Noboru Akashi's 'Mirai Keisatsu Urashiman' ('未来警察ウラシマン', 'Rock 'n' Cop', 1983), Ryuji Tsugihara's 'Yoroshiku Mechadoc' (1984-1985), Michiyo Akaishi's Arupen Rōze (アルペンローゼ, 'Alpen Rose', 1983-1986), Yuu Azuki's 'Showa Era Idiot Story Book: Most Refined' (1984-1986), Izumi Aso's 'Hikari no Densetsu' ('光の伝説', 1986), Hiroshi Kawamoto's 'Tenkū Senki Shurato' ('天空戦記 シュラト', 'Legend of Heavenly Sphere Shurato', 1989-1990) and Osamu Akimoto's 'Kochikame' ('こち亀', 1996-2004). They have also co-produced other series by different companies, such as Hideaki Anno's 'Shin Seiki Evangerion' ('新世紀エヴァンゲリオン', 'Neon Genesis Evangelion', 1995-1996) and even foreign shows like the French educational history series 'Il Était Une Fois... L'Homme' ('Once Upon A Time... Man', 1978) by Albert Barillé and an animated TV series adaptation of Alfredo Castelli's comic strip 'Martin Mystère' in 2003-2006.

Among the many big names who once worked for Tatsunoko have been Hideaki Anno, Koichi Mashimo, Mizuho Nishikubo, Hiroshi Sagawa, Katsuhisa Yamada and Kazuo Yamazaki.


Kenji Yoshida, Tatsuo Yoshida, Tatsuo's wife and Ippei Kuri

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