Sunday 20th October 1963, 8 p.m.: families across Japan were savouring the last few hours of the weekend, getting ready for the week ahead, when a new TV anime hit their screens. Tetsujin 28-go (Iron Man Number 28) was ready for action.
TCJ (variously known in English & European sources as Tele-Cartoon Japan and Television Corporation of Japan) had already made a late-night cartoon for Fuji TV based on Ko Kojima’s 1956 manga Hermit Village (Sennin Buraku.) That was aimed at adults. Their new family-audience show was also based on a manga published in 1956, by Kobe native Mitsuteru Yokoyama.
The show ran for three seasons, 96 half-hour episodes in total, until May 1966. Tetsujin is still an iconic and much loved figure in Japan. A life-size statue of the huge robot is the centrepiece of a regeneration plan for his creator’s hometown, devastated in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
A year after its launch, an edited and adapted version by American writer-producer Fred Ladd debuted on US screens as Gigantor. Despite generally poor reviews – Variety magazine called it “loud, violent, tasteless and cheerless” - American children took to Gigantor and it became one of the best-loved TV cartoons of its era.
Forty-nine years later, Tetsujin 28 has starred in four anime TV series (one unreleased in English) and a live-action film. A further CGI movie was mooted by Hikari Productions and Imagi Animation Studios in 2008, with a test trailer released on the Internet in 2009, but the project was a casualty of Imagi’s collapse. Exactly a year ago today, a number of websites and blogs announced that indie director Bryan Barber had acquired rights to make a Gigantor movie from Fred Ladd.
So happy birthday, Tetsujin 28. Let’s hope we see you in action again in time for your big 5-0 next year.