Lost Anime: Uchujin Pipi

This day in 1965, at six p.m., a new anime TV series aired on NHK: Uchujin Pipi.

It had a strong pedigree. SF giant Sakyo Komatsu, who had written a script for the anime 8 Man the year before, worked with 8 Man‘s Kazumasa Hirai on Uchujin Pipi (Spaceman Pipi or Pipi The Alien.) The music was composed by Isao Tomita, a rising talent who had worked on that year’s Osamu Tezuka New Year TV special, Shin Takarajima, and would compose the iconic soundtrack for Jungle Taitei, first aired in October 1965.

Uchujin Pipi was the second of three TV Doga productions launched in 1965, and  was successful enough to stay on screen for a year. It’s also one of an interesting group of experimental shows merging animation and live action. Tezuka played with the idea in his 1969 TV series of his own manga Vampires, and the great director Kon Ichikawa used the same technique in his 1978 movie based on Tezuka’s Hi no Tori. (Both, incidentally, were screened in London in 2008 as part of the Barbican Cinema’s Osamu Tezuka: Movies into Manga season.) But Uchujin Pipi‘s producers were ahead of the pack.

The opening sequence, merging fantasy and reality as a flying saucer zoomed above modern, progressive Japan, brought the science fiction of popular children’s shows like Ginga Shonentai (Galaxy Boy Troop) right into the young audience’s own streets and playgrounds. Children could watch their real live counterparts interacting with the charmingly animated Pipi and his alien chums. Clunky as the black and white animation appears today, it must have been irresistible, enchanting: a window into a world of possibilities.

We can only guess at just how enchanting. Of  Uchujin Pipi‘s 52 25-minute episodes, only two survive, and it is almost unknown outside Japan except by a few anime historians. The Anime Encyclopedia features it, of course (see page 491,) and Richard Llewellyn’s Animated Divots entry includes a still showing the young live actors with the animated hero. Animemorial has the title frame. The opening and ending theme lyrics are available online and the cover of the single release below was filched from Wrapping The Anime, an Italian blog devoted to anime themes where you can also find the opening credits of episode 38.

In these days of instant online availability, this is a genuine rarity – worth a look for anyone interested in the roots of TV science fiction, or in how today’s multinational, multilingual, multimedia anime industry began.

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