Browsing through 2011’s anime listings for a project that’s still under wraps, I came across a name that rang bells in my memory: Dax.
Unlike, say, MADHOUSE or Studio Ghibli, Dax International isn’t a company widely discussed in English-speaking fan circles. Yet it’s been around since 1971, predating MADHOUSE, Ghibli and other big-name studios. Founder Yuji Tanno (1926-2001) left Nikkatsu in 1970 to set up his own company, after working as producer-supervisor on the TV version of Go Nagai’s Shameless School (Harenchi Gakuen.)
Dax was incorporated in its current form in August 2003 with a capitalisation of ten million yen and a Tokyo office headed by Satoshi Hirata. Its main work is in animation (including puppet animation) and sound production for animation and drama CDs. The company also sponsors and runs a theatre company set up by Tanno in 1977, and a youth music and sports charity led by his wife and a host of public and cultural leaders since 1986.
Their first hit was on Japan’s TV screens in October 1976: Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi (World Folklore Cartoons.) This half-hour colour co-production with Dowa-sha for TBS ran until March 1979. In May 1978 Dax launched another TBS co-production, Manga Hajimete Monogatari, or Cartoon History of How Things Began. This ran until March 1984 and achieved an audience rating of 28.5% at its peak.
Its success spun off 1984’s Manga Doshite Monogatari and Manga Naruhodo Monogatari (Understanding The World through Cartoons) in 1986. These long-running, light-hearted half-hour shows for the family audience were not just a domestic success – several of the series were sold in the Arab world and one in Russia. Dax may not be a major player on the international animation scene in terms of awards and acclaim, but from the 1970s to the present it has contributed to Japan’s animation export drive.
In 1979-80 Dax made four series aimed at the preteen and early-teenage girl audience for TV 12 Channel, which became TV Tokyo. Tanno created Julie the Wild Rose (Nobara no Julie) which ran for 13 episodes from January to March. Another 13-episode show, Isabelle of Paris (Paris no Isabelle) followed from April. In July, this was followed by 13 episodes of Golden-Haired Jeannie (Kinpatsu no Jeannie.) 26-episode series Wandering Girl Nell (Sasurai no Shojo Nell) was a re-versioning of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, which ran until May 1980.
As well as making shows to appeal to girls, Dax made educational series for schoolchildren from 1978 to 1991. In 1983, the company diversified into character promotion with Eagle Sam, a 51-episode sports anime starring the mascot for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Tanno wrote the 1986 feature-length TV special Bunna, Come Down From The Tree (Bunna yo, Ki Kara Oroite Koi) co-produced with Shigoto to mark the 30th anniversary of Japan’s admission to the United Nations in 1986. Dax followed this with a theatrical feature, Chiste: The Green Thumb (Chiste: Midori no Oyayubi) in 1990.
On Tanno’s death, his wife of 36 years, former Nikkatsu actress Mihoko Inagaki, became company president , and a new era began for Dax with a focus on sound production. This had started in 1997 with work on TOMY’s TV series Hikarian Super Express (Cho Tokkyu Hikarian) and grown to become a major income stream for Dax. The company didn’t cease anime production altogether, but over the past 15 years it has worked on sound production for anime and CD dramas ranging from Maria Watches Over Us to Hetalia: Axis Powers and Fairy Tail to Summer Wars.
In 2011, Dax looked back to its 1979 successes in the girls’ market and brought them bang up to date with Mayo Chiki!, a TV series of 13 manga-based half-hour episodes about a cute teenage boy who’s scared of females and a cross-dressing butler girl. It’s scheduled for UK release from MVM in November. Once again, the company worked with its old partner TBS. 2012 saw the launch of Shiba Inuko-san, a TV micro-series of 2-minute episodes based on Uzu’s manga of the same name.
After more than four decades of anime production, Dax International is still making anime and has a solid raft of sound production credits. In a constantly changing and consistently brutal industry, that’s an achievement worth celebrating.