Thirty-five years ago today, on 6th December 1977, the last episode of Seton Dobutsuki: Kuma no Ko Jacky (Seton’s Animal Tales: Jacky the Bear Cub, aka Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac) aired on the Fuji TV network in Japan.
Its solid pedigree merits attention. It was based (like a number of other anime) on the nature stories of Scots-Canadian, Tyneside-born Ernest Thompson Seton. Yoshio Kuroda, the director, has a rap sheet including Gulliver no Uchu Ryoko (Gulliver’s Space Travels, 1965) one of the Toei movies on which Hayao Miyazaki worked as an inbetweener. It was made by Nippon Animation, the World Masterpiece Theatre factory.
It ran for just 26 episodes but those 26 episodes travelled far – and fast, for the times. It was screened in France in 1981, and in Mexico in 1983. It’s also been seen in Spain (in Spanish and Catalan), Italy, Germany, Poland, Cuba, the Phillippines and the Arab world. There’s even a manga version of the story in Jiro Taniguchi and Yoshiharu Imaizumi’s Seton series, available in French & Italian.
The anime gospel was spread across the world by series like this, which are almost ignored by English-speaking fans. Solid, wholesome entertainment with enough moral contact to appeal to parents and broadcasters, and enough action and adventure to appeal to pre-Internet generations of children, this is one of the shows that built anime’s world market before most of the world knew or cared what anime was.
Amid all the clamour about the latest craze, the new Ghibli or the next EVA, it’s worth remembering that inexpensive, unassuming, unpretentious shows like this helped to grow the industry to the stage where franchises and superstars can blossom.