Transformers

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Japanese toy company Takara wanted to enter the American market, the size of the US vs Japan alone could mean a huge payday. Their first attempt at this was with the Mego Corporation, known for making toys for Marvel, DC Comics, and Star Trek, to produce their Microman line under the title Micronauts in 1976 (which would be licensed to Marvel for the self-titled cult-favorite series). Their next attempt would be exceedingly more successful when they entered into a relationship with Hasbro. The American company would take figures from Takara’s Microman and Diaclone lines and create an entirely new line in Transformers. As part of the push to sell the toys to kids, Hasbro made a deal with Marvel to produce a comic and cartoon. The two companies already shared a relationship working together to similar effect on Hasbro’s re-invigorated G.I. Joe line of products. Marvel already had a relationship with Sunbow Productions, who contracted the famous Japanese studio Toei Animation to produce animated series for them such as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, and Inhumanoids (at some points, Marvel went over Sunbow and worked with Toei directly on programs like Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Dungeons and Dragons, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, and Defenders of the Earth). Though, to maintain the strict schedule, much of these projects also employed a South Korean animation studio named AKOM (which would go on to produce the Simpsons and become the largest such company in Korea). Interestingly enough, Transformers would be broadcast in Japan where it was even bigger than in the US, continuing for several seasons after cancellation in America and resurrecting several times over the decades. Marvel would also see Toei adapt their properties like Captain America, Spider-Man, and Tomb of Dracula for Japan in Battle Fever J, Supaidaman, and Dracula: The Vampire Emperor of Darkness, respectively.

1980s Animation by J. Scott Campbell

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Japanese studios became a cost effective way of meeting demand for animation. Pacific Animation Corporation produced Thundercats, Silverhawks, and Tigersharks. TMS Entertainment gave us Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, Mighty Orbots, Bionic Six, Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, and Winnie the Pooh. Toei animated the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini-series. Sunrise, famous for shows like Mobile Suit Gundam and Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors), produced the Centurions for Ruby-Spears (using character designs by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane). As with Transformers, many series also sub-contracted work to Korean studios such as Dong Seo, AKOM, Pion Animation, Daiwon, Sei Young, Saerom, and Sun Woo. The South Korean studio Hanho Heung-Up was used by Ruby-Spears to animate series like Space Ace, Mister T, Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos, Dragon’s Lair, and Alvin and the Chipmunks (and Korean studio MiHahn animated Plastic Man for the company). The Real Ghostbusters was animated between almost a dozen Japanese and Korean studios. By the mid-1980s, Hanna-Barbera contracted studios like the Taiwanese Wang Film/Cuckoo’s Nest Studios and Filipino Fil-Cartoons to animate their properties. Disney employed dozens of Asian animated studios to produce their televised series. All televised animated series for the United States by the end of the 1980s were contracted out to studios in Asia. The last studio to holdout in America was Filmation, famous for Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Blackstar, Bravestarr, Fat Albert, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and series for DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Justice League of America, Teen Titans, and Captain Marvel, who closed its doors in 1989. Simply put, hand drawn animation is a taxing process that takes time, skill, and a studio of artists. As the cost of producing this kind of animation went up in America, companies took their work across the ocean where labor was cheaper.

Battle of the Planets

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Japanese programs were also trickling into the United States beginning in the 1960s, shows such as Undersea Boy Marine (Marine Boy), Tetsuwan ATOM (Astro Boy), Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer), Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion), Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor), Eighth Man, Planet Boy Popi (Prince Planet), Kagaku Ninja-Tai Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets and G-Force: Guardians of Space), Getter Robo G (Starvengers), Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers), Beast King GoLion (Voltron: Defender of the Universe), Star Musketeer Bismarck (Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs), Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac), Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior: Legend of the Hero Abel), Megazone 23 (Robotech: the Movie), and Dragon Ball; even live action series like Giant Robo, or Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, and Ultraman came to America in the 1960s. However, differences between the countries meant editing, in many instances to a severe degree. Some of these edits including removing nudity (which is permitted on Japanese television under certain circumstances), content in removing adult themes and situations, and violence (though, even Japan would begin sanitizing programs for young men where franchises like Go Nagai’s horror-centric, sexual, and gory Devilman and Violence Jack were later considered for adults). Some edits were quite practical given the audience, such as in Tetsujin 28-go whose story revolved around a giant robot built to destroy American forces as part of World War II. As an aside, several Japanese toys made its way to America without the benefit of an animated series such as BeastFormers (Battle Beasts), Kinnikuman (M.U.S.C.L.E.: Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere), Zoids, and the American toy series Shogun Warriors which featured action figures from Japanese properties including Great Mazinger, Leopardon (from Supaidaman), Godzilla, and Rodan (Dangard Ace, Gaiking, and Grandizer from the line were part of the American programming block of anime called Force Five and the line itself had a comic book adaptation from Marvel).