Monday, January 23, 2006

Boi of the Future

Loosely based on Alexander Key's The Incredible Tide, Future Boy Conan is the first series directed by Hayao Miyazaki(thought two episodes are helmed by longtime collaborator Isao Takahata). It's also his best work as a director. The series plays out like twenty-five-minute long "best-of" reels of what Miyazaki does, well, best. All the chases, politics, and the hard-on for aeronautics that we've come to expect from him, but without all the bullshit that can drag down his features. The story follows what may be the last boy on earth in the post-nuke future, and the adventure that a young girl named Lana pulls him into.

Last year I planned to write a feature on the show, but it was axed by the magazine at the last minute. This left me with what I'm putting up today, an interview with infamous Japanese journalist Tomo Machiyama. For those who don't know Machiyama is the founder of Eiga HiHo, Japan's best movie magazine, author of several best-sellers, including Otaku no Hon (The Book of Otaku), and he also co-authored Cruising the Anime City with Patrick Macias. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about Conan, lolicon, and Miyazaki. For more on him you can visit an interview done with the late, great Pulp Magazine here:

And you can check him out at his blog

Or at

Q. What was the audience's reaction to Captain Dyce's obvious lusting for 11 year old Lana?

A. There was not so much antagonistic reaction. The first reason was that Conan just follows the traditional kind of Quest for the hero. Always the hero has to fight with a father figure to win the bride or the girl. That father figure represents the old system which the young boy has to overcome and take over. The girl represents the prize which is given for the new king of the new world. Joseph Campbell said this is the most basic archetype of heroic mythology in many cultures, the story of Oedipus. The second reason was that Miyazaki and his staff from Toei studio had already made this kind of story before Conan. The first example was Horus, Prince of the Sun, a heroic fantasy based on a European myth. Miyazaki and the Ghibli people made this while they were still at Toei. Horus has to fight against an evil dominating wizard to win the wizard's little sister Hilda, who looks like 12 years old and whom he loves.

The second was Puss In Boots, which was also made by Toei. It was a story about a poor boy who fights against a rich and powerful middle-aged Wizard who wants to marry the young princess that the boy loves. She also looks like 12 years old. Before this modern age, girls were forced to marry right after they had their first menstruation. In the original A PUSS IN BOOTS story, the boy doesn't fight against the wizard, just the cat. But Toei Animation studio, where Miyazaki worked as one of the animators, then changed the story to where the boy has to fight against the wizard by himself, rather than the cat.

So, audiences in Japan already had gotten used to this plot.
Later, you can find the same structure in Miyazaki's Lupin the 3rd, Castle of Cagliostro and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). The heroes fight to save the young girls from dirty old guys who want to have her. So this complex is always in Miyazaki's work. He is always doing the same thing again and again. So it was not so new for us.

Q. Were there any popular anime before Future Boy Conan that had such strong lolicon overtones?

Many! Many many many! I can't count! Tezuka did it. Ishinomori did it. Fujiko Fujio did it. Just see my article about Tezuka's sex anime.

However, regarding Miyazaki, there was the prototype of LanaÂ’s character. Alissa, a girl introduced in "When The Seventh Bridge Falls", one of the episodes of the original series of Lupin III(1969), which Miyazaki directed. In the episode, she is randomly kidnapped by a criminal mastermind. He used her as a hostage and he forces Lupin, the genius thief, to rob a treasure. In the end, Lupin shoots the villain to save the girl. It was 1969 and it was the first time for us to see a bullet penetrate a man in a very realistic way in prime time anime for children.

This was Miyazaki's first attempt to tell this kind of story all by himself. Alissa was thought of as the prototype for Lana and Castle of Cagliostro. The episode was also very erotic because Alissa is tied up the entire time and tortured by a buzz saw which almost cuts her head. It was like S&M or bondage, but she looks no more than 12 year old or less. So, audiences were given very complicated feelings to work out, like guilt and sadism. We hated the evil old man, but at the same time, we also felt very erotic feelings seeing the poor beautiful girl as a sadistic object.

Q. How popular was Future Boy Conan when it first aired?

A. It was very, very popular. It was the first attempt for NHK to make an original 30 minute animation for prime time. It was very successful. After Conan, Captain Future appeared in the same slot and tanked. Years later, it was the same time slot for Nadia: 7:30 pm. Making it was a big move for NHK.

Q. What kind of influence did the lolicon overtones in
the show have on otaku culture?

Lana, the heroine, became an icon of the lolicon people. Before, people like Tezuka and fujio-fujiko had shown little girls taking showers and baths, but they were doing it unconsciously. No one pointed it out by saying "This is very naughty." While Conan was on the air, Hideo Azuma, who was the first manga-ka that admitted he was lolicon, featured Lana from Conan in his comic, and openly declared his affection for her. Azuma, in his late 30Â’s then, was very a popular manga artist and much loved by hard core Otakus. His declaration of love for Lana was a kind of breakthrough for Lolicon people I think. After that, lolicon guys came out of the closet. Then Cagilostro came out. Then Nausicaa began. The female characters in those films are all the same.

Q. Is the conflict between the community run farming country of High Harbor and the money/power obsessed wasteland of Industria representative of Miyazaki's politics?

Yes, it'’s obvious. Miyazaki has used this situation for his anime again and again. You can find the conflict between materialism and nature in the TV series Heidi of the Alps, on which he worked in 1974. Heidi who is raised in nature in the Swiss Alps suffers the urban life in the big city of Frankfurt. In Nausica, war is held between the industrial kingdom Tolmekia and the nature loving NausicaÂ’s people. In MONONOKE HIME, there is a conflict between the industrial guild Tatara and the guardians of wildlife.

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