Right now in Tokyo, and coming soon to Osaka, there is an exhibit filled with cels, videos and original drawings from dozens of Tatsunoko TV series.
I recently paid a quick visit to the Tokyo show on my lunch break, and realized there was more material there than I could absorb in my limited time. However, I did enjoy playing a short game of “spot the reference,” beginning when I noticed that the company’s earliest character – the hero of a 1965 black-and-white show called “Uchu Ace” (Space ace) – had an asymmetrical crescent crest on his space helmet just like the one Date Masamune (1567-1635) had worn on his battle helmet four centuries earlier. Looking through time in the other direction, a rocket launch facility in “Space Ace” strongly resembled Syndrome’s lair in “The Incredibles” (2004).
Despite his costume, Ace didn’t have a buff superhero physique. He looked more like one of the original Campbell’s Soup Kids, probably because he was created by people who grew up in straitened times when chubbiness was something to aspire to.
That changed pretty fast, however, with the full-color characters of “Gatchaman” in the early 1970s looking like slim disco denizens – especially when they hung up their superhero capes and got into their civvies, which included thick-soled boots, bell-bottom pants, superwide belts and cataracts of shaggy hair.
Each of the “Gatchaman” characters’ superhero identities is based on a bird. One of them, Ryu Nakanishi, dresses up in an owl costume uncannily resembling that of the Nite Owl character who would appear in the English-language graphic novel “Watchmen” in the 1980s. And in a possible case of influence going the other way, the colorful characters and kooky vehicles of Tatsunoko’s late 1970s “Yatterman” series had a look that reminded me of Hanna Barbera’s earlier “Wacky Races.”
Admission to the Tokyo show, which runs through Aug. 20 at the Matsuya department store in Ginza, is 1,000 yen. Admission to the Aug. 22-28 Osaka show, at the Hanshin department store in Umeda, is only 500 yen. For details, see the promotional posters at the top and bottom of this post.