May 21, 2019
Tenguri, the Boy of the Plains could have been just another obscure and forgotten piece of animation from the past...which it kind of is actually, but the value it carries makes this an interesting entry within anime history. It is the result of several intertwining stories, the birth of a culturally and internationally significant studio, and an unbelievable, although indirect, crossover, from two of the most important forces in anime.
During the early 70s, the tumultuous state of Toei Animation and its exploitation of animators, alongside the bankruptcy of Mushi Production, have led many to quit the company and make their own animation studios. Among this
is one Daikichiro Kusube, who in his second attempt to create an animation studio found Shin-Ei Animation, known today for producing some of Japan’s cultural landmarks in children’s shows, Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan.
Around the same time, Osamu Tezuka, classic workaholic, was approached by a dairy company to write and direct an animated short promoting their product. However, as Tezuka’s interest in anime waned and as he started to focus more on manga, he was unable to provide the company his assistance, leading the company to end up commissioning the newly-formed Shin-Ei Animation to produce the short following Tezuka’s script.
The company, frustrated by about two years of Tezuka tippy-toeing around the project, gave the studio an insurmountable one-month deadline to finish the short. As a result, this would only be one of the very few instances a burned out Yasuo Otsuka would ever hold the director role, and on future projects with Studio Ghibli, would only take animation-related positions.
For such a short timeframe, however, Tenguri just shows how much talent and craft these animators put into their work. Otsuka’s short is filled with fluidity; just the kind of animation you would nearly expect from a World Masterpiece Theater episode—and the similarities do not stop there. While on the exterior Tenguri has a heavily formulaic premise, taking elements, such as the titular character’s design, after Isao Takahata’s adaptation of Heidi, blended with a blatant advertising message, it is filled to the brim with detail. With the combined efforts of Otsuka, Yoshifumi Kondo, and other in-house A Pro veterans (with the assistance of Hayao Miyazaki in layouts), Tenguri is undoubtedly one of the better shorts that have withstood the test of time. To top it off, the music was composed by Michio Mamiya, notable for his collaborations with Takahata on such projects as Horus, Grave of the Fireflies, and Gauche the Cellist.
Tenguri’s obscurity is understandable—coupled with its strong similarities to Heidi, actual releases of the short’s DVD never really made its way to the English-speaking community until the late 2000s, and even then so few historians have made efforts to bring this short into public consciousness. I hope that this review might somewhat aid in the wider knowledge of this short, that carries a much deeper, more interesting story behind its commercial underpinnings.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy
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