The Daicon Opening Animations are two short films that were created for two Sci-fi conventions. They have gone down in history as the first and second titles produced by the infamous Studio Gainax, which at the time was little more than a group of students from the Osaka University of Arts.
Though they may be fairly humble origins for one of the most influential animation studios of the past 30 years, the Daicon films still demonstrate the tremendous potential of the Gainax staff. Both Daicon III and Daicon IV have essentially the same premise; a single girl fighting a battle royal against the Sci-Fi
heroes of yesteryear. Deep and compelling storytelling it is not, but one can’t help but enjoy watching dozens of characters, some familiar and some long since forgotten, fighting each other.
Certainly, one doesn’t need to think hard to imagine the faces of the people attending those conventions all those years ago; seeing all their favourite characters in a single film with reasonable production (or in the case of Daicon IV, exceptional production) would have made for quite the kick. Hell, even thirty years later it’s hard not to feel pumped up when you hear the opening line: “Just on the border, of your waking mind”
That brings us to the soundtrack, which in Daicon IV, consists of the songs ‘Prologue’ and ‘Twilight’ by Electric Light Orchestra. It’s a perfect fit; it manages to sound futuristic, yet is still distinctly eighties at the same time. It manages to reflect the period of the films but also the sci-fi and fantasy themes that go with it. But it also conveys a strong sense of ambition, a clear reflection of how the film’s young creators felt at that time.
Because although the Daicon films follow a very simple concept, on technical terms they are on another level; comparable to and perhaps even exceeding the level of professional productions of the time. The animation is incredibly smooth, the backgrounds are detailed.
The cast is largely made up of characters borrowed from other shows, and these are somewhat faithful reproductions of their originals, but this isn’t where Daicon exceeds expectation; one of the most memorable scenes, featuring what appears to be a nuclear bomb going off in reverse, features no science fiction characters at all. It’s clear that the Gainax staff were not content with mere being mere imitators.
The Daicon Openings are certainly an important part of anime history, and one that will not be forgotten any time soon. But make no mistake, they are worth so much more than a pedestal in an anime museum exhibit. The Daicon Openings represent a youthful passion to do something you love; a sense of unity that (sadly) anime fans have since lost; and a studio not content with the status quo. They may be almost 30 years old, but the Daicon Opening animations are as young and fresh as they were at the first screening.
Gainax's two short films made for the science-fiction conventions Daicon III and Daicon IV. But that's not exactly true. The truth is is that this wasn't made by Gainax in name, but rather a group of young animators that would go on to form that of one of anime's most prolific and influential studios of all time. These seemingly little things birthing such a giant of Japanese animation would come as no surprise to anyone who'd watch them. These music videos are full of fluent, active animation as mascot girls jump between absurd scenes and battles featuring science-fiction icons such as Darth Vader, Gundam, and
Transformers. The number of references is astounding, and this is a work that bursts from passion both from its animation and appreciation for the fantasy of anime and its many national and international origins.
The opening for Daicon IV is the most well-known of the two, partially for featuring the song "Twilight" by rock band Electric Light Orchestra from their 1981 album "Time". I was never that much of a fan of that album for getting away from ELO's faux-electro orchestra sound, but if there's an exception it's that single song. And if there's a reason, it's this single short which I saw for the first time ages ago. The use of the track is such literary genius that I wonder if it was accidental because of the language barrier and just chosen for being a cool song. The opening text scroll subtitling the album's concept narrative implies otherwise, as lyrically Twilight conjures up the story of a bewildered man who finds himself transported through time into the future and questioning whether he's in reality or a dream, and that he "only meant to stay a while". These shorts, made at the beginning of the anime Otaku-boom and birth of a true subculture herald such an event, a celebration of the starry-eyed fanaticism that the boundless wonders of escapist imagination anime has been inspired for decades since. It's a beautiful thing to look back on now as a celebration of anime while at the same time being at that early a stage in the medium's life making it an optimistic view looking forward to the countless dreams to come. The bouncing surrealist narrative is unhinged and loose with excitement about all of the creative fantasies that have been created as well as the ones that would be on their way forever more. To give us one last reminder, an ending animation features ELO's "Hold on Tight" which repeatedly states "hold on tight to your dreams". And many of the animators who touched this project did just that.
It's just about impossible for an anime fan to not like the Daicon shorts, because they are so definitively "anime" in their sporadic eccentricities, and that level of energy was only just blooming at the time they were created. It's almost like watching something new come to life, because in a way, that's what was happening.
I came across this anime in an unusual manner. Recently, I lost some files on my computer, including a number of music albums.
That included ELO's (Electric Light Orchestra) phenomenal 1981 concept album "Time", which I consider one of the finest of the decade. Luckily, there was a complete playlist on Youtube. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out the comments and noticed a number mentioning "Daicon IV". "The fuck is that?", I wondered.
Turns out that it was a series of specially made intro videos to several anime conventions during the 1980s (who knew they even existed
back then?!), also notable for being the first output by Studio Gainax.
Essentially, it's a specially-made 80's AMV featuring a girl, small and innocent during Daicon III, and then an adult in a Playboy bunny costume in Daicon IV (who didn't see that coming?) having a number of fantastic adventures, including flying on a sword, throwing around giant mechas, and fighting an array of monsters and villains.
Watching it as a jaded 28 year-old in the year 2015, I still found it relatively fun and energetic. Of course, a lot of the credit for that goes to a song by ELO that I absolutely adore.
The animation is hit and miss. Some of it is interesting and unique, especially the more science fiction-inspired creatures. Other parts remind me of generic, cheap, and bland 80's fare, both in terms of detail and subject.
Overall, I liked the Daicon Opening Animations, and feel they served their purpose. However, neither are they anything special.
With such an amazing song, I can easily imagine Gainax creating something more interesting, particularly if they had pushed a stronger science fiction theme, and taken out some of the random, silly aspects of the video. (The Western superhero cameos, random anime characters making goofy faces, etc.)
Certainly, I have seen promotional anime music videos that were much better despite far inferior songs.
Nevertheless, this deserves credit for being one of the first.
This is history. This is art. This is the passion and love of a medium encapsulated and condensed into 5 minutes with the care and effort of three men who would change the face of anime forever.
In just over 5 minutes, this opening animation to the 1981 DAICON sci-fi/anime convention, DAICON III tells the simple story of a little girl's quest to water a radish. Along the way, however, she is assailed and chased by popular pop culture icons, forcing her to utilize her full power to get to her goal.
It's a simple plot, yes. Also, the animation looks very dated and low-budget, yes. But
the reason why DAICON III is so beautiful is because of its historical significance.
The short film was made by Hideaki Anno, Hiroyuki Yamaga and Takami Akai, the forefathers and founders of the legendary anime studio Gainax, which would later become Studio Trigger. The legacy of these men has repurposed the face of the anime industry, pumping out classics like Gurren Lagann, Gunbuster, and the timeless Neon Genesis Evangelion.
On top of that, the way they distributed the short film by selling individual tapes for fans to watch over and over back at home was revolutionary; this was the very first example of an anime original video animation (or OVA, for short), a practise that is still put into use today and has wrought some of the best things the medium has to offer (primarily 1988's Legend of the Galactic Heroes).
That legacy and more started with just this short, 5 minute film, a passion project so intimate, bursting to the seams with love and care, that in every key frame we can already see the signature touches and tropes that would begin to litter the industry for years to come.
Aside from the historical significance, DAICON III is just brimming with that optimism and unadulterated love of young, creative minds. Bolstered by a very bright and cheery wholesome 70s score, the short film is just a real love letter to the medium of anime as well as other influences (Star Wars and Ultraman among others).
It's more than just a pop culture romp akin to, say, 2006's The Ultimate Showdown, it's a short but sweet testament to the burning passion of three young men, and also a precursor to greater things to come.
Even in its dated glory, there's more heart and passion to be seen here than in most seasonal anime nowadays, and that's honestly refreshing to see. It's a reminder of why so many people love anime, why I love anime.
DAICON III may not offer much in terms of technical aspects or plot, but it is a very important milestone; it is modern anime's Steamboat Willie.
It is easy to say that the most beautiful anime are those produced by Studio Ghibli. For sure, Ghibli’s films set the bar for what is anime art. However, although five of their films populate this list of the 20 most beautiful anime, other examples from the past four decades are just as impressive.