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Good Anime Movies (1970–75): The Swing of the Pendulum

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Huw Williams itcherIf anime was a band and the 1970s was part of its discography, then this decade would be that difficult second album following a landmark debut. The pendulum of success swings both ways after all, and after the greatness of the 1960s, we must now experience a swing into some anime of lesser quality. However, being the #truefans that we are, we are also going to dig and sift through the bad times to find something good. ~ Huw Williams

The Light in the Dark

The 1970s is pretty much pitch black when it comes to ‘good’ anime, but through all the scrap stone we do get a gem now and then.

We have ‘Animal Treasure Island’ (1971) a fun, light and carefree adaptation of the original ‘Treasure Island’ classic; ‘Kanashimi no Belladonna’ (1973) a harrowing yet beautiful supernatural story of revenge and consequence; and ‘Mazinger Z vs. Devilman’ (1973) a pioneer of the burgeoning mecha genre.

Slim pickings in between the two booms of the 1960s and 1980s, but trust me – they are all worth the watch in the “dust settling” decade that is the 1970s.


Compelling Anime Movie Recommendations

‘Animal Treasure Island’ (Hiroshi Ikeda, 1971)

‘Animal Treasure Island’ is exactly what you think it is: the ‘Treasure Island’ story by Robert Louis Stevenson – but with animals. The film also strangely stays close to the source material, adding a feel of childhood whimsy to the classic tale, much like the Muppets’ retelling in 1996.

The story itself (for those of you who don’t already know) is about a young boy by the name of Jim who through a series of events stumbles upon a treasure map. Owning this map comes with its own adventure, which Jim embarks on with vigour. The humour of the film is similar to other anime of the time and slightly comparable with the slapstick that takes place in a Disney film. The story has Pirates, the open sea, and swashbuckling action, all accomplished with a very child-friendly vibe.

The artwork reminds me of the illustrations you would see in a children’s book: bold colours and simple shapes but without compromising the animation quality. The film is colourful, fun, and bright, and if you are a parent as well as an anime fan then this is a good film to put on to help raise your kids into future anime fans.

Fun Fact: Hayao Miyazaki drew a manga version of the film as a promotional tie-in; it came in 13 installments and was published in Tokyo Shinbun.

‘Kanashimi no Belladonna’ (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)

She sacrificed herself for the future, out of love…

‘Kanashimi no Belladonna’, also known as ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ or ‘The Tragedy of Belladonna’, is the final instalment in the ‘Animerama Trilogy’ – three adult anime feature films first conceived by Osamu Tezuka. The films had erotic themes and utilised very traditional means of animation, using limited animation and still paintings but also more modern designs. Belladonna is considered the best instalment in the series.

The story revolves around a woman who after being raped at a ritual deflowering is banished from her town. During her exile she meets the Devil who makes a deal with her. For her soul he gives her great magical powers that she then uses to get revenge on the town that abandoned her.

The story is dark and the imagery is on the disturbing side of eroticism, but when viewing this film you are aware of its artistry. Most of the visuals used are influenced by western art: influences like Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Klimt and classic tarot card illustrations, all revolving around demonic and erotic imagery.

The film is very stylised and its story content and imagery is definitely for the film student in all of us, but perhaps not a film to enjoy with your family!

‘Mazinger Z vs. Devilman’ (Tomoharu Katsumata & Koichi Tsunoda, 1973)

We’ve had quite an artsy start to this list of 1970’s anime, but here is one for the shonen fan in all of us. ‘Mazinger Z vs. Devilman’ is a crossover between two of the most popular titles at the time: ‘Devilman’ – a story about a demon who becomes good after possessing a young man by the name of Akira; and ‘Mazinger Z’ – an anime series about a giant mecha that was constructed by our protagonist to fight the forces of evil.

Both anime started as manga written and illustrated by Go Nagai, an immensely iconic mangaka (manga creator). Go Nagai pioneered in the Ecchi and Super Robot genres, and ‘Mazinger Z’ is considered to be the first ‘Super Robot’ manga and anime to feature a Super Robot that is piloted from within, thus spawning the Mecha sub-genre and inspiring iconic stories like the ‘Gundam’ series, ‘Super Sentai’ (‘Power Rangers’), ‘Big O’, ‘Voltron, Zoids’… the list goes on and on. Basically anything with a robot in it you can thank Go Nagai and ‘Mazinger Z’ for.

Despite the film’s misleading title, this movie has Mazinger Z and Devilman join forces to take down evil. Both heroes were created by Go Nagai and both have a strong sense of justice, so this kind of film was bound to happen at some point, and in my opinion it’s great as a typical Shonen crossover story in which the two protagonists become the best of friends and team up to battle their arch villains.

Even if you’re not a huge Shonen fan, you should watch this film if only to see how Go Nagai paved the way forward to the much-loved mecha genre that’s still thriving today.


A Swing in the Right Direction

After the drastic changes that happened in the industry during the 60s (animators were revolting against the production companies they worked in) the amount of what we could call ‘good anime’ was slim, but despite this, the films that I have recommended aren’t to be ignored.

We can learn a lot from the early 1970s. Anime is most certainly for all ages, young children (‘Animal Treasure Island’), teenagers (‘Mazinger Z vs. Devilman’), and adults (‘Kanashimi no Belladonna’), and it’s this wide range of age-appropriate content which is one of the things we as fans love about anime: no matter what age you are, there is an anime movie for you. A grandchild and grandparent can talk about the same shows with the exact same glint in their eyes.

This half of this decade might not have reverberated in history as loud as the previous decade, but remember what I said at the start of this article: the pendulum of success swings both ways, and that pendulum is going on the upswing in the decade to follow.

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