Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Thankfully for those busy or not looking to devote so much free time, an anime’s significance seldom equals length. With these two short amateur animations from the men who later formed Gainax, the brevity of great works reaches an extreme. At 5 1/2 and 7 minutes in fact, it’ll almost take longer to read their praises here than watch.
Apparently, the Japan SF Convention (Nihon SF Taikai) science fiction get-together draws something over a bare thousand each year, hardly a trickle of humanity next to the hajj in the upside-down pyramid that is Comiket, and yet it was for these relatively small events that these animations were produced, in 1981 and 1983. Both years the convention was held in Osaka, and dubbed Daicon.
The plot is simple, and as the openings are nearly wordless save for music (in English), the animation itself is the story. It begins with a spaceship and crew from a popular series (more on that soon) landing in a field. A schoolgirl sees them land. They give her a glass of water, asking her to take it to Daicon. The first opening follows her run to and through a city, beset by borrowed mechs, familiar tokusatsu creatures, and other dangers she dodges, or proves superpowered and defeats, concluding after she waters the poor daikon radish wilting in a field (get it?), while the second, after a recap to refresh memories after two years, continues her adventures after a starship takes her into space, the character now an adult in a bunny suit (who rides a sword lifted from some fantasy book series I’ve never read). The scenes become disjointed, but I interpret them as conjoined highlights of a further story, psychedelically tailored to be as wacky and copyright infringing as possible.
Part of the attraction of the animation is intellectual property heists that upstage Lupin III in more ways than one, surpassing any other anime yet packed into a few minutes. Some are immediately recognizable, others obscure enough that most otakus won’t know them. As the surprise is part of the amusement, I’ll avoid most specific spoilations, but suffice to note, most of the length of the second opening is set to two songs by Electric Light Orchestra, “Prologue” and “Twilight”, in the first case the lyrics appearing on the screen in a very Star Wars way, while in the second the animation could pass for a music video. As such, it is virtually an original English language anime, like Interstella 5555. Do you think embryonic Gainax asked permission to use the tunes on an animation they sold, working alongside the musicians like Toei with Daft Punk? If ELO heard of the Daicon III and IV Opening Animations, it was likely through their lawyer.
These impressive shorts can, by the way, also be considered the first OVA, and despite the relative dearth of experience they had going in, Gainax here set the standard for superior production fans have come to expect in direct-to-video anime. The animation is spectacularly fluid, with a speed and naturalness matched by only the most elaborate professional productions. At the end, there is even a “making of” part that includes draft sketches, the elements that were combined to make the cells, and so on—very fortunate given how historic the shorts have become.
Another thing I really love that should be mentioned: when the unnamed heroine wore the bunny suit, it was still strongly associated with the Playboy bunny, but the more family-friendly use here helped to change that. Sexy but no longer so raunchy, this made way for its iconic later use in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and other series with an approach to ero that is light of heart. That is only a little piece of later culture’s debt to this pair of shorts that show the bastard past of an industry that has come to lean on DMCA litigation in its age, but I would be unwarranted in going on, which might make these gems seem a longer, more involved viewing delight than they are.