Something from a bygone era but back during the 1980s and early 1990s, outsourcing cartoon animation to Japan was quite cheap and western cartoon producers would often employ Japanese animation studios to do the grunt work for them. However, with the way Japanese animation works, the individual styles of artists and studios often crept into many of these western works. Nowadays western producers use animation studios from other countries for their cheap labour even so the Japanese studios leave behind some impressive short animated works which I’d like to share. Grab your nostalgia goggles and follow the jump for more details!
Swat Kats – 1993
At the top of this list is a show that was a childhood favourite. A show about two ‘cat dudes’ piloting a fighter plane to defeat bad guys and what not. The thing that probably stands out most to me is the exciting intro. I was in for a huge surprise when I learnt that this opening was animated by Itsuki Imazaki – who happens to very dynamic Kanada style animator and you can just see that shine through in the poses, camera angles and effects in the intro.
Transformers G1 – Season 2 – 1985
This Transformers intro is from the original 80s series, the second season to be precise. It’s speculated that this intro was animated by folks at Ashi Production(now Production REED). I don’t have any other details on this other than perhaps Nobuyoshi Habara might have also had a hand in animating this intro. The animation is a little choppy but it’s got a great sense of urgency and they manage to pack a lot into 30 seconds of footage.
Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers – 1986
For this I’ll just quote this well written paragraph from a Galaxy Ranger’s fan site:
Combining elements of Westerns, space opera, and even a touch of sword and sorcery style fantasy, “Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers” brought to television a unique and often tongue-in-cheek spin on the space Western subgenre. Aired in 1986, the half-hour cartoon lasted only one season. Its 65 episodes, which ran five days a week, starred four unusual law enforcement officers (their slogan: “No guts, no glory”) working to bring law and order to the new frontier of space. Although the animation was done in Japan by Tokyo Movie Shinsa, “Galaxy Rangers” was one of the first anime-style shows to be created, scripted, storyboarded, voiced, and produced in the United States.
Tokyo Movie Shinsa made a name for themselves by working on many western cartoon shows during the 80s and 90s. From what I’ve been able to find out; of the people from TMS this intro might have been directed by Sunao Katabuchi while being animated by Kazuhide Tomonaga. I’m not 100% sure on this and it may turn out that I was wrong. In terms of pure animation, this intro has very high quality work, almost movie like in some areas and for that it’s probably my favourite on the list.
Mighty Orbots – 1984
Mighty Orbots is yet another show that was animated by TMS. The show itself only ran for 13 episodes and was directed by anime industry veteran Osamu Dezaki with storyboard work by Dezaki’s brother Satoshi Desaki and character designs by Akio Sugino. The titular robot’s design was a recolouring of a show done by TMS a few years earlier called GodMars – this lead to some trouble which is probably why no more than 13 episodes were ever produced.
Thunder Cats – 1985
This 1985 cartoon is fairly popular in America, but growing up in the UK I was never quite aware of it. However from what I’ve read around, the show was always known for it’s really good intro. The intro was animated in a style similar to that of Yoshinori Kanada by an animator known as Masayuki with the animation overseen by Tsuguyuki Kubo who was also a character designer on the show. Embedding was turned off for most of the Thundercats videos I could find so you’ll have to just watch it on Youtube instead.
Batman – The Animated Series – 1992
Batman is probably one of the most popular superheroes around and this cartoon, like wise, was very popular during the 90s. The animation work on the show was produced by several studios from around the world including countries such as; Spain, Canada, China, South Korea and of course Japan. Of the Japanese studios, yes it’s TMS once again. Regarding the intro itself, it was storyboarded and overseen by the director and producer of the show, Bruce Timm(Thanks A-Camp for the correction!). Which was then handed over to the people at TMS to be animated. It’s great to see just how well they can adapt to all the different western styles and still create something quite cool to watch.
The Centurions – 1985
While this intro is not all that interesting animation-wise it is one of the few western cartoons that Studio Sunrise worked on. To be precise, this was a show done by Studio 7 of Sunrise, which had just been formed back then. The character designs were overseen by Norio Shioyama, he is probably more well known as the character designer of the Armored Trooper Votoms mecha franchise.
M.A.S.K – 1985
I’m hesitant to include this because I’m not quite sure this was actually animated by a Japanese studio, though I do know that Ashi Production had a hand in helping to produce the show. Whether they also helped create the intro, I leave that to someone else.
X-Men – The Japanese ver – 1994
As far as I know the 90s X-Men cartoon was entirely a western production. For this case however, when the show began airing in Japan, it was decided that the English intro wasn’t for them and so a brand new intro was commissioned. I have no idea who worked on this one other than that a studio known as ‘Coop’ are credited with ‘Opening animation assistance’. Perhaps the reason an all new intro was made because the original intro contained far too much English lettering which might have been hard to read for Japanese kids. However the new intro worked well and I’ve read this cartoon helped form a great fan base for X-Men in Japan.
Transformers Animated – Japanese ver – 2010
This is probably the newest item on the list. When this cartoon was brought over it was given a brand new intro just for the Japanese market. This intro was storyboarded by Yuichi Nakazawa and directed by Toru Yoshida both of whom helped animate the intro as well. While most intros are made to sell their respective shows as best they can, especially shows based around toys. Certainly this intro does that very well, however this Japanese only intro sells the animation way too much and leads the viewer to believe the main show itself also features such high quality action animation, when for the most part it doesn’t. Oh well.
Silverhawks – 1986
Soon after publishing this post jakelloydrocks on Twitter notified me of this one, Silverhawks is a cartoon from 1986 which was produced by a group known as Pacific Animation Corporation,
who were a group made up of several studios, manly Topcraft. Topcraft are notable in that they go on to form Studio Ghibli later on. PAC was formed to carry on the work that Topcraft were doing for western companies, check out the first comment in the comments section for a detailed explanation of this. As for the intro, it certainly has the feel of an 80s anime production with the way the shading has been applied to the metallic surfaces.
TigerSharks – 1987
As it’s been pointed out in the comments section, this cartoon intro was also probably animated by the folks at Pacific Animation Corporation, with speculation that it might have been done once again by Masayuki.
This list is by no means complete and I’m sure there are many more examples out there. Perhaps a Japanese company worked on a cartoon that was made in your home country, this list doesn’t just have to be about American cartoons. Feel free to mention them in the comments if you wish!