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Future Boy Conan

By Andrew Osmond.

Future Boy Conan is the Hayao Miyazaki anime that few of Miyazaki’s Anglophone fans, even the ones who know the director’s films back to front, have seen. Which is a shame, because it’s great.

It’s got brave kids in a huge adventure in a post-apocalypse world. It’s got flying machines, ranging from tiny cute floaty ones to a Death Star-sized monster. It’s got a huge Metropolis-style future city, with towers to climb and lasers to dodge. It’s got revolution and Gaia Theory, and a show-stealing piglet. It’s got sea adventures, and bits from Tom Sawyer, and a telepathic girl, and fights with sharks and boars. There are earthquakes, and underworlds; there are robots and an invasion. Conan has action scenes that are as insane as Studio Trigger, and slow pastoral bits that lay lots of ground for Totoro.

If that sounds a lot to cram into one anime, then here’s the thing. This is a Miyazaki anime that’s more than ten hours long, without any filler or recap episodes. It’s Miyazaki’s longest anime story by far, a panorama of his “Miyazakiworld” in the decades after Conan’s broadcast in 1978.

Don’t just take just my word for it. One of Conan’s early superfans outside Japan was a student at the Korean Academy of Film Arts. When he got depressed, he would spend whole days watching Future Boy Conan. Who was this student? Oh, just some guy called Bong Joon-ho, who would go on to direct Parasite.

Or if that’s not your bag, you may like to know that another Conan fan is Rebecca Sugar, who says it was a massive influence on the series she created, Steven Universe. Or you may have seen a fulsome tribute to Conan without realising it, in Science Saru’s Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!,about budding animators. The first episode starts with a little girl becoming utterly hooked on an anime series… which is a loving reconstruction of Conan. Saru couldn’t use the actual Conan animation for legal reasons, so it remade it from scratch instead. And remember, Eizouken was made more than forty years after Conan.

Gainax co-founder Toshio Okada thinks so much of Conan that he’s done a massive video lecture series on it, starting on YouTube here. It’s in Japanese, though you might brave the wildly inaccurate “auto-translate” option. Across the industry, Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii, who’s said very rude things about Miyazaki in his time, claimed he learned to storyboard by studying Conan – specifically, looking at storyboards created by Isao Takahata, who contributed to the series.

But Takahata and Miyazaki weren’t the only famous names on Conan. There are also storyboard contributions by Yoshiyuki Tomino, still a year away from creating Gundam – perhaps unsurprisingly, Tomino’s bits are often action-packed and violent. Who did what on Conan is broken down in a new book on the series by Jonathan Clements and me, included with the second Blu-ray volume.

Some of the wildest and most vivid cartoon animation on Conan was by Yoshifumi Kondo, the future director of Ghibli;s Whisper of the Heart. Oh, and you remember that shark fight scene we mentioned? That was animated by Yoshiaki Kawajiri – yes, that Kawajiri, future director of Ninja Scroll and Wicked City.

Conan’s story blends elements from many of Miyazaki’s future epics, especially Nausicaa and Laputa. As in Nausicaa, civilisation has been destroyed by a terrible war. The old continents have sunk, but a few islands remain. On one of them, we meet a hardy boy called Conan; no, he’s nor related to either the fantasy barbarian or the anime detective. Born after the war, Conan has been brought up by his kind adoptive grandfather, but he’s never seen anyone else… until a girl is washed up by the sea, called Lana. She’s on the run from a totalitarian society called Industria, and in helping her, Conan is swept into epic adventure.

He’ll face cruel adults who covet Lana’s special powers, but he’ll also find allies, such as the loveable Jimsy, a wild boy who’s like an anime Huck Finn. Or if you’re a Rumiko Takahashi fan, you may see another resemblance… Jimsy is hilariously voiced in Japanese by Kazuyo Aoki, who’d go on to play the hard-drinking, rambunctious lush Hanae in the anime version of Maison Ikkoku.

Conan andLanathemselves bear a very strong resemblance to Pazu and Sheeta in Laputa. Actually, Laputa is the closest of Miyazaki’s films to Conan in terms of animation, with its earthy palette, its cheerful, outsized spirit. It’s not in what some pundits call the “modern” anime style. But to criticise Conan for that would be like complaining that Cartoon Saloon’s Oscar-winning Irish movies don’t look like Frozen, or that Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse doesn’t look like Pixar. The animation in Future Boy Conan isn’t dated animation. This is timeless animation.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. Future Boy Conan is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

Source: All The Anime


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