Stephen reviews: One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (1978)

banderbook_1One Million Year Trip: Bander Book [100万年地球の旅 バンダーブック Hyakumannen Chikyū no Tabi – Bander Book] (1978)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mami Koyama, Masatō Ibu, Iemasa Ieyumi, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Directed by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka has a large catalog of creations beyond his most famous one, Astro Boy. Bander Book may be one of the more minor entries in that catalog, but it isn’t without some significance. This was the first of a series of TV movies made once per year beginning in 1978, so it kicked off a series of films that helped bring Tezuka’s creations to a new generation of viewers.

Tezuka’s visual style takes some getting used to. Despite having defined the genre, his designs look very little like anime as we know it today. It carries a very cutesy and childish impression that reflects his own influences from western animators such as Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. Since this is a children’s film, the art style fits naturally here. Although, Western audiences will no doubt be startled by the nudity. There’s some cultural disconnect here. Japan never considered bare breasts to be particularly taboo until American influence after World War II changed things. Nowadays, I wonder just how much the nudity would surprise even Japanese viewers.

banderbook_2It certainly isn’t provocative; the cutesy art style doesn’t really work for that. And that makes it all the more bizarre to see, especially when the film hammers you with it in the first ten minutes. It’s there because this is the only time aside from Conan the Barbarian where I have seen a shape changer’s clothes that didn’t mysteriously transform along with them. These shapeshifting aliens find a human baby in an escape capsule that landed on their planet. The kid’s parents launched him into space when their own spaceship was about to be destroyed.

The aliens raise the boy and name him Bander, teaching him their policy on never killing. They go so far as to cut the tails off animals, so they can eat meat without killing. His adopted sister falls in love with him, and he’s pretty happy with that. They aren’t blood relatives, so they figure that’s good enough.

banderbook_3Bander also learns how to fight, even though the planet is peaceful. Apparently, humans are such a bunch of violent assholes that the whole universe is scared they might attack at any moment. That fear turns out to be pretty well-founded, as some human space pirates show up to raid the planet. They’re led by a guy named Black Jack, and anyone familiar with Tezuka’s characters will recognize him. His role here is very different from his usual role of wandering doctor. In Bander Book he’s more of an antagonist.

Black Jack kidnaps Bander and dumps him on a desert planet, thus beginning Bander’s quest to find out who his real parents were and why they were killed. From here the movie bounces from space opera, to western, to a goofy horror mansion reminiscent of something from Scooby Doo, then some to time travel, and on to an Orwellian future dystopia. It’s a pretty meandering quest. While Bander’s goal is always at the forefront of his decisions, there’s often a sense that his current predicaments have little to do with anything.

banderbook_4But it’s hard to complain about the lack of focus in a movie with so much inventive fun. The aliens are some of the strangest creatures you’re likely to see. Some of them would be so difficult to describe, that I won’t even bother trying. As for some of the interesting ones I can describe, there’s a guy with a sombrero, but it turns out the sombrero is actually the guy’s head. There’s an awesome aerial dogfight with a cyclops riding a dragon. Then there’s the goofy ballroom dance where all the women have sleeveless dresses. No, I don’t mean they have bare arms. I mean their arms are stuck inside their dresses, making them look like giant dancing Christmas tree ornaments with added goofy hats in the shape of animal feet.

There’s a lighthearted sense of humor that permeates this tale, even when it deals with the more depressing concepts of human savagery and a Big Brother government run by a despotic computer. If you’re fond of old Looney Tunes cartoons, then this humor will be right up your alley. It does make the mood of this film difficult to pin down, though. On the one hand it deals with disturbing moral implications about humanity as a species, but then it does so with cheerful exuberance.

banderbook_5It’s one of the stranger experiences I have had watching a film. The plot is fractured, but the whole movie is too much fun to find fault with it. Even when the time machine appears in a stunningly obvious deus ex machina moment, it is soon followed by a nunchaku-wielding gorilla. That gorilla is on-screen for less than five seconds, making it one of the most criminally underused concepts ever. But I still can’t find it in my heart to complain when the movie graced me with such a sublime moment of greatness.

Bander Book is tons of fun if you’re ready for it, and it would even make a great children’s film provided you won’t get too upset at the idea of little Johnny seeing drawings of boobies in completely nonsexual situations. Or even worse, he’ll see a quick overview of evolution! GASP!

And if you live in the US and my review has piqued your interest, you can watch it freely (and legally) at Anime Sols. You’ll have to register for their site (also free) and dig it up in the section called 24 Hour TV Specials where they also keep the next two annual TV movies that followed Bander Book.

No trailer, but I do have a small clip from the film you can checkout.

10 comments to Stephen reviews: One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (1978)

  • Krista Shipley

    Just wanted to let you know that Canadians can register, watch and pledge at the Anime Sols site too.

    • Stephen

      Ah, thanks for clarifying. I thought Canada was included, but I wasn’t certain and didn’t want to put false info in the review.

  • Krista Shipley

    And thanks for the nice review!

  • Nice review, Stephen! I watched some of this and it definitely feels like a good movie for kids. I don’t think the nudity should matter, but parents these days can be a bit protective. Anyway, what I saw reminded me a bit of The Herculoids, which I was kind of obsessed with as a kid.

    Also, I love the idea of Anime Sols, and I’m glad you’re shining some light on it. Hopefully more people head over there and check it out! So now I’m wondering if you plan on reviewing the other two TV specials they have up. They both look rather interesting.

    • Stephen

      Thanks! It definitely brought back memories of old childhood cartoons. I can see the Herculoids resemblance, although I always hated that show as a kid. Whenever it came on I would be disappointed. Why couldn’t they give me a Space Ghost episode? Then I would sit there and watch it anyway.

      I hope Anime Sols sticks around, too. It’s funny that just a couple months ago I was complaining in my Galaxy Express review that old anime is hard to come by, and then Anime Sols pops up. I’ll definitely be tackling the next two films. Seeing some classic Tezuka stuff is too good an opportunity to pass up.

      • Hahaha, I had pretty much that same reaction to Space Ghost, oddly enough. If I knew more about Superman, I could make some joke about his opposite guy… Bizarro, I think?

        I figured and had hoped that you’d do the other two. Definitely a good chance to see some rare stuff, and the whole chronology thing is always enticing.

  • Ah man, I watched this like a month ago and totally forgot to comment! By this point I don’t know that I should even try, but I definitely enjoyed the movie a lot and I remember being surprised at how sophisticated the underlying story was. Like how it wove in a lot of nice social commentary. I think it took me by surprise because the art style initially put me into a more adolescent cartoon mode.

    It was also super entertaining, and like you I enjoyed all the monsters and the nunchuck gorilla. Interesting to see Black Jack not be Black Jack too, I wonder why that choice was made. Anyway, I’m looking forward to watching more of these.

    • Well, I’m glad you got to see it, however long ago it was. Most of what you found surprising is actually Tezuaka’s unique style on display. I also remember finding it rather odd when I watched this one, but as I watched the others, I got used to the juxtaposed childish humor and serious thematic content. I really ought to watch this one again now that I’m a bit more familiar with how Tezuka operated.

      The Black Jack oddity is also one of those things that happens a lot in Tezuka’s stuff. He often reused character designs across different stories, occasionally in vastly different ways. If you keep watching his stuff you’ll see a wide variety of characters showing up all over the place, playing different roles than what they do elsewhere. Although with Black Jack, I think it also comes down to when he made the character. Black Jack was one of his later creations, and I think this was one of his earliest appearances. I think in this case Tezuka just hadn’t nailed down what he wanted Black Jack to be yet.

      • Cool! If that’s his usual style I will probably enjoy the other films quite well then. It’s interesting that he played with characters in the ways you described. Like trying them out in various roles until one fit? A bit like public brainstorming. I wonder if he took the public’s reaction to the characters into consideration at all, or if it was just all him. Maybe there already is, but it sounds like there should be an in-depth documentary on Tezuka and his work.

Leave a Reply! Comments are always much appreciated!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.