26,000 Days of Future Boy Conan - The Never-Ending Blogathon!

And now, dear friends, it's time to begin our eagerly-awaited April blogathon, 26 Days of Future Boy Conan. The way this works will be simple: Starting tomorrow night, we will watch one episode (well, I'm gonna watch), and then I'll write my evening blog post about that show. There isn't really a detailed plan for how I'll proceed, I just wanted to keep things easy and free and try to capture the moment. I haven't sat down and watched all 26 episodes of Conan for many years, so this will feel like a refresher course for me.

I've been looking forward to doing this, and I hope you've also been downloading fansub copies of Conan so you can watch along. In fact, Neo1024 has just released a brand new Future Boy Conan fansub (Edit: it's still down, use this), timed specially for this occasion. I'll be sure to update the links at the blog's Downloads section.

A brief overview of Future Boy Conan, and the links to each episode's essay, are after the jump:

Miyazaki, Otsuka and Kondo

Future Boy Conan was produced and aired in 1978 on Japan's NHK network. This is a public television network, which was unusual, but it proved to be a good fit for the program, and it helped to forge a long and fruitful relationship with Hayao Miyazaki that continues to this day. The series was created at Nippon Animation, which had become the home of the World Masterpiece Theater series made world famous thanks to Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974. 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother followed in 1976, and proved to be an even more ambitious and epic story than Heidi; personally, I think it's the greatest masterpiece of the Takahata-Miyazaki canon. But that's another rant.

For Hayao Miyazaki, Future Boy Conan was the chance for him to really stretch his wings. This was his first directorial work since Lupin the 3rd, Series One in 1971-72, and the Yuki's Sun pilot from 1972. After two tours of duty performing superhuman feats of skill as the sole layout and scene designer for Heidi and Marco, Miyazaki was about to be unleashed. As Yasuo Otsuka joked years later, "He had become a Hulk."

Yasuo Otsuka, the "older brother" of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, served as the Animation Director on Conan, and this series shows the legend at the peak of his powers. I've grown to love Otsuka's work as an animator, his legendary attention to realism and detail, his love of machines. The gadgets and machines in Conan's world don't take the same realistic vibe as Lupin III, but that's really because this is Miyazaki's child.

Yoshifumi Kondo, who was discovered back on the first Lupin series, later worked on the two Panda Kopanda short films, and here he was again in full force as one of the top key animators. I'm not sure which scenes are his, but I do know that Conan's big scene in episode 2, where he throws a series of larger and larger rocks, comes from Kondo's pen. I don't want to spoil anything, so you'll just have to wait until Sunday to see if for yourselves (assuming you're watching along at home to my schedule).

Story of Conan - An Overview

Future Boy Conan is adapted from a sci-fi short story by Alexander Key called The Incredible Tide, published in 1970. It's fairly easy to find online if you'd like to read it; a quick reader could scan through the whole book on a good Sunday. As you watch the anime series, you'll quickly discover one of Miyazaki's signature traits - his adaptations are very loose. Remember how far he stretched Howl's Moving Castle from Diane Wynn Jones' original novels into his own work? Yeah, Conan is just like that. It's almost as though he just scans the back cover of the paperback, jots down the main characters' names and a couple plot points, and then runs with it.

"Let's see....Conan, Lana, Jimsy.... Okay, post-apocalyptic world.... there's a bunch of islands.... there's a giant tidal wave.... Okay, that's it, kids! Grampa's got enough to go with! Let's go!"

Essentially, Miyazaki's Conan is wrapped around the adventure and cliffhanger serials that are his stock in trade during the first half of his career. This is who the pre-middle-aged Hayao Miyazaki is. It's slapstick comedy, thrilling chases, Lana being kidnapped, Conan rushing to rescue her, clever gadgets, and vintage flying machines. And Miyazaki packs a ton of action into Conan's 26 episodes. There isn't a moment of wasted space anywhere.

Of course, there was also a serious vein in the younger Miyazaki's work, but this dates back to the late '60s -- Horus, Prince of the Sun in 1968, and People of the Desert, his 1969 comic series. There lies the roots of his darker, more complex tones that would fully emerge in Nausicaa in the '80s, then later in Princess Mononoke in 1997, and Howl's Moving Castle in 2004. And it's present in Conan as well. What's so interesting is how Conan finds the two Miyazakis at a crossroads, between the lighthearted action and the serious meditations on humanity. The pendulum will swing decisively in the '80s, and Miyazaki's youthful idealism will increasingly give way to pessimism and despair. But in Conan, that pendulum is perfectly balanced, and this may be the key reason why many anime fans consider Future Boy Conan his finest achievement in anime.

I'll leave that for you to decide. There's plenty of time to watch and become acquainted with the characters. By the end of the 26th episode, you'll feel sad that it's finally over, wistful for the memory, thankful for the experience. And you'll begin to have a new awareness into the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. It's such a shame that this television series has never been shown in North America. Who's responsible for that? Why isn't Conan playing on Cartoon Network, like, right now?! Watching Conan will open your eyes in many ways.

Blogathon Episode Review Index

01 - Remnant Island
02 - The Journey
03 - The First Companion
04 - The Barracuda
05 - Industria
06 - Dyce's Rebellion
07 - Chase
08 - Escape
09 -
10 -
11 -
12 -
13 -
14 -
15 -
16 -
17 -
18 -
19 -
20 -
21 -
22 -
23 -
24 -
25 -
26 -


Pablo Calculli said...

I was waiting for it.

Already have my dvds lined up to watch.

spaceboy412 said...

i recently watched this series thanks to your blog, i really did love it, and have since been going back to the other series, 3000 leagues was amazing too.
minor spoiler question:

in conan the underground people say the bread they are eating is made of plastic, is this a accurate translation or did they mean it tasted like plastic. i know in WWII the Russians ate bread with sawdust but i can't imagine people would live long on plastic. just curious.

Unknown said...

I strongly agree with you that Conan is my favorite Miyazakian work. It goes into a lot of depth, offers more variety, and cliffhangs much better. The sense of dread and despair is also a treat, often offset by the more "boring" or tender scenes of slapstick and kids playing.

I will say this is the first time that "the movie was better than the book". Alexander Key's "Incredible Tide" is only 98 pages long and in large print. I read bits and pieces several years ago, and stayed up late last week to read the whole thing which took me little more than 3 hours. Compare this to the show which lasts 10 1/2 hours total (24 min per episodes x 26 episodes). While certain scenes definitely smack of Conan and bring you into the series such as his wrestling with adults, being jailed, monolithic personalities of the indastrians and the sense of ruin in this new world, it isn't the same. Mr. Key's work feels very constrained, superficial, and forced at times almost relying on too much speech for the sake of narration. It's easy reading and not hard to finish per se but if I hadn't seen or known and loved "Conan" it would not have been interesting enough for me to invest the time to finish the entire novel.

Keep in mind before you view the series that "Conan" differs from typical screenwriting in terms of its tension levels, climax and progression to resolution. The plot is extremely unpredictable, where you area always kept guessing and surprised at all turns, to the point where the viewer cannot predictably identify the climax of the 26 episode series until its conclusion.

Secondly, this "climax" (the point of greatest tension after which the resolution begins) happens relatively late in the series, well past the 1/2 way episode. Using simple math, it seems to occur well after 2/3 of the series is over. While a play/screenplay's climax doesn't have to always occur right smack in the middle, most of the time it does. And this (along with many other little things that you already know) renders Conan refreshingly nonformulaic.

Another thing I would suggest you try to identify is how the contrast between quiet, noise and music. While some modern adaptations/redubs of anime always have some music in the background when characters aren't speaking, the moments of silence are well worth noting. When the music does play, pay close attention and notice that the animations are choregraphed with the music, IE when hitting certain notes the aircraft might roll, or characters will jump or throw something or shout etc.

Indeed, I was sad the series ended when the last DVD finished. It will be a treat so see someone else's interpretation of this hidden jewel

MithrilQuill said...

I am so glad to have stumbled across this blog, especially this Conan review, while looking for info on Arrietty.

Conan is my favorite Miyazaki work, and I'm still having a hard time understanding why it hasn't been released in North America!

*goes to read episode reviews*

diego said...

I love Conan, is like a soap opera for me. will you continue with the conan blogathon? i like it. gracias

Miles said...

The link to download Conan - both here and on the Downloads page – is still broken. Have you been able to find a good link to download it?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Okay, one of these days, I seriously have to finish this Future Boy Conan project. This is just getting ridiculous. I'm also wondering if I should publish these essays as a Conan book? Would anybody be interested in that?

I mean, I only have five or six book projects to write and edit these days, based on the last 12 years of blogging. What would another volume hurt? Oy vey.

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