This is the inaugural post of our new Past Masters column. Here, we hope to explore those classic (and not-so-classic) anime productions that are ten years old or older. This will give us a chance to reminisce about the anime we grew up on, and hopefully introduce the newer generations to the series, OVAs and films that helped define modern otaku culture.
To your average otaku, mentioning "Gainax" might bring to mind such iconic series as Evangelion, Gunbuster, FLCL and Gurren Lagann. Without a doubt, Gainax is one of the most recognizable names in the anime industry. But where did this legendary studio get its start? Let's turn back the clock and find out...
The year is 1981. The Nihon SF Taikai convention, a gathering of Japanese science fiction fans, is set to take place in Osaka, under the name of Daicon III. For the opening ceremonies, the organizers of Daicon ask a group of college students from the Osaka University of Arts to create an animated promotional video. Among the students are such future luminaries as Takami Akai, Hiroyuki Yamaga and Hideaki Anno. The 5 1/2 minute-long 8 mm film they create, which came to be known as the Daicon III Opening Animation, was to become the first of Gainax's productions.
Daicon III features a young nameless girl, who is tasked with using a vial of water to a revive a dried-out daikon radish. As she journeys to the radish, she encounters and battles a variety of opponents, including a powered armor suit from Starship Troopers, several kaiju including Godzilla, a Star Destroyer, the space battleship Yamato, the starship Enterprise, an RX-78 Gundam, and many other iconic science fiction-themed enemies.
So what makes this film so special? Even by the standards of the day, the animation quality is poor. However, considering it was produced by a group of college students with little animation experience on a shoestring budget, the production values are actually quite impressive... impressive enough that they were asked to create another opening animation for Daicon IV in 1983. By that time, Akai, Yamaga and Anno had accumulated some animation experience working on Super Dimension Fortress Macross. As a result, they were able to create a film of much higher quality than their previous collaboration.
Daicon IV Opening Animation begins with a reanimated 90-second recap of the first Daicon film. After that, it jumps ahead several years into the future, and reveals the jet-powered schoolgirl has blossomed into a beautiful and buxom bunnygirl. Her abilities have grown proportional to her measurements; she now tangles with (and easily defeats) starships, super robots and Sith lords on a regular basis. She even takes out an entire army of mobile suits with her bare hands! Her new mode of transportation is the legendary sword Stormbringer, which she uses as a sky-borne surfboard. Additionally, she has now gained the ability to travel through alternate dimensions and alter reality on a cosmic scale. In other words, she has become quite possibly the most powerful bunnygirl EVER.
The bunnygirl's antics lead her to cross paths with literally hundreds of characters, vessels and robots from virtually every form of sci-fi and fantasy imaginable. This otaku wet dream is set to "Prologue" and "Twilight", from Electric Light Orchestra's Time album.
If Daicon III impressed audiences, Daicon IV blew them away. The animators (who formed the studio Daicon Film) became famous overnight, and managed to attract attention of Bandai, who gave them funding for their first commercial anime project. In 1985, Daicon Film changed their name to Gainax, and released their first film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise in 1987. The film was met with widespread critical acclaim, if not commercial success. 1988's Gunbuster brought Gainax better fortunes, and the rest is history.
Two-and-a-half decades later, the Daicon animations remain popular, both as a part of Gainax's history and as emblematic representations of otaku culture. Unfortunately, due to the unauthorized use of the Playboy Bunny costume and ELO's music, Gainax was unable to ever officially release them. They were, however, released in limited-edition Betamax and Laserdisc formats, with the latter being packaged with a Daicon artbook. The artbook/Laserdisc set remains a popular and rare collectors item, often fetching prices in excess of a thousand USD at auctions.