Forty years ago today at the Morinomiya Piloti Hall in Osaka, the 20th Japan SF Convention got underway. The two-day event drew around 1,200 people and because it was the third Japan SF Convention to be held in Osaka—an occurrence that had been using the nickname “Daicon” since 1964—that year’s event was called Daicon III.1 It remains one of the most famous conventions in anime history, not because of its guests or panels or attendance, but because of a short opening animation that played at its opening.
Despite the opening animation’s prominence in anime history, it’s worth remembering that the Japan SF Convention was an old-school sci-fi convention in the spirit of the World Science Fiction Convention. As a result of that lineage and in an odd twist, its mix of panels, cosplayers, and something resembling a dealer’s hall may actually have been more analogous to modern Western anime conventions rather than modern Japanese events like Comiket or Wonder Festival. Its guidebook was filled with messages from foreign sci-fi authors like Roger Zelazny and Larry Niven alongside manga artists like Jun Ishikawa and Kyoko Mizuki (Candy Candy).
It’s worth remembering that in 1981 fandom as we know it looked very different. From an anime fan point of view, what we’d consider the first wave otaku were really just taking shape (and “otaku” as a word to describe obsessive fans was still two years away from being coined by Akio Nakamori). The Gundam movies were still in theaters, gunpla was brand new, and people hadn’t started regularly consuming media home video, yet. The result, at least at Daicon III, seemed to be a melange of Western sci-fi, manga, and a bit of anime.
The Daicon III opening animation quickly became the stuff of legend and the staff behind it soon formed the pseudo-professional Daicon Film before incorporating as Gainax in 1984 for the production of Royal Space Force. When the Japan SF Convention returned to Osaka in 1983 for Daicon IV, an even more impressive opening was created with a larger staff and professional experience gained in the interim year.
The trio at the core of the Daicon III opening animation—Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, and Hideaki Anno—gained enough notoriety from the project to find jobs at Artland, an animation studio founded by director Noburo Ishiguro. At the time, Artland was working with Studio Nue and Tatsunoko on Super Dimension Fortress Macross , a transforming mecha TV show that seemed to encapsulate the post-Gundam era in a way that few shows did. By joining up with that show’s fresh-faced staff, the Daicon III trio became part of the post-Gundam wave of new animators joining the industry following the massive popularity of Space Battleship Yamato  and Mobile Suit Gundam .
Much of the staff on Macross were young animators without much experience, but they benefitted by working under more experienced hands like Ishiguro and legendary animator Ichiro Itano (who only had a few years of experience, himself). Anno, who had animated much of the Daicon III opening, found his calling in Artland’s so-called “Mecha Squad.” According to future Evangelion character designed Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Anno walked around the studio in bare feet and regularly talked so loudly to himself that he could be heard across the room. Yamaga, who had directed the Daicon III opening short, found work storyboarding and directed episode nine, “Miss Macross.” That particular episode was notable for the debut of the rarely-seen Armored Valkyrie, and according to director Shoji Kawamori, was one of the show’s most important episodes because it proved Minmay was no “ordinary girl.” Takami Akai, who had handled much of the design work for the Daicon III opening short, didn’t hang around production long, in part because the show already had a character designer in Haruhiko Mikimoto.
While Akai didn’t stay at Artland long, he did have a role in bringing a couple of other recognizable names into the fold. Later in production when Yamaga went searching for talented staff to join the production, he reached out to Akai who recommended his former classmate Mahiro Maeda (Gunbuster, Porco Rosso, Royal Space Force). Hesitant to go by himself, Maeda invited his friend Sadamoto to come as well. When Sadamoto asked Maeda about the guy who kept talking to himself and walked around in bare feet, Maeda told him “That’s Anno-san; he worked on Daicon III.”
Special thanks to KithKanan for Daicon III booklet scans.
- The tradition of naming each year’s event based on the city in which its held or other circumstances comes from the World Science Fiction Convention, an event that’s been around since 1939.