AWAKE – Opening Animation of Japan S.P.F.X. Convention III

Everyone knows the Daicon videos, right? If you’re reading this site, you’re probably aware that the fans who spent countless night toiling away creating those films went on to form Gainax, change anime in a big way, and create a show called Neon Genesis Evangelion that people still won’t stop talking about decades later. But the Daicon videos, and the crew behind them, were something of an anomaly — sure, they inspired fans around the world to get out there and create something, but what about all of those fan endeavors that didn’t quite leave their mark?

Maybe you’ve watched the Daicon videos enough that you never want to hear ELO ever again, maybe you love them so much you dropped crazy money for an official copy of them on video or laserdisc, but have you seen AWAKE?

⇒ Warning: It’s a bit NSFW

The rags to Royal Space Force story of Daicon Films — which later transformed into Gainax — inspired lots of fans back in the those heady days of DIY fandom, including a doujin circle named Studio Awake. Their eponymous short served as the opening video for the the Japan S.P.F.X. Convention/Uru Festival III in 1984, just a year after Daicon IV. At first glance, AWAKE looks a lot like the Daicon videos — at least until you realize most of the gags involve little girls losing their clothes. It’s not quite as overloaded with sci-fi and anime references for fans to spot, but there’s plenty of Godzilla and Ultraman thrown in alongside an original transforming mecha that unloads a perfectly vintage Itano Circus.

That stuff with the girls, though? That might be a little less familiar, though we can blame Hideo Azuma. Azuma is widely regarded as the guy who kicked off the lolicon boom of the early ’80s, which saw the rise in popularity of comics — typically sexual in nature — featuring young girls. Though Azuma’s earliest works, like the kid-friendly Nanako SOS, weren’t explicit, the genre quickly took a turn for the ecchi. Oddly enough, Azuma is best known in the west for something entirely different; an autobiographical manga called Disappearance Diary that chronicled his struggle with alcoholism.

Not Hideaki Anno’s Godzilla, by Asari Yoshitoh

AWAKE was first announced in an issue of Manga Burikko, months before the convention where it premiered. Manga Burikko was your run-of-the-mill softcore manga magazine until it tapped into the lolicon boom and earned some notoriety, but believe it or not, the origin of the word “otaku” as a descriptor for hardcore anime fans is widely attributed to a column called Otaku Research that ran in it.

Published in the February 1984 issue, the original announcement included the following staff list:

Character Design: Usagi Morino, Yoshitoh Asari
Opening Mascot Design:  Kua Tero (くあTERO)
Mecha Design: Akira Kuruma (来留間明) [I’ll admit that the exact reading of this name has me stumped, Google doesn’t turn up much aside from a doujin called Hogera All That]
Director: INU

Studio Awake wasn’t exactly composed of heavy-hitters that later broke into the anime and manga big leagues, but there are some interesting people on that list. One in particular has a unexpected connection with the folks of Daicon Films, although that came much later.

Space Family Carlvinson
Space Family Carlvinson

Character designer Yoshitoh Asari, in addition to being an accomplished manga artist, designed some of the angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion — specifically Sachiel, Shamshell and Zeruel. Asari’s manga work doesn’t look to have ever taken off in a big way, but at least one of his comics was adapted for anime as a one-shot OVA in 1988. Space Family Carlvinson was a sci-fi comedy series featuring a bunch of misfit aliens and robots that adopt and raise a human child they find in a derelict spaceship straight out of LV-426. The manga ran for 13 volumes, which is obviously too much to cover in a 45-minute video, but it comes off as something like a cross between Three Men and a Baby and ALIEN. Asari also kept busy doing promotional artwork for video games like Kiki Kaikai and some of the Parodius series.

Usagi Morino achieved some notoriety as a lolicon artist and a primary member of the doujin circle, STUDIO GZZY. GZZY also experimented with doujin anime, producing something called Opatsu Oman in addition to the requisite porno parodies of popular series like Urusei Yatsura and Tenchi Muyo. Opatsu Oman looks as though it’s decidedly more skeevy than anything else in this article, so dive into that one at your own risk. In addition to the creepy stuff, Morino also took on more mainstream work like promotional illustrations for Athena on the Nintendo Famicom, which despite being a more family-friendly product, clearly shows some of that lolicon influence.

Athena promotional artwork by Usagi Morino

Fujita Yukihisa’s name wasn’t included in the original announcement, but he was involved in AWAKE. If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Ceiling Gallery recently ran a feature on the guy. In addition to doing mechanical designs for anime like Char’s Counterattack and Riding Bean, Yukihisa may be best remembered for creating Moko-chan, a pseudo-mascot for the Tamiya model kit company. During 1980s, Moko-chan and her sidekick Rabbi-kun were used to sell model kits and teach kids how to build ’em with how-to booklets and promo merchandise like pencil boards and pins.

Aside from AWAKE, the most tantalizing detail I’ve been able to turn up about the Japan S.P.F.X. Conventions was that the second year featured a short film called Sweet Room by Keita Amemiya, of Zeiram and Garo fame, that’s barely mentioned online. If you know anything about that or manage to dig anything up about it, let us know in the comments!

Original mecha featured in AWAKE

You may also note that the third year of the event added “Uru Festival” to the name, which literally means “sale festival.” They worked in a pun, though, by writing “uru” in katakana instead of using kanji — which is the same way you’d write the first two characters of Ultraman. [Laika also just pointed out to me that it’s likely a pun on “urusai,” the word for noisy or loud. That fits with the cover art on the booklet, which you can see here.]

A few years after its convention premier, a revised version of AWAKE was produced with over a minute of new footage and a new soundtrack. The circumstances of its release in 1987 are unclear, although you can check it out for yourself on NicoNico. Like most “Special Editions,” the added material doesn’t seem necessary, but the new soundtrack’s refrain of “I am Ghandi” provides some interesting juxtaposition to the girls in monster suits getting blown up by missiles.

The Daicon videos were popular enough to spawn a lot of merchandise, ranging from metal figures to wallets. AWAKE never reached that level, but much like professional anime projects, two volumes of production art for AWAKE were sold. Further production material was included in Studio Awake’s semi-regular doujin, XSEED.

While it’s difficult to recommend with the same gusto of the Daicon videos, AWAKE is a great reminder that fan culture of the ’80s consisted of more than just work that filtered through as classics. The uncomfortable truth of AWAKE is that it’s from a time when first wave otaku and the lolicon boom mingled in subtle, and not so subtle, ways — as much as we’d like to forget it. Daicon Films and the videos they created were the foundation on which we mythologized a generation of anime creator, AWAKE helps us remember that not everyone became a hero.

Thanks to Grant Alexander for clueing me on the two production doujin and sharing photos..

Further Reading