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Anime - Preserving the Classics

If you’ve ever delved into anime history, it is a certainty that you encountered the name Osamu Tezuka, father of manga, godfather of anime, and generally all-around great guy. His works defined the medium and charted the course anime would follow for years afterward, and they spoke on a universal level. Translated and broadcast nearly everywhere there were TVs, shows like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Princess Knight were beloved by children across the globe.

In the United States, Astro Boy (the first anime ever) and Kimba the White Lion (the first color anime ever) aired in syndication in the early 1960s; however, the reels for the shows were discarded in the ‘70s when the license expired and Mushi Production, bankrupt at the time, could not afford to pay for shipping back to Japan. The original series wouldn’t be seen on American televisions again until a little company called Right Stuf began a decades-long quest to bring Tezuka’s most influential titles back in the spotlight.

Though we were able to obtain the rights to release Astro Boy in 1989, we had no show to go with them! A quest began for as many prints we could find, and Shawne Kleckner became an expert in 1960s film in the process, learning about work prints, air prints, inter-negatives, M/E prints, and more during the search. Advertisements were placed in film collector’s magazines, and he obtained a list of every station that had ever aired Astro Boy and contacted them, one by one. Prints were discovered all around the world, from Australia to the Middle East to Zimbabwe. Sometimes, we asked collectors if they would make telecine copies of their precious reels and Right Stuf would pay for them. Many other reels were purchased outright. Thousands of dollars were spent on the hunt.

We worked towards completing the collection throughout the ‘90s, releasing VHS tapes containing two episodes each as we salvaged additional episodes. As the prints trickled in, each 25-30 years old and in varying condition, they had to be individually inventoried, cleaned, and assessed for what was salvageable. Often, separate pieces were assembled like a puzzle to create one episode. It was a huge undertaking. For example, English audio was frequently combined with Spanish video during the VHS days, and for our DVD releases we would recut Japanese footage to match the original English edits. As of 2006, every episode has been restored and released, many in coordination with Australia’s Madman Entertainment, but we still don’t have a complete set of original English Astro Boy air prints.

Kimba was a similar story, though fortunately better video was available and we didn’t have to re-edit the episodes. We also had a leg-up on acquisitions when that second global hunt began. When purchasing Astro Boy prints, Shawne frequently happened to get other ‘60s shows in addition. Sometimes this was on purpose, if the additional title was something Shawne was interested in, and sometimes it was the same way an eBay lot might have just one thing you need and a bunch of other stuff too. Some of the on-purpose prints included Kimba. Thanks to better preservation, we were able to put together a complete set of Kimba air prints, and the results can be seen in crisp color on our proud Kimba the White Lion releases.

The two biggest Tezuka shows down, Shawne just needed Princess Knight to achieve his personal trifecta. Like Astro Boy and Kimba, it was a show worth preserving for both historical and nostalgic reasons in a modern archive. The seminal shoujo anime, Princess Knight was ground-breaking, paving the way for later classics like The Rose of Versailles and Revolutionary Girl Utena. However, while Astro Boy and Kimba were cases of rights but no materials, in the case of Princess Knight we had access to the materials but no rights.

While Shawne could deal with a single party to obtain the license rights for Astro Boy and Kimba, multiple parties were involved with Princess Knight due to a “Chain of Title” dispute (a dispute of ownership). Not content to let the series languish, Shawne talked to everyone involved with the license. “This is something people want. What can we do to put it out?” His persistence over the years eventually paid off, and it was agreed to give Princess Knight another chance in the English market.

There was, of course, just one more snag: when our production team delved into the Princess Knight materials it was discovered that much of the available video wasn’t in the best condition. But this wouldn’t be much of a story without a happy ending! Like Astro Boy, we’re working to clean up and restore the footage, with the result that this will be the best Princess Knight has ever looked in North America, including when it first aired on TV.

And so that’s it for the great quest, right? Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Princess Knight all stand ready to once again inspire a new generation with timeless tales of adventure, courage, and heart. With the last of the Tezuka trifecta being prepared for release, it’s time for Shawne to relax, kick back, and rest on his laurels... but if you happen to have an English reel from The Amazing 3, won’t you please send Shawne an email?