Go Nagai had caused an uproar in Japan with his introduction of the genre of manga eroticism in his comic Harenchi Gakuen (Scandal School). Harenchi Gakuen, considered to be the first hentai (sexually explicit) manga, was artistically inspired from Western erotica such as Playboy Magazine (especially the big boobs). However, the purpose of the content of Harenchi Gakuen pushed the envelope of the Japanese concept of the Culture of Shame.
Japanese parents found the manga so abhorrent that there were protests throughout Japan. Go Nagai became an overnight sensation and his manga comic sold millions of copies for the Shonen Jump Weekly. He was branded an “enemy of society,” which of course only served to increase the demand for his work and translated into even higher sales figures.
Italy, however, featured another side of Go Nagai. The television cartoons shown in Italy captured his artistic innovation of a new anime concept called Giant Mecha. Giant Mecha, beginning with the successful Mazinger Z, was a giant robot piloted by a super hero. Go Nagai’s creation, which pre-dated the successful Gundam series.
Early literary horror influences on Go Nagai’s work included the Irish Gothic horror author, J. Sheridan Le Fanu (Carmilla, Green Tea, Uncle Silas, etc.). Go Nagai’s occult horror Devilman series was about a demon fighting other demons.
Grendizer, or Goldrake as it was called in Italy (and Goldorak in France), was the biggest anime success in Italy and Europe between 1975-1977. It was broadcast on the Italian government TV station, RAI, with 74 original episodes. It was so successful that Independent Italian TV stations began to broadcast every Japanese anime series they could, whether they were licensed to do so or not.
The explosion of Japanese cartoons in Europe in the seventies continued into the eighties with many other Japanese anime shows such as Lupin III, Candy, Oscar, Ulysse 31, Jeeg (Go Nagai), Daitarn III, and many others. In the United States the same shows went under the names of Shogun Warriors and Force Five logos. Grendizer was exported to most European countries, the Middle East, and even shown in Russia.
In order to supply the extraordinary demand of toys, robots and models for Italian children, copyright and licensing laws for merchandise of the Japanese Grendizer creations were ignored by factories in Italy.
Popy Toys, a division of Bandai Japan, was established to manufacture the early anime and manga licensed toys that were sold to retail outlets outside of the usual Japanese toy stores. They produced die-cast metal versions of robots and saucers from the Mazinger Z series and the other popular Go Nagai shows of Devilman and Grendizer. The Mattel company later acquired licensing rights for the toys.
It is not unusual today to see original Popy Toys from the Grendizer and Mazinger Z series command prices between $10,000 to $15,000 on Yahoo! Japan auctions amidst fierce bidding. The collectors are usually Italian. These same Italian kids who grew up watching anime on TV are now focusing their collecting fever on original Japanese toys.
Italian guitarist and recording artist, Jurij Gianluca Ricotti, while not touring with the new musical group, Il Volo, maintains an on-line Grendizer Museum. His personal collection of over 2,000 Grendizer pieces is perhaps the largest in Europe. One of Jurij’s greatest off-stage treasures is a photo of himself at an anime convention with Go Nagai. Now, that’s La Dolce Anime Italian!!
Heather Russell is a contributing writer for majirox news and CEO of Rinkya — www.rinkya.com