There comes a point the life of any given fan where they are so fascinated by all the Cool Things they like, that they just really want to show it all to other people. They’re practically bursting at the opportunity, the chance, the potential to explode in the raw ecstasy of talking up said Cool Things to anyone within earshot. There’s a certain childlike wonder and glee to that, so while it can certainly be handled poorly by many in less than socially acceptable ways, it’s a powerful sensation to both feel and behold.
Daicon Film, an amateur film club who came together to work on the opening ceremony video for the 1981 Nihon SF Taikai convention, clearly had such sentiments in their hearts when assembling a means of kicking off a science fiction event. To concoct an embodiment of the concept of Cool Things. In many respects, the eventual two opening animations they would go on to create are arguably among the most anime of anime to ever anime.
The convention in question, a yearly event which has been running since 1962, is well known and regarded for its Seiun Award recognizing the best science fiction works of the previous year. With the particular trait that it changes its name to reflect its host city (for example, Tokyo-based meetings are called TOKON, with an additional number if it has hosted more than once), DAICON denotes years the convention has been held in the city of Osaka. In all actuality, it is a pun for how the “O” in Osaka (which can be taken to mean ‘big’) can also be read as “dai”; combined with “con” for “convention”, it in turn creates a word very similar to the name of a large Japanese radish (dai + con = daicon = daikon).
The first custom animation contracted to open the convention with was for TOKON 6 in 1975. Directed by Noboru Ishiguro (who was already working on the Gachaman and Yamato franchises, and would go on to hold various directorial positions for Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Super Dimension Fortress Macross), and screenplay by Haruka Takachiho (eventual creator of Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe), it was the sort of event spectacle that would light the fires of hundreds of attendee imaginations and the thousands more they would tell about it when they came back. The kind of thing they would say one simply had to have been there to have seen light up on the projector screens and electrify their minds. A Cool Thing to make the event feel really special, and a sort of thanks for coming out to attend and be a part of it all.
Formally founded in 1982, Daicon Film was established by a motley crew of students from the Osaka University of Arts (Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, among others) who had assembled to create the opening video for 1981’s DAICON III event. The twentieth anniversary of this annual get together, it would by extension be appropriate to try and really go for broke, to create something that would be fitting for a historical anniversary event. And so they set out to make a celebration of all that there was to love about the various worlds science fiction fandom contained.
The result was a rough-around-the-edges but joyous extravagance very much similar to the casual daydreams felt by so many folks both in their childhood and well into their present adult years.
This was not a cartoon trying to sell itself or the world of science fiction and fantasy as this Ultra-Serious Affair attempting some kind of misguided passive-aggressive demands for years of family and coworker derision.
The DAICON III animation features a little girl who gets a glass of water from guys on a spaceship. Accosted by a suit of powered armor from Starship Troopers in the woods, she throws the space marine away with her free hand, catches and throws back a missile it fires at her, which in turn causes a pantheon of Godzilla monsters, Star Wars ships, Gundam, and more to show up in a city. So what does she do? She takes out a beam saber and starts fighting back. Her backpack, which also doubles as a jetpack, houses a multi-missile launcher. And she gets to kick all of their butts! While saving her glass of water! Which she uses to water a lone daikon in the wastes, which in turn sprouts into a radish spaceship. Complete with its very own space battleship crew and space battleship admiral uniform just for her, to take off for new adventures beyond the furthest stars.
Because that’s cool.
That’s a Cool Thing.
Gather around a random selection of kids, who haven’t yet been polluted by all the cynical trappings that can tend to come with years of fantasy and science fiction fandom, and they will tell you the same. If one could data mine their heads, they likely have had some pretty similar crazy adventures cooked up in there as well. And as a fan of Cool Stuff, by opening the convention in this way, the animation is saying you should too. Because as much as we all like seeing cohesive fictional worlds to explore, chart out, and lose ourselves in, outright kicking back and having fun thoughts about this stuff should never be devoid from ones imagination diet.
Fresh from this production, the Daicon Film team would go on to release some live action productions, while several members (Anno, Akai, and Yamaga) were picked up for a time to work on Super Dimension Fortress Macross under Ishiguro and his associates. Here, they were able to gain vast amounts of practical experience working in the industry on what would become one of the pillars of science fiction anime.
In 1983, the convention was coming back around to Osaka again, and so for DAICON IV the opportunity to best their previous opening animation work did not escape the Daicon Film team. With the additional training, and the ability to call in support from folks like Ichiro Itano (legendary in his own right for the zigzagging missile contrail dances featured in Macross, to the point of the style being dubbed the “Itano Circus”). As such, rather than making an entirely different concept from whole cloth, the DAICON IV piece revisits the little girl from the previous short, now grown up. Because in more ways than one, they too were also much older, having been in the direct trenches of the industry they had previously been on the fringes of.
Starting with a quick recap of previous events, we are given a little narration about the corners of our waking mind as we drift in a subspace environment. And on the other side is that same girl from before, a young woman now, wearing a kitschy playboy bunny outfit.
Multiple giant robots attack her, so she throws them and outright punches others away. She has a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader, as Imperial Stormtroopers sit around dancing, clapping, and posing. There’s a Xenomorph having a temper tantrum while a Transformer falls on her, so she picks it up and hurls it into a canyon wall. There’s a flying sword zooming around, so she jumps on that and rides it like a surfboard to keep in formation with sound barrier breaking jet fighters. Images of practically every major, and many middle and small level speculative fiction characters fly by, from books, film, anime, and comics of all ages. That flying sword surfboard breaks into a selection of other flying swords, each with their own part of a rainbow of smoke contrails ripping through the clouds. Speculative fiction figures smash into each other, chaos is caused, and explosions level cityscapes and uproot whole mountain ranges. So the daikon spaceship from before fires a laser canon beam with the power to revive all life wherever it passes over. And all this set to “Twilight” by Electric Light Orchestra.
The scope, quality, and attention to detail for a little convention opening animation work of this kind was simply flooring to everyone there. The frames loaded with “blink and you’ll miss it” visual shout outs to a mind boggling number of characters and universes, it can be rewatched multiple times with different references becoming apparent and finer craftsmanship aspects noticed. It is all at once a product of immense physical labor (the frames still being worked on the day of the premiere) and incredible fandom love combined with the sheer strength of wanting to outdo themselves to set whole forests of imaginations and dreams ablaze with that warm blanket of Having Fun With Cool Things.
Of course, it had professional level interest as well, making for a most excellent demo reel. Such was the industry reaction to this piece that the various team members were not merely snagged up to work as a part of another project already in production. Rather, in cash rich 1980’s Japan, Bandai Visual would effectively hand the Daicon Film team the equivalent of a blank check to make any kind of movie they wanted with extremely little oversight. A massive dream for even the biggest of studio creative teams, and virtually impossible to replicate as global economies and media corporation war chest accounting has shifted. The resulting 1987 film would cost eight hundred million yen, the near two hour long science fiction animation wonder Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa). It would take roughly seven years to make its budget back.
In this time period, Daicon Film would change its name in 1985 to Gainax, taking an obscure term for “giant” with an –x suffix attached to the end because it sounded marketable and appropriately international. The sort of production meeting when a team figures they need to make the business look more respectable, with a side of “This is a dream come true and all, but who knows how long this will actually be around for?” Of course, the larger adventures (and pratfalls) of Gainax in the anime industry is an entirely separate matter for another day.
While the DAICON III and IV opening animations are nearly impossible to license appropriately for legitimate commercial release given all of the copyrighted imagery and audio (it was only available for a limited time as a “bonus” laserdisc that came with a ¥16,000 art book of the shorts, which goes for hundreds if not thousands of dollars to this day), their influence has continued to have reach well into the present. An anthem and inspiration for countless industry and fandom members over the years, as well as directly launching several prominent careers, the full scope of its influence is rather difficult to actually calculate. Gainax’s own works have certainly rarely been shy about working references to their founding shorts into their productions over the years, ranging from Misty May’s appearance in Otaku no Video to Haruko Haruhara’s flying guitar assault in FLCL, among others.
Other studios have at times made use of the iconic imagery in their own ways however, perhaps most notably in, of all things, a live action show. Densha Otoko, a franchise inspired by a collection of 2channel posts about an otaku who begins dating a woman he helps avoid being harassed on a train, has had commercial success in multiple formats. For productions derived from stories on internet image boards, it certainly could have gone far worse.
Contracted to develop an animated intro for the drama series iteration, the folks over at GONZO (founded by several ex-Gainax/Daicon alum, including Mahiro Maeda, who directly worked on the original Daicon IV animation) secured the appropriate rights to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Twilight” and set about making the Densha Otoko opening sequence into its own little micro encapsulation and head nod to the kinds of ideas evoked in the DAICON III and IV anime. Complete with unique missile contrails, daikon spaceship, and fantastical technology reviving a withered planetary landscape.
For the protagonist of the show, the prospect of dating is easily one of the most complex and dream defying elements of their life they have ever had to navigate, and so in that respect the use of the allusion to those 1980’s animated shorts is entirely appropriate. A cacophony of reality and dreams slamming into one another, all at once a fusion of childlike wonder and adult awe.
Dreams are a Cool Thing.