Title: Future Boy Conan aka Mirai Shounen Conan
Company: Nippon Animation
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 4 Apr 1978 – 31 Oct 1978
Synopsis: A boy named Conan grows up on an island with an old man in a world that has been destroyed and left to regrow. While playing one day, Conan finds Lana, a girl escaping from inhabitants of Industria, a city of people trying to recapture mankind’s mechanical dominance over the world. Conan helps Lana escape from the island and embarks on an adventure to see and preserve the world.
Miyazaki Hayao: His biggest project before he directed movies.
Adventure: Suitably fun, with just the right amount of danger and seriousness sprinkled throughout.
Visuals: Mostly excellent. The animation is high-quality for the time, with few noticeable shortcuts taken.
Pacing: Kind of weird. Some episodes are action-packed, while others grind to a halt.
Environmentalism: Possibly the least subtle in any Miyazaki work.
Miyazaki Hayao has had an illustrious career. Any anime fan could name several of Miyazaki‘s films off the top of their head. Every career must start somewhere, however, and Future Boy Conan is one of the most important stepping stones on Miyazaki‘s path as a director. Nearly every Miyazaki trademark is present here: the character designs, the whimsy, the aircraft, the sense of fun and adventure, the environmentalism, etc. This is the prototypical Miyazaki work — an example of a great creator making his mark at a time just before he perfectly honed his craft.
Conan is essentially a 26-episode Studio Ghibli movie. Its adventurous tone is comparable to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Castle in the Sky or Kiki’s Delivery Service or what have you. Despite a plot that’s heavy at times, Future Boy Conan is for the most part lighthearted. Its hero, the titular Conan, is basically the world’s strongest boy, capable of amazing feats of strength and speed. Lana has telepathic powers and can speak to animals. Conan gets a sidekick who is a native islander. There are also pirates. It’s totally ridiculous and unrealistic but fits the show’s tone perfectly. It is, after all, a show made for kids and the family to enjoy.
This sense of fun is underlined by excellent visuals. It’s a weirdly exciting experience to see Conan run around everywhere. The way he moves is interesting and unique. He has a weird sort of kinetic energy that makes him endearing. Conan moves around by far the most of any character, and it’s clear there’s a lot of effort put into how he gets around. It brings to mind cartoons of old, where characters would be unhindered by the silly laws of physics that keep us mere mortals shackled. Future Boy Conan is one of the highest-quality TV anime of its era.
Conan does serious decently for the most part, too. It’s easy to care about the show’s large cast of characters, and their developing relationships are nice to follow. The plot is mostly clear and logical. The one problem with its drama, though, is that the main villain is, for Miyazaki, surprisingly one-dimensional and on-the-nose as an evil industrialist. He’s a figure that seems to belong more in Captain Planet than a Miyazaki production. He even leads a country called Industria, a modern urban center with smokestacks reaching toward the sky. Although he is often careful to not create black-and-white villains, Miyazaki‘s pro-environment stance is rarely subtle. However, Miyazaki‘s Ghibli output is a picture of restraint compared to Conan.
The pacing is also weird on occasion. Conan is not a slow series even by today’s standards, much less the 1970s, where TV series would often slow to a crawl. There are a couple of stretches, though, where the show slows a bit more than necessary. A breather is welcome, of course — nice things happen when the characters get a chance to stretch their legs. A couple of episodes come off like time fillers, however; the plot is stretched a tad thin at 26 episodes. But Conan moves well enough that this is not often an issue.
At its core, Future Boy Conan is an adventure. It’s about three kids seeing the world beyond their homes and embracing it. It could be joked that it’s convenient that a large-scale disaster turned an industrialized world into Miyazaki‘s paradise, but this is a world worth living in and experiencing. It’s the type of place for which Miyazaki has a passion. Future Boy Conan is a worthwhile watch because it provides a glimpse into Miyazaki‘s bright future. The great director would return to many themes and concepts used in Conan time and again, but almost always done better and more confidently. That doesn’t mean this series is a failed experiment; no, it is an exceptionally crafted show that has a few rough edges. Conan is the type of bright, fun, entertaining adventure that made Miyazaki one of the giants of anime.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Shinmaru