Even these tapes cost something

  SuperBook Vol.13 Special Easter Volume
1981 | Tatsunoko/CBN
battle for moon station Dallos celebrity just for kids

The next in the Classics of Literature series is a real biggie! One of the biggest selling books of all time (before the Giddeons started giving them away and killed the market)... The Bible. How will Jesus and his pals fair in the anime world?

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Origins: a book called "The Bible" (look for it in the fiction department of your local book store)... you want more detail? Fine!

Christianity never took hold in Japan. In the 16th Century traders from the west brought the religion to their shores and the government of the time were initially open to it. However, fears began to arise within the Shogunate that this religion could grow strong enough to overthrow them and by around 1614 Christianity was banned by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Anyone found practicing or preaching this faith were killed. By 1635 the Tokugawa Shogunate had become distrusting of all foreigners and closed practically the whole of Japan from the outside world. The country remained in this state for over two hundred years until 1853 when America forced the Japanese Government to re-establish trading with the west. Tokugawa was succeeded by the Meiji restoration and initially the laws were no less strict but eventually by 1873 increasing pressure from foreign powers, including Europe and America had the ban lifted. State Shinto was made the official religion of the country but Christianity was allowed.

By the 1970's Jesus still had yet to take a significant share of Japan's religion market. This troubled evangelist Pat Robertson, also the head of the American 'Christian Broadcasting Network'. The TV station commissioned research into the situation and found that the best way to increase God's profile in the foreign territory was through the kids, specifically via TV and comics. Robertson approached the Japanese production company Tatsunoko with an idea for a God based animated TV series and on October 1st 1981, Anime Oyako Gekijo (Animated Parent & Child Theatre) was born.

Broadcast on TV Tokyo, the series centered on young Sho Azuka, his friend Azusa Yamato and his family, consisting of loving mother, zany professor father and yapping dog. One day, in the attic of his family home, Sho and Azusa find an interesting, glowing book, called the 'Time Bible'. To their surprise the book magically springs open and sucks the kids, and Sho's toy robot Zenmaijikake, into the world of the Bible stories. There the trio, (Zenmaijikake is given life during their adventures within Time Bible) experience all the Bible's greatest hits first hand. Each weekly story was suggested by CBN and then rewritten by the Japanese staff. The show, which had an initial run of 26 episodes (premiering with the story of Adam and Eve) was a big hit and paved the way for a second series following the future lives of Sho, Azuza and co, titled Pasocon Travel Tanteidan (Personal Computer Detectives) and a spin-off; Time Kyoshitsu: Tondera House no Daiboken (Time Classroom: Adventures of Flying House).

Notable anime staff who worked on Anime Oyako Gekijo include Kazuo Yamazaki, who worked in a number of roles (including director, character designer and writer) in many popular titles such as Gundam, Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Slayers, Five Star Stories and A Wind Named Amnesia.

Anime Oyako Gekijo was released in America in 1982 under the new title of SuperBook and premiered on The Christian Broadcast Network. As usual, the characters were given western names; Sho Azuka became Chris Peeper, Azusa became Joy and Zenmaijikake was renamed Gizmo, Time Bible became the 'SuperBook' of the title. As you'd expect new intro and ending themes were put in place of the original Japanese ones while all references to it's eastern origins were removed. Despite having been created under western influence the series still required an number of changes to the stories to be deemed suitable for a family audience.

The English dub was handled by the same company responsible for 'Speed Racer' and the two series shared a number of the same voice artists. Among them was Billie Lou Watt, who proved the voice of lead character Chris and was no stranger to Anime dubbing having appeared in the casts for a number of classic shows over the years including; Gigantor (Tetsujin 28), Astroboy (Tetsuwan Atom) and Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Taitei).

Superbook was highly popular except with the conservative christians who were angry with the large amount of inaccuracies and misquotations and feared that young children might misunderstand the series and think that Chris, Joy and Gizmo were actual characters of the Bible itself and not just the cartoon. Despite these quibbles the series was exported to a large number of nations and dubbed into 30 languages including French, Spanish, German and African. With the on-going story arc destroyed for the western version the episodes could be largely viewed in any order a fact which was exploited on video. Even to this day Superbook is well known and loved around the world with a new series planned for the near future.


Blue Noa LP
A Japanese advertising still

CAUTION! While every attempt has been made to remove the power to convert, some may still remain.

Beloved congregation I bring before you today two episodes of God's favourite cartoon: Superbook.
Today's reading comes from the Gospel of "Special Easter Volume 13", containing episodes 14 and 26.

Episode #14: The Best News Yet

At the 'House just down the street and around the corner' our young hero Chris returns home from school and finds freshly made doughnuts waiting on the table. He realises that this can't be the work of his father, the wacky professor, so that can mean only one thing: mum's returned home! He rushes around the house excitedly searching for her when Joy walks through the front door. She joins him in his search and the pair head upstairs to his bedroom in case she's in there (that Chris is a smooth mover!). Joy is amazed at how tidy Chris' room is- solid proof that his mum has come home (from where I don't know- I presume it was further than the shops but having never seen an episode before this I can't be sure).

Just then a bright light begins to shine from inside the desk draw. Joy is excited as she instantly recognises SuperBook beckoning them to another, Bible related, learning adventure. Chris is less enthusiastic, worried that if he leaves the present he may miss his mother again, it has been some time since he last saw her and he has been looking forward to seeing her again. But SuperBook is insistent and Joy persuades him to comply (it was at this point I thought "Why would anyone let some old book tell them what to do?" then it dawned on me what the point of this cartoon was) soon the two kids and Gizmo the toy robot are being transported into the story- sorry PAST- into the past to relive an actual event as it actually happened.

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The intrepid travelers land in the middle of a busy, middle-eastern town. Chris recognises the place as Jerusalem and Gizmo detects that Jesus is near. The toy robot is right Jesus is near- within a crowd of people performing miracles with all his blue eyed, white skinned powers. The onlookers witness him return a blind woman's sight, as do the children and, more importantly, the Romans. Judas is spotted leaving the crowd and Gizmo now detects danger. Inside a nearby house a high priest and his lackey are plotting against Jesus, fearing that his public popularity could threaten them. Just then Judas comes to speak with them and it seems their prayers have been answered. The bearded traitor lives up to his name and offers to hand Jesus to them for a price.

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SuperBook speaks to the audience: "No-one knows exactly why Judas decided to betray Jesus, except that Satan had entered into him- influencing his thinking". Well, there's your answer he was sexually abused by the devil and wanted financial compensation. The book continues "Others said it started when Jesus was anointed with a very costly oil..." when this happened Judas pointed out that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. I've gotta say, I'm with Judas on this one.

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The story continues on the first day of passover. Jesus and his disciples are all gathered around the table awaiting supper, which would turnout to their last, and Jesus makes two startling announcements; that one of his own followers will betray him and that another will deny him three times. Shortly after he makes the first, Judas makes a sudden exit, pretty well incriminating himself.

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Elsewhere the children and their robot pal are wandering around in woods after dark, looking for Jesus. Gizmo once again uses his Christ-Radar and suddenly his nose flashes an alert; "Uh oh, Uh oh! Danger! Men approaching with torches!" The kids hurry to warn Jesus of the trouble coming his way but, when they find him, he is not worried. He allows himself to be taken by the roman authorities without resistance. What kind of Super Hero is he? Jesus has all these magical powers and abilities yet he doesn't even put up a fight. Not even Reed Richards would do that and he's the crappest of all super heroes.

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Poor old Jesus is handed over to Pontius Pilot but, despite the interference of his enemies, the governor can find no faults with Mr Christ although they keep him in custody anyway. As it is that certain time of year the town is holding its annual tradition; one prisoner will be freed (what kind of crazy tradition is this? These aren't wrongly imprisoned people- they are actual criminals being set free!) The choice this year is an evil, dangerous murder/robber or Jesus. The one who will be set free is decided by public vote which should be fair but unfortunately their opinion has been swayed by the bad guys and they vote unanimously for the robber, condemning the Son of God™ to be crucified.

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Three days after his death the children go to visit the tomb of Christ. Just how long have these kids been away? And why aren't they completely traumatised by the things they've seen? Anyway, there is a bright light and the stone sealing the tomb rolls away... all by itself. Inside isn't the corpse of Christ but a mysterious and unidentified man who imparts the news that their lord is not dead, he walks amongst them. Chris, Joy and Gizmo rush to tell Peter the good news ("The Best News Yet" no less). Not long after the disciples join together to great their master but before the kids can speak with him SuperBook whisks them back to the real world.

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Chris and Joy are awoken by his mother's calls. Awoken? I thought they went inside a book. Or did they just have some kind of group hallucination? Was it all really just like Barney the Dinosaur? Downstairs the children join Chris' mother and father, and dog, for dinner. Chris accidentally knocks a plate onto the floor. It brakes. They all laugh. The episode comes to an end voices chanting "SuperBook" over an image of the titular tome like some sort of brainwashing tool.

Episode #16: The Mighty Convert

Acts 7-14, 21-28 for those reading along at home. Joy calls over to Chris' house to play tennis but instead finds him in a thoughtful mood. His mother is preparing a special meal but he can't work out what it is in aid of. It's not his birthday but maybe it's his dog Ruffles'. He asks his dad but he isn't any help so they head upstairs to Chris' bedroom again to look for his diary. But there's no time for him to read it as SuperBook has better ideas and begins to glow. The two friends excitedly chat about what the book has in store for them, without actually moving their lips. Superbook announces that they are going to see a man named Paul.

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The book explains that the since Jesus left for the sky (or heaven or where ever) the apostles have been traveling the globe, hassling godless people, trying to get them to join in with their fun religion but things haven't got off to a good start. Finally he tells the time travelers to be on the look out for a man named Saul, Paul's original name before he 'found God' and decided to westernise. They've barely been in Jerusalem for a few seconds when an angry mob run past, chasing after a lone man. Chris fearlessly asks one of the gang what they're up to and he explains that the man is a Christian "Stuffing people's minds with lies!" Finally, someone we can all relate to and he wears such a fetching red fez too. It is revealed that this man is Saul. He catches up with his group as they have the fugitive man tied up. The kids and Gizmo watch as the angry mob question their captive and then beat him to the brink of death.

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Completely unshaken by the brutality they've just witnessed the pre-teen adventurers follow the lynch mob to their next destination, leaving the victim to die alone. They catch up with them as they set fire to a church. Gizmo moves in to save the people inside using his water gun but unfortunately is a little out of his range and is no use at all. Pleased with his work Saul moves on to the next target unaware what is in store for him on the way there. The sky turns red and there is a bright light, Saul looses his Fez. The voice of Jesus tells Saul to head into town where he will receive further instruction. The light fades away and the persecutor of the Christians realises that he has been blinded. "Even though he was awfully mean I feel sorry for him" remarks Joy of the man they recently saw beat another man to death in the street. The forgiving children lead the man to into town.

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Elsewhere Jesus orders one of his followers to "lay his hands" on Saul upon his arrival to restore his sight. As always the man goes along with his master's instruction and locates Saul, restoring his sight. This act is enough for Saul of Tarsas to renounce his Christian lynching ways and becomes "Paul", a true follower. He goes out to spread the word of "Jesus The Christ" using his new found powers to heal a crippled man (who in all reality could easily been faking it his entire life or been a stooge or just simply lazy). Unfortunately for 'Paul' not everyone likes his new outlook on life and he soon finds himself on a boat, on his way to face "Roman Justice". If it's anything like their showers he's not gonna like it! The ship is wrecked in a storm but no-one aboard, not even the two children and the toy robot, are harmed thanks to 'Paul's' love of the baby Jesus.

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The story over SuperBook sends Chris, Joy and Gizmo back to their time and just in time for the big, celebratory dinner. At the table each of the family takes a guess at what the special occasion is but none of them are even close, mainly because they make stupid suggestions. Chris' mother blushes as she reveals the truth- spoiler alert!- she's pregnant. Chris shakes his dad's hand in congratulations and they all laugh. The end.

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Here endeth the sermon.

Missing videos
Missing videos

SuperBook Intro
Welcome to the wild and wacky
world of SuperBook!

The Last Supper
Hear the word of Christ. It may help you in a Sunday School exam.

Smooth animation
Catchy intro tune
Simplistic character designs
Religious Edu-tainment

Its fairly insidious purpose aside; forcing Christianity on a country that didn't need it and had done well to avoid it for so long, SuperBook is quite fun. Although it's parts don't gel, the Bible stories are clearly it's main focus and the book ending real world segments don't serve to do anything more than distract kids from the Bible Class content. The lessons Chris and Joy learn with Jesus and the gang aren't even translated into the final 'at home' section, something that seems a little odd since this was an American written series.

The animation as a whole is reasonable although the Biblical times are rendered in very simple, and dull western style which fits I suppose but isn't great to look at. The same can be said of the dubbing which does the job but doesn't try too hard.

So, as God related culture goes, SuperBook is better than you'd expect and no where near as lame as Christian Rock.