Hideyuki Kikuchi "Talk Live" Event in Tokyo, September 2002 

Given that most folks outside Japan learned of writer Hideyuki Kikuchi and 
his creations through their animated incarnations, it may come as some 
surprise that he makes no secret of the fact that he really has no great 
love of cartoons. Of course, there are a few exceptions to that--he seems 
quite satisfied with the anime versions of his novels, and there are a few 
older theatrical features that he's spoken highly of, such as Toei's 
"Hakujaden" or "Legend of White Snake." Still, I was rather startled to 
hear that this evening's topic would be animation--Soviet animation from the 
Cold War era, to be more precise. 

All the Soviet animation in the evening's program came from the "Masters of 
Russian Animation DVD 1", and were in Russian with English subtitles. Since 
there was no Japanese translation available, Kikuchi-sensei and his co-host 
Fumihiko Iino wanted to check a few things with me before the show started. 
In one story in particular, there was some question as to the meaning of 
this one word, as the main character wandered all over the world in search 
of this, but it turned out to be the surname of a man the hopeless 
bureaucracy sent one determined worker to find. According to 
Kikuchi-sensei's introduction, perhaps the only thing Stalin didn't hate 
about the United States was Walt Disney's animation, so there was 
considerable support for the art in the Soviet Union. And yet, the 
animators there didn't seem to just pump out mindless party drivel. In 
fact, they work shows how stifling they found their over-protective state, 
how ridiculous spies and bureaucrats could be, and how greedy and 
shortsighted some people were by nature. In short, they were exactly like 
artists in America or anywhere else. 

There were several shorts that were very well received. "My Green 
Crocodile" tells the story of a flower-loving croc having a rather strange 
romance. "Mountain of Dinosaurs" is a great tale of how the shells of 
dinosaur eggs grow thicker and thicker to protect the babies until it is no 
longer possible for them to break free. Very deep stuff. "Passion of 
Spies" is an amusing spoof of cloak-and-dagger cliches. And "Ball of Yarn" 
is a solid fairy tale with the usual message about being too greedy and 
selfish, though the imagery is really quite twisted. 

A number of other shorts from the same DVD were also screened, but at this 
point I was busy talking to other people in the bar, so I can't offer too 
much commentary on them. I did catch a bit of one of the Fleisher Superman 
cartoons from the 1940's, which are recognized by such Japanese animators as 
Hayao Miyazaki for their style and excellent attention to detail. 

So, instead of watching more of the video program, I spent quite a while 
chatting with Japanese fans and some of Kikuchi-sensei's publishing 
connections. On the fan front, I was particularly interested in finding out 
if there were many VHD doujinshi out there, as they seemed to have become 
something of a hot item on eBay. Apparently VHD wasn't quite as popular a 
target as, say, "Final Fantasy" or "Street Fighter", but there are surely 
more out there than people know about in the West, and more are being 
published all the time. Japanese VHD fans are also curious as to exactly 
how popular D is overseas, and they're eager to see the books in English so 
that others can enjoy the "real" world of VHD. I was also very pleased to 
hear that talk live attendees are confident the books will be given the best 
possible treatment because they're being done by someone who knows and 
loves the series. 

Following the event, we had our traditional coffee and BS session, which is 
"hanseikai" in Japanese, at the usual place. I asked Kikuchi-sensei how 
work was coming on the latest VHD novel, and when he said it would take a 
while longer, I told him not to hurry on my account, as I still had one book 
to go before I'd read up to where he'd written, forget about getting caught 
up to him on the translating end. Iino-sensei had shown rare insight into 
the evening's video program, but he was well into his cups shortly before 
six when we saw Kikuchi-sensei off. As we both take the same train into 
Tokyo, we decided to ride home together. We made the 6:00 train by the 
skin of our teeth, finding the only seats remaining in one of the smoking cars. 
Now, normally I have it quite easy--I get on at the first stop and off at 
the last and in between I'm free to catch up on the sleep I missed out on 
earlier. However, Iino-sensei had to get off right in the middle, and it 
didn't seem like he'd be able to manage that himself. Well, I managed to 
stay awake so I could get him up at the proper stop, then enjoyed what 
sleep I could for the rest of the voyage while surround by the sights, sounds, 
and smells of a gigantic ashtray. 

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