It started casually enough. A cousin-in-law, Candy Cruz Datu, renamed her cat from Persia to Tombei the Mist, announced it to friends and family on Facebook and, from there, it was a trip down memory lane toward the world of ninjas and the fabled land of a thousand and one Arabian Nights.
Tombei the Mist was the Iga Ninja friend of Akikusa Shintaro, a ronin (masterless samurai) and older half-brother of Ienari, the 11th Tokugawa shogun. If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember where they all figured in Japanese history, well, Ienari was real enough but Shintaro and Tombei the Mist were characters in a television series that Candy and I faithfully watched as young girls. The show was called The Samurai. It ran from 1962 to 1965 in Japan but, in the Philippines, it was aired in the 1970s.
The Samurai was something I eagerly waited for every weekend. I was so besotted with the setting and the mysterious and romantic world of ninjas that I pestered my aunt to buy me a “sword” which I wore tucked under a makeshift cloth belt around my waist. The lead character and hero, Shintaro, was my first ever crush.
It was a very dated discussion with the two of us talking about things that people under forty won’t probably know about. And as we continued to talk about The Samurai, Candy found photos from the old black-and-white series and I discovered that Ose Koichi, the actor who played Shintaro, is still alive and living in Tokyo, a master of the martial art Iaido. From there, we just dove straight into the 70s pop culture that somehow defined our childhood. It was eerie. We didn’t know each other when we were children (I wouldn’t meet Candy until after I got married) yet we watched the same things and even had a crush on the same TV character.
There was no cable television in the 70s. No Disney Channel, no Cartoon Network, no Nickelodeon. There was RPN 9 which aired Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows from Monday ’till Saturday. And we watched them all. Mighty Mightor, Wacky Races, The Herculoids, The Adventures of Young Gulliver and Shazzan. Most of these were actually produced in the 60s but were aired locally in the 70s.
Mighty Mightor was the story of Tor and his pet dinosaur Tog who rescued an old man. The old man gave Tor a magic club which when he raised as he shouted, “Mightor!” transformed him into a heavily muscled masked man with supernatural powers who protected his village from enemies.
Wacky Races was about race cars in road rallies. There was only one female racer, Penelope Pitstop (who would later star in a spinoff cartoon series), whose pink car had all the amenities of a beauty parlor. But probably the most memorable character is the villain, the be-moustached Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, a dog named Muttley, who rode the Mean Machine with its screaming Double 0.
The Herculoids was set on another planet. The term herculoids referred to a family (in the shape of a human male, female and young male) and their collection of strange creatures all with unique powers. Their mission: protect their planet from invaders.
Loosely based on Jonathan Swift’s classic novel, The Adventures of Young Gulliver chronicled Gulliver’s journey to Lilliput and his search for his missing father with the aid of a map and some friendly Lilliputians.
And then, there was my favorite cartoon of all – Shazzan! This was not the Shazam! that was based on the DC Comic hero Captain Marvel. Shazzan was a giant of a genie. The story was about a brother and sister, Chuck and Nancy, who discovered a chest with two interlocking rings. When joined, they formed the word Shazzan and Chuck and Nancy were transported to the mysterious era of the Arabian Nights where the genie Shazzan awaited to do their bidding. Despite his awesome powers and his duty to serve Chuck and Nancy, the one thing that Shazzan could not do was to bring them home before they could return the rings to their rightful owner who remained unknown.
But cartoon series were not the only things I watched. I still remember parts of a song from the full-length anime film Alakazam The Great, a story about a monkey who became rude and arrogant after he became king. He would later be defeated by a heavenly king and punished to learn humility.
All of that happened before The Transformers and X-Men and computer animation. By today’s standards, the two-dimensional animation of the 60s and the 70s would be laughable. But, back then, we loved them. We got excited as we anticipated what the next episode would bring. And because they were all aired after school hours and just before the evening news, we looked forward to them when we got home from school. So long ago and so far away. But remembering them still makes me smile.