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Microid S (Toei, 1973)
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Added 3/18/2011
Updated 4/13/2013
Microid S is a 1973 “Golden Age” Toei Studios series, based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka. Briefly, the premise is that nuclear fallout causes a society of ants to develop advanced intelligence. Quickly arming itself with hypertechnological weapons, the insects set about seizing control of Earth from the self-destructive human race.

In the process, they kidnap three humans, shrink them to insect size and turn them into cyborgs. Retrofitted with insect wings and an array of sci-fi weapons, the “Microids” are engineered to be slaves to the ants and use their new buggy powers to advance the insects’ quest to conquer the Earth.

Instead, the three cyborgs escape and try to warn the outside world. Predictably, no one there is willing to listen to a group of insect-sized people. But an open-minded child named Manabu [“Learn”] befriends them and introduces them to his father, the Einsteinesque Professor Midoro [midori = “green,” as in “environmentally sensible”]. The 26 episodes present their collective efforts to foil the ants’ world-domination plot and defeat a variety of insectoid robots and cyborgs.

The three Microids embody typical stereotypes of the period. Yanma (“Dragonfly”) is the bold, hunky male warrior, while Ageha ("Swallowtail Butterfly") is his pretty but feisty female companion. Mamezo (“Bean Beetle”) is a mischievous youngster prone to showing off and getting himself into fixes.


MicroidS: Cels and Sketches

This gallery collects production art that I’ve located from this series. As with many of the era’s anime series, Microid S art was not actively collected or preserved, but I’ve been lucky to obtain good images of all three principals, as well as one of a curvaceous villainess.


MicroidS: Kamishibai

Despite its popularity in Japan, Microid S was never licensed in North America and so remains very obscure to Americans. Most of the information available on Microid S is in Japanese, and even so is very sketchy. So this chance find, a set of kamishibai (“paper theater”) cards produced by Epoch to promote the anme, is especially valuable.

The kamishibai art form was one of the most influential predecessors of manga and anime. Popular during the 1930s and 40s, these card sets accompany the performances of traveling storytellers. Setting up miniature “theatres” in a marketplace, they would attract an audience of children, then use these action-filled cards to relate stories based on characters inspired by Japanese folktales, Western comics, and movie serials. The tradition declined with the introduction of television in the 1950s, but its plot elements and visual style live on in manga/anime.

This set adapts the first couple of anime episodes, and was officially licenced by Osamu Tezuka and Toei Studios. It nicely introduces the main characters and the core conflict. The descriptions include a translation of the script printed on the back of the cards, along with some background notes on the show. It would be a good place to get acquainted with this underrated classic anime.


SENSEI CHECK!

Prior to this acquisition, most of my information came courtesy of Italian fan sites. A version was dubbed into that language and broadcast in 1982 as Microsuperman. There the series generated a strong fan base among young adults who remember seeing it as children. One Italian follower writes (my translation), “An absolutely beautiful anime! Absolutely unique of its type! I find the series spectacular, very beautiful and original ... simply but soundly constructed ... truly a grand series!”

Fabio Cassella’s page on Microsuperman, the fullest and most accessible account of Microid S in any language, is more balanced. He accords high praise to Tezuka’s manga, which displays his “inexhaustible creative streak” (my translation), embodying his lifelong love for the insect world and his hope for a world in which all creatures, human and inhuman, can live in harmony.

Cassella is less impressed by the anime: Character Designers Kazuo Komatsubara (Animation Director, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) and Hiroshi Wagatsuma (Animation Director, The New Adventures of Kimba The White Lion [1989]) only partially realized Tezuka’s vision, he says. Overall, he finds, the animation is “pretty basic” (piuttosto basse) and in some scenes “downright crude” (decisamente rozze).

Nevertheless, Cassella considers Microid S/Microsuperman worthy of respect. Though a bit naïve in its narrative and graphic plan, the series remains “attractive in its simplicity” and represents “a tiny but tasty novelty” (una piccola ma gustosa novità) within the science-fiction anime of the period. He also finds the story’s emphasis on ecological tolerance well-suited to its child audience. It projects an optimistic vision of a world in which the interaction of all creatures, large and small, is recognized as necessary to the entire ecosystem.

Cassella’s website is well worth a visit, even if you do not know Italian, as it contains a clip of the OP animation and a scrolling picture gallery of his large collection of artifacts relating to the series, including a number of other cels.

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Curator: 60something-sensei
Gallery Created: 8/3/2002
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