I'm sure I've mentioned here or elsewhere how much I love the long-running Crayon Shin-Chan series. I've been a guest on the Dynamite in the Brain anime podcast to discuss Shin-Chan films a few times. When I was in Japan last summer, I bought the 1996 Shin-Chan film Adventure in Henderland. I'd seen many of the annual films in the series online previously but this particular film has one of my favourite animated sequences ever by Masaaki Yuasa, so I decided to grab a hard copy while I had the chance. I already had a bunch of Japanese Shin-Chan DVDs, and luckily the stories are so simple, and told so well visually, that it's mostly easy to follow them even with just the small amount of Japanese that I understand.
As with any long-running franchise, the series' early boldness and experimentation has congealed into a set style, far from the soft lumpiness of the comic it was originally based on. The mid-90s were the high point of the series visually, in my opinion. This was when the artists seemed to be having the most fun, coming up with delightfully bizarre designs and hilarious animation ideas like Shin's wiggling dances and cartoony takes. In the visual department, Henderland is maybe the best of this peak period.
It's not the strongest of the Shin-Chan films from a story perspective-- that's probably The Adult Empire Strikes Back from 2001, which has a reputation as a sort of 'auteur' piece by Keiichi Hara, but in fact the more Shin-Chan films I watch, the more I realize that Adult Empire is pretty typical in many ways. It's more cohesive thematically, but it does a lot of the same things other movies in the series had done-- among the recurring Shin-Chan elements it shares with Henderland are a sinister amusement park, Shin's parents mysteriously turning evil and a climax involving villains chasing Shin up a tower.
Henderland seems to be one of the films with the most involvement from Masaaki Yuasa, who regularly did character and environment designs, and animated key sections in most of the early movies before leaving the series to direct his own projects. He has returned to the franchise in recent years, now producing film segments from his own own studio Science Saru.
Here, and in the next post, are some of my favourite images from Henderland.
The design of this face, and the way the nose opens up, is reminiscent of Yellow Submarine, which Yuasa has cited as a key influence.