Captain Future: from pulp science fiction to Japanese animation

Captain Future: from pulp science fiction to Japanese animation

Captain Future

When in the late 1970s Italy was invaded by Japanese animation, there were many characters who attracted young spectators, but only one of them was appealed as the purest of heroes. This was how the Micronauts introduced to the Italian public Curtis Newton, an adventurous scientist from a distant future, better known by his pseudonym: Captain Future. The animated series starring this space hero debuted on the Japanese networks on November 7, 1978, while in Italy it would only arrive in February 1981, thanks to RAI. A new sci-fi story, in short, which was not only one of the great themes of Japanese animation of the period, but had become the most popular topic in the world of entertainment.

If in Japanese land the cult of robottoni and kaiju had predisposed the public to a certain type of science fiction story, in the West to hold the bench in this context for decades had been literary sci-fi, capable of passing from space opera, such as Dune and Foundation, or more adventurous, like Asimov's Lucky Starr cycle. To turn the tables, the serial and cinematographic sci-fi revolution arrived, first embodied by Star Trek and then Star Wars. The success of the Lucas saga in particular pushed the entertainment world to look for new stories to satisfy an increasingly demanding audience, and Captain Futuro was just one of the many products born from this request.

Captain Future, pulp hero

To tell the truth, talking about the birth of Captain Future is not entirely correct. The protagonist character of the Toei Animation animated series, in fact, has deeper roots in the sci-fi imagination, which take us back to the great era of science fiction fiction of the pulp era. Captain Future, in fact, was the main character of a successful series of sci-fi stories published starting in 1940 with the debut of The Space Emperor, in which Edmond Hamilton introduced to the world Curtis 'Capitan Futuro' Newton.

Following what was for the pulp era a traditional element, that is a heroic figure who was not only an adventurer, but also an erudite man. Classic example is Doc Savage, considered the forerunner of modern superheroes and their double identity, but who at that time was considered an essential trait of a successful character. And Curtis Newton could hardly be outdone.

Roger and Elaine Newton, together with colleague Simon Wright, leave Earth to create a refuge on the Moon where they can carry out their research. In this laboratory, Wright, elderly and sick, is saved by transferring his brain to a flying machine from which he can still continue his research. Together with the Newtons, Wright creates an intelligent robot, Grag, and a shape-shifting android, Otho. To ruin this idyll, embellished by the birth of Curtis Newton, is the arrival of an evil scientist, who kills the Newtons, leaving only Curtis alive. He is raised by Wright, Grag and Otho, becoming an excellent scientist like his parents, but aware of his potential he will decide to put himself at the service of the President of the Solar System as a diplomat and agent, under the pseudonym of Captain Future.

Hamilton gave his work an adventurous dimension, as per the canons of the time. Supporting him was also his wife, Leigh Brackett, known for having contributed to the script of great films, such as A Dollar of Honor or The Empire Strikes Back. After his marriage to the one known as the 'queen of space opera', Hamilton's work on Future Captain takes on a more defined tone, leading critics to see Brackett as a strength of character development. If Brackett had helped to better define the evolution of the character, the birth of Captain Future had, however, an exceptional inspiration: Mort Weisinger.

In the 1940s, Weisinger was editor of numerous newspapers pulo, a role that allowed him to suggest ideas to various authors, such as Hamilton, that became famous personalities of the period. A skill that Weisinger, with the explosion of the superhero phenomenon in the Golden Age, put to good use by creating two famous superheroes under DC Comics: Aquaman and Green Arrow.

From novels to animation

When Toei is looking for new inspiration for an animated series in 1978, science fiction is reigning. Star Wars dominates at the cinema, on the small screen the replicas of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica create a taste for sci-fi that in animation finds support in works such as Captain Harlock or Space Battleship Yamato, known in the West as Starblazer.

The choice therefore falls on this pillar of 1940's pulp science fiction. Captain Futuro thus becomes the new hero of Toei Animation, who will not bea> able to have a confrontation with the creator of the character, who died the previous year. The production company decided to break some of the character's most beloved novels into narrative arcs, divided into four episodes each, trying to keep the initial concept of the character as unaltered as possible. Although characterized by the mentality of the 1940s, Captain Futuro already showed some modern traits in dealing with some issues, a characteristic that greatly helped Toei, who therefore made only a few changes to the general structure of Hamilton's history.

The animated dimension of the series allows the Hamilton original to be adapted in a form more suited to the new generations. While based on the writer's adventures, the Future Captain series was designed to preserve the scientific aspect typical of Hamilton's narrative and the continuous demonstration of how Captain Future's ingenuity was the best solution to face most of the challenges faced. Reason why in Italy, contrary to other animated series, no censorship was applied to its broadcast in 1981, which happened instead in Germany, where not understanding that the series was designed for a teenage audience, a series of cuts were applied to make it usable also by children.

The success of Captain Futuro futale that a line of toys was also created that reproduced both the protagonists and the two spaceships used by adventurers, the Cosmo Liner and the Future Comet. Produced by the Japanese Bandai, these toys were distributed on the international market by Mattel. Captain Futuro, also through these games, became a real cult for the period.

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