TV

‘Conan, The Boy in Future’: Finding joy in a post-apocalyptic anime classic

by Jordan Allen

Staff writer

For the past three weeks, my partner and I have stayed up Sunday past midnight to watch NHK’s remastered rerun of “Conan, The Boy in Future” (“Mirai Shonen Konan”). For me, it has been a chance to watch something new and delve deeper into the work of the legendary animator, Hayao Miyazaki. For my partner, and other Japanese viewers like her, it’s more of an emotional experience.

“Conan, The Boy in Future” is a 26-part series that first screened in 1978. It marked Miyazaki’s directorial debut and was the work of Nippon Animation. It has gained a cult following over the years in both Japan and overseas.

It seems the rerun has been a hit with netizens so far, despite its late-night air time. If you’re like me and were too young to have watched the series when it originally aired, or don’t have too deep a knowledge of anime history, “Conan, The Boy in Future” will provide you with a preview of the beauty and imagination that Miyazaki has enchanted the world with in the decades since through blockbuster hits like, “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away.”

Conan, The Boy In Future (Mirai Shonen Konan)
Rating
Run Time 26 episodes
Language Japanese
Opens Now Showing On NHK G

“Conan, The Boy in Future” is set in the aftermath of a brutal conflict that led to much of the world being submerged under the ocean. We join Conan, an 11-year-old boy who lives with a grandfather figure on a small island whose landscape is dominated by the ruins of a spaceship. The discovery of a girl, Lana, washed up on the beach brings chaos and adventure to Conan’s life, disrupting his routine of swimming (at which he excels) and fishing (at which he really excels, he even manages to land a shark three times his size).

Having seen my share of Miyazaki films, the influence on his later works is apparent straight away. The whimsical steampunk aesthetic that he does so well is already in place here, as are the vast green fields set against the importance of protecting nature. And you can’t overlook those belly laughs that his characters belt out so joyously.

The timing of this rerun is apt. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have felt the doom and gloom of the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps an apocalyptic feeling has descended on our minds. How many of us have imagined a vastly underpopulated world like the one Conan lives in?

Of course, my partner sees it in an entirely different way. For her it’s more of a nostalgic comfort blanket. I’ve never seen her watch anything with such concentration. She has marked every Sunday night on our kitchen calendar so we don’t forget to tune in, and has been reminding me a day or two in advance of each episode.

Part of me wonders if, aside from having to fill schedules that were disrupted by the pandemic, NHK has chosen this series as a way to cheer people up. I remember how bad British animation was in the late 1980s, and to think that Japan was producing something so lush and beautiful in 1978 astounds me. To watch this and see the swaying grass, the rippling waves and the expressions on the characters’ faces is a real joy. In short, “Conan” has aged well. Even a scene that includes a preteen boy smoking earned NHK some credit for not censoring the original material.

At the time of writing, NHK has aired three episodes, and while I’m thoroughly enjoying it, I have no idea where the story is going to go — and I won’t be spoiling myself by sneaking a peek on YouTube or checking out the Wikipedia page. I’m experiencing it the old-fashioned way.

It’s 2020, and we’re gathered around the television on a Sunday night. What could be more comforting than that?

“Conan, The Boy in Future” is being shown on Sunday nights at 00:10 a.m. on NHK G.

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