Friday, December 18, 2009

Watching Shin Mazinger, reading Fred Patten

Here in my head (otherwise known as the Kingdom of Macrocrania) I often throw around terms like "Toy Robots archaeologist" and "Star Wars historian" and "Indiana Jones of Toy Robots Newspaper Ads" to describe the kind of person who has studied, researched and written at length about those very narrow fields of expertise. Now imagine if there existed someone who was a historian of not just one franchise but an entire genre or possibly even an entire pop subculture. That's the best way I know how to describe Fred Patten-a man who has not only documented the birth and evolution of anime fandom but lived it from the beginning. Words fail to describe the importance of his involvement in and contributions to the anime and science fiction fandoms. It is not exaggerating to say Fred Patten is not just the Indiana Jones of anime but the living embodiment of anime fandom made incarnate by a benevolent anime god who so loved the world that he gave us Fred Patten so whosoever readeth him would not perish in ignorance but have eternal anime knowledge.


I came across a Google preview of Fred Patten's "Watching anime, reading manga: 25 years of essays and reviews" when I was doing my research into the Shogun Warriors product line. The book is a compilation of many of the essays and articles Fred wrote over the 25 years from 1979 to 1984. For examples of how Fred was on the front lines during many of the most significant battles of the Toy Robots Wars of the 1970s and 80s you can read excerpts from his
articles "Force Five: Previewing an Ambitious New Animated Science Fiction TV Series" and "Dawn of the Warrior Robots", two now classic essays that originally appeared in 1980. The more of his articles I read the more I realize this man is the Walter Cronkite of the Super Robots Wars.

The best thing about "Watching Anime Reading Manga" is that it acts as a roadmap to Fred's writing. Originally his articles were accompanied by lots of pictures and illustrations, many of which could not be reproduced in the book due to licensing issues. So one thing I'm doing with the help of the book is tracking down the magazines they originally appeared in. That's how I knew to pick up an old issue of Fanfare at Animation Supercon that had Fred's very first article when I saw it in the $2 bin. I've since ebayed a couple old issues of Fangoria (issues four and eight) to get his early articles on Super Robots cartoons and the US debut of Force Five. It is really awesome to see his writing alongside pictures of the toys and stills from the cartoons. I am grateful Fred survived to report on the war with the Hundred Demon Empire.


Fred didn't exclusively write about anime robots but his body of work is so enormous that just the robots themed fraction of it is big enough to keep me busy collecting magazines for years. There are also mentions of significant events in toy robots history among his other essays, for example his "Fifteen Years of Japanese Animation Fandom 1977-1992" labels 1984 as "The 'False Dawn' of Transforming Robots". That line at first may seem contentious to the multitudes who think 1984 was the year toy robots started in the US, but to those with more than a superficial knowledge of the subject it belies a deeper knowledge of toy robots history. Fred's writings are valuable because not only are they from the perspective of someone reporting the events as they unfolded, but from someone with the experience and knowledge to put those events in perspective. The American education system will only have succeeded when every child knows what Fred Patten knows about toy robots cartoons. What's even more fantastic is that the book includes annotations updating information in each article to correct or supplement what was originally written. It's like reading along with Fred as he talks about his writings and how in retrospect some things he wrote at the time may be wrong but he gets to explain where he was coming from.


Tonight I will be finishing off the last few episodes I haven't seen of the Shin Mazinger cartoon. It got me thinking about Fred Patten and the time I got in contact with him. The entirety of my interaction with Fred Patten was one email exchange we did in 2004 when I wanted to know more about Mighty Orbots. He'd written an Orbots article in issue #3 of John Cawley's Get Animated and it absolutely floored me. So I wrote him some questions and didn't expect anything but Fred responded right away! It was like writing with a personal fan hero. He's not doing much writing anymore but it would be interesting to get his point of view on the updated Mazinger-Z and how far super robots have come. Fred is amazing unlike any fan of anything I have ever seen and Watching Anime, Reading Manga gives a glimpse into why that is and what it means.

In other words, I really really like Fred Patten.

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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.