If you were one of the kids who woke up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons instead of going outside, you’d know that we have been watching Anime since way before it was cool. This was before the age of 24-hour cartoons on Astro and the weekend morning cartoons were a wonderful treat.
Most of us were introduced to Anime from the Malay dubs that used to air on channels from TV2 to NTV7. We enjoyed genres that ranged from slapstick, to harrowing war drama. The popular belief at the time was that ‘cartoons were just for kids’, so we managed to get away with watching some pretty dark themes on our then-curved screens.
Once you grow up with the Malay version, there’s really no listening to any other. The same thing happened with Pokemon and the English version (Satoshi who? His name is Ash Ketchum).
For some reason, the Anime that aired in our childhood was always dubbed, either in English, Malay or Chinese. We never got it subbed, which purists claim is the best way to watch it if you don’t understand actual Japanese.
Some of the Malay dubbed versions are available on Youtube, but most of them are left in our memories, and probably in Media Prima’s archives somewhere. Here’re some that you probably caught on TV growing up, before Astro became a staple in many households, in no particular order.
Crayon Shin Chan
Memorable Elements: Gajah.
This (heavily censored in Malaysia) cartoon once enjoyed the spot that is now dominated by Upin & Ipin. Shin Chan is a mischievous 5 year old who had an uncanny attraction to more raunchy interests.
In hindsight, Shin Chan really did cause a lot of grief for people around him. But the outlandish humour of the show could elicit laughs even from grown adults.
While voice actors are often repeated throughout different Anime shows, Shin Chan was always memorably voiced by an actual child, with one of them being a 15-year-old girl. At the height of the show’s popularity, there was even a small media spectacle on NTV7 when they swapped out the aging girl’s voice with a younger boy.
Memorable Elements: “Doraemon, keluarkanlah alat awak!”
Doraemon may be the name of the show, but there is no mistake that the true protagonist of this show is Nobita. Usually dressed in a yellow shirt, Nobita suffers from poor grades and constant bullying. So Doraemon is sent back in time by one of Nobita’s descendants to fix Nobita from failing too much.
It is a harmless, episodic show that was meant to teach good values to children. Each episode features Nobita facing a different problem that can be fixed with one of Doraemon’s ‘futuristic’ gadgets, and 9/10 times Nobita will find a way to misuse it somehow. It makes you wonder why Doraemon ever leaves Nobita alone with any of his gadgets.
Some memorable gadgets include ‘Pintu ke mana saja’ and the ‘Take-copter’ (seen above).
Memorable Elements: Beauty Serene Arrow!
Before Astro was mainstream, some lucky families used to have MegaTV installed in their house. Cartoon Network used to end by 8PM, and there would have been quite a few kids who would be upset with Friends as it was usually the first show that aired after Cartoon Network ended for the day.
One of such cartoons that kids saw on MegaTV was a Magical Girl show called Akazukin Chacha.
The Little Red Riding Hood tribute would transform into the Magical Princess by the power of the a medallion, but the main source of plot usually came from the puppy love triangle between Chacha, her childhood werewolf friend Riiya, and a young wizard named Shiine.
Memorable Elements: The Shishio Arc
Samurai X is an interesting Anime that combines wacky slapstick comedy with a dark storyline of a reformed murderer who seeks redemption following the tragic death of his wife.
Formerly known as the deadly Hittoukiri Battousai, Himura Kenshin now lives in a dojo with love-interest Kamiya Kaoru, but his past is not quite ready to leave him alone. Despite the tone, many of the episodes were lighthearted and full of physical humour, especially with Kaoru’s affectionate violence towards Kenshin’s antics.
Memorable Elements: Transformation sequence
Not to be confused with the inferior Sailor Moon Crystal (Crystal fans, come fight me).
The story follows a typical, confusingly blond Japanese high schooler named Usagi who was then the ultimate relatable protagonist. She was an academic underachiever, lazy, clumsy and selfish.
Her life changes after befriending a black cat named Luna, as she gains the powers of the Moon.
From there, she meets her band of Sailor Senshi that grows from a 5-man team to a 10-man team over the series. She eventually meets a cocky but ultimately useless Tuxedo Mask, who ends up marrying her and sires a pink-haired child with Usagi who goes back in time to join Sailor Moon’s team.
In hindsight, this was a really strange show.
Memorable Elements: Cool Mecha fights
This was a deceptively long Anime that seemingly aired for years on TV2, but it was actually just a long stream of different shows under the same brand. So there was Gundam Wing first, then Gundam Seed, Gundam Seed Destiny, and then back to Gundam Wing (if there were any more after this, I stopped watching by then).
Most people who watched it were enamoured with the intricate Gundam mechs, but behind it was usually a harrowing war story that also highlighted the horrors of battle.
Memorable Elements: Kame-hame-HA!!
There is no mentioning old-school Anime in Malaysia without bringing up Dragon Ball. This iconic show follows the story of a monkey boy named Goku, based loosely on Journey To The West.
As the Anime progressed over the seasons between Dragon Ball Z to Dragon Ball GT, we follow Goku’s life over the many battles, enemies-turned friends (Vegeta as a notable mention), and Goku’s death, and subsequent somewhat-reincarnation.
The battles needed to be more and more epic every time, and eventually it felt like the characters could just lift a finger and invoke annihilation upon their enemies. Nevertheless we were loyal followers of Goku’s extraordinary life through the many battles, and fire-forged friendships along the way.
Memorable Elements: “__mon, bertukar!”
I’ve always enjoyed the Digimon show much more than Pokemon (Pokemon fans are welcome to fight me).
The story follows a group of Chosen children who find themselves transported to what only people in the 90’s would consider the ‘Digital World’. They find themselves paired with a Digimon that are the perfect foils to the characters’ personalities, and must now traverse the confusing ‘digital’ jungle to find their way back home.
The opening song was genuinely enjoyable on top of the oft-celebrated Digimon evolutions the characters went through their own evolutionary journey over the course of the show. By the last episode, as the acoustic version of the opening played, there is no shame in shed tears even among young boys.
Memorable Elements: Sakura’s pretty costumes
With magical girl Anime in Malaysia, it was either Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura.
Between the both of them, Sakura was the character that children were better able to idolise. The animation for this show was visually pretty, especially with the conceit of Sakura’s best friend being a seamstress who has a singular passion in dressing Sakura in the prettiest outfits to battle in.
But that didn’t mean that Sakura did not have her relatability points. She has an older brother who always teases her, an unrequited crush on her brother’s best friend, and disagreements with kids in her class.
Her problems range between normal schoolgirl woes, and the supernatural adventures surrounding a wizard’s rogue cards wreaking havoc on her schoolgirl life.
Memorable Elements: The opening song (Yuuki 100)
Known in Japan as Nintama Rantarou, this Anime centers around a group of ninja boys in-training that were basically in the loser class. The three usually got into some wacky hijinks, usually from their innocence or sheer silliness.
The three main characters come from various backgrounds. The main character is the bespectacled Rantarou, and he is flanked by orphan Kirimaru, master of the many part-time jobs and Shinbei, basically the dumb and fat stereotype.
Together, the three cause much grief for their teachers, ‘Cikgu’ Yamada and ‘Cikgu’ Doi.
The humour often relied on outlandish comedy, on top of the odd pairing of a normal school bureaucracy in a world that is populated by ninjas.
Memorable Elements: I choose you! (Followed by ball-tossing related injuries)
Yes, before Pokémon fans come in to flame me for the earlier comment, Pokémon is in this list. Before Pokémon Go gripped the world there was the original Pokémon, either played on our Gameboys or as seen through the Anime.
As the Pokémon hype grew, kids even began to get some respectable street cred for being able to name all 150 Pokémon, usually in song form that we saw in the Anime. We grew enamored by the bond between Ash and Pikachu, and there was a lot of dissatisfaction when Brock was eventually switched out for Tracey.
Did anyone cry for that iconic episode when Pikachu left Ash? Or when Butterfree was released? No harm owning up to the tears for such heart-wrenching episodes.
Memorable Elements: Steampunk robots
The story follows a team of female Steampunk Mecha fighters masquerading as an opera troupe.
Perhaps not many people will have watched this in its Malay version, but this was probably the best example of the excellent dubbing casting when it comes to the main character. One could easily forget that the Malay voice actor of the character Sakura is not the same as the Japanese singing voice.
One notable mention about this Anime is that while all but one of the main cast is female, the dubbing team saw the character below:
…and gave her a man’s voice, even though she is in actuality just a particularly tomboyish girl.
In fact, I only figured it out myself once I saw the rerun of this Anime on Animax.
Memorable Elements: Your school basketball obsession
Before Naruto and Sasuke fumbled onto screen with their powerful rivalry, there was Sakuragi and Rukawa. The Anime had a big impact on the schoolchildren of Malaysia, and even became the catalyst of many children suddenly gaining an interest in playing basketball.
The story follows Hanamichi Sakuragi who ends up joining the basketball team at his school, called Shohoku, to impress a girl. Sakuragi is a terrifying gangster with an imposing physical figure who finds himself fumbling behind other more experienced basketball players, but ends up a respectable Power Forward in his own right.
The story follows a master-detective who was injected with a mysterious drug that turns him back into a child. Now, he has to find a way to solve all of the murders around him without revealing his true identity.
And somehow, there are a lot of murders that happen around this guy. As often as once a week. I’m surprised their town still has any unmurdered citizens.
The episodic series utilises the same structure for every episode, with occasional forays into longer storylines that span 2–3 episodes every now and again.
But the enjoyment in this Anime comes from trying to follow the usually intense murder mystery plot, trying to guess the actual murderer before Conan finally knocks out the detective and speaks through his bowtie.