Did You Know This Was Anime? – Amazing Zorro
Japanese animation commonly adapts domestic creations, such as its horde of manga. However, as we have previously observed with Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics, it has also been willing and able to adapt ideas from all over the world. Another such example is the famous swashbuckling hero Zorro, who received one of his many adaptations in 1996 with Ashi Productions’ Kaiketsu Zorro (a.k.a. Amazing Zorro or The Legend of Zorro).
In America today Zorro is probably best known for his multiple appearances in film, but he got started as a creation of American writer Johnson McCulley in 1919. McCulley’s prolific career included dozens of novels, screenplays, and many pulp fiction stories. Zorro’s first adventure came in McCulley’s story The Curse of Capistrano, a five-part serialized story that was published in the the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly and later released in novelized form as The Mark of Zorro. It was this story and its success that led to the silent film The Mark of Zorro in 1920, an adaptation that would inspire two more films of the same name along with multiple other live-action adventures. In most iterations of the character Zorro is essentially portrayed as the Robin Hood of Spanish California in the early 19th century, though there are differences. While Robin openly rebels against corrupt authority with a band of merry men, Zorro is the son of a wealthy landowner that assumes his identity after returning home from Spain to find that all is not well. He fights on behalf of the underclass with only his mute servant Bernardo sharing his secret and only his wits, fencing skills and trademark whip to rely on. In his public life, he avoids suspicion by masquerading as a well-meaning but thoroughly hapless and incompetent aristocrat.
As in most Zorro adventures, Zorro’s chief foes in Kaiketsu Zorro are power-hungry military officials that sustain their oppressive rule through intimidation. In fact one major antagonist is no less a man than the top-ranking military official in California, Commandant Raymond, aided and abetted by his lackey Lieutenant Gabriel. Another named soldier is Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, who fills the familiar role in the Zorro mythos as a fat, good-natured but simple-minded soldier that basically exists to offer comic relief through both word and deed.
Taking a page from McCulley’s original version, Kaiketsu Zorro offers a romantic interest in Lolita Pulido, who was being set up for an arranged marriage with Diego after his return from studying in Spain. Unsurprisingly though she has second thoughts after seeing Diego’s deliberately pathetic act in action, whereas she’s impressed by the daring actions of the dashing Zorro. Diego himself, meanwhile, seems to hew closely to the traditional character, whose public persona is just a pushover as opposed to the dashing but unimpressive man portrayed in Disney’s 1950s TV series or 1998’s The Mask of Zorro.
Kaiketsu Zorro did have at least some cartoonish silliness. Bernardo was reimagined as an orphaned kid that Diego took in. Which is fine, although in time he happily dons a costume as “Little Zorro” to help out our hero. Now there’s precedent for Bernardo pretending to be Zorro to great effect in some Zorro adventures, but in this context it basically means that Zorro got a cliche pint-sized sidekick.
On top of that, Diego puts on his Zorro costume in a montage that can only be described as a classic transformation sequence. The entire thing is played in series’ delightfully campy opening, whereby lighting flashes and his clothes simply appear absent animation where Diego actually puts this stuff on. Amusing, to say the least. In an amusing bit of trivia the opening is even sung by Masaaki Endoh, best remembered by otaku for his passionate theme performances for GaoGaiGar: King of Braves.
The success of this Zorro cartoon can be fairly called mixed at best; it didn’t get a chance in America and its 52-episode run on Japanese television was cut short just a few episodes before the end. However, though it fell short before its intended audience the show did find an audience overseas. It got some play in Mexico, Brazil and Columbia, but its greatest success indisputably came in Europe via dubs in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, French, Polish, and English.