There’s sadness in the anime community right now, with the news that Momoko Sakura, creator of the wildly popular Chibi Maruko-chan manga and anime, had passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 53.
Chibi Maruko-chan is the charming story of Maruko, a lazy and troublesome elementary school student growing up in the early 1980s. It was a simpler time back then, with no Internet or buzzing cell phones or handheld games, and the series always went out of its way to remind viewers what life was in Showa Era Japan. If Maruko wanted to record Hideki Saijo (a hugely popular singer of that area) performing on the TV, she had to make everyone in the room be quiet and hold her tape recorder up to the speaker or she’d miss her chance. That’s the kind of simple moment we see in every weekly episode of Chibi Maruko-chan…kind of like watching re-runs of Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver as an American of my generation growing up. I watched it every Sunday night with my kids as part of our slow preparation for school and work to start on Monday.
Though not so well-known in the West, Chibi Mariko-chan is broadcast throughout Asia, and the show has a huge following in China. Right now, Chinese fans are expressing their sadness over the passing of the artist. As with the legendary train crossing that appears in the opening credits of Slam Dunk, which has become a major “holy land” site visited by thousands of foreign visitors a day, I wouldn’t be surprised if many international fans started journeying to the artist’s hometown in Shizuoka Prefecture to pay respects.
The TV series, shown on TBS on Sundays at 6:00 pm, is shown just before the other great classic of old-timey feel-good anime, Sazae-san. Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan dominated the ratings for decades, regularly getting 10% of the country’s viewership as fans of all ages tuned in to watch. There’s a bit of irony in the idea that the two most popular anime series in the history of the medium are largely unknown in the West.