Image source: タカラトミー TAKARATOMY on YouTube
Who would have thought a popular classic anime franchise in Japan like the Time Bokan series would become edutainment not unlike America’s The Magic School Bus cartoon?
When we last left the characters in Time Bokan 24, the villains were trying to change history so their parent company won’t have to reprint textbooks. It’s a fun premise for young audience members as it allows them to learn about historical events while the characters run amuck.
The sequel to Time Bokan 24, Time Bokan The Villains’ Stike Back takes us to different time periods as three criminals search for legendary diamonds. In order to get those diamonds, though, the criminals have to help historical figures with a personal problem and fend off the heroic Space-Time Administration Bureau. Through their interactions, we learn about the people and their achievements. We’re being educated about these people in a fun and exciting way.
In that way, it’s not unlike the American cartoon The Magic School Bus, where third grade teacher Ms. Frizzle takes her students on fantastical field trips to learn about many different subjects. These include the solar system, the immune system, volcanoes, sound, and many others.
The Magic School Bus is a staple of 90s North American TV. The series took us on many wild adventures and introduced children to many different subjects and fields of science. For instance, an episode I vividly remember is the third season episode titled “Makes a Rainbow.” In it, we learn about light and color and their relationship to each other. Yet, rather than providing us with a list of facts about each, the information is presented to us in a story where Ms. Frizzle needs her students help to keep a pinball machine that uses light instead of metal balls. What we’re watching, then, is a narrative where the students work together for a singular goal while providing us with some interesting facts about light and color.
The Villains’ Strike Back uses a very similar principle to The Magic School Bus in that we’re learning interesting facts about historical figures in a captivating story. In the first episode of the series, we see this with inventor Thomas Edison struggling with his incandescent light bulb. In the second, with legendary baseball player Babe Ruth deciding if he wants to be the best fielder or a home run slugger. While there is some truth to their struggles in their careers, having the The Villains’ Strike Back characters help them through their conundrum keeps us invested in what’s going on. Will Thomas Edison make his incandescent light-bulb? Is Babe Ruth going to pick fielding or batting? For children, they may not know the answer, and seeing the series characters work out the problem with these historical figures is captivating.
Image source: TVアニメ タイムボカン【公式】 on Twitter
While each episode is a historical fiction, the series uses facts about historically significant people to make each story mired in some truth. The Magic School Bus is very much like this as well, but gives us more of an introductory lesson, rather than specific facts about the people. In the most recent episode featuring Babe Ruth, it comes in the form of Babe’s baseball career, his upbringing, and his trade school education. For instance, we learn about his record 60 home runs in a season. The thing is, his record isn’t obscure knowledge. While it’s also not ubiquitous, what’s interesting about the record the baseballs used in the 1920s were made from less aerodynamic material, making Babe’s feat far more impressive. That’s the ingenious part of the episode. It places the baseball’s information pops up during a more well known fact.
Sneaking the information about the baseball in like this ultimately makes us curious about what the material is and how it differs from modern baseball. A similar thing happens with facts about Tomas Edison when we learn about his formal education and how he was kick out of school. It’s snuck into the description of his life, but obvious enough to make us want to learn more. In essence the series is asking us to become inquisitive and research the facts presented to us. And through that research we might learn more interesting facts.
It’s not easy pulling off edutainment because there’s a fine line where a series will lean too heavily towards education or entertainment. The Villains’ Strike Back, like The Magic School Bus, treads that line carefully and brings us a series that genuinely entertains, but also educates.
Time Bokan The Villains’ Strike Back is streaming on Crunchyroll.