Daicon III & IV were two conventions that were held in Japan in the early 1980s. As part of the long-running Nihon SF Taikai (Japan SF Convention) series, they were held in Osaka and featured specially-produced short animated films as part of the opening ceremonies. While other conventions would feature their own works, Daicon III and IV's animations are particularly well-known for their Massive Multiplayer Crossover nature, as well as the fact that their production eventually led to the formation of Studio Gainax.
Daicon III (1981) was primarily animated by three art students in Osaka: Hideaki Anno, Hiroyuki Yamaga, and Takami Akai. It centers on a young schoolgirl who is approached by the Science Patrol (from Ultraman) and asked to deliver a glass of water to "DAICON". Along the way, she faces opposition in the form of a number of recognizable characters: a mecha from the Japanese edition of Starship Troopers, Godzilla and other kaiju, and ships from Star Wars, Star Trek, and The War of the Worlds. The original intent was for the team to part ways after the convention, but the group instead founded Daicon Film partially to fund what would become Daicon IV and its opening film, and partially to sell videos to pay off debts incurred during production.
Daicon IV (1983) was the product of a staff of twelve, including some professional animators. The protagonist from the previous film returns for this one, now all grown up and wearing a Playboy Bunny outfit. Like before, she faces off against several different characters (though some brief scenes simply focus on the cameos and exclude her entirely). While the previous film had an Excuse Plot, IV eschews even this in favor of focusing on cramming in as many recognizable characters from different works of fiction as possible several dozen in total.
Daicon Film would be dissolved and reformed as Gainax at the end of 1984, making these films a critical turning point in the company's history. In spite of this, it has never seen re-release (outside of a now-scarce LaserDisc and VHS release around 1988), owing to the many different copyrighted characters used without permission. The unauthorized use of music is also an obstacle: III uses the first and last song from Yuji Ohno's Cosmos, while IV uses "Prologue", "Twilight", and "Hold On Tight" from the Electric Light Orchestra album Time as well as "Noah's Ark" by Kitarō. Fans circulating the tapes helped cement it as a cornerstone of otaku culture.
In 2014, in occasion of Daicon IV's 33rd anniversary, a project named "DAICON FILM 33" was revealed, however it amounted to a number of memorial goods but no further attempt to make a sequel or another related animation. Despite that, Daicon Film would eventually regroup in 2021 to produce a restoration of Daicon III from a high-quality print. The project was announced on Twitter, with Daicon Film's endorsement, by film preservation fan group Kineko Video (then known as Femboy Films), who'd previously worked on their own restoration attempt from an 8mm print before receiving a C&D from Gainax.
Daicon III and IV provide examples of:
- Action Girl: The unnamed main character has Super Strength and is more than capable of defending herself. As a little girl, she has an Awesome Backpack that doubles as a Jet Pack and can fire missiles, and she can even catch a missile and throw it back to destroy the mecha that fired it. As an adult, she takes on multiple other characters with ease, even beating Darth Vader himself in a lightsaber duel.
- Cross Cultural Reference: The shorts were made in Japan and feature a massive amount of not only Japanese, but also Western sci-fi and fantasy characters.
- Laser Blade:
- In III, the main character whips out a bamboo ruler that transforms into a lightsaber-esque weapon near the climax.
- IV has a short scene where the protagonist wields an actual lightsaber in a duel against Darth Vader himself.
- Macross Missile Massacre:
- In III, the protagonist unleashes several missiles from her backpack that destroy several ships (and Godzilla).
- One scene in IV shows the SDF-1 Macross (combined with the Yamato and the Arcadia) evading several missiles before launches its own array at the VF-1 Valkyrie, destroying it in a series of explosions.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Both shorts feature an extensive amount of characters and objects from other media. Star Wars, Starship Troopers, Star Trek, The Elric Saga, Ultraman, Super Sentai, and Godzilla all feature prominently in at least one of the films— to say nothing of the shorter cameos, which run the gamut from The Lord of the Rings to Urusei Yatsura to Wacky Races.
- Mime and Music-Only Cartoon:
- III only features music and sound effects, with what little dialogue there is being delivered through subtitles.
- IV forgoes any dialoguenote or sound effects, with the animation being accompanied solely by music.
- No Name Given: The protagonist is never named in either short.
- Original Video Animation: Both shorts are considered the Ur-Example, having been made for screening at the eponymous conventions they were made for (rather than in an actual theater or on TV) before seeing 8mm prints sold off to recover the staff's debts.
- Red Is Heroic: The red-haired protagonist dons a red tie and backpack in III and a red Playboy Bunny costume in IV, tying in with her Determinator and Action Girl traits and immediately establishing her as the protagonist of both shorts.
- Reference Overdosed: There are dozens of allusions to science fiction, anime, manga, American comic books, Western cartoons, and fantasy literature between the two shorts.
- Rule of Cool: Both shorts have threadbare plots that are primarily showcases for a great many characters from various forms of media. Naturally, bizarre events like a little girl's backpack hiding a missile-firing mechanism or a young woman surfing through the air on a sword are excusable simply because they fit into the unabashedly nerdy tone of the production.
- Super Strength: The protagonist shows unusual amounts of strength in both films, being able to pick up and throw mecha that are far heavier than her (a Starship Troopers robot in III and Dyna Robo in IV).
- And the Adventure Continues: The short ends with the protagonist taking command of the Daicon, with the ship flying off to parts unknown. Daicon IV would ultimately follow this up by depicting those later adventures.
- Awesome Backpack: The protagonist's backpack doubles as a Jet Pack and features a powerful missile-firing mechanism.
- Badass Adorable: Despite being a grade school-age girl, the protagonist is able to destroy kaiju and other threats that dwarf her through strength, ingenuity, and a surprising amount of firepower.
- Bullet Catch: The main character is able to catch a missile and throw it upwards, causing it to arc back and destroy the mecha that fired it.
- Creator Cameo: Producers Toshio Okada and Yasuhiro Takeda cameo at the helm of the Daicon near the end of the short.
- Excuse Plot: A young girl is tasked with delivering some water to "DAICON" by the Science Patrol. This premise is largely an excuse to set up various encounters with kaiju, mecha, and ships from various sci-fi stories.
- Feed It a Bomb: Godzilla is defeated once the main character fires several missiles into his mouth.
- Fun with Homophones: The short opens with the Science Patrol asking the protagonist to deliver some water to "DAICON" (written in English). Most will naturally assume that this is referring to the convention itself. It's only at the end that the truth is revealed— they wanted her to pour it on a daikon (a kind of radish native to parts of Asia).
- Jet Pack: The main character's backpack has boosters that allow her to fly.
- Kid Hero: The protagonist is a young girl who must deliver some water and fend off the many threats that dog her on the way.
- Super-Strong Child: The protagonist is a young girl who is strong enough to pick up a mecha and throw it several feet away with one hand.
- Animated Music Video: Acts as an unofficial one to "Prologue" and "Twilight" by Electric Light Orchestra, with the two songs forming the aural centerpiece of the short, itself occupying the whole of the music's collective runtime (compared to Daicon III, which mainly used snippets of other songs).
- Animation Bump: While the animation is generally improved from the first film, the scene where a city explodes into cherry blossoms is extremely intricate even by those standards, featuring dozens upon dozens of individual blossoms swaying in the wind.
- Art Evolution: The animation staff quadrupled from the previous short (12 people vs. 3), and their dedication makes Daicon IV much more fluid, detailed, and solidly-drawn than its predecessor.
- Crowded-Cast Shot: One of the final scenes has the camera pan over a crowd featuring dozens of characters from different media standing together.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Crowded-Cast Shot near the end pans quickly over many different characters. Not only does this make it harder to recognize them individually, but it also obfuscates a few interactions between them (such as Snake Plissken shooting Superman to no effect, causing the latter to laugh).
- Kid Hero All Grown-Up: The little girl who starred in the previous short is now a young woman in a Playboy Bunny outfit. This is emphasized in the transition from the prologue to the main piece, featuring a shot of the little girl zooming out before a series of close-ups on her adult self rapidly cut to one another in time with the drumbeat.
- Logo Joke: The main short ends with a shot of the solar system zooming out to reveal the Japan SF Convention logo, tying in with the science fiction imagery throughout the film.
- Make My Monster Grow: For some reason the xenomorph that appears in the beginning is gigantic.
- Opening Narration: "Prologue" by Electric Light Orchestra is used for this purpose at the start of the film, with its lyrics being written out on-screen against a starry background. While not directly expository, its emphasis on blurring the lines between dreams and reality thematically fits the many, many Shout-Outs to other works of fiction.
- Playboy Bunny: The protagonist wears a red bunny outfit throughout the film, firmly establishing her as older than she was in the first short.
- Previously on : The first minute and a half is dedicated to recapping the events of Daicon III.
- Random Events Plot: Unlike its predecessor, this film has no real story to speak of— just a series of short vignettes, often (but not always) featuring the main character fighting various characters.
- Sequel Escalation: Daicon III features around 16 different characters and machines from different media. IV easily features several dozen, particularly in a Crowded-Cast Shot near the end (which contains well over 30 all by itself).
- Sky Surfing: The protagonist spends much of the film surfing through the sky while riding the sword Stormbringer.
- Storm of Blades: At one point, many copies of the surfed-on sword are flying in midair, with Roboteching and contrails like missiles.
- Super-Deformed: The very end of the short shows the protagonist in chibi style, bowing to the viewer alongside the words "The End".
- "Super Sentai" Stance: The final montage sequence has a brief scene where the team from Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan pose flamboyantly.
- World-Healing Wave: The Daicon fires a beam that causes the land underneath it to sprout forestation, restoring life to it.
- Written Sound Effect: Several English sound effects can be seen during a sequence dedicated to various DC and Marvel characters.