Super Book, or Anime Oyako Gekijō ("Animated Parent and Child Theater") in the original Japanese, was a Japanese-American tag-team effort to try to show stories from the Old and New Testament of The Bible to Japanese children. Released from 1981 to 1983, commissioned by Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, and produced by Tatsunoko Production (although the actual animation production was farmed out to other studios, including Studio Shaft) for TV Tokyo, although it was aired on affiliates of all of Japan's major television networks except NHK.note Originally, it was intended solely as an evangelistic tool to introduce Japanese viewers to Christianity, but a positive response at a French convention led to an English dub in the United States of America and dubs in many other languages, becoming perhaps one of the most widely distributed Japanese animated series ever, even if it isn't often thought of as "anime" despite its origins. Although it was syndicated in the U.S., most American viewers probably saw it on CBN Cable, where it ran alongside other anime series such as Honey Honey and the original English dub of Mazinger Z.
The set-up went something like this:
The series focuses on the adventures of Christopher (Chris) Peeper and his best friend Joy. During the first episode, Christopher's father, an eccentric college professor who seems to specialize in Biblical archaeology, tells Christopher to clean out the attic, as it has gotten severely cluttered and messy. While Chris and Joy are working on the attic, some boxes fall over, and a strange book falls out of one of them.
Taking the book to Chris's bedroom and failing to open it on their own, Christopher and Joy are startled to see a blinding light coming from it as it opens itself. Things then get even stranger; the book starts talking to them, identifying itself as the eponymous Super Book. The book explains that it contains many stories inside, and that they need only peer into it to experience them.
Thus begin Chris and Joy's adventurers. Once an Episode, they travel within Super Book to experience one of the Biblical stories it contains, accompanied by Chris's toy robot Gizmo, who becomes a fully functioning robot during their adventures. Though they often interact with the Biblical characters themselves (they try to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, Cain from killing Abel, etc.), they primarily observe the stories, learning from them the lessons each tale has to teach.
Surprisingly, in a nation where Christianity is a minority religion then as now, the show was popular: the two Superbook series as well as sister series Flying House attracted high ratings during their original broadcast runs and were rerun on TV Tokyo continuously through 1986. CBN claims the show attracted more than eight million viewers in Japan at its peak.
The second series (Superbook II, or Pasokon Travel Tanteidan) took place two years after the first and had Super Book accidentally fall on a computer keyboard. This somehow transferred Super Book's powers to the computer, allowing anyone who wanted to see into the past. Unfortunately, Chris' dog Ruffles accidentally gets lost in time in the process. To find her, Chris' cousin Uriah (Uri for short; Sho's brother Yuu in Japanese) and Gizmo (now a fully functioning robot even outside Super Book, with a built-in computer for recall purposes) regularly travel back in time to find her, adding an overarching plot arc to the second series. There is, however, much less interaction between the protagonists and the Biblical figures than in the previous series; the show focuses more on Plot Parallels, going back and forth between Uri and Gizmo's quest and the Biblical storylines with little intersection between them.
In between the two series of Superbook, there was also a third, separate series called Flying House that focused more on stories from the New Testament, primarily the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Most of the tropes that apply are tropes from The Bible. The ones listed here focus primarily on the original cast, the series, its premise, and any other characterization tropes not on The Bible page.
In 2011, a computer-animated reboot of the series was produced. The remake is notable for being the first animated series to air on ABC Family (who aired the original back when they were known as CBN Cable in the early 80's) since around 2005. Interestingly, the reboot has also begun airing in the nation where it all started - Japan - as of early 2018. Meanwhile, the original series can still be found on Trinity Broadcasting's Christian kids' channel Smile Of A Child (but in the wee morning hours - better prepare your DVR!note ).
Compare to The Kingdom Chums, which also features time-traveling children (one of whom is Jewish) witnessing Bible stories and was also animated in Japan (though the chief production staff were American and thus it isn't considered "anime"). Compare also to the early Imagination Station installments of Adventures in Odyssey, which more directly involved the participants in the story.
This series provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: In the English dub, after Chris' mom announces she's pregnant at the end of the first series, we never see a baby in the second series, nor is the pregnancy ever mentioned. The Japanese version keeps the continuity going, as Uriah (Yuu) is Christopher's (Sho) younger brother, albeit rewritten to his cousin in the English dub (also believable since Chris's uncle is a supporting character in the second series).
- Adaptation Expansion: Series 2 does this in much the same way that Flying House did, expanding the Biblical storylines into multi-episode arcs and naming characters such as Lot's wife who were not named in Scripture.
- Adults Are Useless: In the case of Chris' parents, or at the very least his dad.
- Adventures in the Bible: The premise.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese versions of both series have an opening and ending theme different from the English opening. For series one, the Japanese opening song was adapted for the English version as the closing. Most other foreign language versions were adapted from the English dub and use either the English language themes or adaptations thereof, an exception being the Italian dub, which has a completely original song (and keeps the Japanese opening and closing animation).
- Art Evolution: Between series one and two. Series two features cleaner, more consistent animation, much less Cheeky Mouth, and refreshed character designs for Chris and Joy (since they are now several years older, although they still wear the same outfits as the first series). Part of it is likely Tatsunoko switching its subcontracting animation studio from Production LOOSE (now Lifework) to Studio Shaft.
- Ascended Extra: Chris's dog, Ruffles. Despite being sort of the "mascot" character of the first series (and is featured in all the Japanese promotional artwork), she never accompanies the kids and Gizmo on their adventures and is only seen in the "modern world" framing stories. In the second series, while she gets much less screen time, she is much more important to the story, as she gets sucked back in time by the now-computerized Superbook and Gizmo and Uri have to follow her back in time to find her.
- Berserk Button: In one episode, Joy has a dream about a dress that she wants but that keeps flying away from her when she draws near to it. As a surprise, Chris's mother buys Joy an exact replica of the dress in the dream, but when Joy tries it on, it's too small for her. Chris jokes that the meaning of Joy's dream must have been that she wasn't supposed to have the dress, because she's too fat for it. Joy doesn't find this funny and begins angrily chasing him around the house.
- Bible Times: Obviously, the setting for much of the show
- Bowdlerise: Some of the more pernicious elements of the Bible stories were altered to make them more kid-friendly. Some examples:
- The story of Joshua, as told here, never mentions Rahab's job once, and mostly glosses over the fact that literally everyone in Jericho (apart from her and her family) was slain (as well as the Israelites' complete genocide of the Promised Land's native inhabitants in general).
- The Sodom and Gomorrah episode makes no mention of the "sexual immorality" God supposedly punishes in the story, and also eliminates Lot's idea of "offering" his virgin daughters to the hostile crowds outside his door.note
- Potiphar's wife has Joseph thrown in prison for allegedly stealing money from her, rather than attempted rape.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: The Sodom and Gomorrah episode depicts Lot's two daughters as such. Apparently they learned it from their mother.
- Brought To You By The Letter U: Chris's cousin in the second series wears a shirt with a U on it. In Japanese, it's a bilingual pun, as the character's name is Yuu. It also left the English dubbers little choice but to rename him Uriah, or Uri for short.
- Chest Insignia: Again, the letter U on Uri's shirt.
- Christian Fiction: Your mileage may vary on whether the Bible stories themselves are fiction, but the stories in the "real" (or "modern") world at the beginning and end of each episode definitely count.]
- Christmas Episode: "The First Christmas" in the first series. In addition to airing on CBN, it was also syndicated to some secular TV stations and broadcast as a special.
- Clark Kenting: After Uri and Gizmo go to the computer and never went back for days, Chris and Joy have to make excuses to Chris' mother before she gets worried.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Joy/Azusa seems to have budding feelings for Chris/Sho, which she doesn't try to hide all that well, even telling him outright in one episode that she expects him to marry her when they grow up. Thus she gets mad when Chris doesn't seem to reciprocate and shows signs of jealousy whenever Chris demonstrates attraction to other girls or women, like Eve, Rebekah, or the Queen of Sheba. She doesn't get as much screen time in Series 2, but seems to have matured a bit, and the English narration explicitly calls her Chris's girlfriend.
- Clockwork Creature: Gizmo is a robot version of this, as when he runs down on power he explicitly needs the key on his back wound back up for him to even move again (he can still talk just fine).
- Demoted to Extra: Chris/Sho and Joy/Azusa in the second series. They remain at home and monitor Uriah/Yuu's and Gizmo's progress on the computer, and get the unenviable job of trying to formulate excuses to explain Uriah's and Ruffles' absence.
- Deranged Animation: Whenever the kids are transported through time, they hurl through a mysterious void with a heavy fisheye effect.
- Dub Name Change: Applies to many of the Western dubs. Sho, Azusa, Zenmaijikake, and Kichomu (the dog) became Christopher, Joy, Gizmo, and Ruffles in English. See also Meaningful Name for some other examples.
- The '80s: While the original series has a sort of timeless feel to it and could occur in any era, the second series is quite plainly a product of the 1980s, as illustrated by the era-appropriate personal computer and by the heavily synthesized instrumentation in the opening themes (both Japanese and English).
- Extremely Dusty Home: Or extremely dusty attic, anyway, in Episode 1 of the first series. It's so dusty that Chris has to wear a mask to clean it, and he had even thought it was smoke at first when he came to visit. But it's also how he and Joy discover Superbook.
- Garden-Hose Squirt Surprise: This happens to Chris in the Job episode.
- God Is Good: Unsurprisingly, this is one of the show's main recurring Aesops.
- Guilt-Free Extermination War: Joshua and the Israelites's conquest of the Promised Land, depicted in "Snakes and a Donkey" and several subsequent episodes, although the "extermination" part is mostly glossed over save for the narration mentioning how Joshua and his men "took possession of the land that God had given to be their own" over visuals of Joshua and the Israelites storming the walls of a burning city.
- Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Refreshingly averted with Joy/Azusa. She's portrayed similar to Shizuka from Doraemon in that although she seems to be somewhat of a goody-goody at first glance, she has her own character flaws, including jealousy and a tendency to lose her temper whenever Chris teases her.
- Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Despite their attempts to, something always happens that prevents the kids and Gizmo from preventing any of the bad things from happening, thereby ensuring events play out as they did.
- One example was Gizmo running towards Eve to stop her from eating from the Forbidden Fruit. And he would have succeeded, if not for his gears winding down at exactly that moment, immobilizing him as the Fall from the Garden happened. Chris then tried to stop Eve - but the snake lunged at him and blocked his passage.
- Played with in the "First Christmas" episode - Gizmo managed to push two soldiers, who were looking to hunt down and kill the baby Jesus at King Herod's order (and threatened Chris when Chris tried to stop them), off a cliff. It ended up being a moot point, because Mary and Joseph were instructed in a dream to return home by a different route to avoid Herod's soldiers.
- I Will Find You: Uri and Gizmo's quest is to find Ruffles.
- Ironic Echo: Following the Garden-Hose Squirt Surprise mentioned above, Chris falls, landing in the flower bushes, and gets yelled at by his father. Chris's mother then intervenes to comfort her son, saying she's glad he didn't get hurt. While having tea and cake, Chris burns his tongue on the hot tea and drops his cup, shattering it. His mother is about to scold him when his father intervenes and reminds her, "We're glad he didn't get hurt, right?"
- Lethal Chef: In "The First Christmas," Prof. Peeper bakes a Christmas cake as a surprise for Chris and Joy, but ends up burning it.
- Liar Revealed: The opening vignette of the "Samson and Delilah" episode features Chris lifting a barbell with the promise that his father will raise his allowance if he makes it to one hundred repetitions. When he makes it to one hundred, his father and Joy are thrilled - until Ruffles, the dog, picks up the barbell in her mouth.Prof. Peeper: Why, that barbell's a fake! It's just a toy!Joy: [angrily, to Chris] Yeah! You're a fake, too!
- Marilyn Maneuver: Joy in "Superbrain". When Ruffles runs passed her, the back of her skirt rises from Ruffles's motion briefly, but she holds the front in place.
- Meaningful Name:
- Christopher Peeper - "Christopher" means "bearing Christ." His last name is rooted in peeping, essentially getting a quick look at something.
- In the German version, Christopher's name is Christian, and Azusa/Joy is known as Maria, or Ri for short, which seems fairly obviously a reference to the Mother of Christ. Chris/Sho is also named Christian in the French dub (Azusa/Joy is Aline and Ruffles is Molly in French, although Gizmo and Uri retain their English dub names).
- My Grandson, Myself: How Chris and Joy explain looking the same when they meet the same person decades apart.
- Narrator: Each episode features narration (which is possibly diegetic to the titular Superbook itself) explaining the setup of the various Biblical tales the kids are transported to.
- Never Say "Die": The English dub is inconsistent with this. The Series 2 episode "All About Dreams," for instance, has Joseph confirming to Pharaoh's baker that he is to be hanged, but avoids using the word "death" or "execution."
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: In episode 5, Joy is upset because she read in a fan magazine that her favorite singer, Barry Mannyhigh, married Olivia Piggyback.
- Opening Narration: The opening narration of just about every episode in the first season (at least in the English dub) referred to Chris's house as "the house just down the street and around the corner."
- Our Time Travel Is Different: Both the Videocassette and Wormhole kind, depending on which direction they're headed.
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Azusa/Joy wears a pink shirt, and Sho/Christopher wears a blue jacket and blue jeans. The show's character designer, Akiko Shimomoto, was apparently fond of this trope as she used it in several other Tatsunoko series - see also The Littl' Bits.
- Portal Book: The titular Superbook spontaneously transports the kids to the Bible Times depicted within.
- Powers as Programs: In Season 2, the Super Book's information are transferred to Chris' uncle's computer.
- Priceless Ming Vase: In one episode, Chris ends up breaking a vase while skating. Thankfully for him and Joy, it's averted when Prof. Peeper reveals the vase was actually a genuine fake.
- Religious Robot: Gizmo, of course. He even refers to himself as a "crusader-bot" on several occasions.
- Robot Buddy: Gizmo fills this role when he is brought to life by Superbook. Later enforced in Season 2 when he is explicitly given artificial intelligence.
- Shonen Hair: Christopher, as the page image blatantly shows.
- Shout-Out: Delilah in the "Samson and Delilah" episode (series 1) is given a Mae West voice, at least in the English dub.
- Sibling Rivalry: Fred (Chris' father) and his younger brother (Uri's father). Averted in the English dub of series 2, as Sho's brother Yuu was rewritten as Chris's cousin Uri.
- Strong as They Need to Be: Gizmo's wind-up function generally lasts until the plot requires him to break down. In the first episode this results in the Fall of Man.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: In the "First Christmas" episode. After seeing the newborn Jesus, Chris gets moody and begins furiously punching a tree.Gizmo: I would say my master is lonely.
Chris: WHO'S lonely? I'm not lonely! Not one bit! I don't miss my mother!
Joy: Oh, you miss your mother. Oh, I bet she misses you too.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In the Western dubs only. Series 1 ends with Chris's mother announcing she is pregnant. However, there's no mention of Chris having a baby brother in Series 2, and a viewer might assume she lost the baby. In the original Japanese, Uri, rewritten in English as Chris's cousin, is Sho's younger brother Yuu.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: The kids and Gizmo literally experience days, if not weeks as the stories play out, but once they're done they are returned to their time, with no more than a minute, possibly five tops having passed.
- The Noah's Flood episode drops them into the story before the flood, and pulls them out after everyone emerges from the ark over a year later. When they get home it takes Christopher a moment to realize why his dad wasn't freaked out.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Many episodes of the second series feature Gizmo and Uri following up on a promising lead as to Ruffles' whereabouts, only to end up disappointed.