There is a commonly referred to "Big Three" in Shonen Jump, made up of One Piece, Naruto, & Bleach, but that terminology is mostly invalid nowadays, since Bleach has tended to not be in the #3 slot as much for the past few years. Taking it's place, to some people, is the gourmet/battle manga Toriko, created by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Toriko is, essentially, an 80s MAN-ga (yeah, I know it's a bad pun) being made in modern times, right down to the anti-bishonen character designs, wild action sequences, & tons of muscles in your face. But, before doing Toriko, Shimabukuro had already worked on another big hit for Shonen Jump: Seikimatsu Leader-den/Tale of the Leader at the Century's End Takeshi!. Looking at those pair of videos I mentioned in the One Piece pilot review, Takeshi was commonly a part of the Top 3 (usually #2 or #3) shortly after its late-1997 debut up until its abrupt end in 2002, which I'll get to later. Naturally, a hit manga will get the pilot treatment, but unlike it's fellow JSAT '98 pilots, Takeshi never became a full-fledged TV anime... And after seeing this pilot I think I understand why.
From the moment he was born, Takeshi was born to be a leader. His first word upon birth was "leader", and his father, Hiroshi, was a "leader" among salarymen. After Hiroshi died suddenly Takeshi made it his life goal to be a leader like his father, so he joins his new first grade class and hopes to become a true leader to his classmates.
The basic idea of Takeshi is fun enough, though a little bland, so one might be wondering if there's anything "special" about the execution. Well, there is something special about Takeshi, and it's the "man" himself...
No, you're not seeing things... This is Takeshi. This is a first grade student, right down to the muscular body, chest hair, blue-colored five o'clock shadow, giant nostrils, & flat hair that, in some shots, reveals that he's balding slightly in the back of the head... Wait, that's NOT how a first grader should look! This is how a first grader should look:
There we go: The big eyebrows, flowing hair, and obvious balding... Wait, no, that's Kimuro Moukou (a.k.a. Kimumo), a notorious liar and classmate of Takeshi's. You know what? Screw it, what do the sixth graders look like?
This is Kandore & Andore, two sixth-grade bullies... Yeah, that's about accurate as to what sixth graders look like. All right, enough of the joking around. Yes, there are normal-looking students in this title, and these four are simply the odd-four-out... But this is honestly where most of the entertainment & humor in this pilot comes from. Going into this I knew that Takeshi was a weird-looking kid, but I didn't think that there would be others like him, and these weirdos definitely kept me watching.
Anyway, the Takeshi pilot is made up of three individual stories. The first introduces Takeshi to his classmates & deals with Takeshi taking on Andore & Kandore, who ended up beating on a classmate so badly that he has multiple marks all over his body. The second introduces Kimumo & his friend Hiro during a class trip to a park, and when Hiro ends up hanging by a rope after trying to cross an old bridge with Kimumo it's up to Takeshi to rescue him. The final story is about Nana Kawakami, a (normal-looking) girl from Takeshi's class who's moving away after Valentine's Day, & Takeshi has to keep her spirits up when she's at her saddest. It's a nice mix of stories, and all three handle their issues in interesting ways.
When dealing with Andore & Kandore, Takeshi simply bursts into their class in a mad rage & beats both of them with one punch... Before being reprimanded by the teacher for his violent behavior. When trying to save Hiro, Hiro loses his grip on the rope and falls to his death... So Takeshi jumps down after Hiro, grabs him & tosses him back up to safety, before realizing that he's now in a predicament that requires the "Leader Wave", a Hadouken-esque maneuver that let's him break the fall (maybe). When trying to cheer up Nana, Takeshi simply starts yelling, telling her to "man up" and take any challenge that gets in her way full-bore with bravery... And Nana agrees with him, leaving him her scarf as a token of appreciation (& maybe love) before so moves away. It's honestly hard to tell if this title is trying to be an all-out parody or if it's trying to take itself seriously, or even trying to do both. Regardless, all three stories are certainly entertaining & you can never tell what's going to happen next. The title mixes in traditional school fare with moments that just take you by surprise by how they happen & truly make you go "WTF".
The pilot was animated by AIC, with direction, writing, & storyboards all done by the legendary anime comedy man himself, Akitaro Daichi, which is why the humor is so on point here. The character designs & animation direction were handled by Masayuki Onji (The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.), giving Shimabukuro's oddball child designs a great look, and possibly even nicer. The music definitely goes for the old-school 80s style of gruff music (when Takeshi is introduced to his class, the music makes it sound like Takeshi is a monster, before being accepted right away by the class), but there's also some more upbeat songs to go with the more traditional moments. There is an insert song, "Takeshi!" by Double Outsu, and it's used at the end when Nana leaves Takeshi a good-bye note, so it's an upbeat pop song that works well for the scene. From what I could find of the cast, Takeshi is voiced by Yuichi Nagashima (a.k.a. Cho), and he makes no attempt to make Takeshi sound young. Nagashima makes Takeshi sound like he's fifty-years older than he really is, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Kimumo is voiced by Wataru Takagi, and he follows Nagashima's style by making Kimumo sound older than he really is, though only by about forty years in this case; it just makes the joke of Hiro always calling Kimumo "old man" work all the more. Nana is voiced by Satomi Koorogi, and she does a nice job making Nana sound like the six-year-old girl she plays. Rounding out what I could find of the cast is Kazuhiko Inoue (Hiroshi), Ryuzaburo Otomo (Andore), & Kiyoyuki Yanada (Kandore).
Seikimatsu Leader Gaiden Takeshi! (no, I don't know why the title uses "Gaiden/Side Story" instead of just "Den/Tale") follows the One Piece & Hunter X Hunter pilots by being really fun & enjoyable, but in this title's case it also doubles as being the only way to ever see Takeshi! animated. Like I said in the beginning, after seeing this pilot I think I understand why Takeshi! never received a TV series: It's just too "weird" for a traditional time slot. If Takeshi! was the only odd-looking character then I could have seen it get a TV series, but with so many oddballs in this title (and I'm sure the manga has even more) it just would be too unappealing for a traditional time slot. Hell, I think it's still too weird for a late-night slot! Anyway, even if it did get a long-running TV series it would have been canceled by mid-2002, since that's when the manga was abruptly ended due to child prostitution. Yeah, in August 2002 Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro was arrested for allegedly paying a 16-year-old girl 80,000 yen to perform lewd acts the previous November.
In 2005, though, Shimabukuro was allowed to publish a few more chapters of Takeshi in Super Jump so that the title could have a proper ending. In fact, the only reason why Shimabukuro was given a second chance to do a Shonen Jump title was apparently because he's best friends with Eiichiro Oda, who pleaded with Shueisha to give the man one more shot, and considering how popular Toriko is in Japan it's obvious that Shimabukuro deserved a second chance. Anyway, the Takeshi! pilot is rare, with the VHS release being not as common as the One Piece & Hunter X Hunter VHS tapes, and even the raw I watched was a FLV file with a really small resolution for today's standards. Still, if you can hunt it down & enjoy something truly off-the-wall crazy then this pilot is definitely worth checking out.