Exhuming forgotten, niche 90s comics, films and TV series is a big thing in the anime world. Online forums are overflowing with discussions about origins and lost episodes of series likeZenki and Yu Yu Hakusho. It was on the wave of this trend that Wes Louis pranked the online anime fan community earlier this year.
When Wes was 13, he made a comic called Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit (STANR). After Wes recently discovered the comic at his parents house, he and his animation collective, The Line, had an idea.
"Does anyone remember Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit?" posts started appearing on Reddit, 4chan and other forums, along with pleas for help in finding out more info and vague descriptions of a non-existent show. Then this video, made by Wes, appeared online:
Some people said they "remembered" it, some tried to debunk it and many were confused as to how something like this could simply disappear. The hoax became a project for Wes. The project grew into merchandise and short films.
Last night, I found myself sitting on some STANR bed sheets, with STANR figures and a lunchbox next to me, wearing a virtual reality headset and exploring the world of STANR, 24 years after its initial creation. I had met up with Wes and asked him to tell me everything.
VICE: Hi Wes. When you're not pranking anime forums, what do you do?
Wes Louis: I got into animation through my love of anime. I'm part of The Line, we're a group of directors, animators and designers, primarily in animation.
How did the idea for this come about?
Me and a guy from the collective called Tim McCourt were just looking for something new to do. I brought a folder to the office full of comics I'd made when I was 12 and 13 and Tim really liked the STANR one, but I just thought it was silly!
We thought we'd mess around with making an intro but I needed to write the back story to work from. It was really difficult and I was over-thinking it and getting really deep. I just sat there thinking, 'how the hell did I do this when I was 13?!' But that was the thing. I needed to change my mentality to that of my 13 year old self. You know when you're young and you don't think about things – you just do it on the fly and see what you come up with? That's what I did, and I wrote in a giraffe villain and a cow villain, just because I'd never seen them before and thought they'd look cool. I just made it up as I went along.
Then we got a friend that I'd worked with before to sing and write the intro song for it. In November 2013 I took time off work and started storyboarding it and doing all the character work, then we got some animators to jump on it and animate it. It's a homage piece to 80s and 90s cartoons; Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… and that's all it was meant to be.
Then Tim and Max Taylor that I work with suggested we take it one step further and make people think it actually existed. Right up until the end I didn't think it would work. We used some of our friends to post about it on their blogs, and started opening up discussions on forums about it. We put a photo of a fake cell up on a blog post, saying "I just bought this at an anime convention".
What was the response like?
Well there wasn't much in the beginning. We couldn't just upload the intro asking if anyone remembers it because the first thing people do is search for it online, if they found nothing at all they'd know it was a fake. So we started drip-feeding little things online, just to back up the story, leaving a paper trail.
We made a lunchbox and thermos flask and used a Japanese friend's eBay account to put it up for sale. There were so many holes in our story, which was a good thing because it started an online debate. Some people even remembered seeing it on TV when they were younger!
Yeah, man. People were debating on 4Chan and fan art started appearing. One guy started drawing them naked! There was a Furry thing going on.
What about the naysayers?
Well, even the people that worked out it was fake still thought it was really well done, which was great. The way Max from our team comped it was really effective. Back in the day when you did an animation series, you'd draw it on paper, you put it on a cell and paint behind the cell. Then, when you put the cell on, it'd have a bit of a shadow, and you'd put it onto film print. Max was adamant that even though we were doing it on a computer, we should copy all those imperfections, so that you could really feel it.
When I was animating, I didn't want to use any CGI techniques in it, I wanted it to be all drawn. I wanted to animate the tank shot straight, whereas the rest of the team suggested we use a 3D model. But I thought, 'people do this stuff all the time in Japan, how hard could it be?' I got somebody to make a 3D model of it so I could reference it and get the drawing right. I asked a friend of mine from a collective called NoGhost if he could make a 3D tank for me and it was amazing.
He then got back in touch with me and asked if he could make a virtual reality game of inside the tank with the characters. I said, 'Yes, of course!' When I played it I was blown away. I was sitting next to characters I'd created when I was a kid.
High definition intro to Super Turbo Atomic Ninja Rabbit.
That's amazing. Can you tell me a bit about the world of STANR?
Well the main character is called Misachi, but the other characters call him STAN. He's a kind of a cross between Usagi Yojimbo and a Samurai Pizza Cat. I remember titles for things were really long back when I was a kid, like I remember playing a game called Magical Flying Turbo Hat Adventure, so I just got words that weren't related and put them together to make a character. He's clearly a samurai but I remember using the word ninja in the title so that people didn't think that he was a Samurai Pizza Cat. At some point he got thrown forward in time, but only because I wanted him to wear a cool power suit thing.
Are you going to make an actual series?
Well you don't just make a series. It's a big thing. But if there's enough demand for it and people want to see more then who knows what it'll become… It's so weird to see it all come together. I did so many comics back then that I'd forgotten about this one, really. But this is so of-the-time that we had to do it, it's an honest portrayal. It's mind boggling for me – I'm 37 now but the 13 year old still inside me just can't believe it.
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