#80 : Little Princess Sara

I like a story that represent the cycles of how we live our lives. After all, business marketing and historians may disagree on this stating everything is always up and up. Life and nature, my friends move in a circle. We reach peaks of success that must in turn draw itself back into the darkness and end up going into the so-called ‘Hero’s Journey’. The changing of the seasons and even your life as an individual all go through this process every day and year like clock work. It is never linear in fashion and neither is a great story. And I know such a story from 1985, Nippon Animation’s Little Princess Sara.

Sara_1I have become a fan of the World Masterpiece Theatre series over these last couple of years. These are stories familiar to many of us in the west, which instead of the heavy lines of a printed text we get an animated version in full color… “come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination”… I couldn’t help but include that line (Willy Wonka forever!). And we must all begin somewhere and for me, World Masterpiece Theatre would begin with the 1985 entry, Little Princess Sara. Having never read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original writing and only knowing a sparse amount of detail, I was essentially going into this one blind. And in many ways, that is an advantage. Well, at least in my mind it is. No expectations are the best expectations.

Sara_2Sara Crewe is a very fortunate young lady. She has a supportive family even though her mother had passed on some time ago. Her father, who is quite the successful businessman, is loving and a source of stability for young Sara. She has almost everything she could ever ask for and in turn is not spoiled and honors what she has. Being as she is to become a proper lady of her generation (we are talking late 1800s Europe here), she is sent to be educated at a prep school in England, while her father will return to their home to continue his business in the British colony in India. She is soon brought to the attention of Miss Minchin, the headmistress of the seminary she will be attending.

Sara_3Settling in with her treasured doll and an assortment of new friends, classmates Ermengarde and Lottie, and allies such as Peter the stable boy and Becky the maid, Sara begins to enjoy her time at the seminary. Until… fate had to reigns it’s hand to announce that Sara’s father had passed away without any known inheritance. Sara’s identity switches from student to servant in order to stay at the seminary. And this brings a smile to those who didn’t like her in the first place. Such an example is Lavinia, who in the tradition of Mean Girls, could be the spitting image of Regina George. She is such a snot-nose and of course has a couple cronies that agree with every little conniving idea she musters up in that twisted brain. But what of who is in charge, Miss Minchin? Does she give any grace to our downtrodden Sara? Hardly, after all ‘Minch’ rhymes with bitch so you can see where this is leading towards.

Sara_4Can Sara once again rise? Return to a state of glory and humanity? The answer is yes, but the heartache she endures makes this one tragic tale with a very happy ending. Passing through the dark night of the soul is always a painful period for anyone, but handling it with grace and dignity will always lead to a finality of compassion. Much like a typical soap opera, the emotions and circumstances are heightened for dramatic purpose, but they show the difficulty she must endure to in turn, wait for the proper season to rise again. Have some tissues ready at certain moments. I may have gone through a box, or am I just exaggerating for dramatic purpose? I leave that up to your opinion of the story.

Thank you Little Princess Sara. You gave me my initial sojourn into the World Masterpiece Theatre and for that I am grateful. I have seen a handful of the collection and I have many more to open up to. And since most of these are subtitled, that count’s as reading material, right? Even though the printed copy is no where near the front of my face? Maybe? Nothing wrong with text, but I do like all the animated pictures! 🙂

#34 : Anne of Green Gables

aogg_1Families can come in all shapes, sizes, or colors. Many times unlikely circumstances can bring about the formation of a family that may not have been planned. On another subject, how is it that Japan made some of the best adaptations of beloved western children’s novel? And another subject, the work of Isao Takahata before Studio Ghibli. Now to put together all three ingredients… and what we get is one of the trilogy of World Masterpiece Theater Series that Takahata directed. We shall look at the third and final, a beloved story around the world, 1979’s Anne of Green Gables.

aogg_2Before I begin I will say that I have yet to read the original book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the time of this writing. I was aware of another animated version that aired here in the U.S. on PBS as well as the famous name of this classic. But of course if a version was created for the Japanese market, in my eyes, I have to watch it. And watch I did as I have been getting into much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series and enjoying them immensely. Add in Isao Takahata’s directing vision and the skills of Nippon Animation and  you have a combination of fine pedigree. Though the first five episodes were a slow start, at least for me, it began to turn into a typical Takahata production of an investigation into the intimate lives of characters.

aogg_3The beginning of this story has Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elder pair of siblings who live in rural Canada and are in need of a child to aid in the farmwork of Matthew. Hoping for a boy they end up with a scrawny red headed girl, Anne Shirley, who has had bad luck in finding a lasting home. Marilla’s strictness, Mathew’s gentleness and Anne’s imagination and firecracker temper all seems to meld together as the three learn what it is to be a family unit. Not only does Anne grow from childhood into adulthood, but the Cuthbert siblings also evolve. Almost in a direct opposition of Takahata’s Grave of Fireflies, Anne of Green Gables shows what happens with the community and child relationship working together to create the greater whole.

aogg_4Like many of the other World Masterpiece Theater Series shows I had my moments of joy and moments of tears. Anne’s friendship with Diana is adorable and real as things are not always picture perfect… just watch out for the raspberry cordial. Anne’s temper is also a fun thing to watch, much to the dismay of Gilbert Blythe… don’t call her hair carrots! Though the ending was a little disappointing on my end personally as Anne lets go of a great opportunity, but she has her reason. And that reason was justifiable in regards to the circumstances. I wish I read more books when I was a kid, as this anime is a good example. But the benefit of watching them now is seeing them with character designs I know and love.

aogg_5Released the same year as more ‘revolutionary’ shows like the original Gundam and Rose of Versailles, Anne of Green Gables can seem like a more tame family oriented affair. It is since much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series are basically adaptations of literature, but never, ever, discount these shows. I am honored that Japan back in the day gave the attention to bring stories like Anne of Green Gables a place in the sun. Not only does it show Japan’s willingness to be open to other cultures (because anything foreign is awesome, right?), but it gives those of us in the west to see familiar stories in a different style. Anne of Green Gables you are a fine classic. Who needs Cliff Notes? But you should still read the original… and so should I.

#26 : Future Boy Conan

fbc_1Time to show us what you got to prove Mr. Miyazaki because you are now in charge of a full length TV series. Having worked his way for the last several years as a key animator, episode director, storyboard artist, etc., Hayao Miyazaki finally got his hands on a project where he got to take the drivers seat. The year is 1978 and the production is a loose adaptation of a sci-fi novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. The end product is a rarity as most know Miyazaki for his film work, but the hard work and passion is still there in this 26 episode adventure. Let us travel to the past to see the future in Future Boy Conan.

fbc_2If there is one thing I got from this series is that it is signature Miyazaki though and though. It looks like his work. It feels like his work. Maybe even smells or tastes like his work? The humor and hijinks are there with elements of drama as well. All of this on a much smaller budget compared to what he has had to work with on the big screen, but then again Miyazaki knows how to make every little detail count. The only big difference is the fact he had a longer time frame to tell this story. If only some of his film projects could have been TV series as well?

fbc_3Two of his later films always crept into my thoughts as I was making my way through the series. It might be me, but I could see later elements that would become Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. Nausicaa for the fact that we have a sci-fi fantasy adventure based on our planet and not some over the top space opera with robots or aliens and Castle for the adventure of a couple kids trying to restore a sense of order in the world. And of course there is the love of environmentalism and the possible corruptions of mankind when we think we have the technology to conquer Mother Nature. The World Masterpiece Theatre meta series, Nippon Animation’s yearly adaptation of western children’s novels, also comes to my mind. Future Boy Conan is an ‘unofficial’ cousin (muy opinion) due to the fact that this again is based on a book and the production was also done at Nippon.

fbc_4Enough of the details, who is Conan and what is this show about? In a post apocalyptic world after a major war, most of the continents have sank into the sea. On a small island two remaining survivors from an escape group live and thrive. One is our young hero Conan, the other is an older man who he calls grandfather, not sure if he is biologically related, but that is besides the point. One day as Conan, who by the way is an exceptional deep sea diver, was partaking a little revenge on a shark who had been causing trouble for the island discovers a girl on the shoreline. Her name is Lana and thus begins their journey to thwart the corruption of the so-named Industria. Along their journey they meet friends including the goofy Captain Dyce, feral child Jimsy (he loves frogs) and Lana’s long lost grandfather, Dr. Briac Lao to aid them on their quest.

Future Boy Conan is what a great kid’s show should be. It’s enjoyable for the whole family, fun and endearing, which of course is what Miyazaki specializes in. If you love Miyazaki’s work and you have not seen this show… then you have homework.