Serious whimsey

I recently watched three of Osamu Tezuka’s animated films from the ’60’s. “Tales of a Streetcorner” and “Male” date from 1962; “Mermaid” is from 1964. Technically, they’re anime: they are animated, and they are from Japan. However, they don’t look at all like Tezuka’s Astro Boy, the animated version of which dates from the same period. There are no “big eyes, small mouths” here. The drawing in all three is generally very simple. The focus is on Tezuka’s ideas, and he uses the simplest means to tell the story. “Male” is a brief bit of black humor; to say more would spoil it. It’s not for kids. In “Mermaid,” a young man rescues a fish and imagines that he has found a mermaid. Daydreaming is against the law, however, and the brain police come for him.

“Tales of a Streetcorner” is the earliest and most ambitious of the three. It involves a little girl and her stuffed bear, a mouse, a moth, a sycamore tree and a street lined with posters. Aside from the brief introduction of the dramatis personae, the story is presented entirely without words (there are glyphs on the posters, but they are in no language I recognize). In the course of its forty minutes, whimsey collides with anti-war sentiment. In the hands of someone less capable than Tezuka it would have been a mess, and as it is, it’s nearly indigestible toward the end. Nevertheless, the wit ultimately compensates for the preachiness.


Knight of the Ribbon

A curiousity that might be worth following: Ribon no Kishi. It’s based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka and was originally broadcast in 1967-8. The first of the 52 episodes has just been fansubbed in English.

In a fairy-tale kingdom, only males can be heirs to the throne. Unfortunately, the royal child, Sapphire, is a girl. She’s raised as a prince, and at the beginning of the story she’s very much an energetic, mischievous boy, expert at swordplay and archery and disdainful of needlework. The evil Grand Duke Duralumin has guessed the prince’s secret, and he and the slimy Count Nylon want to expose Sapphire’s sex so the duke can inherit the throne. There’s also the little angel Tink, sent by Heaven to make a proper young woman of Sapphire.

Ribon no Kishi is of historical interest as the first anime targeted specifically at girls, albeit genki tomboys. It’s potentially good entertainment for all children. Sapphire is a spirited character whom girls — and boys, too* — can identify with. If the first episode is representative, there will be plenty of action, but not to bloody excess, and equally plentiful humor. To my non-expert eyes, the art and animation look very good for their period. It’s too soon to be sure, but I think I’d rather kids watch this than, say, Sugar Sugar Rune.

Addendum: More information here and here. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

*At least until the prince from the next kingdom shows up. Then it is likely to become more shoujo than shonen.


Waiting for the Endo

Meredith would like to see some Catholic anime. Although there are some series with Christian resonances, usually overt Christian elements are just exotic flavorings. The Shusako Endo of animation has yet to appear. (It looks like I will have to watch Full Metal Alchemist once it’s available as an inexpensive boxed set, though, and perhaps Trigun.)

One of the commentors to Meredith’s post pointed out that there actually is a Catholic anime series, In the Beginning, begun by Osamu Tezuka at the Vatican’s request. Tezuka was the creator of AstroBoy and is the artist credited/blamed for the oversized eyes that characterize anime. The series has been shown on EWTN, according to the commentor, but the 25 episodes apparently have never been released as region 1 DVDs; neither amazon.com nor The RightStuf have heard of it.

Addendum: The RightStuf does carry In the Beginning as a 25-tape dubbed VHS set for $269.78.