Saturday, January 1, 2011

Video Backlog: "Animated Classics of Japanese Literature"

Publisher: Central Park Media (USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 12 Episodes x 25 minutes
Production Date: 1986
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

Story Outline: A collection of TV episodes from the 32 episode series adapting the works of Japanese authors (original title; "Sumitomo Life Insurance Youth Anime Complete Collection"). It includes “The Harp of Burma” by Takeyama Michio, “Season of the Sun” by Ishihara Shintaro, “Botchan” by Soseki Natsume, “Student Days” by Kume Masao, “The Izu Dancer” by Kawabata Yasunari, “The Dancing Girl” by Mori Ohgai, “A Ghost Story” by Koizumi Yakumo, “The Sound of Waves” by Mishima Yukio and “Growing Up” by Higuchi Ichiyo.

Mini Review: Well, this certainly another odd CPM release. Yes, I’m getting to the bottom of the barrel in terms of the left over CPM related DVDs I have to watch. Originally released in what I think was its entirety in 1994, we only got 12 episodes on DVD. The episodes presented here are a real mix of pretty awful to rather entertaining. The WWII tale “The Harp of Burma” is just plain annoying. Old "Bill 156/I hate those gays/the rape of Nanking never happened/old women are useless" Ishihara Shintaro’s infamous “Season of the Sun” pops up here (I’ll be doing a proper review on this one plus a look at Bill 156 sometime down the track). Serious who’d want to watch two brothers fight over a woman like she was a piece of meat? Frustrating, awful and self-obsessed characters. In fact this animated adaptation would probably fall foul of his stupid Bill 156 laws and is a lot worse than a lot of the manga and anime the bill will effect. I think it has the most nudity in any anime I have seen for a little while. “Student Days” was utterly depressing and had some mixed messages in there. The other horrible one was “The Dancing Girl” which was overly melodramatic and frustrating. “The Sound of Waves” concerning a budding teen relationship in a small fishing village was really entertaining, as was “Growing Up” which had a similar story set in the late 1800’s, though with a younger cast and a melancholic outcome. “The Izu Dancer”, another similar story of first love was adequate, but not brilliant. The two best stories in this collection were “Botchan”, a comedy about a Tokyo teacher’s troubles at a rural private school and “A Ghost Story”, a rather creepy story, also adapted as part of the 1964 Toho film “Kawidan”.

As a whole, it’s not a great series at all. Many times I found myself shouting at the TV because it was all so silly. Part of the problem is that what we are seeing has been adapted from lengthy novels. It’s hard to crap that much into less than 25 minutes of screen time. A lot of subtext and plot has to be cut. Sure some stores run to two episodes, but even then there’s not enough time to tell the story properly. There’s also the use of different directors for each episode and different character designers. It’s just a hodge podge of different styles and nothing is consistent from story to story. It doesn’t feel like a series as a whole. However this can work to the story’s advantage. In particular the design for “Growing Up” was rather interesting and quite different to what was showing on TV at the time. The animation as you’d expect is typical of TV anime of 25 years ago, and it really shows. Some of the animation is abysmal at times. As I understand it, this show was an attempt to get kids to take up reading classics. If I was a Japanese kid, I really couldn’t be bothered if the stories presented here are really representative of Japanese literature (thank god they’re not). It was a bit of a chore to get through this collection. Despite the bright spots, I can only give this 4 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 20 months (it's much easier this way than listing the number of discs).

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