Anne of Green Gables is one of the most popular works in the World Masterpiece Theater series, both in Japan and in the English-speaking sphere. According to many of those who have seen it, it may even qualify for the title of best anime of all time. It also represents a historical turning point: it is the first entry in the time slot that was now officially called “World Masterpiece Theater”, instead of “Calpis Children’s Theater” (1975-1977) or “Calpis Family Theater” (1978). And yet, it is perhaps the most imperfect among Isao Takahata’s three shows for Zuiyo Video/Nippon Animation, and by far one of the most difficult productions that the director, studio and all the artists involved had known. This latter, darker aspect of Anne appears to be at best underdiscussed, or at worst completely unknown, in English-speaking circles. While providing a detailed commentary and analysis of the show as well as its place in anime history and Isao Takahata’s career, this article also aims to raise awareness and shed light on those somber moments.
The World Masterpiece Theater entry for the year 1976, Marco, pushed studio Nippon Animation and the artists associated with it to their limits. As a result, the year 1977 was marked by disorganization, as most of Marco’s staff temporarily or definitively left the WMT, and the series for that year, Rascal the Raccoon, brought on new, possibly inexperienced, and simply less notable artists. This article will therefore not only focus on Rascal, but on two other works: the first is another Nippon show, Jacky the Bearcub, which counted among its staff most of Marco’s main artists: directors Isao Takahata and Seiji Okuda, and animators Toshiyasu Okada, Kôichi Murata, Reiko Okuyama and Yôichi Kotabe. The other is a completely different production, the first film by studio Shin-Ei, Tenguri, Boy of the Plains, which reunited Yasuo Otsuka and his students outside of Nippon Animation. Just a year before Future Boy Conan, 1977’s Rascal and Tenguri were the last works on which Hayao Miyazaki made significant contributions as a key animator. They therefore represent a turning point in his career, as well as that of all other artists who had been revolving around World Masterpiece Theater productions.
While the idea of a unified “Ghibli aesthetic” or “style” is debatable at best, it makes no doubt that all the animators mentioned here brought something different to their work outside the studio. The first element was quality, a result both of their talent and of the formation they had received before or after they started collaborating with Ghibli. The second element is more difficult to grasp, and is closer to what one may refer to as a “style”: something in common to almost all of their approaches to animation. The goal of this article is not only to point out its characteristics and evolution, but also to situate it within a wider context: indeed, the period between 1986 and 1991 is a key one in anime history, as it saw the emergence of a new school of thought and style: realism. Although quantitatively minor, the work of those 6 Ghibli-related animators in fact played a central role in the spread of the realist aesthetic.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps needs no introduction. One of the most important and influential works in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata’s first series for Zuiyo Video would set a gold standard for all subsequent World Masterpiece Theater entries. Much has already been said about Heidi, especially on its status as a so-called “pre-Ghibli” work or on how representative it is of Takahata’s style and philosophy. Considering the theme of this series, this article will instead put Heidi back in its historical context: that of the extended World Masterpiece canon, and of 1974 anime.
Yama Nezumi Rocky Chuck, known in the English-speaking world as Fables of the Green Forest, can be considered the first show to fit into the extended World Masterpiece Theater canon: it was the first production of studio Zuiyo Video, which would become Nippon Animation, to take place in the consecrated Sunday 19:30 time slot on Fuji TV.