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 “realist” aesthetic and approach of the show was possible thanks to its director, who in fact debuted as chief director: the second of the three Yoshida brothers, Ippei Kuri. Largely overshadowed by the other two rising anime directors of the time that were Isao Takahata (in Tôei) and Osamu Dezaki (in Mushi), Kuri was easily on par with them in terms of artistic vision; one may even argue that him and Tatsunoko’s artists and technicians largely laid the ground that would make Dezaki’s expressionist style possible. In that regard, Sanshirô can be read as a site for formal and technical experimentation, wherein “realism” was but one of the many aspects that were explored.
Flanders is among the most well-known works in the World Masterpiece Theater canon, both in Japan and overseas; it is perhaps the most famous outside of the select list of Isao Takahata’s entries in the series. Such fame is not surprising when one considers Flanders’ tragic finale, and the fact that this ultimate episode reportedly reached the highest audience rating in the history of the World Masterpiece Theater - an impressive 30.1%. However, it is also questionable whether such fame is really deserved - indeed, Flanders is perhaps the most imperfect show among 1970’s World Masterpiece Theater entries. There is of course a sort of contradiction here - how is it that such a poorly made series became so popular? The aim of this article is precisely to answer this - to illustrate the elements that make Flanders a subpar work, and to understand how it could have been such a success nevertheless.