Little Mermaid, The
Sometimes when you crawl around the back shelves of video stores you can get some really strange looks. Especially when you're going through the kids section. Then again, that's where any anime tends to end up because everyone knows cartoons are for children. And sometimes you find interesting tapes like this that make it worth while.
Why is it interesting? Well, the title now reminds most people of the all singing all dancing family friendly Disney Movie. Something this title decidedly is not. Instead it cuts much closer to the story, and one would assume the mood, of the original tale. And given the story shown here one can understand why Disney felt the urge to make a couple of `minor' changes.
We follow the youngest daughter of the merman king. She's energetic, headstrong and adventurous. Not always doing the wisest thing but extremely determined once she makes a choice. And, unfortunately, one of those decisions is on the man she loves. First glimpsed as a statue on a sunken ship, then a passenger on a sinking one, she is given the chance to come into his life. However she knows that a mermaid and a human can have no chance of a relationship. But within the sea lives dark magic that may give her the chance she needs to find love. Although the price asked, and risks she must face, will be sizable.
It really was amazingly strange to watch this show. This tape is rated G, and Hans Christian Anderson's original story was probably intended for children, but it feels quite out of place now. In racks full of happy good natured and carefully sanitised adventure this one has a much darker and more mature tone. No surprise really, anime is not afraid to have quite complex stories and meaningful events even in kids shows. And clearly the original author felt the same way. As a result there is violence, nudity and no guarantee of a happy ending. It's actually rather intense.
I'm not sure I'm a personal fan of this sort of story, but I do respect it. The story is simple, but strong, and will tend to imprint itself on your memory with an undeniable power. What did come as a surprise was the degree of ambiguity in the story. The question of whether there is a moral, a message, or a deep meaning hidden in this story is left for the viewer to determine. It might be considered sad that we've come to expect to see hints, or a concluding speech, to make it all clear. Likewise the writing is quite subtle. While the subject is clearly on love do not expect impassioned poetic flights of fancy. The dialog is solid, and set so deeply in the context of the story, that it `feels' right and realistic.
So, am I saying it's good? Well, mostly. There are several problems to be overcome. The first is that the animation is not new. One gets the feeling that a lot of older animation was cheaply licensed for the American direct to video market. The second thing is that it is not kid safe. There is blood, violence and (as I mentioned) top-less mermaids. This is how mermaids have been classically depicted, but it (sadly) seems weird to see such honesty in a G rated movie. It's not sexual, or offensive, but might not be what parents expect. The third thing is that, well, I don't know how well these stories are received anymore. Will this tape still have appeal for children raised in a very different media environment? It's an interesting question but I find myself at a loss to guess the answer.
I guess the summary is that I recognise the skill in both the content, direction and depiction of this story. And I admire the tapes depth of feeling and sheer `difference' from modern kids entertainment. While it's good enough that I didn't mind watching it, and skilled enough that I did feel the emotion of it, I really can't say I'd champion it. The animation is old, and the story weird, enough so that anime fans might not enjoy it. Likewise I would not be surprised if kids find it weird and even `boring' by todays standards. I'm not sure which group, other than anime completionists, will treasure this tape. But what the hell, it's skilled enough that if you have any interest you won't lose by giving it a try.
And onto the animation. The first thing to mention is that there's some live action footage at the start (kids in bad 70's clothes) and end (a statue of the little mermaid). I can't tell whether this has been added to the original or not. The animation itself is, as mentioned, neither impressively new nor high budget. The design looks somewhat odd by today's standards. It is also obvious that depicting the complexities of the underwater kingdom, furious storms and underwater dangers has had to be significantly simplified to meet a realistic budget. In addition the action scenes, and there are some, do not have a high frame count. However I would have to say that the animation is sufficient for the story, does have a strong and consistent feel, and can even manage some quite attractive moments. The voices are decent and do grow on you, there's some new music as well which is a touch unclear but surprisingly tasteful for the period.
None of my regular sources seem to have a review of this title. And given the age, and probably rarity, of the tape I don't expect this to change in the near future.