What a strange beast this anime is. I'm dying to know the reason for which it was produced, but I'll only do that after I've written the review. Why is it strange? well, it's got all the Ghibli names, but it's very different from what many of us expect from the founders of this esteemed and respected studio.
The story opens with the very young Mimiko putting her grandma on the train. Grandma has to attend a memorial, even though she's the only other person in Mimiko's family and worries about leaving her alone. However the very confident, capable and cheerful Mimiko is having none of it and firmly sends Grandma on her way telling her that she'll be fine. And apparently this is the case, with the story informing us that it is mostly Mimiko running the house and looking after Grandma rather than the reverse.
However it is not long before Mimiko discovers that she has a family. For when she returns from the station she finds a young panda has been attracted to the Bamboo grove surrounding her house. Naturally enough the two of them bond immediately, although when the sizable daddy panda appears it's a little bit more tentative. However daddy panda has a good heart, and feels that a young girl would grow up better with a father, a duty he feels he can perform. Mimiko is delighted with the concept, and in exchange determines to be the mother to the baby panda. An idea with which he is delighted. Indeed everyone is so happy they immediately stand on their heads.
Okay, that probably didn't make much sense. The first part that is missing is the atmosphere. This is very obviously an anime intended for children. The atmosphere is light, the depiction simple and the colors bright. This is not going to be a show full of darkness, danger and harsh reality. Rather it is going to be fun, with a side order of touching. Thus Mimiko is a unbelievably confident, capable and up-beat heroine. The absolute model of a `good girl', although perhaps a bit rough around the edges. Meanwhile baby panda is a black and white ball of cuteness, while papa panda is a huge comfy ball of strength, stability and peaceful good nature. And, in the best tradition of such things, they're intelligent and chatty.
And during the two episodes I've seen they have some adventures...though there's never any real doubt that things will work out. In the first they are working out the details of home life when the zoo attempts to re-capture their missing famous panda. In the second the circus comes to town, bringing more intelligent animals to increase the fun. It's quite fun, full of energy, life and cheerfully silly action and events.
It's also very strange. This might be just me, but there's an unusual and not entirely successful feel to the show. While it's a show for children it's very carefully constructed. The way in which the characters express themselves, and the way scenes are framed is very mature and skilled. And the fun, over the top, scenes are carefully calculated events. I'm not an expert on children's anime, it's been a little while since I could appreciate it as a consumer, but I wonder if it's not a little bit cold. It seems to me that it might be a little too carefully designed, and controlled, to generate the energy and life that children desire. If you happen to have this anime, and a convenient child, by all means test the truth of my syspicion...It's entertaining enough that the child shouldn't mind the experience.
Then again, perhaps I'm just jealous. After all, when Miyazaki gets down to writing up some ideas I want more stuff designed for me. Things like his wonderful Totoro, while Kid compatible, were still intensely enjoyable films for me. This piece, being light and fully focused on children, is not so wide in its appeal.
In any case the animation is interesting. It looks like television quality animation in a quite classical cartoon style. The trick is that it looks like modern television animation, in 1972 I suspect a more substantial budget would have been required. In any case colors are bright, shapes are clean and the motion is sort of weird looking. When Mimiko skips the motion is focused on representing the idea of skipping, rather than the reality of a moving body. The same is true of physics and machinery, they follow a strong cartoon logic. It's solidly produced, likeable and has a unified sense of vision and style behind it. The voices are good, the music is intensely repetitive perhaps intended so that children will sing along with it.
Apparently not a very common anime, with fairly little information on the web and no reviews from my regular sources. However Nausicaa.net, the home of all things Ghibli, has some information even though this is not a Ghibli film. They identify them as a film release and a single sequel.