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Did You Know This Was Anime? – Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics

by on September 7, 2009



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Did you grow up watching Nicklodeon’s “Nick Jr.”
block during the daytime in the 80’s and 90’s? If you did, surprise–just like me
and my siblings, you were being raised in large part on localized Japanese
cartoons. Such child-targeted series as Maya the Bee, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, The
Adventures of the Little Koala,
and The Littl’ Bits made anime a
substantial part of the channel’s child programming during the daytime. Being the nostalgic adult that I am, I’ll also give a shout out to the spanish-produced cartoon The World of David the Gnome, vintage 1985.

It is well worth taking note of series like these for
reasons beyond nostalgic purposes. Here we have anime that are “cartoons.” Just to look at most of them you probably wouldn’t conclude that they “look
asian” or fit the lazy stereotypes applied to Japanese animation that were attacked in this space last time. I’d bet
plenty of money that no child ever knew the difference. Indeed, they look
ordinary. I didn’t make that last comment to look down on them, far from it. These are all
shows that appealed to kids on both sides of the Pacific. I say it to emphasize
how “anime” fits the literal definition of the term “animation” that it shouldn’t be divorced from.
And animation is a versatile medium no matter where it comes from.

For today we’ll focus on a particularly good example of a children’s
anime with broad appeal, the anthology series Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics. As you’ve probably guessed, that wasn’t
the original name in Japan: they
called it Grimm Masterpiece Theatre (Grimm
Meisaku Gekijou). It ran for 24 episodes in 1987 on Japan’s
TV Asahi station and continued for a second season of 23 in 1988 under the
derivative name New Grimm Masterpiece
. Animation production was handled by Nippon Animation, which is no
stranger to adaptations like this. Serious anime fans may know about its work
in Hunter X Hunter or Armored Trooper Votoms, but much of its
filmography includes children/family programming with complete series for Swiss
Family Robinson, Anne of Green Gables, and Alice in Wonderland among many other
literary classics.

Outside of Japan,
it was eventually broadcast on local stations throughout Latin
America, in France,
and through Nicklodeon in the United States.
In English the series had music credited to Shuki Levy and Haim Saban, who also
served as Executive Producer along with Jerald Bergh. Saban and Levy scored for
many other classics as well such as The
Mysterious Cities of Gold
, He-Man,
and She-Ra. Other staff of interest
include ADR Director Scott Page-Pagter (Tekkaman
, Fafner) and script
supervisor Tony Oliver (Eureka Seven,Gurren Lagann, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo).

As you might expect, most episodes cover fairy tales written
by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century, though some room
were made for other stories as well. Most of the well known tales you could
name were covered by the series: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel,
Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella. Personally
though, even today I best remember the less known stories that the series
introduced me to. Bearskin told the story of a destitute soldier that basically
makes a deal with a devil: he gains infinite wealth but must wear a bearskin
for seven years, also abandoning all personal hygiene. One day he intervenes on
behalf of a bankrupt merchant, who offers to have him marry one of his three
daughters. Only one of the three sees past his appearance to the man underneath.
He gets engaged and leaves to live out his final three years, returns as the
handsome man that he once was, and all ends well.

But my favorite is probably King Grizzle Beard, an adaptation
of the story King Thrushbeard. The cartoon tells the story of a self-centered
princess that rejected and insulted every suitor, viewing herself as being
above all of them. Her father the king grows angry and declares that she will
marry the next suitor that comes to court, soon after which a poor farmer approaches the palace–whoops! During the story the princess learns the value of
hard work and comes to appreciate how the common folk live, and of course
there’s a happily-ever-after ending. Normally you expect fairy tale princesses
to be possessing virtue equal to their beauty to begin with, but that story was
different and had a good point.

Though the series has been released on DVD in region 2, for
now it’s just a good memory in the United States.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a real shame. Those wanting fairy tales no
doubt have places to go already, but Grimm’s
Fairy Tale
classics delivered lots of great storytelling in a half hour of
good television. It wasn’t limited to just the tales that everybody knows
because Disney made movies about them. It may not have been the most exciting
series brought over from Japan at the time, but it had its place and I’m glad that it came.

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