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Anne of Green Gables: Classic Magic

Being a huge fan of Heidi: Girl of the Alps (one of the earliest series Miyazaki had a hand in the creation of), I was all kinds of excited when I discovered that my local specialty rental place managed to dig up a copy of Anne of Green Gables. It’s another series in the same animated world classics series that included Heidi, as well as several other hugely popular (in Japan) stories, such as The Dog of Flanders. It’s also directed by Isao Takahata, whose subtle, naturalistic style should be perfect for the story, and the scene design is by Miyazaki, so I have every expectation of it being a very attractive series.

A handful of episodes in, and already that simple magic that made Heidi so wonderful, not to mention Takahata’s steady hand, is evident in abundance. One of the first scenes is absolutely wonderful despite its simplicity: Left alone to wait at a train platform, Anne wanders over to a pile of bags and sits down, then after a bit gets up and starts balance beam walking the train rail. There’s no sound in the scene other than birds chirping, and it’s in no hurry—just watching her entertain herself, building both character and a sense of anticipation as her adoptive parent meanders nearer. She also stops to ponder a blossoming cherry tree across the tracks, which is particularly clever; it’s obviously striking visually, but we don’t know why exactly she’s looking at it until a while later, when she explains to Matthew what she was planning on doing if he hadn’t shown up that evening.

I’m so far enjoying it thoroughly, as I’d expect—it hasn’t earned a reputation as a seminal classic for nothing. There’s a lot of Heidi in it, but at the same time, while it does involve an orphan girl and unwelcoming adoptive parents, the characters are very different—the chatty, willfully overdramatic Anne is about as far from Heidi as you could get in “cheerful orphan girl.” I no longer have any memory of the original story from whatever early point in school I read it, so I’m not approaching it in terms of how good of an adaptation it is, which is probably better in a way—easier to lose yourself in the story.

The only minuses are, thus far, a Fantasia-esque abstract musical interlude about an avenue of beautiful flowering trees, which while not my thing isn’t inappropriate—the story is, after all, about the wonderful fantasies Anne creates in her head.

Mostly, though, I don’t like the casting behind Anne at all—Eiko Yamada sounds distinctive, but far too much like an older woman trying to sound like a girl than like an actual girl (which is ironic given that five-year-old Heidi was voiced by a 27-year-old Kazuko Sugiyama, compared to 11-year-old Anne voiced by a 25-year-old Yamada). I assume her voice will grow on me, but it’s unfortunate to have to mentally work around that

I also confess that I found some of Anne’s dramatic weeping more amusing than sad, but I’m not sure whether that was blown drama, because of the acting, or just a different interpretation of the scene due to my being older (and of course knowing how it’s going to turn out). She is, after all, an overdramatic girl by nature, so when she loudly announces that she’s going to burst out crying and then does, I didn’t have the sympathy I otherwise would have even though the situation really is pretty sad. Some of the quieter sadness later had a more effective heartstring-tug, though.

I’m looking forward to this show about as much as anything else I’m watching, which is impressive given that it’s over 30 years old and I’ve currently got a pile of very interesting looking modern (and classic) anime sitting beside my TV.