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World Masterpiece Theater Anime

An appreciation by GC.

The World Masterpiece Theater, (WMT) is a series of animated classic novel adaptations shown on Fuji TV, who commissioned them from animation studios. The title is also associated with the Japanese studio Nippon Animation, who made the last 23 series shown under the WMT banner. If the series made before the founding of Nippon Animation are included, there were about 28 in all. These series should be of some interest to fans looking for a change from the common shounen or "boys' anime" anime, since the original books were written for children and adapted to anime for a child audience. Hence, ultra-violence and "fanservice" (i.e. sexy images of young women) are definitely absent. By the same token, nervous parents may note that all WMT are "child-safe" viewing. Those already familiar with shoujo anime may note that a lot of the original novels were written by women and many of the lead characters are girls, as you'll see from the notes at the foot of this article.

Generally speaking, the WMT series are adaptations of classic children's novels written by American or European authors, and each was a 40 to 50 episode TV series for Fuji TV. The Nippon Animation studio which made all but the earliest had its origins in the work of Isao Takahata, (director) Hayao Miyazaki (continuity and scene layout ) and Youichi Odabe (animation and character design), who worked together on the adaptation of Heidi for the animation studio Zuiyo Enterprises.

These series have had little attention from Western fans. Perhaps most judge from the titles and settings that these are not "proper" anime, and pass them by in favour of more typical and overtly Japanese fare. But they are unique, and with their mongrel sources and settings are a truly "international" suite of animated stories. (In their overseas broadcast form they can be even more international; I have at least one recording with three languages on the soundtrack and a fourth on the screen!) It has been suggested that the WMT line were produced as prestige projects rather than for purely commercial reasons, and whatever the case, they form a quite distinct group of animations of unusual quality. Judging by the two dozen or so WMT series I have sampled, they all have some things in common: almost without exception, they are novel adaptations, period pieces with non-Japanese settings and characters, set in the 19th or early 20th century, usually in a rural location. They have some very attractive (sometimes lavish) background paintings and character designs, and (compared with much Japanese weirdness and, even more forcefully, almost all Western animation), strong storylines and intelligent scripts. The principal characters are children, with adults as secondary characters. In style, the WMT anime all have a decidedly "European" feel. It seems likely that they were made with export in mind, and in this regard there are two pieces of evidence, one, that these are uniformly suitable for children of all ages, with all the weirder features sometimes found in anime made for Japanese consumption being utterly absent, (ie no panties, nudity, innuendo or ultra-violence) ; two, that out of these 28 rather obscure anime TV series, four are running on European satellite TV as I write (around 1995 - GC).

You may well find the Nippon Animation series animation more lavish than some of the other TV anime shows.

Assertions about the quality of WMT series may not tempt anime fans away from their Please Save My Earth or Zetsu Ai but a confrontation with the material may have a salutary and quite different effect! I never bothered to investigate something called 'Ein Frohlisces Familie' even knowing that it was an adaptation of "Little Women", till I recorded ten minutes of it by accident and realised that it was an anime, probably a WMT, and contained some of the most vivid animated characterisation I have ever seen. And I was hooked on it. (If you don't find Amy March the cutest child in anime, then maybe you shouldn't become a parent...)

One comment one can make about the WMT series is that one sees a lot more of children behaving like children or pubescent girls (rather than superheroes) than one does in much of the more well-known anime. Whether you find this particularly charming depends on your age... Another comment one could make is that, being based on period novels, the series show us an ideal of how children should be that often differs radically from contemporary experience and also from some characters depicted in modern anime. Modern characters are wont to adopt some of the persona of the streetwise rebel. This kind of person would be anathema to writers of an earlier age. To take Anne of Green Gables as an example, when the novel was written it was clearly taken as given that girls ought to be obedient, polite, helpful, skilled in domestic tasks, and well-behaved, and Anne's upbringing is devoted to these ends. Furthermore, her guardian regards pretty dresses and concert outings as frivolous and unsound. It's also clear that Anne is a very intelligent child, who enjoys books and learning. This is true also of Katri in Katri the Cow-Girl, Jo March in Little Women, Sara Crowe in A Little Princess, and so on, too much for it to be accidental. This is doubtless an adult view of an ideal child. But how things have changed! Nowadays scriptwriters seem reluctant to make their heroines too clever, lest the viewers fail to identify with them. So we get heroines like Miaka in Fushigi Yuugi, who is a delightful girl, but seemingly incapable of doing anything smarter than run straight into trouble, or run around shouting "Eek! Tamahome!" and falling over. It also comes as a shock to compare the content of Tico and Nanami, the only WMT series to have an original script, with the other WMT anime. Tico and Nanami is quite typical of modern entertainment in being packed with lurid action including (in just a handful of episodes) thugs in speedboats, gunfire, a kidnapping, fistfights, and a massacre of seals. In the other 22 series a more typical scene has a child herding cows, tobogganing, or sitting with her nose in a book. It really makes one stop and wonder what we are doing to our kid's heads with today's lurid fare.

Just to give you a feel for the quality of some of the WMT animation, various of the personnel also worked for Studio Ghibli, and from time to time one's eye is caught by a face, a profile or a mannerism that seems to have come straight from one of the famous Miyazaki movies. Likewise, on a 28" PAL TV screen some of the rural background paintings are spectacular. As for the faithfulness of the adaptations, considering the potential for deviation that exists in turning a book into a TV series, it is pleasing to note that large chunks of, for instance, "Little Women" and "Little Princess Sara" appear on screen little altered.

Some of the source novels will be very familiar to English-speaking readers; while others have never been translated into English. (Those in English make a handy script for following foreign-dubbed TV episodes.) Of the more familiar titles, some are well known as books for girls (my mother read all the Louisa May Alcott novels, two of which are animated). Looking down the list of titles, there aren't many that look like "Boy's stories" and of those I have seen, "Romeo's Blue Skies" perhaps comes nearest to being a boy's series. The choice of WMT source material may be due to the Japanese fad for all things Western, but it means the series have stronger storylines than might otherwise be the case. TICO OF THE SEVEN SEAS, however, is the only original script, and considered by some to be one of the weaker series.

WMT TV series ceased to be made, but seem to have re-started after a long hiatus - see the "Les Miserables - Shoujo Cosette" anime of 2007, etc. The three series made after TICO OF THE SEVEN SEAS all had shorter than normal runs and interruptions in the schedules for sumo matches etc, and Fuji TV, unhappy about low ratings, finally axed the WMT altogether. Some fans apparently felt that the last few series had inferior animation, and this would have contributed to the downward spiral. I can only attest that ROMEO'S BLUE SKIES has rather cheap-looking credit sequences, and the animation contains none of the flashes of brilliance that illuminate some of the earlier series.

Apart from ROMEO'S BLUE SKIES, these series don't appear on fansubbers' lists. Europeans ( including UK) may see them on European satellite TV, where seven or more WMT series have appeared in the last few months. (UK fans- there's nothing difficult or expensive about equipping for satellite anime - all you need is cash equivalent to the price of a video recorder, and some real estate of your own to have the dish bolted onto.)

If you had to decide between buying some of the dismal anime on the 1997 release lists over here, or watching some of the glorious WMT anime on TV for nothing, which would you choose? My mind's already made up.

Fuji/WMT titles:

Moomin #2
Rocky Chuck
The Stories of H.C. Andersen.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps

Shortlist of 23 Fuji/Nippon Animation/WMT titles:

A Dog of Flanders
3000 Leagues in Search of Mother
Rascal Raccoon
The Story of Perrine
Anne of Green Gables
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Robinson family lost at sea:
Lucy of the Southern Rainbows
Story of the Alps: My Annette
Katri, Girl of the Meadows
Little Princess Sara
Tale of Pollyanna, Girl of Love
Love's Tale of Young Grass (Little Women)
Little Prince Cedie
The Adventures of Peter Pan
Daddy Long-legs
Story of the Trapp Family
Bush Baby, Little Angel of the Grasslands
Tale of Young Grass: Nan and Miss Jo (Little Men)
Tico of the Seven Seas
Romeo's Blue Skies
Famous Dog Lassie
Remi the Homeless Girl

(detailed list)
Pre-Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater Anime:

1974: arupusu no shoujo haiji Heidi, Girl of the Alps (from ZUIYO ENTERPRISE)

Original Work: Heidi (Pt. 1: Heidi's Lehr-und Wanderjahre,
Pt. 2: (Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat) (1880 & 1881)

Continuations: Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children by Charles Tritten, "Johanna Spyri's translator"
Author: Johanna Spyri (1827-1901)

Nationality: Swiss.
Story Setting: Alm-uncle's cabin near Maienfeld, Switzerland; and Frankfurt, Germany. Story Beginning Date: 1877: Heidi is brought to Alm-mountain by Dete. Series Length: 52 Eps. Director: Takahata Isao Character design: Odabe Youichi Theme songs: Opening: Tell me Closing: Wait a moment Vocalist: Oosugi Kumiko ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The sum total 23 Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater tv series

1975: furandaasu no inu / A Dog of Flanders
Original Work: A Dog of Flanders & Other Stories (1872)

Author: Marie Louisa De La Rame (Ouida) (1839-1908)

Nationality: English

Story Setting: A small village near Antwerp, Netherlands

Story Beginning Date: 1870: Nello meets Patrasche.
Series Length: 52 Eps.

Director: Kuroda Yoshio

Character design: Mori Yasuji
Theme songs:
Opening: Daybreak on the road

Closing: Walk to the ends of the earth

Vocalist: Oosugi Kumiko

Yasushi Harasawa's Flanders page with ep list, char list and credits. (Japanese)

1976: haha wo tazunete sanzen ri / 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (From the Appenines to the Andes)

Original Work: (Cuore) Heart: an Italian schoolboy's journal, a book for boys (1878)

Author: Edmondo de Amicis (1846-1908)

Nationality: Italian

Story Setting: Genova, Italy (Marco's hometown); and then across the Atlantic by boat to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Story Beginning Date: 1881: Marco's mother Anna goes to Argentina.
Series Length: 52 Eps.

Director: Takahata Isao

Character design: Odabe Youichi

Theme songs:

Opening: Marco of the grasslands

Closing: Good morning, mother

Vocalist: Oosugi Kumiko


1977: araiguma rasukaru / Rascal Raccoon

Original Work: Rascal, a Memoir of a Better Era (1963)

Author: Sterling North (1906-1974)

Nationality: American

Story Setting: United States

Story Beginning Date: 1917: Sterling meets Rascal.

Series Length: 52 Eps.

Directors: Endou Seiji and Saito Hiroshi (ep's 1-29)

Koshi Shigeo (ep's 30-52)

Character design: Endou Seiji

Theme songs:

Opening: To Locke River

Closing: Here, Rascal

Vocalist: Oosugi Kumiko


1978: perriinu monogatari / The Story of Perrine
Original Work: En Famille (1890?)
One translated edition (W. Heinemann, 1984; tr. by Lady Mary Loyd) is entitled "Her own folk". Hector Malot wrote another book later on called Sans Famille . Translated literally, En Famille means "with the family" and Sans Famille means "without a family." The latter novel is being animated at this moment. It is entitled Ie naki ko Remi , and has enacted various changes on various aspects of the content.

Author: Hector Malot (1830-1907)

Nationality: French

Story Setting: France

Pre-Story Date: 1878: Perrine born in Dacca, India.

Series Length: 50 Eps.

Directors: Saito Hiroshi and Koshi Shigeo (ep's 1-29)

Koshi Shigeo (ep's 30-50)

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:

Opening: Perrine's story

Closing: Whimsical Baron

Vocalist: Oosugi Kumiko


1979: akage no an / Anne of Green Gables
Original Work: Anne of Green Gables (1908)

Continuations: Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)

Nationality: Canadian
Story Setting: Canada

Story Beginning Date: 1890: Anne arrives at Princess Edwards Isle from Nova Scotia.

Series Length: 50 Eps.

Director: Takahata Isao

Character design: Kondou Yoshifumi

Theme songs:

Opening: Can you hear it?

Closing: An endless dream

Vocalist: Oowada Ritsuko

Yasushi Harasawa's Anne page with ep list, char list and credits.

1980: tomu sooyaa no bouken / The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Original Work: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) .
Apparently there was an animated version of Huckleberry Finn made a few years later, by another animation studio. Nippon Animation has slated a movie re-make of "Tom Sawyer" for Spring, 1999. It is the third in a series of movie remakes scheduled by NA over the next three years.

Author: Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Nationality: American

Story Setting: United States, St. Petersburg, small town on Miss.

Story Beginning Date: Summer 1870: Tom begins his adventures.

Series Length: 49 Eps.

Director: Saitou Hiroshi

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:

Opening: Further than anyone has ever gone

Closing: My Mississippi

Vocalist: Kusaka Maron

1981: kazoku robinson hyouryuuki fushigina shima no furoone / The Robinson family lost at sea: Vroni on the wondrous island
Original Work: The Swiss Family Robinson ( Der Schweizerische Robinson) (1813)
Author: Johann David Wyss (1743-1818)

Nationality: Swiss

Story Setting: Southern Pacific island

Story Beginning Date: 1813: Vroni and family wrecked on deserted

Series Length: 50 Eps.

Director: Kuroda Yoshihirou

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:

Opening: Barefoot Vroni

Closing: Vroni's dream

Vocalist: Han Keiko
1982: minami no niji no ruushii / Lucy of the Southern Rainbows

Original Work: ?

Author: Phyllis Piddington (?)

Nationality: ?
Story Setting: Australia

Story Beginning Date: 1840: The Poppel home moves to southern Australia.

Series Length: 50 Eps.

Director: Saitou Hiroshi

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:

Opening: I want to become a rainbow

Closing: Come into the forest

Vocalist: Yamagata Sumiko


1983: arupusu monogatari watashi no annetto / Story of the Alps: My Annette
Original Work: ? (The japanese translated edition is entitled Yuki no Takara , or "The Snow Treasure")

Author: Patricia M. St. John (?)

Nationality: English

Story Setting: Rossiniere, Switzerland

Story Beginning Date: Spring 1920: Annette and Lucien get into fight.

Series Length: 48 Eps.

Director: Kusuba Kouzou

Character design: Takamatsu Issei

Theme songs:

Opening: Annette's blue skies

Closing: Edelweiss's white flower

Vocalist: Han Keiko


1984: makiba no shoujo katori / Katri, Girl of the Meadows (Katri the Cow Girl)

Original Work: Paimen, piika ja emanta (The ~1940 Japanese translated edition by Morimoto Yasuko and Kolpinen from which the anime hails its title is Makiba no Shoujo , referred to in english as Katri, the Cow Girl)

Author: Auni Nuolivaara

Nationality: Finnish

Story Setting: Finland

Story Beginning Date: Fall 1912: Katri's mother leaves to work in

Series Length: 49 Eps.

Director: Saitou Hiroshi

Character design: Takano Noboru

Theme songs:

Opening: Love: a present for you
Closing: A lullaby on the breeze

Vocalist: Kobayashi Chie


1985: shoukoujo seera / Little Princess Sara

Original Work: A Little Princess (1905)

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett (1848-1924)

Nationality: English

Story Setting: England

Story Beginning Date: 1885: Sara enters Miss Minchin's girls' school.

Series Length: 46 Eps.

Director: Kurokawa Fumio

Character design: Saida Shunji

Theme songs:

Opening: The whisper of a flower
Closing: Sunflower

Vocalist: Shimonari Satoko

1986: ai shoujo porianna monogatari / Tale of Pollyanna, Girl of Love

Original Work: Pollyanna (1913)

Continuations: Pollyanna Grows Up (1915) and various others by different authors after Porter's death

Author: Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868-1920)

Nationality: American

Story Setting: United States; latter half in Boston (and taken from Pollyanna Grows Up)

Story Beginning Date: 1920: Polyanna taken in by Mrs. Polly Harrington.

Series Length: 51 Eps.

Director: Kusuba Kouzou

Character design: Satou Yoshiharu

Theme songs:
Opening: Carnival of happiness and I want to see that smiling you

Closing: To become love... and Happiness

Vocalist: Kudou Yuki

1987: ai no wakakusa monogatari / Love's Tale of Young Grass

Original Work: Little Women (1868-69)
Continuations: Good Wives (1889), Little Men (1871),
and Jo's Boys

Author: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Nationality: American

Story Setting: United States

Story Beginning Date: 1863

Series Length: 48 Eps.

Director: Kurokawa Fumio

Character design: Kondou Yoshifumi ,Yamazaki Toshiki

Theme songs:
Opening: "An invitation from the young grass" and "Some day, for sure"

Closing: "A melody on the breeze in the evening sun" and "A lullaby to my father"

Vocalists: Han Keiko, Yamada Eiko, Shou Mayumi, Sakuma Rei, Shimonari Satoko

A hypertext version of Little Women , plus background
information on the author and text.


1988: shoukoushi sedi / Little Prince Cedie

Original Work: Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886)

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett (1848-1924)

Nationality: English

Story Setting: United States

Story Beginning Date: 1885: Cedie (Cedric) leaves New York for England.

Series Length: 43 Eps.

Director: Kusuba Kouzou

Character design: Sakurai Michiyo

Theme songs:
Opening: Our Cedie

Closing: For the sake of loving someone...

Vocalist: Nishida Hikaru

1989: peetaa pan no bouken / The Adventures of Peter Pan

Original Work: Peter and Wendy (1911)

Predecessors: The Little White Bird (1902), Peter Pan
in Kensington Gardens (1906)

Author: James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937)

Nationality: Scottish

Story Setting: England/Neverland

Story Beginning Date: 1900: Peter takes Wendy to Neverland.

Series Length: 41 Eps.

Director: Nakamura Takashi

Character design: Kuroda Yoshihirou

Theme songs:
Opening: One more time, Peter Pan

Closing: Dream... Open Sesame!

Vocalist: Yuuyu


1990: watashi no ashinaga ojisan / Daddy Long-legs

Original Work: Daddy Long-Legs (1912)

Author: Jean Webster (1876-1916)

Nationality: ?

Story Setting: United States

Story Beginning Date: 1920: Judy to enter college.

Series Length: 40 Eps.

Director: Yokota Kazuyoshi

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:
Opening: Growing up

Closing: Your breeze...

Vocalist: Horie Mitsuko
1991: torappu ikke monogatari / Story of the Trapp Family

Original Work: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

Author: Maria Augusta Trapp

Nationality: German

Story Setting: Austria

Story Date: 1942: Trapp Family flees from Nazis to New York.

Series Length: 40 Eps.

Director: Kuzuba Kouzou

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi

Theme songs:

Opening: The do-re-mi song

Closing: Hold out your hands

Vocalist: Itou Eri


1992: kusabara no chiisana tenshi busshu beibii / Bush Baby, Little Angel of the Grasslands

Original Work: The bushbabies (1965)

Author: William Stevenson (1925- )

Nationality: Canadian

Story Setting: Killimanjaro, Kenya

Story Beginning Date: 1964: Jackie begins to travel the savannah.

Series Length: 40 Eps.

Director: Suzuki Takayoshi

Character design: Seki Jun'ichi & Katou Hiromi

Theme songs:
Opening: A smile as prologue and Appolo

Closing: Become a bird

Vocalists: Yamano Satoko, Tanimura Shinji, Okamoto Maya


1993: wakakusa monogatari nan to joo sensei / Tale of Young Grass: Nan and Miss Jo

Original Work: Little Men (1871) (sequel to Little Women )

Author: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Nationality: American

Story Setting: United States

Story Beginning Date: 1882: Nan comes to Plum Fields.

Series Length: 40 Eps.

Director: Kusuba Kouzou

Character design: Satou Yoshiharu

Theme songs:
Opening: Tomorrow's sky is as clear as today's

Closing: 'Ding-dong' through the blue sky

Vocalist: Kosaka Akiko and Itou Kaoru

1994: nanatsu no umi no tiko / Tico of the Seven Seas (Tico and Nanami)

Original Work: None; original story
Story Setting: Japan

Story Beginning Date: 1994: The Pepelonchino arrives in Japan.

Series Length: 39 Eps.

Director: Takagi Jun

Character design: Morikawa Souko

Theme songs:

Opening: Sea loves you

Closing: Twinkle talk

Vocalist: Shinozuka Mayumi


1995: romio no aoizora / Romeo's Blue Skies (The Black Brothers)

Original Work: Fratelli Neri (1941?)
Apparently the German translation of this book, Die Schwarzen Bruder , is the source for the current Japanese translation of it, but the original was written in Italian. The book title translates to The Black Brothers , but to my knowledge the book has not yet been translated into English.

Author: Lisa Tetzner

Nationality: Swiss (originally German, she emigrated to Switzerland with her husband in the thirties to escape the rising tide of nazism in Germany)

Story Setting: From Sonogno, a small village in southern Switzerland (to the north of Lago Maggiore, a lake overlapping the southern border wtih Italy) to Locarno and then Milan, Italy

Story Beginning Date: 1838: Romeo departs for Milan.

Series Length: 33 Eps.

Director: Kusuba Kouzou

Character design: Satou Yoshiharu

Theme songs:
Opening: To the sky...

Closing: Si Si Ciao - On these Roman roofs

Vocalist: Kasahara Hiroko


1996: meiken rasshii / Famous Dog Lassie

Original Work: Lassie Come-Home (1940)

Author: Eric Mowbray Knight (1897-1943)

Nationality: English

Story Setting: From Scotland to Yorkshire, England

Story Beginning Date:

Series Length: 25 Eps.

Director: Katabuchi Sunao

Character design: Morikawa Souko

Theme songs:
Opening: Endless story

Closing: A boy's hills


(Sept. 1996-)1997: ie naki ko remi / Remi the Homeless Girl ("Nobody's girl"?)

Original Work: Sans Famille
One english translated edition (Rand, McNally & company, 1925; The Windermere series; tr. by Philip Schuyler Allen) is entitled The adventures of Remi. A literal translation of the title gives "Familyless", a title as awkward as "The adventures of Remi" is imaginative, but another translated edition (Cupples & Leon Company, 1916; tr. by Florence Crewe-Jones) renders it "Nobody's boy" , far nearer the feeling of the original title. It should be noted, however, that this title wouldn't quite fit as a reference to the anime version, because the main character is no longer a boy, as in the original, but is now a girl. It should also be noted that this story was made into a popular anime tv series over ten years ago, from Tokyo Movie Shinsha, under the direction of Dezaki Osamu (Blackjack, Ashita no Joe). The Japanese translation of the novel (and the Dezaki anime version) is entitled "Ie naki ko".

Author: Hector Malot (1830-1907)
Nationality: French

Story Setting: France
Story Beginning Date:

Series Length: Started airing on September 1, 1996; CANCELLED by Fuji TV on account of low ratings; ended March 23, 1997 with a staggeringly low episode count of 23 episodes.

Director: Kusaba Kouzo
Character Design: Ooshiro Masaru (reading uncertain; kanji are "ookii" "shiro" and "katsu")
Theme songs:

Opening: About love...
Closing: A Premonition of Happiness (not the Future Boy Conan song!)

Vocalists: Sada Masashi and "Youca" , respectively.

Listing and notes courtesy of Ben Ettinger, from his former WMT website.

Reviews of WMT series I have sampled appear in my Database: there is an Anime selector in the Anime DB (see drop-down menu tab above)