Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anime Survivor: Spring '12 - Week 5.1

Okay, okay. The writing's on the wall. I can take a hint.

Still going to troll you guys over not liking Medaka Box before the good stuff starts. Yeah, it's gone this week, but not this half of this week. Before we dump the dead weight overboard, we're taking a different show off first!

The seventh show to leave Anime Survivor this season is...

Selling Points: Aesop may have called them "fables", and Hans Christian Andersen may have called them "fairy tales", but in Japan they are known as mukashi-banashi ("stories from the past"). Yes, anime fans seem to appreciate more modern folklore, but once upon a time, Japan had a vibrant love for stories that began with "Once upon a time".

Back in the 1970s, Japanese television was aflutter with shows that didn't exactly test the animation waters, but rather stoked the fires that burned in the hearts of many viewers. Manga Nippon Mukashi-banashi (Manga Folktales from Japan) likely led this reintroduction of folktales to Japan's children and elders back in 1975, but it was soon followed by a flurry of other attempts to tell these mukashi-banashi again. The shows were composed of smaller stories, and the voices were often left to only one male and one female seiyû.

What was once old is now new again with the arrival of Folktales from Japan (Furusato Sansei Nippon no Mukashi-banashi) on the airwaves. The format of such tales are hardly different from Manga Nippon Mukashi-banashi, each story getting about seven minutes of animation and a lifetime of recollections. The stories themselves are again left to only two voices, actor Akira Emoto and actress Yoneko Matsukane, both longtime professionals in both live-action and voice-over.

Some people with vague attachments to Japan's folktales may recognize a few stories and names. The sad tale of "Urashima Tarô", Japan's version of "Rip Van Winkle", is one of the rare stories that may depress the viewer, but much like the tales from Aesop and Andersen, the stories have an essential moral the audience is to take home. Each half-hour has at least one story that displays some form of heroism and strong emphasis on the merits of hard work, perseverance, and love for the land.

Defense: If you are a novice when it comes to Japan's fairy tales, Folktales from Japan is highly digestible and understood from a foreigner's point of view. Granted, the general appeal is meant to come from stirring memories in people who have already heard these stories at least once, which leaves the animation to be merely an accompaniment to the tale. However, considering how some mukashi-banashi like to play in the undercurrent of some shows (i.e. Urusei Yatsura, Dragonball, Gintama, Ôkami-san), getting to understand some of the folktales in an animated medium would go far in understanding references that may blow over your head.

More notably, these shows are likely not for you, but more for the older and younger viewers who may not find an attachment to the current high-school comedies that are animated in 99% of the shows out there. Children (if they have the patience and comprehension to read subtitles) will like the picture-book quality of the show, while the elderly may like the slower pace of the animation and identify with the characters more. Perhaps it's a risky venture by Crunchyroll to provide this show in a translated form to an audience that wants more titillation than education, but I think that Folktales from Japan could be used as a tool to draw in some of the few that want to learn more than just the language.

Final judgment: Sadly, this simplicity of Japan's past is exactly what escorts Folktales from Japan from our contest of survival and endurance. Having these collections of older tales is good to have in a library where a random story can be pulled out and told to children, but as a series it has little staying power. In this age of shorter attention spans and instant entertainment, watching just one episode might be filling enough to keep viewers from being interested in future shows.

After just the first episode, the gist of most of the remaining tales is pretty much divulged. In all three stories—"The Old Man Who Made the Dead Trees Bloom", "The Man Who Bought a Dream", and "The Rat Sutra"—we get the same karmic moral in the end. Those who live life to the fullest by living with virtue will be rewarded with good fortune, while those who attempt to shirk the system and cheat their way to success will be cursed with misfortune. For much of the other stories, the Goofuses and Gallants of Japan receive the same curses and blessings.

While Folktales from Japan does use a variety of artists for its designs, this repeated theme of karma unfortunately makes the segments feel similar in content, and therefore the styles tend to run into each other and feel less unique. Perhaps this isn't too big a problem for the children in Japan that this show is generally made for, but I wonder if English-speaking children would find following the subtitles a bit hard.

For that, I do want to make a suggestion to parents out there—would turning down the sound and reading the dialogue in your own funny voices entertain them? I would love to see if such a method could be used to entertain kids. The moving picture-book is there, so why not see if you can "read" it to them?

In short, I think Folktales from Japan could be a terrific teaching tool for those wanting to learn more about Japan's storytelling media. However, for those wanting entertainment, perhaps "once upon a time" is one time too many.

Next time: Finally, your suggestions have been heard!

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