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 Post subject: Wakakusa Monogatari - Nan to Jô-sensei
PostPosted: September 4th, 2009, 12:23 pm 
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aka. "Little Women II"
trans. "Tales of young Grass - Nan and Mrs. Jo"
Taken from the book "Little Men" by Louisa May Alcott, who has gone down in US history as one of the first or even the first professional writer.
This Anime of 40 episodes was published by Nippon Animation in 1993. It's the sequel of 1987's "Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari" ("Little Women"), both of which are part of the World Masterpiece Theater series.

Set in the late 19th century the story starts with a girl of about 10 years, who looks like she escaped from a Studio Ghibli plot, getting off the train, about to be picked up by her new teacher. But impatient as she is she decides to walk all the way to the school with a big trunk on her back. Upon arrival she becomes the victim of a wet prank by her fellow (male) schoolmates, but instead of sulking or crying she chases the whole bunch across the area like a fury. That is Annie "Naughty Nan" Harding, called "o-Tenba Nan" ("Tomboy Nan") in the Japanese version.
Nan is surprised at the soft education methods of her new teacher, Mrs. Josephine Bhear, or Mrs. Jo ("Jô-sensei" in Japanese), and Mr. Fritz Bhear, since all her former teachers would simply give her a bum rap or call her impolite things. But school life is different at Plumfield.

The curriculum includes growing crops and taking care of pets, like dogs, chicken, or turtles, to inspire a sense of responsibility, conversation, music, physical exercise, and controlled chaos, so to speak, as students are allowed some mischief, like pillow fights, if they behave well on all other accounts. Freedom and responsibility are important lessons at this school.

This Anime fits into the row of the many Japanese school life and "Seishun" ("Adolescence") series in which difficult children are taught to be worthy adults by means of love and understanding. But unlike stories like "Great Teacher Onizuka" or "Gokusen" we are not talking about criminals or near-criminals brought to their senses by a very different teacher - the original book was written back in the early 1870s. All the depicted kids have some quirks in their personalities which need fixing, but it's easily a light-hearted story that centers around these characters and not overly much around the teacher.

As already said, Nan is a tomboy. But the goal is not to turn her into a New England style Victorian lady, but to concentrate on her strengths, like a solid sense of friendship and a keen mind, and channel them into the right direction. From reading about herbs Nan decides to become a physician, which she achieves, a pretty remarkable feat for a woman among all the prejudice of the times.
Nat, an orphan who is the next to arrive, is a brilliant violin player, but has a habit of telling fibs, little white lies, so to speak. Mr. Bhear manages to rid him of that habit. Nat is the one who introduces Dan to Plumfield.
Stuffy is the son of an overly protective mother who has already fed him sick and fat and thought him too feeble to study. His time at Plumfield allows him to grow a spine.
Demi is living in and for his books, mostly adventure stories. He is very much adored by his twin sister Daisy and his mother. After the death of his father he takes a more serious stance.
Daisy is an overly prim and proper girl, making Dolls and their clothes, having tea parties with them, and so on. She is overly dependant from her twin brother Demi and shows somewhat of a weak will. Nan's influence changes that to a degree along with her solitude of being the only girl in the school.
Tommy is careless to the point of irresponsibility. His love for pranks, practical jokes, and mischief gets him into trouble, but he is also a loyal friend and has a sense for business.
Dan is a rebelliously independent and rude teenage character who accepts no superior, acting rather nasty in front of authority, but he gains the trust of Jo's baby son, and shows that he is actually a good guy with lots of wits.
Emil has a bad temper and clashes with Dan over several issues.
Jack disrupts the harmony when he steals Tommy's money and most people suspect Dan.
Ned is an overly lively boy with lots of energy, but easily led astray.

Josephine "Jo" Bhear is the same person who was depicted in her early teens in "Little Women" (book) or "Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari" (Anime), as Josephine March, who later married one professor Fritz Bhear. As a former tomboy herself she understands and guides Nan pretty well, even taking part in a baseball match and putting on a pair of pants to prove to the world that girls are not naturally inferior to boys in order to show that there is no reason to deny a gifted girl a college career.

Other characters include Franz, Emil's brother, who works as a substitute or assistant teacher at Plumfield, Asia the black cook of the house, Mary Ann the maid (a beautiful red-head with green eyes), Ted and Rob (Jo's pre-school sons), Silas the janitor (?), who is responsible for farm work and maintenance, and Laury, once the wannabe husband of Jo, now a devoted friend of the family.

The Anime is a little different from the book, which was published in 1871. In the original novel, Nat is the main character. He is the one to arrive in the opening chapter and all other characters are built up around him. Nan only arrives in a later chapter, and she is already known to the gang as she is an acquaintance of Daisy's. The book furthermore begins in April and ends at Thanksgiving, while the Anime includes winter and the following spring.
The Anime is less consistent concering the main characters, and while there is a big focus on Nan and Mrs. Jo (as the title suggests), there are also not only a few episodes that focus on Dan an Jo, with Nan stepping into the background for a while. The novel also has more characters, like stuttering Adolphus, Dick with the hump-back, and Billy the feeblemind, a once bright lad who had been pressed hard by his father to study, then overwhelmed by stress succumbed to a fever and suffered serious brain damage, reducing him to the intellect of a 6yo. But these characters only have minor roles even in the novel, so they were neglected in the Anime production.

Book and Anime only show hints at religion, mentioning going to church on sundays, but that's it. I'm actually a bit surprised that "the Lord" doesn't fill more space, but maybe people take this more serious today than in the so-called "good ol' days"? Who knows... it's just a detail that I noticed while reading the novel.

The language of the novel is of course a little outdated. People "cry" a lot, but it only means they speak out in a louder tone for emphasis. Alcott uses expressions like "back and fro" and "the morrow" or "to morrow", and the overall style, compared to the modern (Japanese) language of the Anime, gives it a strange feel which I can hardly describe. Maybe "slushy" is the word I'm looking for, even if only in a mild form.

I still enjoyed both publications a lot. The book is very entertaining in it's short, unsquiggled form, and the Anime is a very moving account of, well, young grass, kids growing up learning to be adults. I rated it a masterpiece at ANN, while the German version which I also saw 11 years ago rates only as excellent, a definite must-see - except if you're "too manly" for a show that involves a good deal of emotions without action to "compensate".
Wakakusa Monogatari is another very important title in my life because back then when watching SailorMoon changed my life and attitudes forever, this Anime was also running among the afternoon shows, and I guess it did its part also.

The technical qualities are very good for a 1993 production. Graphics are well done, better than some more current works actually, the soundtrack is very fitting, and the dub is just great. There are even a few better known names in it, like Araki Kae (ChibiUsa from SailorMoon and Miaka from Fushigi Yûgi) as Daisy, Aikawa Rikako (e.g. Hare from Hare nochi Guu) as Ned, and last but not least Takayama Minami (Conan from Meitantei Conan and Nabiki from Ranma amongst many other roles) as Tommy. It was a very pleasant listening experience.

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 Post subject: Re: Wakakusa Monogatari - Nan to Jô-sensei
PostPosted: September 5th, 2009, 2:56 pm 
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Since I went to the trouble to read all that I think I'll check it out myself...I don't think I'm that manly to not enjoy it...haha...I like watching emotional things time to time... :whistle:

That is a long title though :lol2:

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 Post subject: Re: Wakakusa Monogatari - Nan to Jô-sensei
PostPosted: September 6th, 2009, 9:47 am 
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Thank you for trying it out. It's definitely worth the time.

I must add that Jo is the cutest adult woman ever to appear in an Anime. From her behavior and language one might think that she is in her early 30s, but the book suggests that the action takes place ten years after "Little Women", which would make her at most 25yo. But Japanese have a habit of depicting women in the middle of their twenties in a rather "ripe" way, with older looks than imho appropriate.

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 Post subject: Re: Wakakusa Monogatari - Nan to Jô-sensei
PostPosted: September 9th, 2009, 6:03 pm 
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After some further thought I must also say that this Anime is very "slashy", to put it in modern fandom terms. In case you don't know what "slash" is, I'll try to explain: It's a term denotating fan-made stories about sexual relationships of fictitious or real persons, and the adjective is used to express the ease, so to speak, with which the material in question fires your imagination. The denotation is derived from writers' habit of using the "/" symbol to separate the two names in a romantic pairing.
Well, I guess there's a better explanation on the web somewhere, so I'm not gonna go deeper into this.

Anyways, Wakakusa Monogatari is so full of friendship, innocent love, and difficult relationships, and has a pinch of romance, that Saigadô could have a field day with it.
Now that I think about it and considering the individual characters's relationships I find that many homo- and heterosexual couplings are possible, consensual as well as forced. :roll:

Actually I'm wondering why I have never found a single Dôjinshi story within the many gigabytes that I have seen based upon Wakakusa Monogatari... maybe there are sacrosanct things even for Hentai circles? Ghibli-based Hentai is very rare, too, and I see no graspable reason why.

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