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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Folktales From Japan

Like in any culture, Japanese kids grow up listening to the stories repeatedly told by their parents and grandparents. The boy born from a peach; the princess from the moon who is discovered inside a bamboo; the old man who can make a dead cherry tree blossom, etc. These short stories that teach kids to see both the dark and bright sides of life have passed traditional moral values from generation to generation. (Source: ANN)

It is impossible to divorce Japanese culture from its folk tales as storytelling is so deeply entwined in the Japanese psyche. Naturally, the folk tales and stories of Japanese's cultural history is ripe for adapting when it comes to anime - and that is exactly what has happened with Folktales From Japan (Furusato Saisei Nippon no Mukashi Banashi/ふるさと再生 日本の昔ばなし), a new series airing on TV Tokyo that seems to be aired at a younger sort but is certainly approachable by viewers of all ages.

Each episode is broken up into three stories, each about eight to nine minutes in length, and provides a keen window into the literary heart of Japan itself. It will never be anything like Ayakashi or Genji Monogatari Sennenki in terms of presentation but it does provide a solid entertaining half-hour of anime (that, thank goodness, doesn’t rely on fan service or ridiculous plots to make itself popular, which seems to be a recurring them in recent seasons).

The real point of Folktales From Japan is . . . to tell folktales. Nothing more, nothing less. It is a simple, straightforward mission that it carries off rather well, considering how simplistic the art style and approach to storytelling is. At no point during the episode does the studio try to bamboozle the audience, put a modern spin on any of these timeless tales, or change any of the essential parts of the story to the point that it becomes unrecognizable. And to be honest, the stories don't need them.

For example, the story of the ever faithful dog Shiro and his human family did not need any extra trimmings production-wise to make it an effective story, one that actually had me feeling deeply for Shiro and his family in a way I was not suspecting I would be. Yes, Shiro talked to his family in Japanese, but that is the nature of folktales: things like Shiro speaking as a human and the ability to buy dreams, among other things, are considered normal. If the show had spent time explaining the why of these things, it would have slowed down the story and kept it from being short and to the point.

The artwork is very simplistic as is the color palette but it is also effective in delivering these stories to the viewer, considering how straightforward the narrative itself. It does not need lush backgrounds or intricate art a la Mononoke to make a point. The best part of the art in Folktales From Japan is probably the landscapes and nature that are so present in these stories; I especially liked the look of the flowers and the countryside in the series.

Overall, Folktales From Japan is a series that highlights Japan’s tales of supernatural and moral lessons for children but still manages to be wholesomely entertaining. It won’t be breaking any major ground with its looks but it just might stand up as one of the definitive folktale-based series in recent history. And the ending sequence with the animals in absolutely, wonderfully adorable (like, Chi's Sweet Home levels of cuteness!).

Plus, with its wonderful voice acting on the part of its enthusiastic cast, you’ll never grow tired of hearing the characters speak. I can only hope it continues being as good as this from here on – there’s always the terrible chance it runs out of interesting folktales to adapt before the series is over.

You can watch streaming subbed episodes of Folktales From Japan here at Crunchyroll.

Next up from this season that I’ll be looking at: the Naruto spin-off featuring Rock Lee. Look out!