Not to be confused with Masterpiece Theatre
, the long-running
primetime program on PBS
that showcases British productions.World Masterpiece Theater
is a long-running
series of anime adaptations of classic western literature by Nippon Animation
most of the time, who were formerly known as Zuiyo Enterprise. Each year the company takes a classic western novel and adapts it into a series of about 50 episodes. The different masterpiece series are, with the exceptions of the occasional sequels or prequel
, not connected with each other.
While the series in general is aimed at children and many of the originals that got adapted were children's books, its themes and plots can be suprisingly mature. Especially in the early years, when anime was little known in North America and Europe, the series stood in stark contrast to the traditional western animation. This may be part of the reason why only three entries in the series ("Tom Sawyer," "Swiss Family Robinson," and "Little Women") made it to the airwaves in the United States (despite many of the books - including two of those three - being by American authors), and "Anne of Green Gables," despite being from a Canadian author, has never been on Canadian TV in English.
A similar series is Grimms Fairy Tale Classics
, also produced by Nippon Animation
The entries into the series were:
- 1969 "Dororo" (Mushi Productions) (the first entry in the series, but also the only one based on a Japanese manga)
- The same year, "Moomin" (Tokyo Movie Shinsha for episodes 1 to 26, Mushi for the rest, also the only part of the World Masterpiece Theater to be done by TMS) premiered, after the book series by Finnish auther Tove Jansson; Jansson disowned the series due to its great divergence from the original works.
- 1971 "Andersen Stories" (Anderusen Monogatari) (Mushi); self-explanatory.
- 1972 "New Moomin" (Mushi) (closer to the original books than the previous series)
- 1973 "Rocky Chuck The Mountain Rat" (Yama Nezumi Rokki Chakku) (Last of the World Masterpiece Theater to be done by Mushi) after the Burgess Bedtime Stories by American author Thornton Burgess. Dubbed into English by ZIV International as "Fables of the Green Forest".
- 1974 "Heidi, Girl of the Alps" (Arupusu no Shōjo Haiji) (Zuiyo Enterprise) after the Heidi series of 1880s novels by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri.
- A clarification on the production of this series: The entirety of Heidi was done by Zuiyo Eizo. Zuiyo filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and their animation studio then became Nippon Animation, founded by producer Koichi Motohashi (while Dog of Flanders, as well as Maya the Bee, were already on the air). Zuiyo continued on as a separate entity from Nippon Animation, and has continued to hold the copyright of the Heidi anime ever since.
- 1975 "A Dog of Flanders" (Furandāsu no Inu) (Zuiyo Enterprise/Nippon Animation, and from there out, all of World Masterpiece Theater productions have been done by Nippon Animation) after the novel by the English novelist Marie Louise De la Ramée.
- 1976 "3000 Leagues in Search of Mother" (Haha o Tazunete Sanzen Ri) after the children's novel Heart by Italian author Edmondo De Amicis.
- 1977 "Rascal The Raccoon" (Araiguma Rasukaru) after the 1963 novel Rascal, A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North.note
- 1978 "The Story Of Perrine" (Perīnu Monogatari) based on the French novel En Famille by Hector Malot.
- 1979 "Red-haired Anne" (Akage no An) after the 1908 Novel Anne of Green Gables by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. This was the last in the series to feature contributions by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
- 1980 "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (Tomu Sōyā no Bōken) after the novel by American Mark Twain.
- 1981 "The Swiss Family Robinson: Flone of the Mysterious Island" (Kazoku Robinson Hyōryūki: Fushigi na Shima no Furōne) after the 1812 novel by Swiss Johann David Wyss.
- 1982 "Lucy Of The Southern Rainbow" (Minami no Niji no Rūshī) based on Southern Rainbow by Australian writer Phyllis Piddington.
- 1983 "Alps Story My Annette" (Watashi no Annetto) based on the children's book Treasures Of The Snow by Patricia St. John.
- 1984 "Katri Girl Of The Meadows" (Makiba no Shōjo Katori) based on the Finnish novel Paimen Piika Ja Emanta by Auni Nuolivaara.
- 1985 "Princess Sarah" (Shōkōjo Sēra) after the 1905 novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
- 1986 "The Story Of Pollyanna Girl Of Love" (Ai Shōjo Porianna Monogatari) after the 1913 novel Pollyanna by American novelist Eleanor H. Porter.
- 1987 "Love Story Of The Young Grass" (Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari) after the 1868 Novel Little Women by American author Louisa May Alcott. Known as "Tales of Little Women" in its English dub version.
- 1988 "Little Prince Cedie" (Shōkōshi Sedi) after the 1886 Novel Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
- 1989 "Adventures of Peter Pan" (Pītā Pan no Bōken) after the novel by the Scottish writer J. M. Barrie.
- 1990 "My Daddy Long Legs" (Watashi no Ashinaga Ojisan) after the 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs by American writer Jean Webster.
- 1991 "Trapp Family Story" (Torappu Ikka Monogatari) based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, a memoir written by Maria Augusta von Trapp in 1949.
- 1992 "The Bush Baby" (Daisōgen no Chiisana Tenshi Busshu Beibī) after the 1965 novel The Bushbabies by Canadian author William Stevenson.
- 1993 Tale Of Young Grass Nan And Miss Jo (Wakakusa Monogatari: Nan to Jōsensei) after Louisa May Alcott's 1871 sequel Little Men to her novel Little Women.
- 1994 "Tico Of The Seven Seas" (Nanatsu no Umi no Tiko)an extremely loose adaptation of Moby-Dick
- 1995 "Romeos Blue Skies" (Romio no Aoi Sora) after a 1940 novel by Swiss writer Lisa Tetzner.
- 1996 "Famous Dog Lassie" (Meiken Rasshī) after the 1940 novel Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight.
- 1997 "Ie Naki Ko Remi" (Remi, Nobody's Girl or Homeless Girl Remi) after the novel Sans Famille by French writer Hector Malot.
- 2007 "Les Miserables Shojo Cosette" (Re Mizeraburu Shōjo Kozetto) after the 1862 novel Les Misérables by French author Victor Hugo.
- 2008 "The Long Journey Of Porphy" (Porufi no Nagai Tabi) after the novel The Orphans Of Simitra by French writer Paul-Jacques Bonzon.
- 2009 "Konnichiwa Anne Before Green Gables" after the Anne of Green Gables prequel Before Green Gables written by Budge Wilson and published only the year before.
The Series provides examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: Many of their anime expand on the source material and include things, personalities, and even characters that didn't exist in the original books. But these actually worked in their series' favor, because they did this for varying reasons, like expanding on certain plots and characters to make them more interesting and three dimensional.
- Bittersweet Ending: Many of the books adapted did not feature a happy end and the creators of the series generally saw no need to change that.
- A Dog of Flanders is probably the worst offender, though the producers actually tried to make the original's heart-rending Downer Ending less painful after outcries from Japanese viewers pleaded for Nello and Patrasche to not die.
- Ghibli Hills: Early entries into the series feature the talents of Hayao Miyazaki and it shows.
- Also, longtime Miyazaki collaborator, the late Yoshifumi Kondo, was a character designer on "Little Women."
- Heartwarming Orphan: Many of the series feature endearing orphaned protagonist. Examples include Anne, Heidi, Pollyanna, Jerusha 'Judy' Abbott from Daddy Long Legs and Remi.
- Parental Abandonment: if the main protagonist isn't a Heartwarming Orphan they are likely to be abandoned by their parents. Either the parents go missing, are forced to go away (i.e. the March sisters' father going off to fight in the Civil War in "Little Women," although their mother remains), or even actively sell their poor offspring into slavery.
- Occurs at the end of Araiguma Rasukaru, when Sterling is forced to release Rascal back into the wild.
- Trauma Conga Line: Almost every title listed above is an example of this trope in action, with Shokojo Sera being the single most heartwrenching and painful.
Entries into this series provide examples of:
- Heroic Pet Story: Lassie pretty much is the Trope Maker for this so it can't be missing from the anime adapation.
- Robinsonade: The Swiss Family Robinson is not just based upon this trope it even admits it in the title.
- Yodel Land: Heidi is not just set there, the novels it and its approximately several thousand other adaptions helped to create the idyllic countryside of Yodel Land as we know it today. The Trapp Family Story which is based on the same source as The Sound of Music also has shades of this.