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Anime / Ai No Wakakusa Monogatari

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The March Sisters

Little Women, also known as Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari (愛の若草物語?, "Love's Tale of Young Grass") is a 1987 Japanese animated television series adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, produced by Nippon Animation. While it's the third anime adaptation of the source material (following a 1980 TV special by Toei Animation and 1981 TV series by Movie International), it's also probably the best known, and gained some fans in Alcott's home country of the United States through its broadcast on HBO, renamed Tales of Little Women. The English dub has also been re-aired on Smile (formerly Smile of a Child), a Trinity Broadcasting Network-owned broadcast and digital-tier cable channel specializing in Christian and family-friendly children's programming, but is no longer being aired on Smile as of June 2018.

The animated series is loosely derived from the book and introduces new material and characters. The series begins with the introduction of the March family happily living near Gettysburg (the nearby town of York in the English version), until one day during a picnic, Mr. March notices Confederate scouts at a riverbank. As an officer of the Union Army on leave with a broken arm, Mr. March hesitantly leaves his family to inform his superiors and to prepare for the upcoming battle. Meanwhile, his family endures the Confederate occupation and even helps an escaped slave named John from being forcibly recruited to fight for the Confederacy.

Eventually, Union forces arrive and in the ensuing battle the March family home is destroyed and their investment (which had also been their savings) stolen. With no other options, the family leaves Gettysburg to Newcord, where they hope to be taken by an estranged aunt of father. Upon arriving in Newcord, they are coldly received by the old woman and even less so by David, an egotistical nephew who constantly asks for loans and antagonizes the family. Despite the reception, Aunt March allows the family to stay at home until they can get back on their feet.

Determined to have a sense of normalcy and persevere their hardship, Meg finds work as a Governess while Jo alternates between being a companion to Aunt March and Author. During a sales pitch to sell a short story to a local newspaper, her work and her character are presumptuously criticized by Anthony, a local reporter. Upset and resolute, Jo throws herself into her writing ultimately earning the respect of Anthony and forms an amicable relationship.

In time, the March family moves into a new home and the events that follow begin to reference the plot of the original novel: The 18th episode is based on Chapter 3 and follows the first part of the book. The storyline from Chapter 1 (Christmas 1863) begins in episode 21.

A sequel series, Little Women II: Jo's Boys, premiered in 1993.

The anime provides the examples of:

  • Ac CENT Upon The Wrong Syl LA Ble: The Town they live in is Newcord, A Funny example that it parodies Concord.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The first 17 episodes are all original storylines from screenwriter Akira Miyazaki. In addition to changing the family maid Hannah from Irish to African-American, the series introduced a runaway slave character named Jim, possibly to draw attention to the plight of black Americans in the 19th century. He's one of several original characters introduced in this adaptation, the most noteworthy ones being Anthony and David. Early episodes also establish the Battle of Gettysburg and ensuing destruction of the March family home as the reason why the Marches move to Newcord. Also, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is a plot point of one of the "original" episodes.
    • It's possible that the Confederate attack on the nearby Pennsylvania town of Chambersburg, although it occurred a year after the battle of Gettysburg, may have provided some of the inspiration for the first several episodes. Chambersburg sustained by far the most Confederate-inflicted damage of any Pennsylvania town in the war.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Marmee's first name is changed from Margaret to Mary.
    • Aunt March's first name is changed to Martha
    • John Brooke's name is changed to Carl Brooke. His name gets changed back to John in the English dub. In the sequel series, which was never dubbed in English, his name is changed back to John with no explination.
      • The English dub lampshades the name change in a scene in which Meg reads a letter from him which is clearly signed "Carl Brooke," and it's explained that Carl is John's middle name and he gets so flustered whenever he writes to Meg that he signs the letter with his middle name instead of his first name.
    • Similarly, the runaway slave character, named John in the Japanese original, becomes Jim in the English version, thus invoking One Steve Limit in both languages.
    • Amy's name is short for Amelia, which doen't carry over in the dub.
  • Adult Fear: When Aunt March scolds David again and suggests he join the army to be useful, David says he doesn't want to get killed. Jo realizes her father could be killed and is utterly horrified at the thought of her father dying. David apologizes in a seemingly genuine Pet the Dog moment.
  • Age Lift: The inverse happens to Beth and Amy, who are aged down to 10 and 7 respectively, from 13 and 12.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The U.S. version has an original theme song and opening sequence. In the original dub broadcast version on HBO, the ending consisted of a still screen and credit roll; in the current dub broadcast version as aired on Smile, the same shortened version of the theme song is used but the animation is taken from the original Japanese ED. The Italian dub also has its own theme song and an opening that intersperses scenes from the series with the original OP animation (among the scenes cut is that of Amy being spanked by her father). The French theme song has the same melody as the Italian.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Amy is a troublemaker mostly to Jo - knocking her down, destroying Jo's novel by burning it in the fireplace as revenge, and occasionally getting in trouble at school.
  • Artistic License: A few examples.
    • The runaway slave character, Jim, supposedly fears that he will be captured and forced to fight for the Confederacy. The Confederacy did not employ African-Americans as soldiers until near the very end of the war. However, African-Americans in Pennsylvania did face the very real threat of being captured by Confederate forces and sold into slavery, even if they were free.
    • Then there's the episode in which Amy is punished at school for bringing forbidden pickled limes into class. In the novel, Amy runs home immediately to tell her family, and her mother decides to keep her home from school for a while. In this series, Amy runs into Laurie upon leaving class, and Laurie advises her not to tell her family what happened but to humble herself and return to school. The storyline may have been altered to fit Japanese sensibilities.
    • In the Christmas episode, Marmee give the girls Bibles in their favorite colors, whereas in the original novel, they were given copies of Pilgrim's Progress in their favorite colors. This is possibly to make Japanese audiences understand the Christian themes of the novel easier.
  • Art Shift: It's easy to tell which episodes had animation directed by co-character designer Toshiki Yamazaki and which were directed by the slightly Off-Model Takumi Koyama, whose characters have more elongated faces and bigger chins.
  • Art Shifted Sequel: Jo's Boys had a slightly different art style compare to the original, as the characters have smaller eyes. This can be chalked up to a change in character designers, as Yoshiharu Sato (known for his work on My Neighbor Totoro and The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love) took over.
  • Badass Bookworm: Jo proves herself as this when she stops David from choking Laurie, on top of already having a more assertive attitude than her sisters.
  • Benevolent Boss: Mrs. Moffat to Meg, but isn't above using her friendship with Laurie to her advantage.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Jo is very protective of Beth.
  • Bowdlerise: The Smile airing of Episode 34, "Amy's Nightmare," had the entirety of Amy's titular nightmare cut, presumably because it was considered too scary.
  • Canon Foreigner: Many of the character who didn't existed, such as David Fowlet (the girl's reletive) and Anthony.
  • Christmas Episode: Episodes 21-22 (released as Little Women's Christmas Story on American VHS) and Episode 47.
  • Color Motif:
    • Meg: Green
    • Jo: Red
    • Beth: Grayish-Purple
    • Amy: Blue
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Sutton, Amy's teacher back in Gettysburg/York. He is a kind, well liked man that goes to fight for the Union. When Amy draws him on her slate, he takes it in stride, but it could be because he is also romantically interested in Meg (which Jo playfully teases her for). It goes nowhere since we don't see him after the first episode.
  • Crush Blush: Episode 24, "Meg Falls in Love," in which Meg and John are seated next to each other while listening to Beth play the piano. They inadvertently touch and quickly get flustered and look away from each other while blushing, much to the delight of an amused Laurie, who is secretly watching from the doorway.
  • Cute Kitten: Milky-Ann, the family pet found by Beth during a rainy day. She's so cute!
  • The Dandy: David certainly dresses with more flare compared to his plainly-dressed relatives.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Aunt March has her moments, especially regarding David.
    • Jo and Laurie have some moments too.
  • Frame-Up: The Moffat's oldest son is chums with David, and he stole money to gamble at pool. Meg is assumed to have stolen it, not helped by David's testimony and the fact Aunt March bought her and Jo new ball gowns around the same time, until Annie, who was bullied into secrecy, tells her parents what happened, but not before her brother joins the army.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Beth
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Mild example. In earlier episodes, since Milky-Ann was never properly trained before (she appears to be only a few days old when Beth finds her in the rain), she wets the carpet, Beth's bed, and Amy's dress. This leads to Jo and Beth getting a box fill of dirt as a makeshift litter-box to train her.
  • Ghibli Hills: Yoshifumi Kondo, director of Whisper of the Heart, worked on the character designs. Other names in the credits may also be familiar to Ghibli enthusiasts due to the involvement of Oh Production, a frequent Ghibli collaborator, in animation assistance. Another Ghibli alumnus, Yoshiharu Sato, did the character designs on Jo's Boys.
  • Good Parents: Fredrich and Marmee, hands down.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Mr Lawrence initially until he proves himself to be quite a softie, especially to Beth.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Aunt March. While initially antagonistic towards the family, she does warm up to them, and does treat them much nicer than she does David, helped by the fact they don't constantly ask for money. Hell, she buys them all a new wardrobe each as a housewarming present, and unlike her novel counterpart, supports Meg's engagement to John Brooke.
  • Jerkass: David. He constantly antagonizes the family, Jo especially, because he's worried about losing his inheritance as Aunt March's sole heir and constantly bothers Aunt March for money for his 'businesses,' which he gambles away playing pool.
  • Hair Decorations: Amy wears a blue bow most of the time, and Meg wears a snood.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Much sooner than in the novel. Not only does the family lose their home, the factory their father invested money into was destroyed, rendering them near-penniless. But before then, the family was raised modestly, despite the large house, so they aren't too shaken by it, except for Beth.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: Beth is completely heartbroken when she loses nearly all her dolls during the Battle of Gettysburg, and clings onto the one doll that survived, a doll Jo gave her she named Jimmy. Her isolation after moving to Newcord cements her as this until her friendship with Laurie and Mr. Lawrence.
  • Love Triangle: While Laurie regards Jo as more than a friend, it's hinted that Anthony does also, and Laurie views Anthony as something of a rival. For her part, Jo isn't interested in either one of them "that way," and in Jo's Boys, she has been Happily Married to Friedrich Bhaer for several years.
  • Meido: Esther, Aunt March's personal maid, albeit a bit more lower class for the time period (due to her Irish heritage). She is a calm, pleasant woman.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As in the novel, Jo's feelings regarding her ill treatment of Amy after the "novel-burning" incident and Amy's near-drowning. In this anime version, however, Jo's self-loathing is so intense that she actually injures her own hand pounding on her desk in anguish.
  • Oh, Crap!: Amy's initial reaction in Episode One when Mr. Sutton discovers she's been drawing a caricature of him on her chalk slate instead of doing her lesson. To her relief, he laughs.
  • Old Maid: Unlike her novel counterpart, Aunt March never married.
  • Proper Lady: Meg. Amy tries to be one
  • Race Lift: Hannah, the family maid, is African-American in this version, while in most adaptations, she is Irish.
    • Also more of an nationality change, but Esther, Aunt March's said, is changed from French to Irish (at least in the English dub)
  • Raised by Grandparents: Apparently, Aunt March raised Fredrich since his parents died when he was young. She is bitter he hasn't made any contact with her for so long, which Marmee comforts her over.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Davis. Aside from the infamous lime scene, he yells at Amy for being almost late on her first day of school (Amy narrates she got lost on her way to school) and belittles another girl for getting one math problem wrong out of ten. What a pleasant guy...
  • Spoiled Sweet: Sallie Gardener and Annie Moffat, both are sweet if naive girls that genuinely enjoy Meg's company.
    • To a lesser extent, the Moffat's younger children that Meg tutors, though they do have occasional moments of brattiness since they are very young children too young for school.
  • Shrinking Violet: Three guesses which sister.
  • Stern Teacher: John tries his best to keep Laurie focused on his studies and gets impatient (though never really angry) whenever Laurie is distracted. However, it isn't long before John has distractions of his own in the form of one Meg March.
  • Team Mom: Meg, when Marmee is away. Also she does this to her children in the sequel series.
  • The Unfavorite: Aunt March prefers her nephew Fredrich over her other nephew David, and that's saying something when Fredrich hasn't tried to contact her in YEARS, compared to David, who hassles her constantly about money. She finally cuts David off at the end of the series.
  • Tomboy: Jo March because she wants to join the war and is an aspiring writer.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Newcord can't be found, it's actually a renaming of Concord CT.