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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 and Fuji Television as part of the World Masterpiece Theatre and directed by Fumio Kurokawa (Princess Sarah). 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 1989 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, but has since been release on Amazon's Amazon Prime streaming service.

As with other World Masterpiece Theatre entries, 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 John (renamed Jim in the English dub), 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: Quite a few examples
    • Father March's first name is changed from Robert to Fredrich.
    • 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, but many foreign dubs kept it as Carl.
      • 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.
  • Adaptational Badass: The women of the March family (Hannah included) help hide runaway slave John Marty (Jim in the English dub), during the Confederate occupancy of their hometown. At the time, the fugitive slave laws were written in a way that anyone in the North or South who helped runaway slaves would have been fined or even jailed. This subplot never occurred in the original novel.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Tom Brooke, John's mischievous little brother. Amy is this as well. Naturally, they get along well
  • Adorkable: Whenever John Brooke gets flustered around Meg, it's completely adorable.
  • 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. This is the first time Jo realizes her father could be killed and as a bit of a Heroic B.S.O.D.. At Aunt March's insistence, David apologizes in a seemingly genuine Pet the Dog moment.
    • Meg's nightmare after learning of her father's illness is both depressing and terrifying.
    • Everyone is worried over Beth's scarlet fever. And unlike in the novel, Amy realizes the seriousness of it fairly early on, and confides in Laurie she is afraid for her sister.
    • When Father comes home (the second time after his illness), he says at one point, he stopped breathing. Understandably, the girls are utterly terrified that he still wants to go back to war after the six months he is allotted to stay home. Fortunatly, the war ends by the end of the series.
  • 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 footage from the original Japanese ED is shown. 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.
    • Tom Brooke is this to John, who scolds him often for misbehavior.
  • Artistic License: A few examples.
    • The runaway slave character, John (Jim in English), 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 (due to tremendous resistance from white Southerners over the idea of slaves becoming soldiers), and in fact, African-Americans in the Confederate Army never saw combat. However, African-Americans in Pennsylvania - including those who had been free all their lives - did face the very real threat of being captured by Confederate forces and sold into slavery.
    • 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 was most likely 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. Yamazaki's animation style is generally looser and more fluid. (A third animator, Atsuko Otani, directed only one episode, and her style isn't that different from Yamazaki's.)
    • Also, the quality of animation does decline somewhat after the lushly animated first five episodes, but still remains high throughout the remainder of the series.
  • 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.
  • Aunt Pennybags: Aunt March. She is very wealthy, and on top of giving David money so he'll leave her alone, she isn't too shy when it comes to giving gifts to her other nephew's family, paying Jo a generous $4 a week (roughly $120 in today's money) to be her companion, gives the girls money for Christmas, and even buys all four girls a whole new wardrobe as a housewarming present.
  • 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.
    • Jo's boss, Henry Murdoch, the owner/publisher of The Newcord Times is a straighter example. A fair, patient man, he has a high opinion of Jo's talents. Also he hired John Marty.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Jo is very protective of Beth.
  • Blackface: Fortunately averted with the African-American characters in the show, but a few of Beth's dolls are stylized this way (which surprisingly were kept in the English dub). Then again, this was the 1860s.
  • 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.
  • The Bus Came Back: Jim Marty. He rides on top of the train the March family takes to Newcord, but disappears shortly after. A few episodes later, when Jo starts working for the newspaper, he is revealed to have gotten hired by Henry Murdoch and now works as a printer.
  • Canon Foreigner: Several major characters who didn't exist in the original book, such as David Fowlet (the girl's Jerkass relative), Anthony Boone (Jo's rival/possible love interest), Tom Brooke (John Brooke's younger brother around Amy's age) and Jim (John in Japanese - see Dub Name Change) Marty (a runaway slave that the March family helps to get up north, later having been hired by Jo's boss).
  • Censored Child Death: We don't see the Hummel's baby succumb to scarlet fever. Instead, Beth is shown leaving the small house trembling, looking blankly forward before breaking down in tears.
  • 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 and likes the portrait, but it could be because he is also romantically interested in Meg (which Jo playfully teases her for), but that 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. When Meg catches John looking at her, they quickly get flustered and look away 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 dang cute!
  • Dances and Balls: A few in the series, including the Moffat's ball Meg and Jo attend and the dances Meg attends when she spends her two weeks with the Moffat family.
  • The Dandy: David certainly dresses with more flare compared to his sensibly-dressed relatives.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jo and Laurie's friendship is full of snarkery. And it's hilarious.
    • Aunt March has her moments, especially regarding David.
  • Dub Name Change: An odd variant, since John Brooke's name is changed from Carl Brooke when his name was John in the original books.
    • The runaway slave, named John in the Japanese original, becomes Jim in the English version, invoking One Steve Limit in both languages.
    • In the Arabic dub, Beth is called "Betty," though her full name is still Elizabeth
  • Frame-Up: The Moffat's oldest son is chums with David, and he stole money to gamble at pool, which he lost. 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 and Meg almost loses the opportunity to attend the Moffat's ball. This subplot actually originates from the novel, but it's only briefly mentioned in passing (as well as Meg never being suspected in the first place).
  • Friend to All Living Things: Beth
  • Friendly Enemies: Jo and Anthony Boone
  • 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 full of dirt as a makeshift litter-box to train her. Surprisingly, this all was kept in the English dub.
    • Also, wine is used and drank a lot in this series, which again, was kept in the English dub.
  • 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.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: Amy is quite a bit more energetic and playful in this version, though still tries to be ladylike.
  • Gold Digger: An interesting variant with Mrs. Moffat. The only reason she allows mer daughter to invite Meg to spend two weeks with them is because of Meg's friendship with Laurie, and is hoping to have her daughter meet him.
  • Good Parents: Fredrich and Mary "Marmee". They clearly love their girls and the feeling is mutual.
    • Aunt March most likely was, since her nephew does remember her fondly
  • Good Samaritan: Marmee spends much of her time volunteering at the church in Newcord, helping anyone she can, and encourages her daughters to do the same.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Mr. Lawrence initially until he proves himself to be quite a softie, especially to Beth.
  • Hair Decorations: Amy wears a blue bow most of the time, and Meg wears a snood.
  • Happily Married: The March parents don't seem to have any marital problems and are fairly affectionate when they're together, the worst that is shown is that Mary is shown to miss him while he's away at war
  • I Can Still Fight!: Downplayed. In the second episode, despite Father March's arm being in a sling (this is the reason he was allowed a leave), when he and Jo find Confederate soldiers, he has to go report it to his commander.
    • Played straight when he comes home the second time. Despite being sick enough to where he stopped breathing, he still plans to go back after the six months he'll stay home.
  • Identical Stranger: Beth is a dead ringer for Mr. Laurence's daughter Catherene, though we only see a portrait of Catherene since she died at some point in the past.
  • Ill Girl: Mrs. Hummel, a young woman with four children. She can't do much for her cold hungry children do to being so weak after the birth of her newest child and her husband being away at war.
  • Important Haircut: Jo sells her hair to help pay for Marmee's trip, and it looks pretty cute. Jo, however, breaks down in tears when she is alone in bed.
  • 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.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Father March's lack of contact with Aunt March, the woman who raised him since childhood, was unintentional, but it left her very bitter at him and his family. They do make up when he comes home, though .
  • 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, comes to term's with Meg's engagement to Mr. Brooke much faster.
  • 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.
  • Jesus Taboo: Subverted. Since Christianity was a major theme in the book, it makes sense the writers would keep it in this series, which was kept in the dub (and naturally fit on TBN's Smile channel).
  • Kick the Dog: David seems to enjoy this as a hobby, from nearly ruining Meg and Jo's chance to attend the Moffat's family ball to rubbing it in Jo's face how much money he gets compared to the time Aunt March gave the girls $1 for Christmas.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A humorous example: when Beth brings home Milky-Ann, naturally the kitten is all muddy from being in the rain, and Amy says that the kitten is just a dirty little thing not worth the time to clean her. When Jo and Beth are able to clean and warm her up, Amy then wants to hold the kitten... who almost immediately wets Amy's dress as she is held
  • Limited Wardrobe: Aside from a few instances, the girls wear the same set of clothes a season. Possibly justified since it wasn't uncommon for even the wealthy to own only a few sets of clothes. They at least wear outfits appropriate for the weather.
  • 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 self-imposed 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 romantically and in Jo's Boys, she has been Happily Married to Friedrich Bhaer for several years.
  • Meaningful Name: It's not hard to imagine that Rupert Murdoch may have been the namesake for Henry Murdoch, the publisher of the Newcord paper (and another original character in the anime).
    • Also Marmee's name in this series is Mary, who is a kind woman devoted to raising her family and helping everyone around her. Hmm...
  • 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 that does her best to serve Aunt March.
  • 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-hatred is so intense that she actually injures her own hand pounding on her desk in anguish.
  • Narrator: Amy acts as the narrator in the English dub.
  • 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 thinks it's funny.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Everyone is shocked when Father March comes home with his arm in a sling and are concerned he is in pain. He assures them that he only caught some shrapnel from a bullet while saving another officer. He still can't use said arm without some pain, though.
  • 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 is sympathetic to.
  • Romantic False Lead: Mr. Sutton is probably this for Meg, who ultimately ends up with John Brooke.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Davis. Aside from the infamous scene where he whip's Amy's hands, he yells at Amy for being almost late on her first day of school (with him calling her "Miss Tardy" for the rest of the day) and openly insults another girl for getting one math problem wrong. It's all the more shocking than the original novel, since Amy (and by extension the rest of her friends) have been aged down to around 7, meaning they would have been barely starting school with him barking at them constantly. Naturally, he is not very well liked by his students, with Amy's friends insulting him regularly outside of school.
  • Servile Snarker: Hannah has some shades of this
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: While pretty enough already, Meg is utterly stunning in the fancy ballgown she is given by the Moffats. Like in the novel, Laurie is unimpressed, but he admits he was wrong after Sallie Gardener explains what happened (Meg wanted to where her own simpler ballgown but the girls convinced her to wear one of theirs).
  • Sick Episode: Beth's scarlet fever arch, and before then Father March getting sick on the battlefield.
  • Sudden Name Change: John Brooke's name in the sequel series. His name was Carl in the original Japanese version, but in Jo's Boys it's changed back to John with no explanation whatsoever.
  • 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: Take a wild guess.
  • 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.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: In the Japanese version, in episode 33. During the sisters' outing with Laurie, Anthony, Mr. Brooke and Tom, the sisters sing the second Japanese OP song, "Itsuka Kitto!" (roughly translating as "One Day, for Certain"), which doubles as Product Placement since the original song itself was recorded by the seiyuu for the four March sisters. Even more amusingly, they all sing Amy's verse from the original song with lyrics about wanting a more perfectly shaped nose. The English dub, rather more realistically, has the girls sing a popular song of the era: Stephen Foster's "The Old Folks at Home."
  • Toxic Friend Influence: One of the original Akira Miyazaki-scripted episodes is even titled (roughly translated) "Amy's Bad Friends." Amy's classmates' penchant for pickled limes (which are strictly forbidden by their teacher) is established in that episode, and will get Amy in big trouble later on.
  • 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. And she finally cuts David off at the end of the series.
  • Tomboy: Jo
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Newcord can't be found, but it's actually a renaming of Concord CT.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Hannah is terrified of cats, but does grow fond of Milky-Ann

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