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Anime / My Daddy Long Legs

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My Daddy Long Legs is a 1990 anime series based on Jean Webster's novel, Daddy-Long-Legs. Directed by Kazuyoshi Yokota for Nippon Animation, the series is part of the studio's World Masterpiece Theater. It shares the central premise of that novel: a poor orphan is educated by a mysterious benefactor, about whom she knows nothing except what his shadow looks like. She is required to write to him and inform him of her progress, and she does so, developing a one-sided relationship with the mysterious figure who becomes the closest thing she has to a parent or guardian. Over the course of the series, she develops into a strong writer, becomes more confident about her place in the world, makes friends and finds love. In other words, it's a classic Coming of Age story focused on the development of a writer.

Despite sharing the main characters and many plot events, the anime series differs significantly from the novel in many ways. Most notably, Judy is aged down. In the novel, she is a college student; in the anime, she is a high school student. The setting is roughly the same in terms of geography, but the time period changed from the Pre-World War I era to The Roaring '20s. The plot is also fleshed out with additional story arcs and characters, which was necessary in order to transform a relatively short epistolary novel into a 40-episode series. Insert Songs were also added to showcase the singing talents of Judy's voice actress, Mitsuko Horie.

This series is the second anime adaptation of Webster's novel, preceded by a Tatsunoko Production TV special in 1979 which was directed by future Superbook director Masakazu Higuchi. Since Tatsunoko's version was dubbed into English and released in America while the Nippon Animation series was not, English-language sources sometimes confuse the two (and confounding this is the fact that Judy is a redhead in both versions, though she does not have Girlish Pigtails in Tatsunoko's).

This show provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Although the original novel could probably have easily been covered in a one-season series (11-13 episodes), it had to be padded out with new characters, new incidents, and new arcs in order to make a 40-episode series.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Ms. Lippet. In the sequel book Dear Enemy, Sallie describes her as pocketing most of the money given by the trustees and running the orphanage as "economically as possible". In this series, while still strict, is kinder and genuinely loves the orphans in her care, only prevented from doing more for them by the trustees' stinginess.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Julia's mother. In the original novel, she was simply a rich woman that Judy thought was a bit snobbish but pleasant enough. Here, however, she is a cold woman, seemingly only concerned about wealth and status. In her first appearance, she forcibly takes Julia away from her friends for Christmas, and scolds her for crying. Later on, she tries to force Julia into an Arranged Marriage and due to Julia turning the boy down, she blames Judy for her daughter's sudden disobedience. She later looks into Judy's background, knowing she's interested in Jervis, and plans to tell everyone Judy's humble beginnings to keep her away from him since a banker's daughter is interested in him.
  • Adorkable: Sallie.
    • Judy also has her moments, especially early in the series when coping with life outside the orphanage
  • Age Lift: The opposite. See the top of the page.
    • Jervis is aged down as well, from being in his early-30's to mid-20's
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Judy's whole childhood. Due to being bullied so frequently for being an orphan, Judy lashed out at kids even who were being nice to her, believing they would bully her too. This also leads to her attitude about there being no real charity and kindness in the world. She gets better.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: See the plot summary, above! This is pretty much the lynchpin of the plot.
  • Apology Gift: Jervis shows up with flowers after he criticizes Judy's novel.
  • Bad Date: Episode 31 depicts a truly terrible group date with three couples. Everything starts off badly in that at least one of the men is confused about which of the three girls (Sallie, Judy, and Julia) he is supposed to be escorting. The second young men is terminally clumsy, at one point spilling orange juice all over his date. And the third man is so late that he nearly misses everything. Throw in some Love Triangle tensions, and you've got a bad date to remember!
  • Berserk Button: Ms. Sloane hates anyone who calls her "Missus" or thinks that she's married.
  • Beta Couple: Julia and Jimmie.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Julia, Sallie, and Judy
  • Coming-of-Age Story: This is one of the central themes/plots of the anime, combined with a robust Romance Arc and a related plot about Judy's development as a writer.
  • Cool Big Sis: Judy is this to Emily, a much younger orphan from the John Grier Home. Judy was a little sad to hear that Emily was adopted by a rich family shortly after she left.
  • Gratuitous English: The Japanese opening theme song, "Growing Up," has an entire sentence sung in English: "Now I'm ready to be a lady for love."
  • Happily Adopted: Tommy, a boy from the John Grier Home around Judy's age, was adopted in the second episode by a middle-aged farming couple.
    • Emily. After Judy goes to high school, she is adopted by a rich family from California.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Judy may be one for the audience, but she keeps her orphan status a secret from the other characters, since she's ashamed of it. Julia's mother wants to use it against her to prevent her relationship with Jervis. In the second to last episode, she finally reveals this in her graduation speech, spoiling Mrs. Pendleton's plans.
  • Ill Girl: Leonora Fenton. It looks like "consumption," because she coughs up blood; actually, it's a heart condition. She gets better after surgery.
  • Improvised Clothes: Mary Lambert makes her orphans' clothes for the Thanksgiving concert with old bed sheets.
  • Love Triangle: Between Judy, Julia, and Jimmie, but also between Judy, Jimmie, and Jervis.
  • Nice Girl: Sallie. She takes up charity work while in high school and exactly like her novel counterpart, she grows up to work at the John Grier Home
    • Mary Lambert, who works for the St. George Orphanage nearby the school. She has enough moxy and good humor to be adored by the orphans in her care.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The St. George Orphanage is a mild case. They have a budget even lower than the John Grier Home, and don't get much money, so everything is particularly shabby and dirty, on top of having stricter regulations. Fortunately Mary is able to make it a decent Orphanage of Love with her improvising and positive attitude, i.e. helping local farmer harvest apples in exchange for some crops so the kids can have decent food.
  • Rich Bitch: Julia, as well as her mother. Julia outgrows it, but she does poke around for clues at her background earlier in the series when she still hated Judy, and when Sallie asks how she knew already on graduation day, Julia looks away, implying she's ashamed of her past spitefulness.
  • Sailor Fuku: Judy and other girls wear a variant with bloomers while playing basketball, common as girl's basketball uniforms through the '20s.
    • Also the outfits Mary Lambert makes for her orphans for the Thanksgiving banquet.
  • Setting Update: From the 1910s to The Roaring '20s
  • Town Girls: Judy's the Butch, Julia's the Femme and Sallie is Neither
  • '20s Bob Haircut: A lot of the female cast, including Sallie (who's hair is curly brown) and Julia (sleek blonde).
  • The Unfavorite: Arguably, Mrs. Lippet didn't seem to like Judy too much, due to her clumsiness and short fuse, often making her write essays as punishment, and blew off her dreams of being able to attend high school in favor of Sadie, a model orphan. Nonetheless, she does wish Judy a safe trip with tears in her eyes, offered her room and board during summer vacation, and attended her wedding.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: This is averted early in the anime, when Daddy's gift of clothing helps Judy dress properly for dinner at her new high school. Later, it happens in one of Judy's nightmares: she dreams that she encounters Jervis and a fashionable date of his while wearing her old orphanage clothing.
  • Uptown Girl: Gender-flipped; Jervis is the uptown boy to Judy's working-class girl.
  • Where Are They Now?Epilogue: The series ends by jumping ahead four years. Judy plays the role of narrator as we watch her wedding, bringing us up to speed on what's happened to some of the other central characters.
  • Wife Husbandry: Some of Daddy's seemingly-arbitrary orders to Judy make more sense once you realize who he is. See YMMV for more on this.