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Anime / World Masterpiece Theater

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Not to be confused with Masterpiece Theatre, the long-running primetime program on PBS that showcases British productions.

World Masterpiece Theater (Sekai Meisaku Gekijou, 世界名作劇場) is a long-running series of anime adaptations of classic western literature broadcast on Fuji Television and largely produced by Nippon Animation, who were formerly known as Zuiyo Enterprise until 1975. During the franchise's peak, each year the company took a classic novel (mainly from western literature) and adapted 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 surprisingly mature. Especially in the early years, when anime was little known in North America, the series stood in stark contrast to the traditional western animation. This may be part of the reason why relatively few entries in the series made it to the airwaves in the United States (despite many of the books being by American authors), and "Anne of Green Gables," despite being from a Canadian author, has never been on Canadian TV in English. Some of the series (including Anne and Princess Sarah) do have English dubs that aired in Asia, South Africa or other territories and never in North America, but quite a few (such as Little Women and Swiss Family Robinson) have aired on North American television. Nevertheless, many of the installments in the series are well-known and loved in Europe and Latin America as well as in Japan.

This series established a long-running and successful niche for Nippon Animation in creating anime adaptations of Western literary works, with other noteworthy examples including Maya the Bee, Future Boy Conan and Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, to name just a few. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature is another comparable Nippon Animation series that does something similar, only with Japanese literary classics. An exhaustive list of shows (by NA and other studios) similar to or often mistaken for WMT works follows.

The entries into the series are:

  • 1969 Dororo (Mushi Productions) the first entry in the series. Based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka, the only time a manga was adapted for this block.
    • The same year, Moomin (TMS Entertainment 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; last series to be done by Mushi)
  • 1973 Rocky Chuck the Mountain Rat (Yama Nezumi Rokki Chakku) (Zuiyo Enterprise) after the Burgess Bedtime Stories by American author Thornton Burgess. Dubbed into English by ZIV International as "Fables of the Green Forest". It has aired on public and educational channels in Canada in both English and French.
  • 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. Nippon Animation would adapt other stories from the same novel into a second anime TV series, Ai no Gakko Cuore Monogatari (School of Love: The Cuore Story) in 1981, which aired on the rival TBS network.
  • 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 Nobody's Girl (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. An English dub titled after the original novel was produced in South Africa. The series was also broadcast in Canada, albeit in French.
  • 1980 The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (Tomu Sōyā no Bōken) after the novel by American author Mark Twain. An English dub made by Saban Entertainment aired on HBO in 1989 and was later rerun on other cable channels.
  • 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. An English dub titled after the original novel was made in 1989 by Los Angeles-based outfit Intersound, and broadcast on The Family Channel in the U.S.
  • 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 (made by Saban), which aired in 1989 on HBO alongside the Tom Sawyer WMT.
  • 1988 Little Prince Cedie (Shōkōshi Sedi) after the 1886 novel Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
  • 1989 The 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. Received an English dub recorded in Canada that aired on public TV channels like TV Ontario and Alberta's Access Network.
  • 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 original story developed by the Nippon Animation team, the only time this ever happened with WMT, and is also the only one to take place in contemporary time (1994, when the show aired). The show got dubbed in English by Ocean Productions as Tico and Friends and aired in Canada on local TV channels as well as in Singapore on the channel Kids' Central. This dub was notable for having Chantal Strand play Nanami in one of her earliest voice acting roles.
  • 1995 Romeo's 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.
  • 1996 Ie Naki Ko Remi (Remi, Nobody's Girl or Homeless Girl Remi) after the novel Sans Famille by French writer Hector Malot.
  • 2007 Les Misérables: Shōjo Cosette (Re Mizeraburu Shōjo Kozetto) after the 1862 novel Les Misérables by French author Victor Hugo.
  • 2008 Porphy no Nagai Tabi (Porphy's Long Jouney) 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 Dye-Job: Becky Thatcher is a blonde in the original novel of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the WMT version, she's a redhead.
    • Also averted, as the WMT adaptation of Little Women is the only one to get Amy's hair color right (she's a blonde, as she was in the novel, whereas she's drawn as a redhead in the earlier Toei versions).
    • Pollyanna is blonde in the original books, but changed to being brunette.
  • 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. Some expanded the roles of female characters or introduced female characters who weren't present in the original (i.e. Flone/Becca in Swiss Family Robinson) to attract more girls as viewers.
    • Toward the end of the original run of the franchise, and in response to dropping ratings, storylines began to deviate more and more from their source material. The final series in the original run, Ie Naki Ko Remi, is perhaps the most egregious example, as the series turned Remi into a girl singer voiced by legendary anime theme vocalist Mitsuko Horie. The end result was the lowest-rated WMT series ever and the last WMT series to be made for ten years.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Some series changed supporting characters' names for unclear reasons - for example, John Brooke in Little Women being renamed Carl, or Carrie Sloane in Anne of Green Gables being renamed Sophia. Foreign dubs (including English) often restored the characters' original names (the Saban Entertainment dub of Little Women even explains Brooke's signing a letter to Meg as "Carl" by explaining that Carl is his middle name and he gets absentminded when thinking of Meg).
  • Break the Cutie: Near all the entries feature cute-looking people going through massive, terrible heartbreak. They tend to recover and earn their happy lives, though not always.
  • 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.
  • Bowdlerise: Most entries were altered to make them more kid-friendly or suited to Japanese standards.
  • Food Porn: Almost every entries has a focus on fancy dishes. Some of them even presented how those foods are prepared.
  • Gratuitous English: It's in some of the series theme songs, especially the series that take place in the UK, USA or Canada. The theme song of Araiguma Rascal is partly sung by a children's chorus in fluent American-accented English.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Many of the series feature endearing orphaned protagonist. Examples include Anne, Heidi, Sarah Crewe (having already lost her mother, she becomes an orphan during the series when her father also dies), Pollyanna, Jerusha 'Judy' Abbott from Daddy Long Legs and Remi.
  • Market-Based Title: The official English title of the franchise is called "Classic Family Theater" series but most of the viewers are familiar with the title "World Masterpiece Theater".
    • All of the entries have their own titles based on the foreign language they used.
  • Parental Abandonment: If the main protagonist isn't a Heartwarming Orphan, they are likely to be abandoned by their parents. Either the parents die (as in Princess Sarah), 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.
  • Series Mascot: Rascal, who represents as a mascot of this franchise and the company Nippon Animation. Anne Shirley has also been used as a mascot.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of staff in Nippon Animation did extensive research in historical and geographical materials of the novels.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Almost every title listed above is an example of this trope in action, with Princess Sarah being the single most heartwrenching and painful.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Rascal is this in Japan, seeing how he's always present in Nippon Animation's merchandises as well as a cameo appearance in Peter Pan no Bouken and some anime crossovers like Attack on Titan.
    • Nello, Marco, Sterling, Perrine, Anne, Sarah and Romeo are also prominently displayed in merchandises and exhibits in Japan. Sometimes, Flone, Tom, Alfredo and the March sisters receive this favorable treatment as well.

Entries into this series provide examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: Some main characters have their pets throughout their adventures. Examples such as Sterling's Rascal (Rascal the Raccoon), Pollyanna's chipmunk (Pollyanna), Romeo's ferret (Romeo's Blue Skies), and Jackie's Murphy (Bushbaby).
  • Anyone Can Die: Besides the protagonist's parents, several supporting characters in the whole series are killed off for good. The most infamous is the death of Nello and Patrasche in The Dog of Flanders.
  • Christmas Episode: Some entries have their special episodes about the characters celebrating Christmas such as Little Women (Episodes 21-22 and 47), My Daddy Long Legs (Episode 23) and Trapp Family Story (Episodes 23 and 24). Episodes 21 and 22 of the English dub of Little Women were released on American VHS as Little Women's Christmas Story, in addition to being broadcast on HBO.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover:
    • If you pay attention to many WMT shows closely, you'll notice that there some Japanese quirks included, such as bowing to somebody else in apology, spelling errors and characters reading books from right to left. For a series set in foreign countries, it feels strange and out-of-place.
    • In Japanese dub, hearing some characters speak in any foreign language caused criticisms among some native speakers. Go on, try listening to the main character speak Engrish in Episode 34 of The Story of Perrine - or Sarah Crewe speak French in Princess Sarah - for proof.
  • Heroic Pet Story: Lassie pretty much is the Trope Maker for this so it can't be missing from the anime adaptation.
  • May–December Romance: Some of the female main characters have partners or husbands who are at least ten years older than them such as Judy/Jervis (My Daddy Long Legs) and Jo/Professor Bhaer (Little Women II: Jo's Boys)
  • Robinsonade: The Swiss Family Robinson is not just based upon this trope it even admits it in the title.
  • Tomboy: If the female main character is not a Girly Girl, they are this who are either act boyish or has interest in male activities. Jo March (Little Women), Pollyanna, Maria Kutschera (Trapp Family Story), Jackie Rhodes (Bushbaby), and Nan (Little Women II: Jo's Boys) are some of the examples.
  • 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 opening theme song even has yodeling in it (or a Japanese approximation). The Trapp Family Story which is based on the same source as The Sound of Music (and even used a song from the musical as its first opening theme) also has shades of this.

Series sometimes mistaken for World Masterpiece Theater entries are:

  • This franchise began a long tradition of Nippon Animation producing animation based on Western children's literature, which became the studio's trademark at least until the mid-1990s. Some of their other productions included:
    • Sougen no Shoujo Laura (1975-1976), based on Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (aired on TBS)
    • Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (aired on TV Asahi)
    • The Jungle Book: Shonen Mowgli (aired on TV Tokyo)
    • Maya the Bee (the original 1975 series aired on NET (now TV Asahi), the 1979 series on TV Tokyo)
    • Hayao Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan (aired on NHK), very loosely based on The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key
    • Piccolino no Boken, based on Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio (aired on TV Asahi, not to be confused with Mokku of the Oak Tree aka Saban's Adventures of Pinocchio, which was made by Tatsunoko Production)
    • Around the World with Willy Fog (aired on TV Asahi)
    • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (JP) (aired on TV Tokyo)
    • Nippon Animation adapted Paul Gallico's The Legend of Manxmouse into a TV special in 1979, followed by Boy Lornzen's Jakobus Nimmersatt (Back to the Forest) the following year. Both were broadcast on Fuji TV as part of an intermittent film series called Nissei Family Special (sponsored by Nippon Life Insurance Company), which ran from 1979 to 1986 and included many anime adaptations of literary works both Western and Japanese. These were the only two films in the series done by Nippon Animation to be based on Western lit (a third, Taro Maegami, was of Japanese origin, with the same source material as Toei's anime film Taro the Dragon Boy), but they were both dubbed in English, as were several other titles by other studios, including Toei's takes on Les Misérables (1979) and Little Women (1980) and Tatsunoko's Daddy-Long-Legs (1979).
    • The TBS network even attempted its own version of WMT in 1981-82 with the Calpis Family Theatre, sponsored by Calpis, the soft-drink company that was one of the original WMT sponsors. This was short-lived and only included two programs, both made by Nippon Animation: Ai no Gakko Cuore Monogatari (based on the same source material as the 1976 WMT entry) and the Japan/Spain coproduction Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds (based on The Three Musketeers). After the latter series aired, Calpis withdrew its sponsorship and the block was cancelled, although the time slot did continue to be used for anime.
  • In addition to the WMT version and the 1980 Toei Nissei Family Special, Little Women also had a 26-episode TV series on Tokyo 12 Channel (now TV Tokyo) in 1981, animated by Toei for Movie International. It, too, was released in the U.S.
  • TMS Entertainment adapted several literary works into anime for the rival channel Nippon TV. The first and best known is Ie Naki Ko (1977-78), the first anime take on Hector Malot's Sans Famille. Several more followed, including Mischievous Twins: The Tales of St. Clare's, My Patrasche (also based on A Dog of Flanders) and The Two Lottes. They all follow several of the traits and tropes that made the WMT popular, starting with being based on already famous non-Japanese media, but never were a part of it. Compounding the confusion is that the latter three series all featured character designs by a WMT and Nippon Animation mainstay, Shuichi Seki, and could easily be confused for a WMT series based solely on the character designs.
  • Shuichi Seki also worked on shows for other studios, namely Belle and Sebastian and The Yearling (Kojika Monogatari) for Toho and Visual '80 (both aired on NHK) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for Panmedia (aired on TV Tokyo). These all fit many of the WMT criteria and have a very WMT look and feel to them thanks to the work of Seki and other WMT veterans who worked on the shows, but were not part of it.
  • From 1976 to 1979, TBS aired Manga Sekai Mukashi Banashi, produced by DAX International, which consisted of anime adaptations of classic works of children's literature from around the world (not just the West). Some of the novels and stories that received WMT adaptations, including Little Women and A Little Princess among others, were also covered in this earlier series, which was dubbed in English and aired in Canada under the title Tales of Magic.
  • From 1979 to 1980, Tokyo 12 (TV Tokyo) had a series of anime programs called "Kirin Masterpiece Romance Theater" (Kirin being the sponsor), produced by DAX International, with each program set in Europe (except Kinpatsu no Jeanie, which takes place in America during the Civil War) and having characters dealing with numerous hardships. While they were obviously done to compete with WMT, they differed in that three out of four shows done for the lineup were original stories developed by the Japanese studio. The shows were Nobara no Julie ("Julie the Wild Rose"), Paris no Isabelle ("Isabelle of Paris"), Kinpatsu no Jeanie ("Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", very loosely inspired by the Stephen Foster song of the same name but the story is wholly original otherwise), and Sasurai no Shôjo Nell ("Nell the Wandering Girl", based on "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Charles Dickens). Each show lasted 13 episodes, with the exception of "Nell", which ran for 26.