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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 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 surprisingly 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 Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, also produced by Nippon Animation (and just one of many other anime adaptations of Western children's literature produced by that studio). Compare also to Animated Classics Of Japanese Literature, also by Nippon Animation, which presented heavily condensed versions (generally one half-hour episode per story) of classic Japanese novels.


The entries into the series are:

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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ghibli Hills: Early entries into the series feature the talents of Hayao Miyazaki and it shows.
    • Also, Yoshifumi Kondo, who would go on to direct Whisper Of The Heart, was a character designer on Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and worked as an animator on some of the other series.
    • Yoshiharu Sato, character designer for My Neighbor Totoro, worked in the same capacity on several WMT series including Pollyanna and Little Women II: Jo's Boys.
    • Oh Production also provided animation assistance for works by both Nippon Animation and Ghibli, resulting in much cross-pollination between the two studios.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Many of the series feature endearing orphaned protagonist. Examples include Anne, Heidi, 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 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.
  • 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 and Alfredo 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.
  • Heroic Pet Story: Lassie pretty much is the Trope Maker for this so it can't be missing from the anime adaptation.
  • Home Version Soundtrack Replacement: Trapp Family Story originally opened with a Japanese version of "Do-Re-Mi", but reruns and the DVD change the song to "Smile Magic".
  • 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 also has shades of this.

Series sometimes mistaken for World Masterpiece Theater entries are:

  • Ie Naki Ko: The first anime take on Hector Malot's Sans Famille, made by TMS, and released through 1977 and 1978. It follows several of the traits and tropes that made the WMT popular, starting with being based on already famous non-Japanese media, but it never was a part of it.
  • Kojika Monogatari, an animated adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's novel The Yearling, released in 1983. Again, it fits in the WMT criteria but wasn't a part of it.
  • Belle And Sebastian, made in 1981. Many WMT staff worked on this series - including a character designer whose work gives the series a very WMT feel - but it wasn't a Nippon Animation production, made instead by Toho with the animation studio Visual 80.note 
  • Sougen no Shoujo Laura (1975-1976), based on Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Understandable, since Nippon Animation produced it and it has a lot of hallmarks of a typical WMT show. However, it was never part of WMT and even aired on a different network, Tokyo Broadcasting System.
  • From 1979 to 1980, TV Tokyo had a series of anime programs called "Kirin Masterpiece Romance Theater" (Kirin being the sponsor), produced by DAX International, each program set in Europe 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 ("Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair"), 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.