Princess Sarah was released in 1985, when ijime (bullying) was a hot-button issue in Japan. Combined with Lavinia's behaviour towards Sarah, this led many fans to believe that the series was covertly dealing with this issue. However, Word of God says that this was purely unintentional. In the interview linked to above, he points out that some fans went overboard with this — one fan even sent the writer a razor blade, with the message "Stop bullying Sarah!" Kurokawa took this in stride, seeing it as a sign that viewers were connecting with the characters.
Lavinia's voice actress, Eiko Yamada, also recalled that she received a lot of hate mail because her character was just that odious. Fortunately for her, the next time she worked with Kurokawa, on Little Women, she was cast as Jo, and didn't have to play another villain.
Most fans of this show clearly identify with Sarah and see her as a strong character. However, according to an interview with Fumio Kurokawa, the director, she wasn't really meant to be a role model (in fact, he views her as rather passive), and both Miss Minchin and Lavinia have admirable qualities and are not meant to be one-dimensional villains. This is partly supported by the little that we see of the two characters' backstory — Miss Minchin's difficult childhood, and Lavinia's parents.
Miss Minchin, James, and Molly in the final episode. Did they actually have a change of heart, or were they just trying to keep up appearances yet again and salvage whatever dignity that they lost in an attempt to spare themselves further embarrassment?
Sarah. While there many people who praised her for her kindness and endurance, some of them dislike her for being too sweet and passive, as opposed to the good-hearted but assertive figure she is in the book (or other adaptations such as the 1995 film, which has Sara being an outspoken Mouthy Kid towards her antagonists).The fact that her personality seems to be more inclined towards Japanese sensibilities than Western sensibilities lead her to this.
Ermengarde is a similar case. She's either a great friend who supports Sarah, or she's just timid, especially when it comes to watching her friend being abused and doesn't do much to stop it in many episodes.
Lottie. On one hand, she's one of the few characters who try to help Sarah and is not scared to tell Lavinia off in front of everyone (while all the other good guys are mostly Extreme Doormats). On the other, she's a clingy, loud, and whiny Tagalong Kid and many of her scenes are just plain annoying, to the point that she's seen as a female version of Sunny and Dani, other 80s anime kids hated for similar reasons.
Becky is this for some viewers. Mostly due to the fact that she's often seen crying and passive whenever Sarah is in trouble. On the other hand, she tries to intercede on Sarah's behalf whenever she can.
Peter. Many viewers consider him a great addition to the show for being a comic-relief and helping Sarah in many episodes but some felt he just merely exist to be Sarah's love interest and Deus ex Machina.
Amelia herself is this. Many people like her for being one of the nicest adults in the show and understands Sarah's poor situation. Others criticize her for being useless, despite having the qualities that are desirable in a good teacher, she demonstrates her inability to stop her sister from abusing Sarah in most episodes. Though she gets better in the next-to-last episode, as she is the only one of the good guys to Grew a Spine and tell Miss Minchin off.
The series' finale is a subject of much controversy. There are people who think that Ms. Minchin and Lavinia deserved to be forgiven especially the former gives her a Freudian Excuse. Then there are others especially to those who read the book version think that Ms. Minchin and Lavinia have no excuse for their behavior towards Sarah and her friends. There are also some viewers who are okay to forgive those two but didn't like the idea of giving Ms. Minchin a lot of money and making friends with Lavinia. The fact that Word of Godleft their fates ambiguous will likely to leave fans warring over that issue for a long time.
The show in general. While it is considered as one of the best entries in World Masterpiece Theater series, there are some peole who dislike it since there are some characters that tend to be unlikable. How Sarah's personality handled and the show's controversial finale are the major point of contention.
Lavinia, who has been bullying Sarah so much received a slap from her father in Episode 20.
Episode 45. It's very satisfying to see Miss Minchin break down after she saw Sarah wearing a gorgeous gown in Mr. Carrisford's mansion. Not to mention Amelia's verbal lashing to her sister in the same episode.
Critical Research Failure: In Episode 31, Sarah tells Becky that the only way to greet Ram Dass is to talk in Hindu. Any Indians should know that you shouldn't call their language as Hindu, as it's actually a religion in India but rather Hindi.
Monsieur Dufarge. Being one of the few truly good supportive adults in the show definitely helps. Some viewers lamented why he doesn't show up in the last episode.
Lavinia's father only appears in one episode but he's highly praised by the viewers. At first he seems like the typical Doting Parent who does nothing but spoil his bratty daughter, but then it becomes clear that he doesn't approve his daughter bullying Sarah, to the point that he slaps her, finally giving Lavinia some comeuppance for her actions and averting Adults Are Useless.
Esoteric Happy Ending: The series ends with an uplifting ending but in some viewer's eyes, it looks rather disappointing. While it could be acceptable to forgive, the fact that Sarah rewarded Ms. Minchin a lot of money and then befriends Lavinia who bullied her in most episodes made viewers cringe. Sarah also seems to ignore that her friends were also victims of those people. The add insult to injury, Word of God admits that Sarah's efforts to change them are likely to end up futile and doesn't tell when will they do so.
Fridge Logic: Sad to say, but even a series of this quality is not immune to the Curse of the Refrigerator. Near the end of the series, the Deus ex Machina Mr. Carrisford, feeling sorry for the girl in the attic next door — whose identity he does not yet know — asks a dressmaker to make her some nice clothes. This dressmaker is the same one who sold Sarah and her father her precious doll, Emily, right at the beginning, and he has already met her after her fall from grace (episode 34) and knows that her father is dead. A simple question from Carrisford at this question would have saved him — and Sarah — several days of misery. Of course, this allows The Reveal to be postponed for dramatic effect, and sets up the events leading up to Sarah's expulsion, which are among the most moving in the series.
Saudis and Filipino fans love Princess Sarah and re-runs of them are not uncommon. The Filipinos even made a live-action movie back in 1997 based on the anime!
Same for France. It's one of the numerous anime originally aired in The '80s that gets the most re-runs.
Hilarious in Hindsight: Lavinia is voiced by Eiko Yamada in the original Japanese dub and by Paola Tovaglia in the Italian dub. In the next WMT anime, they both get to dub the same character again, who also happens to be a boy.
In Episode 16, Miss Minchin is depicted as a deformed tree in Lottie's nightmare. Taeko Nakanishi (Miss Minchin's Japanese voice actress), would later dub as the Hell Tree in Sailor Moon R series.
Memetic Mutation: Owing to Germans Love David Hasselhoff above, in mid-September 2014, Filipino fans started making Image Macros using screencaps from the series (with occasional cameos from other World Masterpiece Theater characters), with the text typically making up a random context for the screencap. As of October 1, 2014, the meme's Facebook page has over 116,000 likes. A particular recurring one involves a screen of everybody standing around Sarah as she reads a letter. Said letter typically reads like a text message, answering machine, or anything that can be done by a modern phone. Sarah is turned into someone who has an obsession with Peeling Potatoes, frequently being shopped into photos of McDonald's fries, or of Potato Corner, a popular kiosk franchise that sells fries. Else, the text just has her somehow talking about potatoes (or peeling them). The meme has brought the series back into the Filipino public consciousness and daytime variety shows have started doing skits parodying the series. Additionally, ABS-CBN, the network that first aired it in the 1990's, has begun to show reruns.
Miss Minchin. Her character is forever have known as someone who has obsession in money and good luck finding anyone who understands her. Her sudden change when she received a lot of money from Sarah in the last episode didn't help.
In the Philippines, many people thought that Sarah likes or is always forced to peel potatoes due to the famous meme related to the show. To be fair, she was seen peeling potatoes in the show once but it doesn't stop many people for bringing it up because it was too funny to forget.
Nightmare Fuel: In episode 16, "Lottie's Adventure", there is a scene in which Lottie has a nightmare and runs to Sarah for comfort. This nightmare involves deformed trees that turn into Miss Minchin and Lavinia's faces, and a wolf that tries to eat her (Lottie plays the role of Little Red Riding Hood in the dream). Pretty scary stuff for children, and it was censored in the French dub.
Signature Scene: Sarah leaving the Seminary after being physically and verbally abused by Miss Minchin. That scene is used as a source material in some fan arts and official Japanese home video covers.
Sarah's personality. In the novel Sarah is reasonably nice but not completely devoid of negative thoughts, as she can be understandably critical towards other people and not above showing annoyance occasionally. In this version she never has a bad word for anyone, and is always so virtuous, tolerant, and sweet, that it comes off as cheesy at times.
The Italian/French opening, especially because of the annoyingly sappy melodynote the singer Cristina D'Avena is mostly known for her energetic and catchy theme songs, very different from this one. More so the French one which uses only happy scenes, while the Italian opening is darker (especially in the beginning) and alternates between happy and sad scenes.
Tough Act to Follow: Thr reason why the next few entries in World Masterpiece Theater received decent or mixed reception is that Princess Sarah is fondly remembered for its heavy drama and over-the-top moments.
Toy Ship: It's made pretty obvious to the viewer that Peter (clearly a pre-teen) has a schoolboy crush on Sarah (aged 11), and he often helps her out of tight spots, including aiding her in sending a letter to the Bombay police to inquire about her father's death; the scenes of the pair talking together on the bridge exemplify this trope. Towards the end, he actually takes her into his home when she is cast out of the Seminary.
Unintentionally Unsympathetic: According to series director Fumio Kurokawa, Miss Minchin is not meant to be seen as a villain. However, many fans thought that even her Freudian Excuse fails to make her forgivable. It doesn't help that it's left ambiguous whether Minchin actually changed for the better or not.
What an Idiot!: In Episode 22, Sarah received some baked treats from Ermengarde and decides to throw a party with her friends at night. Unfortunately, they are caught by Miss Minchin and Sarah is punished by starving for the next day. For someone being starved for days, Sarah wasted her time in using her imagination instead of simply eating the treats right away.
Win Back the Crowd: After the poor reception of Lucy of the Southern Rainbow, My Annette and Katri, Girl of the Meadows in Japan, Princess Sarah was made more dramatic and over-the-top in order to win back the audiences.
Sarah deserves the most hugs out of everyone in the show. She is basically enslaved and the endless Trauma Conga Line she goes through at the hands of Miss Minchin and Lavinia is seriously horrifying. Considering how she manages to be still hopeful and patient for most of the story (coming close to the Despair Event Horizon only once before the end), she also qualifies as an Iron Woobie.
In the early episodes, before the story started putting Sarah through hell, Becky was the main woobie: a Nice Girl who works as a maid to support her poor family and is often mistreated by the staff (though it's nothing compared to the abuse Sarah will suffer later on).
Ermengarde, a shy, insecure, not very bright girl who is often bullied by Lavinia and her friends. Unfortunately for her, they are also her roommates.