Marina, the most beautiful mermaid in the royal Merman family, is curious about the human world. One day, she sees a handsome prince on a boat. Suddenly, a storm comes up, throwing him into the sea. Marina saves her handsome prince and guides him to the shore. Marina falls deeply in love and desperately wants to become a human. Despite the hazards, she is willing to risk it all for love.
This is one of the saddest, most beautiful, honest versions of The Little Mermaid I have ever seen. A childhood favourite, it left a very strong impression on me from the very first moment. An impression the grew with me, instead of fading away.
I have always found it interesting how true to life the story is in relation to how relationships might actually work in real life. Stories and fairy tales from this age have this habit of teaching us that 'one day our prince/princess will come and we will live happily ever after" - in this story, however, this is not what happens,
but instead we are given a dose of another possible outcome. One of heartbreak and loss. And while I do believe is it an exaggerated over reaction, I always found it comforting to know at least one person was telling me a story with a real basis to it and not just some idealistic future where I work for nothing and receive everything for being good.
Another thing I loved about this anime was the music. It is very moving and fits very nicely. Also, the sound quality was good for this era. There was attention paid to background noises this world was made real to me as a result.
The art style used was popular at the time it was made, but also unique. The lines were especially clean and I like the rendering of the Sea Witch very much.
Overall, this is one of my most favourite anime of all time. While it might not be the most original story, or the greatest in any category, for me it will always be a 10.
Someone I'd very much like to meet in the nun-run Catholic elementary school I attended put this on a VHS with Disney's The Little Mermaid, and so I first watched the two in a marathon on a day the teacher was out. Being precociously pretentious, I was irritated at how little the Disney version resembled the Andersen fairy tale I loved and slept through it. Then came this anime. I was enthralled. The characters and backgrounds were beautiful in a graceful, idealized way I'd never seen before. The ending, especially, was beautiful in a way I'd never envisioned in all those readings.
That school was forced
to close recently and the librarian asked me to take as many things as I could from the library. After wandering around like the oft-mentioned kid in a candy store, I was surprised to find that the VHS I had watched was still in the rack. I figured I had really lucked out and watched it at the first chance I had.
Yes, it was indeed childlike innocence that let me be so entranced by this movie when I first saw it. The animation, although better than a lot of others in its time period, is often stiff and flat. The story isn't really as accurate to the story as I had thought, and in fact seems closer to the Disney version - which is pretty strange, considering that this was made first. The dub is pretty awful, especially the performance of the main character, who seems to really enjoy filling mouth flaps with bizarrely pornographic "oh"s.
But the art style is still beautiful, and the story is still much more interesting than the Disneyfied version. If you have a little girl around, I'd suggest showing her this old gem instead. I'm sure she'll be entraced.
Once upon a time, there was a Danish princess who was only a few blushing years away from coming of age. She had everything a young princess could possibly want... A loving family, the respect of the community, and the most beautiful singing voice in the entire kingdom... A voice that could put even the ancient sirens to shame. But as is normally the case in stories such as these, the princess was not satisfied with the luxurious life that’s been afforded to her... She wanted more from life, and only the very boundaries she’d been forbidden from crossing could
grant it to her. Disobeying her father’s orders, she snuck past them. After a chance encounter with a dying prince, she made up her mind that the one thing she needed in life above all things was to live happily ever after by his side. But there was one problem... The prince was a human boy, like you or I. And the princess was a mermaid.
Now, before you start telling me that you’ve heard this story before, let me assure you that this is NOT the same classic tale that you grew up with... The one that showed you what it knew you wanted to see. Nay, this is a much darker version of the story... A version that’s based on the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. This is not a story of star crossed lovers overcoming the odds to find that elusive ever after that tempts our oldest heroes. Even the princess herself is two years younger than the scarlet-haired maiden you remember. This is a story of infatuation, of sacrifice, and of consequences. Should the princess fail to marry her prince before he winds up in the arms of another, she will not be shrunken down into a weed, but killed, and turned into the very sea foam that reflects the sunlight off of the waves. Will Marina obtain the same happy ending as Ariel, or will she find an outcome that’s more tragic and bittersweet?
Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid... Which I’ll be referring to by it’s Japanese title “Ningyo Hime” from now on, for the sake of my fingers... Was produced by legendary animation department of the legendary Japanese production studio, Toei. While I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, Ningyo Hime is by far the oldest anime of theirs that I’ve seen, since they didn’t put out the original Dragonball until 11 years later. Because I’m not entirely familiar with the animation of the time, and because dating must be taken into account, the over-all look of this particular anime is going to be very difficult to describe, but I can probably start by saying that in it’s time, compared to it’s contemporaries, Ningyo Hime was probably seen as being exceptionally good looking.
I can’t really say whether the animation quality at the time was a result of low budgets or just limited technology. I’d like to say it was a matter of budget, because of two factors: First, Ningyo Hime doesn’t look as good as Cyborg 009, which came out seven years prior(Looks a hell of a lot better than Speed Racer, though). Second, there’s a lot of restraint in the visual direction, as though the people producing it knew they couldn’t let their ambitions supersede their resources. I understand that the anime spectrum was a very different place back then, in a time when you had maybe twenty to thirty new titles coming out each year, as opposed to the several hundreds we get each year now, and people had to take their animation with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ningyo Hime has aged very poorly.
As I said before, this film showed a lot of restraint in it’s visual direction. This is probably it’s main saving grace in terms of aesthetic. On screen movement is kept to a minimum, with most motion relegated to repetitive cycles, and close-ups during any of the rarer scenes that require more fast, precise movement. That’s not to say these techniques aren’t noticeable, but they do help a great deal. What helps even more is that a lot of the backgrounds that the characters move across are shockingly beautiful. When Marina and her dolphin friend Fritz are swimming across the screen, it’s like they’re gliding across a watercolor canvas. When they breach the surface, the sense of depth and distance is stunning. The sparkling reflections of the sun and moon off of the waves convey a very lonely, yet serene feeling.
The color palette is a bit on the dull side, but if you’re watching any of the the newer releases, everything still looks crisp and clear. The use of lighting is also very impressive, although you don’t really get the full effect outside of scenes taking place out on the ocean, above the surface. Of course, water is one of the most notoriously difficult things to animate, and I’ll have to reluctantly admit that the waves here look more like blue-green claymation than anything else. The character designs are firmly a product of their time, a sort of early shoujo aesthetic, where the only body parts that don’t look anatomically accurate are the character’s anime eyes, which are still only half as big as what most otaku are used to.
The music is also dated, but I actually quite enjoy listening to it. It’s made up of slow, pleasant tunes, played through with harps, pianos, and various wind instruments, and the original singer of the few song tracks has a perfect amount of wonder and whimsy in her voice. One thing I kind of have to knock it on is the way this music translated through to the dub. The opening credits song had all of it’s lyrics removed, leaving only the baseline and a few accompanying instruments of what used to be a really pretty song. They actually managed to rewrite the song from Marina’s graduation into English, but the dub singer just kind of mumbles her way through it, rendering it an incomprehensible mess.
And speaking of the dub... I am at a loss for words, which is exactly what I wish they had been. The title role of Marina was played by Canadian voice actress Kirsten Bishopric, who was about 20 or 21 when that movie was dubbed and released stateside, and she could not act her way out of an uncut-plastic soda ring. I know dubbing back in 1987 wasn’t on the same playing field that it is today, but since it was released on VHS in response to the popularity of the Disney version, you’d think they’d hire a main actress who doesn’t sound like a monotone Scarlet O’Hara. And her little Dolphin friend is played by, no joke, the same actresses little brother, Thor, who sounds like the only directions he was being given were “Speak really loudly into the microphone” and “Sound sad for this scene.”They both did go on to have long acting careers, fortunately, but Kirsten tragically passed in 2014 at the age of 55. The rest of the cast is more or less okay, considering the lack of screen time they got, but the dude playing the Prince Fjord, Ian Finlay, somehow has less personality than the guy who played Prince Eric, if you can believe it.
So, I don’t normally review anime movies. The last one I looked at was Oblivion Island, but I did that mostly in blow-by-blow format, and in retrospect, that review kinda sucked. I was able to talk about that movie’s ending without actually spoiling it, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that with Ningyo Hime. Of course, the movie is 40 years old, and the original story it’s based on is over 100 years old, so spoiling it would be a bit like telling someone how romeo and Juliet ends... They probably already know, and if you heard about it from someone before reading this review, then they probably already told you way too much... They probably told you that it features the original tragic ending that Andersen himself conceived so many years ago. That still doesn’t mean the story’s as well known as everything else in the public domain, so before I go any further, this is my warning: I am going to address the elephant in the room.
Marina dies at the end. I won’t tell you how it happens, or what circumstances led up to it, but she does not wind up with the prince, and she does not live happily ever after. Yes, Japan was killing mermaids long before Hayden Panettiere was around to try and save them. The little mermaid dies, which stands in stark contrast to the ending of the Disney version. I’ve seen plenty of reviewers talk about this, but both movies star an entitled teenage girl who doesn’t know how good she has it, and wants more out of life. There are arguments against the Disney version stating that Ariel learns nothing, but still gets exactly what she wants in the end, while the conclusion of the anime is a lot more honest and offers a better life lesson.
Ningyo Hime teaches impressionable young children that when you obsess over somebody based on infatuation, which you’ve basically mistaken for love at first sight, and are willing to give up on everything you have just to be with them, you are most likely heading down the road to disappointment. This is a very good point, and it underlines a very important life lesson that kids need to hear. I actually have two problems with it, though. The first is that if you look at the central conflict of both movies through a modern lens, you can draw the metaphor a little further. Ariel and Marina’s conflict is very similar to the issue of gender identity.
Notice, both of these characters were obsessed with the human world before meeting their princes, so it’s not hard to surmise that they both feel, deep down, that they were born in a way that they weren’t meant to be... Mermaids who were meant to be human, just like men who were meant to be women. When you shine that light on it, the plight of both girls begins to feel less selfish and more sympathetic. Sure, their lives may be perfect from an outsider’s perspective, but are they supposed to just bottle up who they truly are and just live a lie for the rest of their lives? Doesn’t the movie where the heroine gets to be who she was born to be and love who she wants to love feel so much more powerful, now?
And my other problem is, of course, going to lead to some bigger issues. Yes, Marina experienced a tragic end that takes the literal interpretation of Ariel’s conflict to it’s more logical conclusion, but a tragedy doesn’t feel deserved unless it was inevitable. It doesn’t feel right unless there was one damning flaw the hero possessed that ultimately led to them deserving to lose it all. And I hate to say it, but Marina’s happy future was brought down by a talking cat.
I suppose in some way we’re supposed to believe that the cat is the sea witch in disguise, but that doesn’t make any sense. First of all, the witch has nothing to gain by sabotaging her client. She already has her voice, and she doesn’t seem to hate Marina at all. There is no indication that she stands to gain anything, tangible or otherwise, from the devastation of the royal family. Secondly, She’s not portrayed as being evil in this version. She’s shrewd, and she controls storms, but she seems like more of a force of nature than a villain. No, the true villain of this story is a talking cat who hates Marina, wants to see her suffer, and is able to talk to Fjord’s parents without either of them saying “Holy shit, that cat just spoke to us!”
And I’m sorry, but that’s just an example of how badly written this movie is. People complain that the Disney version brought a happy ending into the mix, but they also brought quaint little things like pacing, intricate plot points and actual characterizations. Much like the cat, most of Ningyo Hime’s meager cast of characters barely get any screen-time, being introduced to perform a role and than disappearing for the rest of the film. The perfect examples of this would be Fritz’s whale uncle(Not blood related, i’m guessing? He’s more of an uncle in a ‘family friend’ sort of way?), and the guy with the weird nose that probably died after Fjord’s ship went under. Even Marina’s Dad and her romantic rival are given bit parts, and the Disney version had much more expansive roles for them! Marina’s sisters fare a little better, but there’s eight of them, and the perform a role that would have been satisfactory had ONE side character performed it.
In a well written story, people and events that occur to further the plot aren’t just thrown away after they’ve served their purpose. Everything comes back in some way, even if it’s just in reference, or a punch-line that reveals what happened earlier as being a set-up. You can’t just resolve an issue by creating a character who can solve it and then dropping them afterwards. Take, for example, School Rumble... There are several sight gags that you think are just going to be forgotten afterwards, like Harima accidentally confessing his love to the wrong girl or turning into a monk with an entourage of zoo animals, that wound up becoming running gags and important plot points later on. Ningyo Hime is terrible about this, and it’s just as bad about weaving the characters it does have into an intricate plot. There are so many things that happened in Ningyo Hime... The wolf attack scene, in particular... That, if you didn’t see them, you wouldn’t notice anything was missing. I’m not going to say it was a bad movie, but the execution was terrible, and it desperately needed to be updated for new audiences. The Disney version did exactly that, which is why I really don’t mind the very real possibility that it ripped off the anime. Honestly, stealing from an existing source isn’t such a bad thing if you do something new with it and fix a lot of it’s problems.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is available in several different formats. It was originally released in VHS form, and to address another elephant in the room, yes, the mermaids were all topless in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for a stateside release, it did make the G rating a little misleading. A DVD release was eventually put out by UAV Corporation, but it’s so heavily edited that it can hardly be considered the same movie. Finally, last year, Discotek Media released the full film, uncut and beautifully restored, with a much more appropriate note of “Not rated” on the back. A twenty-six episode TV anime was released in the early nineties, but I haven’t seen it, so I have nothing to say. The Disney version is also available... Well, pretty much everywhere.
In it’s time, Ningyo Hime was deservedly a big deal, and I won’t take that away from it. It’s a significant entry in the history of the medium, and it’s probably the most accurate portrayal of Andersen’s original story that we’re ever going to see. It’s worth checking out at least once, but it’s not worth holding up on a pedestal. Whether you’re looking at its story from a literal or metaphorical perspective will determine whether it’s message is important one about discretion and self-control or a severely outdated one about ignoring your true self for the greater good. If all you want is to see the original dark ending to a story that inspired the Disney classic, or even if you just want to see a 14 year old anime girl’s bare breasts, then this movie is for you. As for the rest of us, it’s a significant film that should be experienced, but not celebrated. I give Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid a 5/10.
I watched this movie, because I heard it followed the original story much more than the Disney version. Which is true. Most of the time. But I don't remember anything about an evil cat in the original one. I didn't quite get that part. The story was not bad, but I did not like this strange cat part of it...
The art was okay, Normal for the time when the anime was made, I guess, but I definitely did not like it. I think Marina's sisters looked evil, and the grandmother looked extremely stupid. I am not too much into old anime art style, and this
did not rise up higher then anything else, not to mention those weird effects...
I would have given the sound a score of one, if not for the fact that I did not hear the original Japanese version, and for the music that I did find kind of fitting sometimes. And which was actually quite pretty. If you ever watch this movie, do NOT watch it in English. Even if you usually do, please find a subbed version for this instead. I may have enjoyed this movie a lot more if the dub was not so horribly bad. It was annoying, emotionless, or wrong emotions were used, and many very very strange sounds left Marina's mouth. And I found it annoying that we could hear her thoughts. Her voicelessness would have been much more real, and would have seemed much more sad if she would truly have been voiceless, even towards the viewer. The other thing wrong with the sound was the music. The music was both good and bad. While it was pretty, and great for some scenes, such as in the last one, in other scenes, it was not fitting at all, and decreased the enjoyment a lot.
The characters were okay, nothing special about them. While I would hate poor marina in real life for her extremely kind and innocent nature, and would find her boring, in this specific anime, her personality was of great importance. So here it is not only acceptable, it's kinda good. All the others were forgettable to me, nothing unique in their personalities. The one who could stand out a little maybe, was the dolphin. He was pretty much a typical cute little sidekick, not a special one. He was cute and everything, but very boring too.
I did definitely not enjoy this anime. But I did not put 1 as a score for enjoyment, because I did enjoy most parts of the final scene.
All in all, this was an okay anime. NOT better than the Disney version. While some aspects of it were better, some were a lot worse. I don't really recommend this anime to you (especially not in English), unless you are okay with mediocre characters, unfitting music and old-anime art.