World Masterpiece Theater

Portrait of Marco

('3000 Ri in Search of Mother' directed by Isao Takahata)

The World Masterpiece Theater is a line of television animation series by Nippon Animation which started back in 1974. At that time Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, two now very famous anime directors, worked together on a project 'Heidi'. Together they have made a 52 episodes long animation series based on the well-known children's book by Johanna Spyri. The series was such a great success that it was decided to do an animation series based on a classic children's novel each year. The company Nippon Animation was originally founded just for this purpose. ('Heidi' was produced by Zuiyo Enterprises which was some sort of a predecessor of Nippon Animation). Before they left Nippon Animation to found their own animation studio Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki and Takahata were involved in several other WMT series, mainly '3000 Ri in Search of Mother' and 'Anne of Green Gables'. The ultimate information site regarding the WMT line is Sub Rosa, maintained by Benjamin Ettinger. There are many informations about the involved people and the corresponding original novels.

The series which have been directed by Isao Takahata are by far the most popular WMT series and the LD boxes sell well, no wonder considering Takahata's reputation due to the Ghibli films. But I think that the other directors are as well good and deserve more attention. And furthermore an animation series does not rely on the director alone. Screenplay, artwork and music are just as important. Not to be forgotten the original novel. I still think that 'A Little Princess Sara' is the best of all World Masterpiece Theater series and I have watched these (completely):

Having run successfully for over 20 years, the WMT line seems to have run into trouble lately. The number of episodes decreased constantly and even one series 'Famous Dog Lassie' was put to an early end. Benjamin Ettinger can tell you more on his page. I have not seen the latest WMT series but I think that the problem is a unfortunate conflict between commercial and artistic considerations which has only increased the last years.

The crisis of the WMT line has now finally resulted in the tragic end of the line. This is especially a sad thing because the World Masterpiece Theater was one of the last institutions which tried to uphold the old values. You know, anime with high artistic value were much more common in the "good old days". With the beginning of the 90's, an in my opinion very dangerous trend was beginning to establish itself. Ratings slowly became more important than the actual quality of the anime and the TV bosses made up an easy calculation: if people can be satisfied by mediocre shows, why then let produce high quality works? And as long as the advertising revenues are okay, they do not really care of anything else. However, the influence of commercialism on the WMT line was detectable for quite a while now. As far as I can tell, it began with the Peter Pan series in 1989, which was still very good but should have not belonged to the WMT line because of it's extremely different style.

Fortunately back in 1985 when 'A Little Princess Sara' was produced, commercial objectives did not have too much impact on the series itself. The relatively short length of 46 episodes may have had other reasons. But nevertheless there are some things, especially regarding merchandising, which bother me. There is some information about merchandising products in the market section.

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Taro Rehrl (e-mail), 1997-01-01, 2002-08-17