Sunday, July 20, 2008

Japan's Boy Who Never Grew Up

Peter Pan no Bōken (Adventures of Peter Pan) is a Japanese cartoon series based on…well, you know. I have long known about this TV show (which ran in Japan over the course of the year 1989) but being able to see it proved a bit difficult. Then the magic of the internet came along. Which means I caught glimpses of it on YouTube and other sites. I resisted delving into it. Somehow I did not fully trust it to be a worthwhile adaptation. The skeptical side of me always won out. Until now. I recently came across a site harboring half of this 41 episode series, with English subtitles. I will not link to where, for it’s probably not “right” that they are online.

I must say that I am not a fan of the character design. I’m sure there are many traditions being drawn upon here. But it is just not to my tastes. [Though the Captain’s hook is on the correct hand!] I just don’t like the way the characters look. But I did not let that stop me from watching the show.

As it turns out, it is very much a forerunner to Fox’s Peter Pan & the Pirates. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox procured the idea.) Fox’s show I enjoy very much. More on that series some other time. But no Bōken proved to be just as appealing, despite the character design. However, it does veer from the original story in many ways. Normally that would bother me greatly. But on this front I am not entirely an ogre. After all, they are changing the medium of the tale. When that happens, rearrangements are often necessary. Among other alterations, they subtracted some Lost Boys, gave them a house amid a tree (calling to mind the Wendy house in the treetops at the end of Barrie's, of course, although they are supposed to live underground for the main text) and added a lot of extra story. In fact, it doesn’t even begin in quite the same way. Sure, Wendy is hoping that Pan will show up at her window. But here she and her brothers are dreaming about him, researching him in a book store, eating breakfast with the family and such. Later on, the final battle with Hook is a grand adventure through a booby trapped mountain (which is much better than it sounds).

The entire premise for the show revolves around the fact that the Darling children had many adventures in the Neverland that did not make it to the page. Adventures, of course, as we shall see, were of daily occurrence... To describe them all would require a book as large as an English-Latin, Latin-English Dictionary, and the most we can do is to give one as a specimen of an average hour on the island. Thus, creative folk have plenty of room for imagining other escapades. What struck me, though, is the time devoted to showing everyday life in the household. Besides being used as petty, cute filler until the adventure begins, whole sections give us the amazement of the Lost Boys at seeing Wendy-Mother making breakfast, washing dishes, sewing, etc. In short, it drives home the very notion of Home. It truly accentuates the irony that for these castaway boys surrounded by countless fun, the true curiosity and hold is what would have been mundane had they stayed on the mainland.

I loved how Peter Pan himself behaved. Not just his personality which they hit spot on, but his movements. Here you will find a Peter who stands on a ship’s mast and appear to fall only to quickly zip-curve around behind you. A Pan who sits crosslegged in midair. A Peter who jumps down and falls fast, then slow, then throws out his arms and legs and darts off another way. From his wayward flight paths to his subtle floats, his lovable obnoxious demeanor is beautifully translated by the writers, animators and voice actor. I should mention that this kind of attention to his, well, flighty motions happen in Peter Pan & the Pirates, too. And I adored them in it. But I noted that the Japanese did it first, and better. For those of you who will say that Disney’s Pan did this even before no Bōken, I say: Yes, true. But for me, not in quite the same way. I think no Bōken and Fox’s depiction of the controlled recklessness is far superior.

One aspect I found curious is the inability of anyone to fly in the Neverland except Peter Pan (and Tinker Bell, of course). A reason is given: Because in the Neverland there are too many other fun things to do than be able to fly. A trumped up reason, if you ask me. But I went along with it on the grounds that it proved a wonderful way to create tension and adventure. For instance, one cannot just fly across a raging river…one must brave jumping along the stones poking out of the water. But then, by the same token, Fox’s had them all flying and managed to create danger and excitement. However, no flying worked for this version.

I enjoyed their other interpretations as well, like the Neverland being an island in the sky. It’s easier to show you a picture:

It’s not correct, of course, but again, it’s a new way for a cartoon adaptation.
Rascal the Raccoon: another fun addition. Others exist, to be sure, but I won’t list them all.

I found myself loving this series. I truly wish to see the second half, especially since they introduce more characters, like an evil sorceress as a villain once Hook is gone. For those of you know me well, a pleasing Peter Pan is something of a rarity. Amazingly I like it even better than Fox’s. It does have foibles, but on the whole it captivated me. But I think Peter Pan no Bōken captures Barrie even more.

If you can find it, do give it whirl. I recommend it.
If we could combine the two shows into one? Dare to dream.

Disney's Boy Who Never Grew Up
P.J. Hogan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
The Silent Boy Who Never Grew Up

Fox's Boy Who Never Grew Up
...return to Japan's version of the Neverland
Peter Pan no Bōken - Not Entirely Broken

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