Note: this is a review of the 1997 World Masterpiece Theatre version of Ie Naki Ko, not the Osamu Dezaki version of 1977. I’d love to have watched the original version, but unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere; it’s gone up in smoke, so I needed to settle with this inferior version. For those of you who don’t know, Ie Naki Ko has a whole backstory to it.
In 1996, the World Masterpiece Theatre franchise was in a lot of trouble. The previous WMT-series, Famous Dog Lassie, had been suddenly halted after only 26 episodes, and it was replaced by this series. 23 episodes later, and it was suffering from bad reviews and low television rates, so it got taken off the air completely by the television network. After 23 years of non-stop series, the World Masterpiece Theatre went into a hiatus that would last for nearly ten years, until it was picked up again by Les Miserables. Even among the WMT-fans it seems to have been rated as one of the lesser series of the franchise.
However after watching the series, I do want to say that if the version that’s universally considered as a cheap rip-off is already this good, then I can only imagine how incredibly beyond awesome the Osamu Dezaki version must be.
But yeah, this series definitely has its problems. The creators here tried to stuff a story that’s meant for 52 episodes in only 26 of them. They changed a lot from the original novel, including the actual gender of the main character, and even with the shortened episode length, it still includes a few fillers. I think that this was done in an attempt to make the WMT-franchise more mainstream, which obviously failed.
Nevertheless, despite this the show has an awesome cast of characters, which stay true to themselves no matter what gets thrown at them. Remi may have changed into a girl, but she’s a really strong character, who is able to carry the weight of the series easily. There are still plenty of slice of life moments, which really try to flesh out the different characters. Despite the fillers feeling rather random when you watch them, each of them has its own purpose of foreshadowing later plot-twists.
Where this series falls behind in comparison to the other WMT-series is that it wants drama a little too badly. With this, I mean that no matter where Remi arrives through the series, you’ll know that something bad is going to happen to her. Be it a robbery, stolen item, or whatever, and especially the way in which Remi meets her real family feels really strange. Compare that to Porfy no Nagai Tabi, where you’ll never know if a person Porfy meets is going to have gentle or ill intentions, and yes, it does fall flat in that aspect. There’s also a bit of romance that pops up near the end of the series. On one hand, it’s incredibly heart-warming, though it can also be way too soppy at times.
But what impressed me the most about this series is that even though it usually has a warm but naive idealistic nature, there are times where the cold, hard feeling of reality crashes down on the characters, and at those times it really spares nobody. It may fool you at times, but this series is typical WMT in the sense that it can be incredibly dark for a children’s series. We’re talking about brutal child abuse here. The contrast between these dark and cold parts and the heart-warming mood is what really made this series something special.
So yeah, while overall flawed this nevertheless is a very capable series. What it lacks mostly is polishing. If the creators could have spent some attention to make the drama less soppy, the different coincidences less apparent and added 26 more episodes, then I can imagine how the Osamu Dezaki version could easily be one of the best anime of the seventies.