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Review: Anne of Green Gables (DVD/Blu-Ray Combo)

Anne of Green Gables’ anime adaption has hit Blu-Ray as part of Madman’s extended works of Ghibli founder Isao Takahata. While the literary classic has been a mainstay in schools for decades now, this release marks the first time the anime has been officially in Australia on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Anne (with an “e”) Shirley is an orphaned girl from Bolingbroke, Nova Scotia who has arrived at a new town to be brought up by siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert at their farm, Green Gables. The twist is that Marilla and Matthew, both of whom never wed, wanted to adopt a boy so he could learn the family trade and take on the farm after they passed. Anne’s arrival causes a stir in the household and, more importantly, challenges the norms around gender and utility, particularly in Marilla’s staunch view and robust plans. It becomes as much a journey of learning about Anne’s tragic upbringing as it does getting an insight into the stoic, isolated household of Green Gables, and the infectious wonderment of childhood imagination.

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I’ll admit I was never overly familiar with the source material – as a kid growing up in the 80s it was Roald Dahl, Gillian Rubinstein, SE Hinton and Judy Blume (ha!) that take up most of my memories from that time (along with Eastman and Laird’s coloured graphic novel collections of the original TMNT comics first collected and published in ’86, of which I have the fifth editions). If we covered Anne of Green Gables in class I clearly wasn’t paying attention (highly likely) or got distracted drawing TMNT, Ghostbusters or other sorts of pop cultural icons of the time (also highly likely).

Synopses of the original text suggests this film covers off the first chunk of the story and does so reasonably faithfully. Anne of Green Gables has been a cornerstone of the Japanese curriculum for decades which explains what might seem unusual source material for an anime adaptation in a made-for-TV film format.

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This last point brings us to the next point of interest with this release – Anne of Green Gables is actually an amalgamation of the first six episodes from the exhaustive TV series from 1979. Produced by Nippon Animation and directed by Isao Talahata, the TV series ran for 50 episodes as part of Nippon Animation’s World Masterpiece Theatre series. This helps contextualise some of the defining aspects of this release, namely the animation production and the feeling that the story seems a small part of a wider narrative.

Despite the typical constraints of a TV budget, this is an impressive and engaging slice of animation. Takahata’s style, later refined during his tenure with Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli, shines through with beautiful linework and attention to detail, especially how richly rendered and realised the world is with flashes of the fantastical added in as part of rendering Anne’s idealism.

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There would be future Ghibli talent in the product mix also – Miyazaki did the scene setting and layouts while Yoshifumi Kondo handled the character designs and animation directing. While the former needs no introduction, the latter worked with Takahata on Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday. You can see some interesting through-lines with Anne of Green Gables and what was to come out of Studio Ghibli – when Anne daydreams of the fantastical possibilities in the world around her we see elements of the surreal that would populate future movies, the European rendering of Nova Scotia (despite being Canada) echoes both the European rural setting in Kiki’s Delivery Service and the Japanese countryside so prominent in Only Yesterday.

Anne of Green Gables, as a result, fulfils two roles. On its own merits it delivers a succinct and interesting story with impressive animation given the constraints of the source format. But for fans of Studio Ghibli it has the added dimension of giving insight into much of the studio’s talent in their formative years before the iconic formation of the legendary studio.

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The Blu-Ray release of Anne of Green Gables is impressive, with a transfer that is, quite frankly, rather stunning despite the age and 16mm source print that would have in turn been telecined and broadcast back in its day. The linework and detail is fantastic, but it’s in the colour palette that this release does an amazing job showing off he team’s skills as animators. The release is bilingual with the Japanese release brought over in its native 4:3 format and a separate cut containing the English language version in a 16:9 format to reflect the source materials appropriately.

I wasn’t familiar with either version prior to this review so can’t comment on how well they reflect the revisions they may have gone over the years, but the English language version was either engineered to sound like an early-80s English language adaptation or is an original cut. While there’s no supplemental materials here, the quality of the transfer is rock-solid which is always the most important part (at least in my view, subjective as that is).

Anne of Green Gables is an amazing release to have locally. While reflective of anime styles common to the late-1970s, the mix of technical detail and child-like fantastical whimsy work well together and the story, while lacking scope, is tight and well-constructed. If you’re a Takahata or Ghibli fan though, this should be essential viewing as part of your journey in appreciating the works of these iconic creators.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.