For the next few weeks The Beginner’s Guide will looking at some anime films. This time we are looking at the debut feature film of one of co-founders of Studio Ghibli, the most successful anime production company.
Directed by Isao Takahata, the man behind films such as Grave of the Fireflies (No. 40) and Pom Poko (No. 41), The Little Norse Prince as it is known in Britain (originally known in Japan as The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, and sometimes also known as Little Norse Prince Valiant), was released back in 1968 by Toei Animation. Fellow Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki worked as the concept artist for it. It was the first project the two worked on together.
The film follows the lead character known as “Hols” in the British translation of the film but as “Horus” in the original Japanese – which is slightly odd given that the name “Horus” is associated more with Egyptian mythology rather than Norse. For this article we will stick to Hols.
Hols is a boy living with his dying father in a cold northern land, armed only with a hatchet on a rope and with a talking bear named Koro as his best friend. Hols accidentally wakes up a stone giant named Mogue, who claims to have a thorn in his shoulder. Hols removes it, and discovers the thorn is actually a sword. To be precise, the mighty “Sword of the Sun”. Mogue tells Hols to re-forge the old sword and that he will come and see Hols when it is done.
Hols returns to his father, who tells Hols that they originally came from a village that was destroyed by an evil ice devil named Grunwald. As he dies, his father also tells Hols to return home and carry out their revenge. Hols and Koro travel back home, but meet Grunwald on the way. Grunwald asks Hols to serve him, but Hols refuses so Grunwald throws him down a cliff. However, Hols survives and is taken to a nearby fishing village. Here, he makes a name for himself slaying an evil pike fish that was sent by Grunwald that destroyed the livelihoods of the locals.
As Hols becomes popular, Grunwald comes with new plans to destroy him, using the jealous local village rulers who are being overshadowed by Hols. Hols meanwhile meets a beautiful singing girl named Hilda in an abandoned village and invites her to stay with him – unaware that Hilda is actually Grunwald’s sister, under his evil powers. These schemes culminate in an attempt to get rid of Hols before the Sword of the Sun can be re-forged.
Amongst the points of interest regarding The Little Norse Prince is the age of the movie. It is as far as I’m aware the oldest anime ever released in the UK on DVD, and also the only one to date back to the 1960s. The only older anime I can find on DVD in English come from the USA. If it was not for the fact that it was directed by Isao Takahata, this film would probably have never made it to Britain.
It is a shame that so few older anime get released in this country. It is mainly down to cost, with only wealthy companies willing to distribute such films. This, like all of the Studio Ghibli movies, was distributed in the UK by Studio Canal, a well-established firm. I doubt they or any other UK-based company would be willing to distribute any anime that are older, although I could see a specialist organisation such as the BFI willing to do something. The BFI have released several classic life-action Japanese films such as the films of Akira Kurosawa, including his earliest films dating back to the 1940s, and have also released many books on anime. I would appeal to them to release some of anime’s early classic works, like the very first anime feature film Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, which admittedly is a piece of children’s WWII propaganda. Asking to watch Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors is a bit like asking to watch Triumph of the Will or The Birth of a Nation: it is of great academic interest, but you do feel guilty writing about it.
Some aspects of The Little Norse Prince are surprising to say the least. For example there is a scene where Hols is getting dressed and during this scene you briefly see his penis. It’s on for less than a second, but you do see it. I say that this is surprising, because in the UK this film is released with a “U” certificate. You get the feeling that if this was live action it would have got a higher rating. However, I have no complains about it personally about nudity, regardless of age.
However, the reason why this film should be considered to be in high regard is because it helped to establish the working relationship between Takahata and Miyazaki, who would go on to establish the most successful of all anime production companies. The Little Norse Prince was the foundation that helped to make Studio Ghibli the success it eventually became.
The Little Norse Prince is released on DVD by Studio Canal.