The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Adaptation of 4 of L. Frank Baum's Oz books: The Wizard of Oz, The Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz.
I suppose when anyone mentions Baum's Wizard of Oz, everyone immediately thinks of the 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland. And yet, while a masterpiece in its own right, the MGM Oz is a radical re-thinking of the first book, using Baum's characters and some of the story's events, but severely abridging Dorothy's journey and completely re-writing some scenes- and, most important, by making Dorothy considerably older than she was in the books, the story was changed from one of childhood wonder and imagination, to one of teenage restlessness and longing. And of course in the movie it was all Judy Garland's "dream"; but in the universe of Baum's 14 Oz novels, Oz was quite a real place.
I would have to say that there's never been anything like a completely faithful adaptation of the Oz books. But I was curious about what the "anime" Oz was like as soon as I became aware of its existence. So these are my impressions- as a fan of Baum's Oz, who finally got to read all 14 of his books when they were reprinted back in the early 1980's:
Let's get my greatest complaint out of the way first, since it compromised my enjoyment of the show the whole way through: THE ART IS TERRIBLE. The background scenery often looks like something painted by an elementary school class as backdrops for their class play. The character art is mostly about as detailed as what might find in depictions of minor characters in a typical daily comic strip running in a newspaper, though the principals- Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Lion- maybe look like their designs got a tad more attention. (The first view we get of Munchkins- with pointed ears and gnarled faces- made me think of rejected designs for the animated Rankin/Bass Hobbit.) And why are Dorothy's stockings so baggy? It looks like she's wearing fisherman's waders.
The BGM is just lazy too. It consists of a few jazz riffs, one of which turns up quite frequently, often in scenes where it seems utterly inappropriate to the scene's mood. While I thought the Japanese VAs for Dorothy and Scarecrow were just fine, I felt less so about the ones for Woodman and Lion; Lion, in particular, sounds positively geriatric.
It's a shame that the look of the series was so bad, because the adaptation of the stories is often pretty OK; as the show proceeds into the later books of the series, the adaptation becomes looser, but some of the screenplay's "innovations" still work OK; others don't.
The first 17 episodes cover the first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The anime captures almost all the principal events in the book, so I got to see almost all the events in the book on the screen for the first time (even if the depiction leaves a LOT to be desired.) Uncle Henry and Aunt Em get bigger roles than they had in the book, and I was fine with that; on the other hand, a few things I liked from the book (such as the Winged Monkeys' account of their past) did still get omitted. Nevertheless, the script is fairly faithful to the books up until just after Dorothy does in the Wicked Witch of the West; this adaptation wants to keep Dorothy in the leading role even in some of the Oz books that didn't feature her at all.
Episodes 18-30 are based on The Marvelous Land of Oz, but with Dorothy inserted. (She wasn't there in Baum's original.) One scene here brought out the fact that humor doesn't necessarily translate well. Baum loved puns, and was a skilled satirist (he had a bad experience with military school, and this inspired him to endless mockery of military officers in the books), but little of this made it into the anime. So, the scene: in both the book and this adaptation, Jack Pumpkinhead, who is arguably the stupidest character in Oz (Baum LOVED stupid characters, for some reason) ends up in the Emerald City before the rest of his party, and is questioned by the Scarecrow. In the book, their conversation is a mini-masterpiece of nonsense that would make Monty Python proud; but that's mostly missing in the anime. The showdown between Glinda and the evil (if somewhat incompetent) witch Mombi captured the suspenseful mood of the book pretty well, but the art was distracting me AGAIN. Glinda's depiction takes an aquiline profile to an extreme; so help me, it looked like she could open cans with that face.
By Episodes 31-41, based on Ozma of Oz, the adaptation is starting to go its own way. I HATED this version of Tik-Tok; quite aside from the "missing tooth" in the anime depiction (which makes no sense for a robot), in the book Tik-Tok is truthful and resolute (because his machinery will not permit otherwise), while THIS version is evasive and sometimes cowardly. And Langwidere's personality changes were not due to changing her HATS, nor were the Wheelers simply shaggy cavemen straddling axles with their feet like that guy in the B.C. comic strip. (Baum hated the violence of the old fairy tales- the Brothers Grimm could be very grim indeed- but some of Baum's own visions were kind of gruesome.) Billina the talking hen is reduced to two walk-ons, and the whole thing with eggs and Nomes is completely muddled. (Baum himself changed his story a few times about the effect of eggs on the Nomes, but it was always bad news for them. By the way, the art here seems to take "Nome" to mean looking like a GARDEN Gnome.)
On the other hand, the anime adaptation adds some interesting perils for our friends (especially Scarecrow). And I thought the anime adaptation's version of the Nome King's Guessing Game was a considerable improvement over Baum's. In the book, we're just told that the members of Dorothy's party went to make their guesses. In THIS version, they're trying to use their particular skills to win, and while Lion uses his particular biological advantage (he wasn't in this book, by the way), and Woodman steps a bit out of character, I thought Scarecrow's tactic was pretty brilliant.
The last episodes, 42-52, are based on The Emerald City of Oz, and are the weakest. There are major pacing problems here; it was finally becoming a bit of a slog for me to sit through it. In the book, the Nome King recruits some pretty terrifying allies to attack Oz; here it's the Nome King and his army, along with an oversized earthworm, and one rather befuddled monster. Tip is depicted as less genderfluid here than in the book. (Baum depicted a transgender person in a very positive way- and made his audience love them- as far back as 1904, so you have to give him credit.)
What a mixed bag- awful art, very limited BGM, and a story that became more uneven with time. But I couldn't hate it. It was obvious that the folks who adapted the story were, at least for a while, trying to give the Master his due. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Rightstuf has age rating All. Mild violence.
Version(s) Viewed: Original Japanese version, viewed streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (52/52)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz © 1986 Panmedia.
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