I really wonder sometimes if all specifics in children’s fantasies are fundamentally arbitrary. Here we have a random episode of anime (thanks Hulu!) directed by the god of manga himself, Osamu Tezuka. It’s about an (astronomically) unlikely friendship between an orphaned bear cub and an obsolete, talking steam train that eventually results in a folk tale about a brown bear whose roar sounds just like a locomotive whistle in the distant wild.
That simplified description could easily be the synopsis on the back of a perfectly pleasant Little Golden Book - - provided one ignores the numerous bizarre non sequitors that I've omitted, of course. I’d list scenes like the cub sucking the last drops of milk from his dying mother’s teats or the train offering honey-rich bee hives to the cub from out of somewhere in his iron frame... but doing so would really just rehash the points I made about the various kinds of weirdness in my last GALAXY EXPRESS write-up.
Perhaps I’m thinking too hard about what was only supposed to be a charming little diversion - - but if there’s no point in critiquing this, does that mean there’s probably no measure of quality in children’s fantasy, anyway? You look at a storybook allegory like, say, THE GIVING TREE, and there’s at least some internal logic to its creative choices. Trees live a long time. People age pretty quickly, by comparison. They have a relationship, in the real world, that evolves enough to make an effective analogy for other changes in life.
Bears and trains don’t have any sort of significant relationship in reality, as far as I know. So why does the cub have to be a bear, and not a wildcat or eagle instead? Why must it be a train that's talking to him, and not a boat or steel pole instead? Is there a message in the train coming out of retirement (?!) and committing suicide on the tracks (?!?!) which couldn’t be convey by the two of them instead becoming performers at the circus and eventually getting killed by intolerant humans there?
If no answer to any of those questions is qualitatively better than another, then Tezuka may as well have just made this up as he went along and simply instructed his composer to throw some emotional music over it all to make wistful - - even if you really couldn't comprehend why. Again, I might be applying too serious of an eye on this little bit of nonsense but, to be honest, I’m really not seeing much in the plotting here that’s any different from the more celebrated entries in his oeuvre like BLACK JACK and BUDDHA.
Watch this episode here and decide for yourself.