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YAMATARO COMES BACK - - Special Review

One of the weirder animes I've seen. Believe it!

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.

Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk

zaldaron Dec. 19, 2012 at 3:12 p.m.

except wasn't Buddha more internally consistent? With children's stories as well I expect they try to use symbols children are all ready familiar and comfortable with. Hence the bear reminiscent of a teddy bear and the train as maybe kids in Japan still play with model trains (?).

Not having seen either this or Buddha I can't say much but the few "children's" anime I have watched like for example Fairy Musketeers (which you may find interesting for the things it does to Western Fairy Tales) hide the more disturbing parts of life much less than disneyfied western culture does. Not as much as say the black forest culture the original Grimm (in more way than one) fairy tales did, but much closer than we do.

Dig Deeper into Osamu Tezuka

Known as the "godfather of manga," Osamu Tezuka is Japan's most prolific manga creator to date with over 700 original series to his name. Tezuka is widely credited for pushing the medium to its mainstream popularity after World War II.

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