Let's give a round of applause to YouTube user Extraordinaire, who has sent me a number of animation clips during 2007. Then, just in time for Christmas, I was sent the links to a full-length movie - the 1963 Toei Doga feature, Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon.
Excellent work! Pass the popcorn! Sure wish I had a computer that could play this.
This film was the sixth full-length animated picture from the Toei studio, and is universally regarded as a Japanese masterpiece. Little by little, the young animators and artists and writers are learning their craft, building from their understanding of American cartoons, calling upon their own vast cultural heritage. If Horus, Prince of the Sun can be called the Sgt. Pepper of anime, then Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon is their Rubber Soul.
I'll let Ben Ettinger, the expert scholar of anime history, describe the movie in his own words:
Now we come to one of the all-time anime masterpieces, a film that holds the
distinction of being the film that introduced the animation director system into
anime (whereby one person corrects all the drawings by the key animators in
order to eliminate minor differences and keep the characters looking the same
throughout the film). But that's not necessarily what's great about it to anybody who watches it. The designs are great. The color is great. The music is great. The story is great. The animation is great. The finale is incredible. It's probably the first Toei Film film that comes together as a totally satisfying and integral whole.
The animation hilight of this film is the final scene of the hydra, animated by Yasuo Otsuka together with Sadao Tsukioka. Otsuka had pursued realism since he began as an animator, basing his animation on close observation of the reality around him -- for example, observing and drawing actual catfish in preparation for animating the scene with the giant fish in Magic Boy. But there are no 8-headed dragons in the real world to study, so how to draw one? Reality in this scene is evoked by the tension produced by careful timing and framing of the action unfolding on the screen in one
continuous flow over the course of several minutes.
There are many other great scenes -- the fight with the tiger early on, the dance scene. This is the first film in which most of the film is totally satisfying in terms of the animation, with interesting movement and appealing and original designs.