TV Review: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Episode 1 - Some Thoughts

Review: Heidi, Girl of the Alps
Review: Heidi, Girl of the Alps
Welcome, one and all, to one of the greatest truimphs in the careers of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. This is the first episode of 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps. I'm afraid that no English subtitles or dub exist for this show. We'll just have to soldier on as best we can.

Perhaps, even, this would be a great opportunity for all devoted fans to work on translating the script. The internet is perfect for something like this. working together, editing a collective work that otherwise would be lost. The fansub community does so much, but still there's much of anime's rich history that remains beyond their reach. So share and pass along, kids!

This series marked a triumph after many years of struggle and toil. The starting point, as always, was Horus, Prince of the Sun, in 1968. After the movie's failure at the box office, Takahata was ousted from the director's chair at Toei. He would not direct again until he and Miyazaki joined the rest of the gang at A Pro with Lupin III in 1971 and '72. Even then, the two served as the "directing team" - although you can pretty easily tell which of the Lupin episodes were Miyazaki's, and which were Takahata's.

Takahata wanted to bring anime into the realm of literature, of character drama, and away from the American Disney formula. Several projects aimed to move in this direction, and I suppose you could include the infamous Pipi Longstockings project, which fell through and brought back to live as Panda Kopanda. But they were really only steps to that final destination, movements towards the promised land that Horus (and Hilda especially) proclaimed.

With Heidi, Takahata finally had the means to achieve his goals. A rich literary work from Europe, known to all the world, and paced just perfectly for a 52-episode television series. Heidi is perfect for adaptation; the ideal test for the skilled filmmaker to draw upon its pages and pull out all those necessary details that bring it to life. Which is to say he or she must also interpret a work, for they must build upon it and stretch it out. I don't believe that a film or tv adaptation that follows a book to the letter, and nothing more, would be poor. But it would be missing...something. The animation medium aims to bring us into these worlds, deeper and more immersive than ever before.

Review: Heidi, Girl of the AlpsWith Heidi, Takahata Isao demonstrates his mastery of this form. It is no coincidence that nearly all of his works have been adaptations from outside. Only Pom Poko, Ghibli's 1994 film, was an original. Horus really got the ball rolling, but it's Heidi that earns the title "masterpiece." From here, it's only a matter of connecting the dots; from Heidi to Marco; from Marco to Anne; from Anne to Ghibli. I don't think it's possible, really, to get to the depth of Studio Ghibli without getting to depth with Heidi, Marco, and Anne. You're hearing the notes, but not the music.

A little bit about who did what. Heidi is often regarded as a Takahata-Miyazaki work alone, or sometimes credited solely to Miyazaki. This is just ignorance rearing its head, since the master filmmaker who gave us Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro is the most easily recognized. We're still piecing together their history in 2008.

Hayao Miyazaki's role in Heidi was a crucial one, and it shaped his own work immensely. He served on layout and continuity. Incredibly, he worked the layout on every episode of the entire series! This was unprecedented, and demonstrates to his single-minded obsessiveness towards his work. He would perform the same duties in 1976 with 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, and the first 13 episodes of Anne of Green Gables, before leaving for Telecom, where Castle of Cagliostro awaits.

Layout is pretty simple. It means you create the landscapes and environments for each scene. You're the set designer, of sorts. This is necessary for creating a believable landscape; you need to believe that you're inside the home of Heidi's grandfather, and know where everything is placed. Likewise, you need to believe you really are in Frankfurt, as a three-dimensional place, and not simply a series of drawings.

Takahata's documentary neo-realism is totally dependent on successful layout. And Miyazaki provided that in droves. He created endless drawings, from every conceivable angle, and all in immense detail. We've seen Miyazaki's drawings for storyboards and e-konte at Ghibli. Now imagine that level of attention brought to a 52-episode series, not a 2-hour movie. Then add in the level of creative input this degree of creative control permits. The result is almost staggering. No single person has ever repeated the same feat. And remember, Miyazaki performed this not once...but twice.

Yasuji Mori, the "soul of Toei Doga," was originally part of the team, but illness forced him to withdraw. He did, however, make one notable contribution, and that's the shot of Heidi and Peter dancing at the opening. He filmed Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe and then animated from there. It's too bad that Mori couldn't continue, since he was such a towering giant at Toei. If he had stayed, the look and style of Heidi would be greatly different.

Review: Heidi, Girl of the AlpsInstead, that role was fulfilled by Yoichi Kotabe, and his equally talented wife, Reiko Okuyama, by his side. Takahata gave Kotabe the title of Character Designer, the first for anime. It's safe to say that this remains his best-known work...unless you included Pikachu, I guess. Is there a more universal, iconic anime character than Heidi? One more immediately known around the world? Kotabe's style is fairly iconic, working with simple gestures, but it's extremely effective. It's also very diverse, as the series shows Heidi and everyone else in an endless array of poses and angles. This isn't the simple cartoon drawing style of, say, Hanna-Barbara. Westerners still tethered to the Walt Disney paradigm of animation will complain, but if you can get past that, and understand another paradigm, one that is more natural, one more resembling manga and comics, you'll come to appreciate this show.

I think Kotabe outdid himself on Marco, with an even larger and more diverse case, but it's hard to top Heidi, Peter, and Clara...and the Grandfather, and Joseph the dog, and...well, you get the idea.

The pilot episode is, as I've said, a triumph. It is nothing less than Isao Takahata's vindication, his final definitive victory over the Toei studio, those clueless suits who could never imagine anything beyond Disney. But Takahata saw beyond that, to the modern anime era, and with Heidi he exploded those boundaries further, ushering in an era of literary anime shows, emotionally complex character drama, and a documentary realism and attention to detail unsurpassed. Heidi unleashed the annual series World Masterpiece Theatre, a jewel of Japanese animation for 25 years.

For me, this pilot episode is a thrill to watch - as thrilling as the opening scene with the wolves in Horus. All of the elements of the series are on display, all the main characters are introduced, and we quickly find that these are people we like. We're going to like Heidi and Peter, and Heidi's Grandfather, for once, is not an ominous creature to be feared, but a strong, resilient man of few words. The dramatic scene between Grandfather and Heidi's aunt will be replayed again at the end of Act One, with all the expected emotions and tears.

And hardcore Ghibli freaks will have a field day spotting all the riffs. I counted around a half-dozen. Maybe you'll find more. There's Heidi running up the hill, which was later quoted in the openings for Future Boy Conan and Anne of Green Gables. There's a closeup of grinning goats that reappears in My Neighbor Totoro. There's Heidi throwing her clothes all around and running up the hill, which we see again in Pom Poko and Nausicaa. There are pillow shots of nature, including one of bees over flowers that I also saw in Anne.

And there's the best Heidi riff of them all: The Heidi Tree - that low-angle shot of the giant trees near the episode's end. From Heidi's view, she is greeted with a massive trunk and branches stretching to the sky. It's an iconic shot, which reappears numerous times over the course of the series. And it's quoted and riffed again and again and again. Where else can you find The Heidi Tree? Future Boy Conan. Anne of Green Gables. Gauche the Cellist. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. Laputa: Castle in the Sky. My Neighbor Totoro. Umi ga Kikoeru. There may be more. You'll just have to see for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Do you know where I can watch the pilot episode of Heidi?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I've shown the first episode of Heidi here before, but these things are always taken down by YouTube or DailyMotion. It's difficult to find a copy online. To make matters worse, Heidi has never been given the fansub treatment, so that option remains unavailable.

As of 2009, it's still difficult for Americans to see Heidi. Your best bet is to purchase the Taiwan DVD box set, which retails for around $25. No subtitles are included, unfortunately.

You can click the link to purchase the Heidi box set under this blog's "Buy These DVD's" section.

Wilson_x1999 said...

Heidi was released in Mexico and maybe some other Latinamerican countries, but sadly it's only the spanish dubbed version that we got in TV in the 80's. The whole series retails for about 90 usd, if you can handle the spanish language, then it's a good thing to have.

hjg said...

Indeed, here (Argentina) is was aired in TV, early eighties. I remember myself as a boy watching it with my family, at dinner time. It remains quite popular here, (in contrast, Marco, Anne and Conan were not released, and they are mostly unknown).
The spanish dub is not bad, though it has a little too much sugar... The female narrator, specially, gets on my nerves sometimes.
The lack of an english sub sounds strange to me.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@wilson: I think episodes of Heidi in Spanish are still available on Youtube. Definitely worth a look. If some brave soul were to actually release a DVD set in the US, I'd be glad to include the Spanish dub.

@hgj: It's puzzling that Heidi, Marco or Anne were never released in the US. These shows have been seen around the world...everywhere but here. "The last in line" seems to have become the American motto for everything these days.

I would love to see Heidi tackled by the fansub community, but anime fans are typically only interested in what's flashy and new, and a 1974 series based on a literary work won't appeal to them. Giant robots, naked girls, cupie dolls and lots of gritty violence is what sells. But I would hope that situation could change.

There is Saiei Old Anime Raws, which includes downloads of many anime classics, including Heidi. "Raw" means no subtitles, only the video in its original Japanese.

Anonymous said...

They dub it in french! It was so cute ^^

Alestane said...

Yes, I bought it in French for the daughter of a friend a few years ago. The DVDs have both a dubbed version and the original soundtrack with subtitles, quite nice.

The opening song is specific to the French version, it seems.

Alicia Padrón said...

Heidi is one of the most wonderful things I ever saw as a child. I saw all the episodes. I honestly think it had a big influence in my life and somehow made me who I am today.

I illustrate children's books which is not the same as animation but it is in the way that I love to create wonderful worlds.

I am such a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's work. I recently saw Ponyo and was drooling during the entire film.

Thanks for posting this. I'm happy to have discovered this blog. I'll visit for sure. :o)


The DVD Thief said...

Heidi was and occasionally still shown in the Philippines. I didn't know heidi as created by miyazaki until now. Saw this during the 90's and thats during my high school days so i still have fond memories of watching the series.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks, everyone. Yes, Hayao Miyazaki was one of the major players on Heidi, alongside Isao Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe. It was very popular all throughout the world, and there are still places today where you can find it on the teevee.

I'm really surprised to see people debating Heidi on two different threads. This has to mean something important for this blog, right? Heh heh. I guess we're still a growing family, which is good news for us all.

Heidi Fan said...

Hello Ghibli Blog Fans,

I am in the process of translating Alps No Shoujo Heidi into English.

However, I am struggling to find healthy torrents of Alps No Shoujo Heidi in the italian dub. If anyone could please provide me these episodes through file sending services, I will translate that dub and provide an english translation. I know it is not japanese - english, but at least it's something right!?!?

my email is


Anita said...

where can i buy the spanish dvds ?please help..i want to show my children heidi..i was crazy abt heidi as a kid then my sis and now i want my children to see it too...thanks

joh del said...

I watched Heidi in Afrikaans in the 80's. Ah man, what a mark it made on me. Its a true classic, and every South African who grew up in the early 80's will remember this show. People still sing that catchy theme song. Heeeeidi Heeeeeeidi...

Sabs said...

I recently bought the series in Germany. Loved watching it again. I still have a copy of Heidi on VHS that was dubbed into English. This VHS only goes for 90 minutes and does not the Series any justice. Since you can not ge the whole series in English this was the best one could do. If any body know where one could get an English Version of Nobody's Boy Remi (not by Ghibli) feel free to leave a blog. Again I only have the movie version this time in German only, but I know you can get the whole series in French.

Unknown said...

Some years back the entire Heidi series was shown in english here in India on cartoon network. me and my mom have been fans from then on. I have been trying to get dvd set, torrents, anything. I even tried contacting the main company that has distribution rights for it but am unable to get english version. Any one out there have it

iKu said...

they are actually running heidi again these days on tv in spain. it first come out in spain in 1975, my brothers watched it when there where kids, and ten year later, so I did.

You can buy the full serie for 40 € same as marco. but only in spanish (from spain). you can also find them on the internet....

This are some of the most clasical series that the spanish kids watched, and 20 year later, still having the same spirit than when we were kids you love heidi you hate miss rotermeiter....

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

The World Masterpiece Theater series are still commonly shown on televisin stations around the world. In fact, when I was in Bogota last month, Marcee and I found a Heidi LP at one of the downtown flea markets.

2011 is going to be a great year for Heidi. I won't spoil the surprise yet, but it's big news, and eagerly anticipated. Stay tuned.

Raj Hardia said...

After reading this, I find it totally amazing that the animation studio dubbed it in english for airing it exclusively in India in 2001 (confirmed from wikipedia) and even more amazing is that the eng dub hit almost the write notes with the voice characters and soul of the series!!
I wish someone would post english subs so I can rewatch it. There's apparently a japanese raw torrent available online. May 2011 be truly the year of Heidi! :))

Emma Heuchert said...

I have Heidi as three VHS tapes, in Afrikaans. I am *really* surprised that they haven't dubbed them in English, since they did in Afrikaans, which is a fairly small language, in terms of number of people. I grew up watching Heidi, and never even knew it was a Miyazaki/Takahata work! I own it as a 'movie' more like, with all the episodes combined into 3 tapes. Unfortunately, our PAL VHS player, broke, so I can't watch them anymore... =(

kiran said...

hey guys! i am from india. I remembered here in india "Cartoon Network" aired this series in English
so probably they are the only ones having this series in English copy. Plz plzzz cartoon network release the english version, so we will buy....

Anantha Krishna said...

You can watch The story of Heidi, an english dubbed movie complied from the 52 episode cartoon. This is currently the only english dubbed version of the cartoon.

Anantha Krishna said...

Here, i have included the link to the Direct to home Anime Movie - "The Story of Heidi". This was compiled from the 52 episode cartoon and released as a movie for the American Audience. This rare video is currently the only existing english version of the original 1975 anime (Movie/Series).

Leonie said...

Does anyone know where I can buy a copy of the Afrikaans series? Thanks heaps :)

hanli said...

Hallo Leonie!
You can buy the Afrikaans series at

Box set 1:

Box set 2:


hanli said...

Hi Leonie!
Jy kan die Afrikaanse box sets kry by
Tik net "heidi" in die search box. Hulle verkoop die twee Heidi box sets.


Emma Heuchert said...

Weet iemand wat die verskil is tussen die epidose en die filme? Want die copie wat ek het is in drie filme verdeel...

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

The Heidi "movie" is actually a composite of several TV episodes, condensed down to a movie format. It's a common thing for classic anime series like Heidi, Marco (3000 Leagues), and Anne.

Personally, I wouldn't bother watching the "movie" version of Heidi, which is little more than a glorified clip show. These series are like epic novels, they need their space to breathe and thrive.

Besides, we already have the "movie" versions of Heidi, Marco, Anne - the Studio Ghibli films.

Unknown said...

There was an english translation in the 80's. Try f.h.e (family home entertainment.) I grew up watching this movie and I remember vaguely that most of the cartoons I watched had f.h.e. openings. I had no idea this was a ghibli film...if I had I never would of thrown out all my old (recorded & no originals) tapes. My mom recorded everything. I grew up with the chopped up dubbed version of nausicaa and bunch of other Japanese and even some german & French dubbed animated movies too.

RicardoNSilva said...


There's a movie version (dubbed in English) on YouTube currently available:
"The Story of Heidi" (84min)

Apparently is a collage of several clips/episodes from the
"Heidi, Girl of the Alps" tv anime series:,_Girl_of_the_Alps

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