3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco): The Series Playlist

I present to you 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (aka "Marco") in its entirety. This 52-episode series was the 1976 season of World Masterpiece Theater, and the second in Isao Takahata's celebrated Heidi-Marco-Anne trilogy of masterworks.

This video contains the playlist for all 52 episodes, presented in Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Now a few quick notes about its creators. This series was a teamwork collaboration between Takahata (director), Hayao Miyazaki (layout, scene design) and Yoichi Kotabe (character design). It is the direct followup to Heidi, Girl of the Alps, which became a groundbreaking success in Japan and throughout the world. The trio had begun at Toei Doga and continued as a team for a number of years, first teaming with alum Yasuo Otsuka on Moomin and Lupin the 3rd, then working tirelessly on the Pippi Longstocking project that was notoriously scuttled by author Astrid Lindgren, then finally to Heidi.

Heidi succeeded because the trio of Takahata-Miyazaki-Kotabe worked together as a team, contributing story ideas and characters together. With the Marco series, however, Takahata took a more firm control over the story, pushing relentlessly in the direction of emotionally-charged melodrama. Its scale became epic, spanning two continents, an ocean and a widely varied cast of characters, and all stylized after the Italian Neo-realists. Flights of fancy or imagination are almost nonexistent. Marco's journey is not driven by wonder or discovery, but obsession, suffering and pain. Imagine the Book of Job starring James Dean and you'll have some idea of what to expect.

It would seem that Marco's obsession reflected Takahata's, and is it said that his relationship with Miyazaki and Kotabe suffered as a result. By the end of the series, Kotabe walked away, effectively breaking up the band that had stuck together throughout the decade. He would return five years later to work with Paku-san again in the 1981 movie Jarinko Chie, and later with Miyazaki in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, but his animation career began to decline. In the mid-1980s, he found himself working at the most unlikeliest of places: Nintendo. There, he would help with art and character design for many of the company's most beloved videogames, including Super Mario Kart and Pokemon. Remember Pikachu? That's Kotabe.

Hayao Miyazaki would finally begin his solo directing career (not counting the 1972 Yuki's Sun pilot film) with the spectacular 1978 series Future Boy Conan. Yasuo Otsuka, who served as the animation director, famously noted how his friend's relentless creative drive and work ethic had exploded during his time as Paku-san's right hand. And while Miyazaki did return one final time to serve as layout/scene designer for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, he left the series after 13 episodes to join TMS's Telecom studio to direct his first feature-length movie, Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, once again with old friend Otsuka by his side.

The next time Takahata and Miyazaki worked together was on the infamous Nemo movie project, traveling to California as members of the Japan delegation. Both walked away over creative differences, and while Takahata continued to thrive with the wonderfully sublime 1982 film Gauche the Cellist and the 1982-83 TV version of Jarinko Chie, his colleague struggled after several years of commercial and creative failures.

Miyazaki retreated to his first love, drawing manga comics, creating a serial comic for Animage Magazine called Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1983. After a long period of begging and pleading by the magazine's young editor, Toshio Suzuki, Miyazaki was convinced to direct a film adaptation of Nausicaa which was released to great success in 1984. Its success led directly to the founding of Nibariki, Miyazaki's production company, and, of course, Studio Ghibli, which found its first commercial success in 1989 with Kiki's Delivery Service*. The rest, as they say, is history.

Takahata, as I've said, continued to enjoy success as a director, and he was the top dog at the time. He helped Miyazaki by guest-directing two episodes of Conan, and brought along young animator Yoshifumi Kondo as the animation director/character designer for Anne of Green Gables. Kondo had previously worked on Lupin Series One and he quickly became Paku-san's new prized student, the right-hand-man for the famous "director who cannot draw" in Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro and Pom Poko. Kondo died in 1998 from a brain aneurism, leaving Takahata reportedly guilt-stricken over working his prodigy so hard**.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother sits at a fascinating crossroads in these three careers. It represents the peaks of the post-Toei years, drives the evolution of 1970s anime and sets the stage for Studio Ghibli. It represents a beginning, middle and end of converging eras. And despite any creative turbulence behind the scenes, this series remains a masterpiece of dramatic storytelling and naturalist animation. In my opinion, it is the greatest of the Heidi-Marco-Anne trilogy, the richest and deepest and most compelling, filled with mythic grandeur.

Watch this series. Just put down whatever is on your Netflix playlist and watch this instead.


(*Note: That's correct, the first three Ghibli features -- Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies -- all lost money in their initial theatrical runs. Their success, especially Totoro, would come years later with home video and merchandising.)

(**Note: This story came from a rather strange rant last year by Toshio Suzuki, who accused the late Takahata of being a tyrant who drove away talent and led Ghibli to ruin. It's very odd as this portrayal of the director as a hotheaded control freak is greatly at odds with his image as the epitome of zen cool ("walking logic" in Mamoru Oshii's words) and more descriptive of Miyazaki.)

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