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Syrius no Densetsu/The Sea Prince and the Fire Child (Sanrio, 1981)
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Added 1/21/2012
Updated 4/13/2013
This anime movie was originally released in 1981 as シリウスの伝説 (Syrius no densetsu, “The legend of Syrius”) by Sanrio, a studio that at the time was reaching for an international audience. Based on an original idea by Sanrio’s founder, Shintaro Tsuji, it was directed by Masami Hata, an important and wide-ranging animator. In 1971, Hata had previously directed the landmark TV series Andersen Monogatari or “The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen,” including an early and largely unknown 3-part adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” He later became internationally recognized for directing Little Nemo in Wonderland, the 1989 feature film that became the first Japanese-produced animated film to be adapted and given wide theatrical release in North America. (And still later he did storyboarding and layouts for Inuyasha.)

The story concerns a mythological feud between the elemental realms of Fire and Water, fomented by Algorac, the trickster god of Wind. (In Japanese mythology, the storm kami Susano-O famously created a similar crisis by offending the sun-kami Amaterasu, leading her to hide her face in a cave, nearly bringing destruction to the universe.) As a result, the two kingdoms are forbidden to contact each other, and the troublesome wind god is imprisoned between them. A chance encounter between the Sea Prince Syrius and the Fire Princess Malta leads to a passionate love affair, which their parents discover and try to thwart. In desperation, Syrius arranges a plan that would allow him to escape with his beloved, but it goes awry, and the Wind god is set free. This leads to a cosmic maelstrom, and in its aftermath both lovers lose their lives, though there is a suggestion at the end that their spirits are reunited in the star world.

In most references, the story is described as a variation on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which it certainly is in general outlines. More importantly, it prefigures the way in which Disney retooled the plot of Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” in making it into a feature animated movie. Both films show a sea creature (Syrius/Ariel) who is incurably curious about the world outside. As a result, s/he falls in love with a noble creature of the realm of air (Malta/Eric). The relationship is thwarted by an existential baddie (the wind god Algorac/the sea-witch Ursula), whose powers endanger the cosmic order.

Screening it confirms the connection, as the Sanrio animators enjoyed creating whimsical images of the “under the sea” kingdom, and Syrius’s finned sidekick Teac (Bibble in the dub) behaves much like Flounder in the Disney film. Sanrio doubtless made such borrowing easier, as their character development already imitates that of earlier Disney films, with Syrius and Malta visibly patterned after Peter Pan and Tinker Bell in the 1953 animated film.

(Likewise, it’s a good bet that Miyazaki was familiar with Syrius, since Ponyo also picks up hints from the older film – but that’s another story.)

In 1991 the film was dubbed and released in the U.S. as The Sea Prince and the Fire Child. This movie did not make much impact at the time, and it still is not as widely known as other anime classics. Still, it generated a small but devoted band of admirers, many of whom caught it briefly during cable TV broadcasts during the early 1990s or picked it up by chance in VHS rental stores. Happily, a “30th anniversary” DVD was released in 2011, and this has been attracting more attention.

The lengthy, personal, and often impassionate online reviews it has received include DVD Talk (“dazzling, a sweeping stream of imagery that tells its clear-cut tale with a level of poetic, fanciful wonder . . . a sublime piece of accessible fantasy anime”), And You Thought It Was Safe(?) (“The Little Mermaid would gladly sell its voice (and soul) to an evil octopus-witch just on the off chance it might have one tenth of Sea Prince‘s emotional impact.”), Otaku News (“Animation is crisp and epic for its time and is still beautiful in its own right. The world is like a grand fairy tale in every sense of the word and is as imaginative and lively as the characters that inhabit it.”), and Mutant Reviewers from Hell (“This is a powerful, haunting little film -- the term ‘achingly beautiful’ might have been invented for it. It’s beautifully animated, beautifully scored . . . and it’s just overall beautifully done. This is one of those movies that I can only watch once every year or so, because however familiar I am with it, I want to keep it fresh; I want to keep it powerful.”)

A number of Rubberslug galleries hold collections from this movie, including Spanish-doll, Unicorn Gallery, Baka-Inu Cels, Bluegrass Cartoonology, S.h.o’s collection, and Felicity-chan’s Oasis. A number of others have added single cels in their collections. Among these are Otakusin: Sinfully Delicious (a pretty Malta), rabbitart (Malta again), Zag’s Cels of Junk She Likes (Syrius and Teac/Bibble), and best of all, Izobel’s Animation Art Gallerie (an extraordinarily important and lovely cel of Syrius and Malta), plus wELCOME cONSUMER (ditto, a gorgeous sequence-buddy of the previous item).

    Previous: Pippi Longstocking (Miyazaki/Takahata, 1971): Tests Next: Unico (Sanrio, 1979-83)    

Curator: 60something-sensei
Gallery Created: 8/3/2002
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