Panda! Go Panda! Review
After working as a key animator on films like Prince of the Sun, Puss ’n Boots and Animal Treasure Island and directing select episodes for Lupin III at the beginning of the seventies, a then 30 year-old Hayao Miyazaki was given the opportunity to create something unique all of his own. With panda fever having hit Japan hard with the advent of China opening up further relations, he touched upon the rather simple idea of bringing humans and animals together once more with a short feature aimed toward children entitled Panda KoPanda [Panda, Baby Panda]. Miyazaki not only adapted his tale into a screenplay, but also took on art and scenic design and provided key animation for several segments. Directing duties went to fellow collaborator Isao Takahata, who had worked with Miyazaki previously throughout the sixties with Toei Doga on various films and shows, and to this day has continued to work hand in hand with him, most notably for Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded alongside Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki during the mid-eighties.
1972’s Panda KoPanda - re-titled in English as ‘Panda, Go Panda! The Panda Family’ - tells of a young orphan girl named Mimiko, whose grandmother must leave her alone while she heads to Nagasaki to attend a service. When arriving home after school one evening, Mimiko happens upon quite the little mess around her quaint cottage home, which eventually leads her to discover a baby panda named Pan-chan sitting on the porch. Taking the panda inside, she quickly makes friends with Pan-chan, but it’s not long before the father turns up. PaPanda, however, is quite laid back, expressing far more interest in the bamboo grove which shelters Mimiko’s home. Sure enough they get on good terms with one another, and Mimiko takes it upon herself to adopt Pan-chan as her own child, while looking upon PaPanda as being the father she never had. But with the local zoo trying to track down the pandas, the family bond is soon threatened.
Panda Kopanda - Amefuri Saakasu no Maki, or ‘Rainy Day Circus’, followed a year later and this time the rather understanding zoo has allowed PaPanda and his son to continue visiting Mimiko. One day two strangers belonging to the circus enter Mimiko’s home in the search for a runaway baby tiger, but leave in haste when they sense the presence of something monstrous nearby. Of course it’s only PaPanda. Mimiko, excited by the prospects of meeting what she thought were burglars, soon notices some strange goings-on: somebody has been eating the curry she prepared for dinner, while also using Pan-chan’s personal items. Well, Pan-chan goes to his room rather upset, but he soon stumbles upon something in his bed. Indeed it’s a baby tiger and it’s not long before Mimiko affords it the name of Tora-chan. But she knows that Tora-chan must be returned home and after delivering him to his mother a huge flood breaks out, threatening the existence of all its furry inhabitants.
There’s certainly something charming in the wide-eyed innocence/naivety if you will, in work of Miyazaki and Takahata here. Panda, Go Panda readily enjoys the notion that all creatures should live in harmony, no matter their placement within the eco-system; it fantasises about the kind of things we used to as children, capturing youth in its purest form and presenting ensuing events in a rather surreal fashion. The storytelling itself isn’t too wrapped up in handing out moral sentiment; its simplicity is gratifying and its curious ideals lend enough scope to see the animators envision some ripe situational comedy, set against the backdrop of a unelaborate landscape and the wonderfully sweet music of Masahiko Satou.
And it’s sure enough interesting from a historical viewpoint, which will no doubt go some way toward pleasing Ghibli purists. Clearly a couple of shorts very close to the heart of its creator, it no less proves its worth as a template for several Ghibli productions to come. Both Miyazaki and Takahata have since referenced and re-visited key scenes in their own feature-length productions; it’s certainly a joy to watch My Neighbour Totoro (directly inspired by Miyazaki’s first children’s production here), and being able to point out some of the in-jokes and visual cues.
Manga Entertainment’s Panda! Go Panda! looks to be sourced from an old US production tape. It features an altered intro sequence and inserts crude English title cards into the episode headers. Likewise there is a point at the end of episode 1 where a zoo sign is translated into English through hard-matted text. There’s very little to shout about here; certainly the majority of colours are bold and colourful though blacks lack a certain depth, and detail, while a tad soft, isn’t too shabby overall. What mars it somewhat is not only the NTSC-PAL gubbins, but more of the common problems associated with early anime on DVD. Cross colouring, very slight bleed (especially on Mimiko’s hair) and some unpleasant aliasing for instance being mildly distracting. It also has the misfortune of having edge enhancement applied, which, given the large and defined art style, sticks out like a sore thumb. Additionally the image exhibit’s a fair amount of dust and dirt, which is to be expected, but a remastered effort wouldn’t have gone amiss for its UK debut.
Likewise, the offerings of Japanese DD2.0 and English 2.0 are fine, if unremarkable. The original Japanese recording is clearly in need of some digital tinkering. It has a hollow sound to it, but having said that it’s the only way to go, if not for the dialogue itself then simply on account of Masahiko Satou’s score, which has been criminally replaced with a more generic, less emotional one for the US translation. I have to admit though, there is some amusement to be had from the English dub, particularly PaPanda’s mixed dialect which leans toward Jamaican: “Dat Byamboo sure is nyyice, mon” Failing all that you at least have a truly magical opening song; a tune right up there with “Tonari no Totoro” that will drive your brain absolutely mad.
Optional English subtitles are included and offer a solid translation. It only takes few liberties in its translation, notably with character names, such as Pan-chan becoming Panny and Tora-chan (Tora meaning Tiger) simply translating to Tiny. No errors, however, and the timing is well kept.
A bit on the light side, we get the original Japanese opening credits which is certainly welcome, and mini biographies for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Panda! Go Panda! is a delightful little production which tested the water for far greater things to come. Not exactly a perfect DVD release, but a film that no Ghibli fan would want to be without.