Friday, June 26, 2015

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Folktales from Japan.

If my loyal readers have been paying attention, they may have noticed that I have a soft spot for fairy tale anthology shows and comics.  Jim Henson’s The Storyteller is a favorite.  Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics is another.  In terms of comics, Erstwhile is a stand-out.  However, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to find shows and comics like that.  Anthologies are a hard sell.  Sci-fi and horror anthologies aren’t that big either (when’s the last time you saw a network air a show like The Twilight Zone).  When it comes to fairy tales and folk tales, most shows, movies and comics aim more for reinvention and long, serialized single stories with recurring characters.  Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics and The Storyteller are long gone and Erstwhile is telling its last story as we speak (sigh).  It’s through anthology shows like that I was introduced to some of my more “Secret Stash”-worthy tales.   However, through the magic of the internet, I may have found something almost as good.
The show is called Hometown Rebuilding: Folktales from Japan, but I’m just going to call it Folktales from Japan, for the sake of brevity.  It’s an animated show produced by Japanese animation company Tomason and which aired on TV Tokyo starting in 2012.  Each episode features three shorts, ranging from five to ten minutes in length that adapt traditional stories from Japan.  All the voices and narration in the show are provided by two Japanese film actors, Akira Emoto and Yoneko Matsukane.  The art style varies between each story, but is always somewhat whimsical and pretty much never adheres to what Americans would view as the usual “anime style”.
This show is just a lot of fun.  It gives a good glimpse into Japanese folklore.  As an American, I can say that this show is not what most of us would expect from anime.  The stories are also not what most of us would expect from folk or fairy tales, unless we’re already well-versed in the folklore of Japan and other Asian countries.  Watching the show at first can seem a little repetitive as certain motifs come to light.  For example, there are any number of stories that have that “Tom Thumb” like quality of a couple having a child either adopted or born to them, that is highly unusual or magical in some way.  There are also lots of greedy, antagonistic neighbors who should leave things alone.  There are also a number of stories of less-than-perfect priests and monks.  However, this starts to seem less and less glaring as you get immersed in the show.  Just as the recurring motifs of European folk tales don’t seem as obvious when you’ve grown up with them.

After watching a number of episodes, I’m hooked.  I’ve even got some new favorites from it like “The Pond-Snail Millionaire” and “The Rats’ Sumo”.  However, I’m also going to admit that maybe this show isn’t for everyone.  The art styles can be unusual.  Also, the short running time of each tale might give people the feeling that the stories don’t have enough time to “breathe”.  I’m also going to warn against trusting the translation in subtitles too much.  Some things don’t translate, like puns and plays on words.  Also, the version I saw referred to the tanuki or Japanese raccoon dog (an important, if somewhat strange creature in Japanese folklore) as just a “raccoon”, which isn’t quite true.  Tanuki are more closely related to foxes from what I know.
Aw, so cute!
There isn’t much else I can say about this show.  Either you’ll want to watch it or you won’t.  Where can it be found?  Well, I found it on Crunchyroll right HERE.  But that’s the American version of Crunchyroll.  Other versions may vary.  Someone did post some of it on YouTube, so I’ll link to a video to give you a sample HERE.  Come on, give it a try.  Like sushi, it might not be for everyone, but it’s at least worthwhile to say you tried it.


  1. The Storyteller (book) was re-released last year and they've done some additional comics, with different tales (I never got around to posting on them). Definitely not the same as having Jim Henson's guiding hand, and without that wonderful Storyteller (and dog) and film and puppet aspect to watch as well, they're just not the same.. -sigh-
    Erstwhile - man, I just wish someone rich would get it together and fund these awesome folk already so they could keep going, even if the original crew move on to other things (it's great to read they plan to continue working with fairy tales though, if not in the same manner they were).

    This Japanese Folktale collection is quite delightful! (There's a playlist of 200 episodes here: ) Thank you for this, some of these are hilarious too. I'm going to watch some with my son over his school break. :)

    PS Tanuki-squee! I've seen a couple in a zoo. Completely understand why they are so loved.

    1. I've read the Storyteller comics from Archaia Entertainment and haven't quite been sure of how to tackle them for a review. Do I look at them as their own thing or as the legacy of the show, or what. I'll probably get around to it at some point.

      I'm glad you like Folktales from Japan, but as someone who's pretty careful of intellectual property issues, I'd suggest you use the Crunchyroll site, which is above board, legal and ad-supported (no membership fees unless you want to join Crunchyroll Premium). I probably shouldn't have even linked to YouTube, but I wanted to give folks more of a sample since I didn't find any images from the show I could post.

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