Well, this was unexpected! Great, but unexpected!
Through what was probably no small amount of effort, boutique DVD publisher Discotek Media has released the first season of the anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics on Standard Definition blu-ray.
A quick history lesson: this series is a an anime fairy tale anthology series that started as Gurimu Meisaku Gekijo or Grimm Masterpiece Theater and aired in its home country from Fall 1987 to Spring 1988 for 24 episodes. It was then followed by Shin Gurimu Meisaku Gekijo or New Grimm Masterpiece Theater and aired between Fall 1988 and March 1989 for 23 episodes. This series was then picked up by Saban Entertainment (Haim Saban being the guy responsible for turning Super Sentai into Power Rangers and someone who was always looking to create cheap content for kids' TV) brought both versions of the show over to the U.S., dubbed it into English, where it aired on Nickelodeon's preschool block Nick Jr. as Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics.
Which is where I would eventually find it.
You know, it's actually kind of hard for me to be objective about this show. In some ways Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics provided an awakening of sorts. If not to fairy tales in general then to just how deep the well of them actually went. If you live in the United States like I do, you're probably aware of the three different levels of fairy tale knowledge. First, there's all the ones that were made into Disney films. I know Disney can be a sore subject for some, but they have a big influence that needs to be accounted for. Then, there's the ones Disney adapted plus the other household name tales like "Rumpelstiltskin", "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" and "The Three Bears". Then there's all that and everything else. Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics with its episodes based on stories like "The Water of Life", "Mother Holle" and "Jorinda and Joringel" among others gave me a glimpse of that "everything else". Heck, it even introduced me to one of my favorite protagonist archetypes in fairy tales: The Wandering Soldier. You know, like in "How Six Men Got Far in the World", "Bearskin" or "The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces". A decommisioned, possibly injured soldier with no purpose or direction shows up and gets involved in some kind of adventure, whether it's solving a mystery, cheating the devil or getting even with those who've mistreated him. This archetype doesn't get used much in fairy tale media today. (Hmm, considering how modern media often leans on fairy tales as a source of nostalgia or way of showing children what they want them to see, you don't suppose stories of wandering, directionless veterans might occasionally strilke a bad chord with people in post-Vietnam USA?).
And yet, very few of my online fairy tale colleagues seem to have heard of this show. It probably didn't help that Nickelodeon buried it in its preschool block. I was older than that when I found the show and it's probably not a very good choice of demographic anyway. Many of the stories had scary scenes that could have upset the children ages 3-5 that Nick Jr. was aiming for. And yet, Nickelodeon never seemed to doubt that a series of fairy tales must be a series for pre-schoolers.
Well, luckily, it did manage to build a cult following of anime and vintage Nickelodeon fans, which is probably what drove this series to get an official release in the first place.
The blu-ray itself is pretty good. It's standard definition, so the picture quality isn't super great. However, making an SD blu-ray apparently means there's enough room to put both the English dubbed versions and the Japanese version with English subtitles on it. There are no special features but that's still a lot. Since no masters of the English dubbed versions exist, the English dubbed episodes had to essentially be recreated from available sources (this isn't the first time something like that has happened. The Voltron DVDs were created in much the same way). I very much liked watching the Japanese version of this show. It allows you to not only hear the original music and voices, but also see scenes that were cut for the English-language airing. Also, just the way the show was done was different. One thing with the English version of Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics is that the show had an ever-present narrator played by Theodore Lehmann. The Japanese version only uses a narrator, played by Mitsuko Horie, when it really needs one to convey additional information to the audience. Once, in the "Puss in Boots" episode, they even mix things up by having the narrator speak directly to the Miller's third son.
One of the unusual side effects of this show coming out on blu-ray is that through the prompting of an online colleague, it made me think about my own biases as to how these lesser-known tales are told. For example, the climax to the Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics version of "The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces" ends with a chase scene. And it never struck me that it would seem odd until someone pointed it out. For the uninitiated, this story is commonly called "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (an unfitting name for this show's version, which only has three princesses). In the story as it's written down, twelve princesses disappear down a mysterious passageway wear they dance and dance with mysterious princes until a soldier with a cloak of invisibility disovers where they've been going and reveals it to their father the king. In the Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics version, it's revealed that not only are the princesses entranced to dance with the princes, the princes themselves are monsters. When this is revealed, the monsters chase the princesses and the soldier and they escape before almost getting sealed in the underground kingdom forever. And that always felt like the most natural way to end things, and I always thought the way the fairy tale ended in the book was kind of abrupt. I always felt that way because I first encountered the tale on this show, though. It makes me wonder what other biases I've picked up from it. I guess maybe I should cut the people whose fairy tale biases were formed by Disney movies just a tiny bit more slack.
Well, anyway, I think folks should check it out. However, I'm hardly the most impartial judge with this one. If you can look past things like picture quality to things like storytelling, maybe check out one of the numerous bootleg episodes uploaded on YouTube to see if you like it. If you do, the blu-ray is available from various online purveyors, including Amazon and www.rightstufanime.com. The English-dubbed episodes can be watched for free on Retro Crush or free with Amazon Prime on Amazon Instant Video. The blu-ray for the second season comes out at the end of August.