a.k.a. Panda Kopanda
Mimiko’s grandmother has to leave town to attend her husband’s memorial service. Being her only relative, this means Mimiko will have to live on her own for a while. Determined and responsible, being home alone does not worry her one bit. A few villagers were worried about burglars but none of them ever expected Mimiko to receive an unsolicited visitor quite like the one she found on her back porch. Indeed, it is not every day we find a young panda lying around and even more exceptional to have the cub’s father knocking on your door. Maybe such things are common when your house is located in such a nice bamboo grove.
summary by Kjeldoran
Highs: Easy to get into; charming characters
Lows: Only acts on one level; chunky animation
This thirty-minute movie was directed by Takahata Isao and animated by Miyazaki Hayao. Since this predates the majority of works on their curriculum, we can see it as a rough draft of some of their more recent productions.
While original, the storyline is very straightforward; those looking for the usual Miyazaki and Takahata allegory will most likely come up short. Even if the legendary duo each have successfully combined simplicity and symbolism in later features like My Neighbor Totoro and Pom Poko, Panda! Go Panda is no more than a girl having fun and getting in trouble with her newly found panda family. Additionally, while the art is still of Miyazaki caliber, age cannot be blamed for the lack of detail and insufficient amount of frames resulting in stilted movement. Miyazaki himself said this is an aspect he would love to patch up if he had to do it again.
Being more children oriented does not imply this movie is uninspiring. The innocence of Mimiko and the absence of a said villain confer Panda! Go Panda with a light touch that can be much appreciated by anyone, young or old. And of course there are the stars of the show; funny and adorable, those anthropomorphic, talking pandas can make it hard for one to stop gazing at the screen and will have you singing the theme song for weeks. The whole is fairly entertaining given you leave your adulthood at the door.
Pioneer has licensed both Panda! Go Panda and its sequel, Panda! Go Panda: The Circus in the Rain, under the same DVD entitled “Panda! Go Panda!”. Quite a good deal even if this movie is but a draft of the now famous masterpieces by two of the greatest names in anime.
Highs: The simplicity makes it entertaining
Lows: Not typical Miyazaki-quality eye candy
For My Neighbor Totoro fans (and you know who you are), Panda! Go Panda is a must-see. For Miyazaki and Takahata fans (and who isn’t?), this anime is worth adding to your collection… at least to catch a glimpse of their earlier works and see how far they have progressed as both animators and storytellers. And for anime fans in general, you may want to check this movie out just because it’s so damncute.
Keep in mind, however, that if you are incapable of getting in touch with your inner child, then this anime isn’t for you. A feel-good anime in many ways like Totoro is (and the similarities don’t end there; the setting, characters and plot give a good indication as to what Totoro is based on), Panda! Go Panda doesn’t involve some harrowing, must-save-the-world undertone or combative personalities. Every character is very friendly, which adds a lot of that it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child atmosphere. In other words, it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Unlike Totoro, which is a beautifully animated and drawn film, Panda! Go Panda has to rely on its inherent charm instead of looks (kind of like some of us) to win audiences. Character designs are fittingly plain and without much contour, but a lot of the animation would benefit from a few extra frames here and there to smooth out some of the movement.
This anime will not go down as the dynamic duo’s best work by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still too good to mire in anonymity. Its easy-going nature sure did wonders for my disposition, and let me tell you grumpy, old men are hard to please sometimes.
Panda! Go Panda and Panda! Go Panda: The Circus in the Rain can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE, as one single file.