As I've been revamping a lot of my old reviews and expanding them from three or four lines into full evaluations, I've been able to write a few of them extemporaneously. After having watched some programs several times over the years, I've been able to give my impressions on those couple of shows based primarily on my recollection. (And who has the time to sit through all 218 episodes of Urusei Yatsura again just for one review?)
Windaria is one such show that I could have discussed off the top of my head...but I didn't. I sat down and watched it again because I simply love this movie. It's simplistic in artwork, straightforward in its plotline, and occasionally shaggy around the edges. However, it's stood up for many years as one of my personal favorites. After checking the Internet, I've found a few derisive attacks on the show based on the English-language version released by Streamline Pictures a number of years back. Windaria is ultimately a tragedy, and unfortunately so is the story of its mutilation when it came to the U.S. This ultimately qualifies it as one of the true misunderstood classics of anime.
Windaria starts with a funeral procession. As the mourners gather around the deceased, a large ghost ship passes overhead, and the spirit of the departed flies up to the technological home of the dead as a crimson bird. Such is the vision of things to come.
The story goes on to acquaint us with three pairs of lovers. The first is the young married couple Isu and Marin. Isu is a dreamer who loves his wife, but can't help but get swept up in imagining what life would be like if he could become a hero and have untold wealth. Marin only lives for Isu, and she's perfectly content to live in their small village of Saki, raising vegetables for a living.
Meanwhile, on either side of Saki are two kingdoms, Isa and Paro. That's where we find our second pair of lovers, Ahanas and Jill. Ahanas is the princess of Isa, a spiritual haven on the oceanside that has stayed peaceful for untold years. Isa has little in the way of advancements, but its people live comfortably. Meanwhile, Jill is the prince of Paro, a technologically advanced but completely amoral empire.
Finally, there's Druid and Bambou. Nine and a half years ago, consumed by a desire for position and authority, Druid convinced Bambou to become the captain of the ghost ship that circles their world. Bambou cannot return to Saki until his ten-year journey is up. Druid, who once thought that Bambou was a bother because of his inability to bring her fame and prestige, has gone slightly mad as she realizes her awful mistake and now waits for his return.
Paru's king is determined to take over Isa no matter the cost, despite an old treaty between the two countries, and he starts a war. Jill, Ahanas, Isu, and Marin must choose their paths carefully. Their choices will dictate the future of their world and the future of their souls. As Druid watches the skies for Bambou's return, she sees the scarlet eagles fly time and again to her husband's vessel, possibly the only peaceful place in a world undone by mindless conflict.
Windaria is not a movie that will impress any modern anime fan with its artwork. Though the character designs are beautifully graceful, they will look strange to the fan weaned on current shows. There's not a lot of motion or action in many sequences, and though certain battle scenes are reasonably done, this 1986 production does not revel in lots of cels.
However, Windaria is the rare film with both style and substance. The film could have easily descended into a lot of clichés, especially since the set up is so reminiscent of that of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. But Windaria rewards the viewer by not taking that simple of a road. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, we can tell even in their few moments together that Ahanas and Jill have a history together. This film doesn't give us a lot of back-story, but in the way it handles events, it hints at more.
Windaria moves slowly, deliberately, and with purpose. Some may find the symbolism and pacing boring, but I have found them more fascinating on each viewing. It's also rare to find a film that uses foreshadowing to such great effect. When I watch this movie, I am deeply moved even when I know that tragedy is coming. In a way, it's like a fantasy/sci-fi Grave of the Fireflies. It's incredibly depressing and yet, you can't not watch. I don't know that it's quite the same caliber of film, but it hits me the same way.
Regrettably, Windaria has been saddled with a burden even timeless classics could not bear. The English-language version was produced back when Carl Macek still worked for Harmony Gold, and Robotech had shown that interest did indeed exist for anime in the West. When he got his hands on Windaria, however, the result was catastrophic. The dialogue for the film was re-written to appeal to grade-school children. This was an amazing decision considering not only the reasonable amount of blood and violence in the film but also its dark themes of senseless death and irreversible destiny. The plot removed a lot of the violent aspects, but lost characteristics such as why the kingdom of Isa would be technologically underdeveloped in comparison to its rival. Even senseless changes, such as renaming the entire cast, were a part of the destruction.
However, nothing could compare with the way the film was edited for content. Entire scenes disappeared. At least six minutes of footage completely vanished, and many more scenes were re-edited together to avoid flashes of violence and brief nudity. The soundtrack, a gorgeously haunting score with only a short misfire pop chorus that lasts maybe twenty seconds in one spot, was re-worked and much of it was replaced. Re-ordered, re-written, re-edited, and slapped together complete with narration that gave a happier ending to an utterly tragic tale, the English-language version of Windaria shares none of the surprising charms of the original but magnifies its minor faults. As of this writing in December 2002, it's out of print but still occasionally found in video stores. There is no uncut or original dialogue version available in the U.S. apart from fansubs.
If you can see the original version, Windaria is a sad, moving, powerful work. I doubt it will ever receive much further recognition due to Carl Macek's butchery of it, but it's yet another film I am happy to give the title of "misunderstood classic of anime."
Windaria (original version) -- realistic violence, extremely brief nudity, mature themes -- A
Windaria (American version) -- mild violence, unintelligible plot -- F