Most people with even a passing interest in anime has heard of Studio Ghibli and it's Oscar winning co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. Some of them may also have heard of Isao Takahata, Miyazaki's mentor and the other co-founder of Studio Ghibli. However, the pair were active a long time before Ghibli was formed, but very little of their work from this period finds its way to the West.
This is one of the reasons that the release of the charming Panda! Go Panda! is notable. Not only is it directed by Takahata and designed and scripted by Miyazaki, but it is also the second oldest of their works to be released in the UK after The Little Norse Prince.
Panda! Go Panda! is a cheerful children's
anime which focuses on the happy young girl Mimiko who stays behind when her
grandmother goes on a trip. Now alone in the house the resourceful Mimiko
merrily gets on with her day to day life, until a strange visitor breaks the
monotony. The visitor is a baby panda, and although he is wary of the
excitable Mimiko at first they soon become friends. However, the baby
panda isn't alone, his father is also in the vicinity and when he arrives at the
house Mimiko decides that they should be a family and starts to teach them how
to act like a human father and son. It isn't going to be easy though,
Mimiko not only has to show the father panda how to behave, but also has to deal
with the curiosity of the baby panda, who even follows her to school!
Their adventures have only just begun though, during their time together they
will have to deal with burglars, bullies, the police, a runaway tiger cub and a
Panda! Go Panda! is probably the most unlikely Manga Entertainment release for some time, particularly considering all of the other Miyazaki and Takahata films available in the UK have been released by Optimum Asia. Stylistically it shares some elements with Miyazaki's classic film My Neighbour Totoro, but this one is a far more conventional kiddie adventure. The film is unrelentingly cheerful and cutesy, with the excitable Mimiko having the adventure of her life with her cuddly new friends. It is very clearly aimed at young children and the charming story, cute characters and bright, bold colours will certainly keep kids enthralled. Many later works by Miyazaki and Takahata have a wide appeal
across all ages, but as an adult there is less to enjoy in the two 30-odd minute episodes on this disc. Yes it is charming and there are some fun moments of slapstick and cheerfully daft comedy, but it would remain one for the kids if it wasn't for one thing - the English dub.
The English dub in
Panda! Go Panda! is probably the funniest I have heard for some
time, simply because of the voice the father panda has. Whilst
the other characters have pretty conventional voices the father
panda has a bizarre accent which seems to be pitched somewhere
between the Caribbean and Borat. This adds another level of
bizarreness to proceedings, especially when coupled with Mimiko's
strange habit of doing knicker-exposing handstands when she's happy.
On top of this you get a rainstorm that puts most of the town under
about 30 foot of water in a day, and a panda with a hat and pipe
taking the train to the zoo and clocking in for a shift. All
of this rolled together makes for an animated experience closer to
Yellow Submarine than Totoro, which is probably not
what the creators were aiming for!
The two episode series does show its age somewhat though. The art is more primitive and less detailed than later efforts by the same creators, and the music is nice enough but is pretty forgettable. The story is pretty simplistic and the characters two dimensional, but it is a children's show, and it knows it. The art is bright and colourful, the animation is pretty good and the story is fun and easy to follow. The character designs are cartoony and memorable, and as always it is interesting to see elements of Miyazaki and Takahata's later works here in prototype form. The pandas and Mimiko are definitely early versions of the Totoros and Mei, and it's interesting to see signs of Miyazaki's aborted Pippi Lonstocking
anime in Mimiko's design. It must be mentioned that Panda! Go Panda! is not as ambitious or impressive as the earlier Little Norse Prince, but then it's not trying to be. It's trying to be a fun children's cartoon, and on that count it succeeds admirably.
While it's true that Panda! Go Panda! is not as visually impressive as many modern anime and suffers in comparison to Miyazaki and Takahata's later work, it is still an excellent children's title. Charm is timeless and both of the episodes on this disc have it in spades. The anime is cheerful and fun with memorable characters that young children will love, and there is a nice sideline of comedy and bizarreness that adults will enjoy too. The greatness and comedy value of the English dub cannot be understated, making this as much of a student after-pub anime than a kiddie one. This said, Panda! Go Panda! is one of the most straightforward anime available in the UK for young children and is certainly worth picking up if you want something nice and fun to keep the little 'uns quiet for a little bit. Well worth a look for adults and kids alike!
Original Japanese opening sequence and creator biographies, so-so.