In the new Girl Friend BETA spinoff web anime Girl Friend Onpu, the girls from the original Girl Friend BETA anime come together to put on a play of the classic tale of Cinderella. However, they feel that it would be boring just to tell the same old story of the girl who lost her glass slipper, so they decide to mix things up a bit and add elements from the just-as-classic Japanese tale Urashima Tarō to the story.
The tale of Urashima Tarō is fairly simple: a fisherman named Tarō sees a turtle being bullied by some children, so he saves the poor creature, only to find out later that the turtle is in fact the princess of an underwater kingdom. To repay him for his kindness, the turtle is ordered to escort Tarō to the kingdom under the sea. Although he and the princess have a fabulous time, the man tells her that he must go back and check up on his mother. She gives him a box to protect him, but says never to open it.
When poor old Tarō gets back, however, he finds out that 300 years have passed since his voyage to the bottom of the sea, and his mother and everyone he ever knew has already passed away. In such a daze, he forgets the princess’s warnings and opens the box, only to be turned into an old man. In fact, the box contained his old age. Some versions of the story say that he turned into dust and blew away in the wind.
In Girl Friend Onpu, the anime makes a clever comparison to Cinderella: both stories are about a normal citizen who gets to meet a member of royalty. When Girl Friend Onpu’s Cinderella goes out shopping one day, she saves a turtle who repays her by bringing her to a ball at the bottom of the sea. Instead of getting glass slippers, however, she is given a pair of tortoiseshell high heels from the turtle she saved.
And Girl Friend Onpu isn’t the only anime work that has references to this famous tale in it–one of the most obvious of these anime is Okami-san and Her Seven Companions (Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi), which features a character based on Urashima Tarō (named Tarō Urashima) and Otohime, who is based on the princess Tarō saved in the fable. In the case of this anime, Otohime was once an overweight and bullied girl who–much like her turtle counterpart–was “saved” by Tarō, except in this version, she was saved by his encouraging words. These words inspired her to lose weight and become someone fit to be by his side.
In Good Luck Girl! (Binbōgami ga!), the box Urashima Tarō received from the princess has the opposite effect on the protagonist Ichiko, who gets turned into a baby when the God of Misfortune steals the box from Urashima and unleashes its power on Ichiko.
The character also makes appearances in anime like the Smile Pretty Cure! film (Smile Pretty Cure!: Ehon no Naka wa Minna Chiguhagu!) in which the heroines get the chance to transform into various storybook characters, including Urashima Tarō (who is actually also a villain in the movie).
Other characters inspired by Urashima Tarō include a fisherman of the same name in Dr. Slump, as well as Ura Urashima in Yu Yu Hakusho who uses a box that turns those that come in contact with the smoke that comes out of it back into a more youthful form. Hayate the Combat Butler! Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Hayate no Gotoku! Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) even parodies the fable with a retelling by the protagonist, Hayate, in which although Tarō saves the turtle, the turtle goes nuts and threatens to rough up the man who saved his life for no particular reason. This leads Tarō to beating the ever-loving crap out of the shelled amphibian.
The classic tale has served as inspiration for many stories. Although never stated outright, it is a possibility that the beginning of Sailor Moon is also a reference to this tale. On her way to school, Usagi encounters a cat being beaten up by children. After scaring away the kids, the cat–named Luna–reunites with Usagi and gives her the brooch she needs to transform into a magical girl. While Luna isn’t her love interest (or a turtle), thanks to this brooch, Usagi is able to meet the prince of her dreams, Tuxedo Mask. Like Tarō, because of her good deed, Usagi is rewarded. And just like Usagi, because of her good deed, Cinderella in Girl Friend Onpu‘s play gets her happy ending when the curtain falls.
Girl Friend Onpu is a three-part anime special that is available to watch for free on YouTube until December 5, 2016 at 8 p.m. JST. However, the videos do not have any subtitles.
Girl Friend BETA, Sailor Moon Crystal, and Hayate the Combat Butler! Can’t Take My Eyes Off You are all available to watch now on Crunchyroll, while Good Luck Girl! and Yu Yu Hakusho can be watched at FUNimation’s website. An edited version of the Smile Pretty Cure! anime can be watched on Netflix under the English title Glitter Force (episode clip seen above).