Image copyright: © 日本アニメーション／文化庁 あにめたまご2017
With the magic of a classic Japanese fairy tale and fluid animation that would give legendary studios Disney and Ghibli a run for the money, comes this anime short-film about a fox who hates technology and a little girl who wants to grant her grandmother’s one simple wish.
Genbanojō is a 30-minute anime short produced by animation studio Nippon Animation (original Hunter x Hunter anime, Antique Bakery) as part of the Young Animator Training Project, a project funded by the Japanese government in order to train young animators with assistance from veterans in the industry.
Because anime production is a very busy and fast-paced process, it is rare for animators to be able to sit in the same room as the director and ask questions, making the project a good opportunity for the aspiring artists. Genbanojō was bundled together with three other shorts for Anime Tamago 2017, a film festival of sorts that exhibits the projects created by the four studios.
Based loosely off a folk tale originating in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture about a group of foxes lead by the titular Genbanojō-gitsune (lit. Genbanojō Fox), the story of Genbanojō revolves around a similar group of foxes traveling together as a troupe of performers across Japan with Genbanojō as their leader. As long-lived magical beings who can transform into humans themselves, the foxes start to encounter the changes in technology and imports from the West–including wine, cars, and worst of all: trains.
Like many Japanese fairy tales, Genbanojō is one of favor repayment. When a little girl named Hana finds out that the troupe is made up of foxes but still promises not to tell anyone, big boss fox offers to grant her any wish she chooses. She requests nothing for herself, but instead asks the fox to let her grandmother see the cherry blossom grove she once saw in her youth, but can no longer visit due to old age.
Indeed, the foxes have the ability to make cherry blossom trees appear with their fox magic, but only for a few minutes. What do you do when grandma can’t go see the cherry blossoms herself? Simple: you bring them to her.
Genbanojō is a visually beautiful piece with its fluid animation. In order to draw the human characters in kimonos more realistically, the animators themselves brought a yukata (basically kimono for summer) into the office and wore them to study the movement of the fabric. Students also took pictures of each other in different poses in order to draw their characters more accurately. While the young animators couldn’t go and see foxes in real life to get reference for their drawings of the fox gang due to time restraints, they used images and videos from the internet for reference.
Not just visually gorgeous, Genbanojō is also emotionally moving. In an anime world filled with complicated plots and drama, this work is a fun and touching piece that is in all honesty, refreshing. Hana is a kind child with absolutely no malice for others who only cares about her family and their happiness. Genbanojō is an adorable guy who acts tough, but is powerless against Hana’s innocence. And, finally, the two main members of the fox gang who always travel with him, enjoying life together while lovingly watching their leader’s back.
The positive emotions and love that the characters and story emit are absolutely infectious, comparable to a work like Hayao Miyazaki’s light-hearted Ponyo. Like Ponyo, this anime has no negative emotions or ulterior motives–it’s just a ball of fun the entire running time.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind if this became a series, like some other Young Animator Training Project short films–including Little Witch Academia–have in the past. With a beautiful backdrop and set-up, I would love to see where the adventures of the magical fox troupe bring the audience.
There has been no announcement of an English release of Anime Tamago 2017 as of yet.