The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Future's Folktales ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
I love getting to learn about the myths and legends of other cultures; they're an excellent opportunity to see microcosmic snapshots of the values and beliefs people have held, past and present. I'm especially keen on learning more about the diverse histories of the peoples of the Middle East, which has been a lifelong blind spot in my cultural studies, so I was eager to check out Future Folktales purely because of its unique status as a co-production between Japanese and Saudi creative teams that focuses on animating well-known Middle Eastern tales of yore.
Unfortunately, while the core product was a valuable educational experience, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This is a very plain looking show, for one, and the lifeless artwork isn't helped by how often the animations dips right into slideshow territory. Being a show aimed squarely at little tykes, I'm inclined to be a bit more lenient about the poor visuals, but at the end of the day, kids deserve to experience good animation as much as anyone, so I have to call it like I see it.
Also, the script here doesn't just simplify the material for its target audience; it often takes a very cheap and shallow approach to things, which is another injustice little kids shouldn't have to suffer through just because of their age. I'm fine with the story sanding off the rough edges of the original story; a cursory Google check tells me that the traditional story of Zarqa ends with the heroine disbelieved, kidnapped, and eventually crucified (after her eyes are gouged out, naturally). So, turning Zarqa and Musab's tale into a more digestible love story that teaches lessons about trust and respect? I get that, even if the bad animation means the story comes across as flatter than it already is. I really don't get what the aims of the futuristic frame story is, though. Seeing a modern Saudi family getting to ride in self-driving cars and go on space-flights is kind of neat, I suppose, but I don't see why the kiddos and their grandma couldn't just live in regular Riyadh. The whole “Future” half of Future Folktales comes across as an afterthought. Is it because the show is supposed to be propagandistic about the incredible luxuries and technologies being created in Saudi Arabia? It's hard to say. I won't likely get much out of this series, but I am glad it exists, and I will keep it in mind if I ever get to wanting more loose lessons about Arabic folklore.
Future's Folktales continues the esteemed tradition pioneered by The Brothers Grimm and continued by Disney of taking a pretty gruesome tale from folklore and making it a whole lot prettier. Honestly? That's not a bad thing in a kids' show, especially if it gives them an interest in learning the actual stories at some point in the future, and I also kind of prefer the episode's ending for Zarqa al Yamana's legend, which in reality ends with all the men in the town murdered and Zarqa crucified by the bandits, who then proceed to gouge out her famous blue eyes. And in some ways we should probably be glad that the show didn't go full-on Disney and have Zarqa marry Musab, which I half-expected them to do.
In any event, Future's Folktales is an interesting venture between Japan and Saudi Arabia in that it represents a chance to experience Middle Eastern folklore and legend outside of the various translations of 1001 Nights, and that it opens with this story from Qatar rather than one of the better known (in other countries) pieces from Persian lore, which is where most of the 1001 Nights' stories originate. The framework of the series – Grandma tells her three grandchildren folktales in an unspecified future – doesn't feel strictly necessary for the rest of the show, but it does allow Muslim children to see themselves on the screen, and I can tell you from personal experience that it really is important for kids to have representation in the media. There's also a familiar warmth to having Grandma tell the tales that calls on centuries of folkloric tradition, and if the messages that she wants them to take from her stories are heavy-handed, well, that's a common enough issue in children's media that it's more remarkable when it doesn't happen.
The actual story told by this first episode, that of the amazingly keen-sighted Zarqa, is, as I mentioned, very cleaned up. That will likely be necessary with other stories going forward as well, so this should be looked at more as a gateway than a faithful retelling program, but the story itself is interesting. I also quite liked the art, which is primarily simple but has nice details, such as the intricacy of the carpets, the small decorations on Zarqa's clothes, and even the basic aspects of the world Maha and her brothers live in. I'm not sure Anis the robot cat needs to be there – it feels like the creators not trusting that their intended child audience will enjoy the stories on their own merits – but it also doesn't detract horribly. Future's Folktales is no GeGeGe no Kitarō, but it is interesting if you want to get a mild introduction to Middle Eastern folklore.
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