Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Nobody's Boy Remi
Sub. DVD 1-2
Remi, a carefree little boy, spends his days running about, collecting wild artichokes, and playing with his only friend, a cow named Rousette in a remote village in rural France. His gentle, hard-working mother raises him on her own while his father—whom he has never met—provides for them by working in far-away Paris. When his father is injured and loses his job, he comes back crippled, destitute and cruelly embittered. It is then that Remi learns he is not his mother's child but an abandoned child picked up one day by his then-compassionate father. His mother tries desperately to campaign on his behalf, but his father is enraged at the financial drain the boy presents. Sense clouded by anger and self-loathing, his father strikes a deal with a traveling entertainer named Vitalis to sell Remi for forty francs. And thus begins Remi's new life of big hardships and little joys on the road, his only companionship the gruff Vitalis, three performing dogs, and a monkey.
Based on the novel Sans Famille by French author Hector Malot and animated in 1977 almost exactly a century after its original publication, Nobody's Boy Remi is another series in Imaginasian's laudable mini-crusade to bring classic anime to American fans. While it's perhaps more classical-feeling than actually "classic" (classic is a tricky term, probably better applied to the influential Cat's Eye, another of Imaginasian's shows), Remi is excellent old-fashioned entertainment.
While nominally children's entertainment and containing nothing that would be objectionable to parents, Remi isn't the kind of cheerful escapism usually associated with children's shows. Basically a series of atrocities visited upon an innocent and helpless hero, it is often unremittingly grim. It is unflinching in its portrayal of the rural poverty, bourgeois elitism, smog-laden crime-ridden cities, and cruel economic and social injustices of Industrial Revolution-era France. The people Vitalis and Remi encounter are often petty and selfish, and occasionally downright vile. Any happy event for Remi almost invariably ends in a cruel betrayal of his expectations, in some crushing disappointment, and negative developments far outweigh positive ones.
If this all sounds terribly depressing, that's because it is. However, enough light, positive touches are worked in to keep the procession of unpleasantness from getting numbing or overpowering. Remi's perseverance in the face of adversity is rather inspiring, and his genuinely childlike joy during little triumphs—getting a shiny new pair of shoes, learning to write his name—is genuinely uplifting. Enough examples of the kinder side of humanity crop up to ward off the onset of full-blown nihilism. Vitalis is a far gentler and better man than his brusque demeanor might suggest, and there are kindly folks and helping hands along the way: a cheerful and strangely moral pickpocket, an open-minded little rich girl, a greedy innkeeper who just can't seem to suppress his basic decency. The mix of innocence betrayed and trust rewarded is quite realistic, and while the series' sympathies definitely lie with the downtrodden, it isn't so simplistic as to deify the poor or vilify the rich. It does however occasionally betray its basic realism by crossing over into undignified melodrama—the anguish Remi's father displays when he decides to exploit Remi in full knowledge of the vileness of his act is so overwrought that it borders on buffoonery.
Remi is directed by celebrated director Osamu Dezaki and is, according to the cover, one of the pioneering works of multi-plane animation. The result is an eye-opening experience in more ways than one. If Dezaki's more modern works (i.e. the Air movie and Black Jack OVA's) haven't done a good job of explaining why he is so revered in some quarters, Remi clears the issue up. He uses the newfound animation technique with unbounded invention, evoking a dizzying array of moods and effects—expansive, claustrophobic, hallucinogenic—with the single, simple (and cheap) technique of panning layered planes of stills in different directions, while occasionally spiking the visuals with impressive inventions (abstract flocks of birds and butterflies, Remi's father as a threatening mass of black cross-hatches). The settings, rural and urban, are beautiful in a very painterly way and the characters are attractive and appropriate. When not using well-deployed stretches of silence, the soundtrack uses liberal doses of simple yet catchy music, all of it exactly of the type that Vitalis' troupe might play—especially the bouncy little children's march at the end of each episode. Dezaki combines all of this into a unified, focused cinematic style that flawlessly complements Malot's tale without ever getting ostentatious.
There are some minor issues with consistent naming in the subtitles (especially when dealing with some of the French towns and Rousette the cow) that will be irksome to picky viewers.
A relic from a different era in anime history, Remi's appeal is far from universal. The downbeat subject matter and unusual visual style virtually ensure the alienation of many modern anime fans. Older or more adventurous fans (as well as the half-dozen or so of us who loved Dezaki's very similar Snow Queen), however, may well be enchanted—or at least pleasantly surprised—by a visually inventive little gem that recalls the films of classical Hollywood more so than modern anime.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Story that is simple without being simplistic; directed with superior skill and real pathos.
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