Anime is one of Japan’s most notable cultural exports, even those who don’t watch it recognize the medium as Japanese. Its popularity has introduced several Japanese words into the lexicon of Western fans, including shonen, shojo, and of course, isekai. However, despite reflecting Japanese culture, there is a seeming dearth of anime based on specific Japanese folktales.
While there are notable exceptions, many of the anime based on individual folktales are inspired by people from outside the Land of the Rising Sun. This stems from the same concept that makes anime so popular with non-Japanese audiences, and explains why the Japanese seem so disinterested in their own cultural stories and fables.
The anime avoids Japanese fairy tales for exoticism
Over the years, there have been numerous anime that, to varying degrees, are based on fairy tales and Western folk stories. Perhaps the most obvious example was the 1980 series Grimm’s Fairy Tales Classics. Similar to the anime from the 1970s. Andersen’s Stories, brought together iconic German bedtime stories into an anime anthology. The most modern series Grimm’s Note he also adapted the works of the Grimm brothers, although in a less traditional way.
Alice in Wonderland Y The little Mermaid they’ve also been made into anime over the past few decades, with these adaptations ranging from the most accurate to the most reimagined. However, the European stories are not the only non-Japanese fairy tales that have been made into anime. For example, the Chinese tale Journey to the West is a frequent inspiration in anime. An anime that influenced was Saiyukibut perhaps his most notable “adaptation” was the original Dragon Ball Serie.
The prominence of non-Japanese fairy tales as inspiration for anime makes sense in the same way that Western viewers have become so fond of anime. Japanese storytellers and viewers are likely as familiar with their own fairy tales as Westerners are with the exploits of Goldilocks or Little Red Riding Hood. Therefore, the exotic nature of foreign fairy tales is of more cultural interest to anime creators since it is less familiar territory. The same goes for anime based on the history of non-Japanese countries. Similarly, Western viewers may watch anime for its “Japanese” look, or for how different it feels from their own countries’ animated productions. This goes back to the origins of the anime industry, with older works like astro boy intended to emulate the art style and feel of early Disney animated offerings.
Are there any anime based on Japanese fairy tales?
The Tale of Princess Kaguya was a 2013 anime film by Studio Ghibli, and is the best-known modern adaptation of the Japanese fairy tale. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It is not the only anime based on this popular story, although it adapts it in the simplest way. Other much more flexible adaptations include sailor moon, which presents concepts of the same story. Romantic comedy Kaguya-sama: Love is war has characters named after those of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutterweather convert a gundaman entry in the Gundam mecha franchise surprisingly draws heavily on it as well.
This is just one example of how anime tends to use Japanese fairy tales. Since the stories are intrinsic to Japanese culture, precise adaptations are generally avoided in favor of anime that remixes the characters and concepts, turning them inside out to keep the material fresh. This is analogous to how Western movies and TV shows involving Greco-Roman mythology sometimes diverge greatly from the source material so as not to appear dated. Yokai-based franchise GeGeGe no Kitaro is an example of a series that incorporates various parts of Japanese mythology and not just a singular source.
Folk tales from Japan was a rare exception to this rule, as it adapted Japanese fairy tales into an anthology of over 300 episodes. Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories did the same with a horror twist, with a narrator bringing to life some of Japan’s spookiest urban legends. These anime, which can be streamed on Crunchyroll, have been released in the last decade, perhaps starting a shift in anime that faithfully brings Japanese fairy tales to a modern, global audience.