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Top 5 Classics Refashioned by Japan: A Teen Anime Fan Weighs In

[Note: Today’s post is written by high school senior Erin Howard. Thank you, Erin, for being willing to share your anime knowledge and writing skills! –Becky O’Neil, currently reading iDrakula by Bekka Black]

There’s no sound more sorrowful than the collective groan of a classroom when their literature professor tells them to crack open the grimy, hand-me-down classics of the past. Today, there simply isn’t time for the hasty generation of teenagers to enjoy the classics that have been part of the world’s culture for centuries.

However, the Japanese have been popularizing a new medium for entertainment since the twentieth century that could be enjoyed by any age: anime. Today, it’s one of the most popular forms of media there is. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s the perfect escape from reality: anime is a world where giant robots battle to save galaxies, ordinary schoolgirls can have superpowers, and you can pretty much have any hair color you want.

So, what made the Japanese look at that grimy, hand-me-down textbook and say, “I could animate this”?

I don’t know, but I’m sure glad they did. In typical anime fashion, these are not the classics you read in your high school classroom. They’re bolder, exhilarating, and something to make everyone—even all those fussy teenagers—want to check out some classic literature.

Just check out these examples and try to prove me wrong.

5. Howl’s Moving Castle (Originally by Diana Wynne Jones – a 2003 Popular Paperback for Young Adults)

Now, Howl’s Moving Castle [also a 2011 Fabulous Film for Young Adults] is neither old nor dull, but it did get quite the revamp by the hands of the famed anime director Hayao Miyazaki. In this tale, a girl named Sophie is suddenly cursed with old age and must begin a fabulous adventure with a wizard known as Howl. However, the book is mostly concerned with destiny, love, and the like. The animated movie? Essentially a plot by Sophie and Howl to end the ongoing war after a prince’s disappearance. Close enough. Even though the two are quite different, there’s plenty to love about each version, so whether you already like one (or not), you need to check out the other.

4. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Originally by Yasutaka Tsutsui)

All right… so this story originated in Japan, yes, but since it has been translated into English and it was a classic in the East, I’m going to go ahead and throw it in here. The original novel and the movie are alike mostly in their topics: time travel and adolescence. Other than that, the novel’s protagonist is a girl named Kazuko Yoshiyama, while the movie follows her niece, Makoto Konno, who one day discovers that she has the power to “time-leap” into the past and correct her mistakes. What can I say about the film? It’s fantastic. It absolutely makes me want to pick up the book to learn the origins of “time-leaping.” Anime fan or not, this is a great adaptation of a very imaginative novel. Check it out:

3. Pandora Hearts (and every other adaptation of Alice in Wonderland) (Originally by Lewis Carroll)

Alice in Wonderland shows up plenty in anime, but my personal favorite is its inclusion the series Pandora Hearts, about a young royal named Oz who is condemned for a crime he knows nothing about and is thrown into an otherworldly prison known as the Abyss. Alice in Wonderland is in there somewhere—actually, it’s the inspiration for many of the characters: the heroine Alice is an obvious one, but there’s also the eccentric Xerxes Break, who is known in-universe as the Mad Hatter, and a clingy Cheshire Cat. Although this adaptation isn’t much like the original, it’s a great story on its own, and you’ll know where to look if you become as absorbed by the characters as I was.

2. Romeo X Juliet (Based on Romeo and Juliet, written by William Shakespeare)

Romeo and Juliet: feuding families, star-crossed lovers, and an aggravating double-suicide ending by two kids who probably couldn’t even spell “tragedy,” right? Or did you mean Romeo X Juliet, the story of a teenager named Juliet—the last member of the slaughtered Capulet family—who disguises herself as a man in order to rescue the oppressed victims of the tyrant Montague family? Of course, she accidentally falls in love with the young prince Romeo in the process. This is a gripping reconstruction of the classic tale, featuring a fantastical and corrupted (floating!) world, and it will even keep you guessing what will happen until the very end. Your friends will wonder why you cheered when your teacher told you that you’ll be starting the Shakespeare unit. Watch the trailer:

1: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (Based on the story by Alexandre Dumas)

Gankutsuou is probably the most stylish thing I have ever seen. Seriously. Just look:

Obviously, this isn’t quite like the Count of Monte Cristo: the original novel follows the Count after his escape from prison and his attempts to get revenge on the man who wronged him. The anime, however, follows the Viscount Albert, son of the Count’s rival, through his obsession with the nobleman. Even if you’ve read the novel, the anime has a completely separate ending, as well as an altogether different adventure. It’s such a beautiful and captivating show that you just can’t help but fall in love with it—even the most vile moments. Admittedly, I haven’t actually read Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo… but you can be sure that I will be checking it out very soon. If the anime is anything to go by, the novel will be fantastic.

I’ve rediscovered a love for the classics through my fascination with Japanese anime; similarly, if you love the classics, I bet you’ll be able to find an anime that will become a new favorite. So go ahead: watch a show, read a book—slow down and enjoy the entertainment given to us by geniuses such as Shakespeare and Miyazaki. You won’t regret it.

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Rebecca O'Neil

Rebecca (Becky) is a Collection Development Librarian at the Westerville Public Library in Ohio. Her interests include art, keeping the largest to-read list Goodreads has ever known, and searching for a dash of magical realism in everything.

6 Comments

  1. A floating world? I’m sold. It might be interesting to pair the anime Romeo X Juliet with the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio R&J film.

  2. Historyhobbit Historyhobbit

    You had me at “time-leaping” and I <3, <3, <3 this post.

  3. Nicole Nicole

    What a fantastic post! First, let me say that, in my opinion, Miyazaki ALWAYS = magic. Can’t get enough of his animated films. Second, I’ve had The Girl Who Leapt Through Time on my “to see” list for a while, and you’ve inspired me to finally watch it sooner rather than later…so thank you!

    I’m a huge manga fan (as readers might have gathered from some of my previous posts), and I often find that a manga will inspire me to watch an anime, or vice versa. I even encourage people who are shy about reading manga to check out the related anime first to get a feel for the story and characters (since movies/tv are often an easier way to get into the story)…

  4. Nicole, I totally agree! I love the idea of “gateway” stories, whether it’s the classics leading you to other genres, or the other way around.

  5. Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

    What an awesome list! Aside from Howl’s Moving Castle, I hadn’t heard of these, but they all sound fantastic and they’re going on my to-watch list.

  6. Lisa Lisa

    OK, I just ordered The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Great information!!!

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