Japanese Anime Classic Collection
Some of Mabo's American fans cheer him on in Mabo no Daikyoso (Mabo's Big Race).
© Digital Meme. All rights reserved.
All of that said, there's still a lot of information in just the shorts themselves. One interesting aspect is how they relate to our current conception of anime. Anime is generally described as being in opposition to American animation (particularly Disney), and it's implied that Tezuka's co-opting of aspects of the Disney and Fleischer aesthetics was both unique and a one-time commingling. Several shorts here prove that's not quite the case. Aside from the Duckling plagiarism, there's the case of Mabo no Daikyoso (Mabo's Big Race), a 1936 short that features a crowd shot with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Betty Boop and Felix the Cat in attendance. Kangaroo no Tanjobi (Baby Kangaroo's Birthday Surprise, 1940) looks the most like modern cutesy anime, but it also features a big, bad wolf who might as well have walked in from Disney's Three Little Pigs. And just try to watch Tengu Taiji (Hyoei and Heibei's Tengu Hunt), a 1936 hand-drawn Noburo Ofuji short, without thinking about Betty Boop.

On balance, then, Japanese Anime Classic Collection is a worthwhile investment for any student of Japanese animation, as it entertainingly showcases the masters of the form from the days before Tezuka came along. Even with its lack of supporting material, there's a lot to learn, and likely a lot to be gleaned from repeated viewings. I hope that Digital Meme will release similar boxed sets in the future, bringing more of anime's hidden history into focus.

DVD Features: 4:3 aspect ratio; Japanese audio tracks; English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese subtitles; region-free.

DVD Extras: One kamishibai performance on each disc.
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