Okay, so I had quite the experience this weekend. I was feeling too tired to write one evening, so I ended up watching my husband browse through lists of anime shows, since he enjoys watching anime. I saw a brief shot of what looked like the cutest little cartoon characters ever, and asked him to bring that one up. It was an anime for “younger children” called “Yamataro Comes Back.” The short description said it was about a young bear who makes friends with a steam engine who helps him escape captivity.
Sounds like typical four year old fare, right? So, we tried it. Yamataro is by far the cutest creature ever. He oozes cuteness. The story starts out though with a tragic Bambi-like beginning where Yamataro and his mother are floating on an iceberg It gets hit by a ship and kills his mother. Yamataro is then sold to a shop owner in town who chains him in front of the store to draw in customers and feeds him leftover fish, mistakenly thinking he is a “sea bear” and only likes fish.
A bit depressing, but still in typical kid territory. We go merrily along with a bully of a cat who teases Yamataro and then C64, a kindly steam engine (yes, steam engine) who stops along the tracks every night to chat with Yamataro. Well, there is Thomas the Tank engine, right? So this isn’t too far out. The train teaches him to roar like a train-whistle and cuddles with him, as much as a train can cuddle anyway. It’s cute and weird that Yamataro in the subtitles calls the train Mr. C64, but still, we were sailing along until Yamataro escapes.
Then the whole thing takes a terrible turn for the depressing. After a tearful goodbye, Yamataro and C64 don’t see each other again. We fast forward to when Yamataro is all grown up. The townspeople have been relentlessly trying to shoot and kill him ever since he escaped, but keep getting confused by his train-whistle roar. Meanwhile, C64 has been replaced by high speed rail, and sits languishing in the train barn, watching people dismantle all his fellow engines for scrap metal. Then, the towns folk get the brilliant idea of driving C64 on one last ride up to the mountains to use his whistle to lure out Yamataro and shoot him. Cheery.
Even more so when C64 realizes what’s happening, and crashes himself in a heroic suicide just in time for Yamataro to realize its a trap and run away farther into the mountains for good.
I don’t think I’ve seen or read something for little kids that depressing since I tried Bambi the book. Now, this is not Bambi the movie, the Disney movie has nothing on Yamataro with its happy ending. Bambi’s father survives, his friends survive, and he gets twitterpated with a happily ever after.
Not so the book. Friend after friend gets shot, and when a weepy (and probably pregnant) Feline asks Bambi, “Do you love me?” he answers, “I don’t know,” and ditches her for the other end of the forest. People thought this was a kid’s book? Really?
Although, now I’m wondering if some of my more depressing ideas as a writer might actually end up working after all! I think the lesson here for everyone is, so long as your main character is rip-your-heart-out cute, you can kill as many people in your children’s show/book as you like.