This is my day four contribution to the anitwitter campaign #12DaysOfAnime. As I’ve said before, I haven’t planned this out, so I’m thinking of the topics to write about barely an hour before I start typing. For this one there is going to be mild spoilers for Porphy no Tabi, so if you care about that, feel free to skip.
So 2016 was a year for many things. To lay it all out on a list would be monotonous and likely a little depressing too. I can’t speak for anyone else but I do have one thing I can look back on with joy. I watched my first World Masterpiece Theater production!
For the uninitiated, World Masterpiece Theater (or WMT for short), is an umbrella label for a collection of anime that seek to adapt a classic staple in children’s literature into a 52 episodes over 52 weeks format. It has an extensive library of titles that you might be shocked to have never heard of before.
Porphy no Tabi, or, The Orphans of Simitra is one such anime. WMT’s second to last one ever made as a fact. Yes, that does imply that no more will be produced. While I do have reservations about the stories they tell, they have almost always hit home with a lesson in empathy that I feel young children need now more than ever. Society certainly won’t collapse but it is a shame. It is what it is.
So with all that out of the way, I thought I’d publicly share some thoughts on the show since I haven’t yet done before. Animated in a classic style, with a longer than average runtime, how does Porphy no Tabi hold up?
Porfy, his younger sister Mina, and their parents live a humble but happy life in the Grecian countryside. They’ve just started running a gas station, much to Porphy’s joy, and it seems like only good things are in store for their future. However, a huge earthquake changes all that, leaving Porfy without a home or a family — sans Mina, who seems to have disappeared in the commotion. Now, Porfy is determined to find his sister and be able to live together happily again.
– Synopsis provided by MAL
Porphy is inherently a travelling anime. The fact that an earthquake displaces him from his home would say as much. This should then theoretically put it in the same classification as more episodic shows like Mushishi, Space Dandy or Lupin III that don’t stay chained down to any one location for long. In many ways the storytelling in Porphy no Tabi is episodic like the aforementioned as well, with his ‘journey’ playing out more like diary entries than a standard A to B focused style plot.
…Yet in making these obvious comparisons I can’t help but think about how poorly it fares. There might be more reasons to it than I can initially pin down but if I had to make the distinction it would be that Porphy no Tabi is just plain repetitive. For me to highlight the problem I only need to look at the fact that all the mini-arcs in the series can quite comfortably fit into two categories.
- Porphy meets someone on his journey that is idealistic and provides for him or keeps him away from trouble.
Porphy meets someone who at first appears kind but shows a much darker side that Porphy fights/rejects.
In both cases the stories end up being very linear. Once you’ve seen it once you’ve seen it all, which leaves the 52 episode length at a disadvantage. The show has far more episodes than the regular anime but in reality does little more with it.
Likewise the show also suffers from a fate that many episodic stories fall down to, being that some arcs are simply better than others. For example the origins episodes that lead up to the earthquake are far more compelling and emotionally driven that the final Paris arc, which really stretched out its content, not to mention being littered with predictable and boring conflict. I value consistent quality, so when one location (e.g. Greece Origin) consistently provides better stories than another (e.g. France Conclusion) then that stands out more than it otherwise would.
It’s not all bad though. Something I did enjoy was how side stories were frequently left incomplete. Porphy had to move on with his journey regardless of the circumstances. Whether friend or foe, characters were left behind, leaving their futures uncertain. An example of this is with a gang that coerces Porphy into unwittingly helping them steal a car. What they did was wrong, but the anime didn’t attempt to have them meet their comeuppance for the viewers or Porhpy’s satisfaction. For all intents and purposes, they got away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I loved that it didn’t devolve itself into that formulaic structure. Occasionally, an ellipsis will work far better than a closed book…
Another thing that I believe you will agree with me on (see the above picture) is that the constant change of location permits us to see the background artists full and varied capabilities through their work. From the green mountainous regions of Greece through the bright and quaint Italian towns to finally the urbanized cities of France I was constantly impressed. While the character art took time to come into form and never quite matches up to the backgrounds, I none the less loved what Porphy did in the art department. It’s gorgeous and lives up to the WMT label in that respect. Even Anne of Green Gables from the 70s has backgrounds that put modern anime to shame. Porphy joins the ranks with ease.
As for the ending? It wasn’t inconclusive since everything we needed to know was revealed over time, but you have to be accustomed to some degree of ambiguity to handle what Porphy delivers. It’s probably blatant through reading what I’ve said so far that I don’t like the final arc and I kind of feel like my opinion on the ending is always going to be tainted because of it. It’s for that reason that I don’t want to say much more.
I don’t want to close this off with a score. It might parse like a review but my legitimate intentions here were just to thought dump. I will say though; if you haven’t already, give a WMT production a try. They may seem dated and they’re not for everyone but in case they click for you, give ’em a try.
Thanks for reading.