Horus The Sun Prince Anime DVD Review

Horus The Sun Prince Anime DVD Review What They Say:
A brave young boy named Horus pulls a blade out from a centuries-old rock giant only to discover that it is the Sword of the Sun. If re-forged, the sword’s destiny will transform the boy into the Prince of the Sun.

Urged by his Father, Horus and his pet bear Coro travel to his ancestral village, a place destroyed by the Frost King Grunwald. Along the way, he helps a village whose residents are besieged by Grunwald’s magic, but the villagers feel threatened when he befriends Hilda, a beautiful girl whose haunting songs conceal a dark secret.

The debut feature of Isao Takahata, creator of The Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko!

The Review:
Audio:
There are four audio tracks present here, done in Dolby Digital 2.0. The original Japanese soundtrack, the English dub broadcast on TBS in the early 1980s, and a pair of commentary tracks, listed in the extras section. All sound pretty good with no real distortions.

Video:
The film plays out in 16:9 Widescreen and has crisp picture quality with muted colors. It’s truly a beautiful rendition of 60s animation.

Packaging:
The front displays the entire cast in the top half with the masthead taking up the lower half. The back has sots from the film in the top thirds, with a synopsis in the middle and product information taking up the much of the bottom.

Menu:
The picture is of Horus, Hilda and other characters, similar to the front packaging on the main menu screen. Options for movie play, languages, chapters and extras are lined up horizontally in the lower thirds. The opening vocal from the Japanese version repeats in the background.

Extras:
Recently, I wrote an article about the best releases of classic anime in 2014. I ranked Horus rather high in part due to the quality of the film itself. However it was the extras on this disc which made this release so impressive. There’s a ton of information to take in here.

Audio Commentary by Mike Toole: He’s become a Discotek Media mainstay and their feature releases (primarily the Lupin films) have benefitted from his anime acumen in James Earl Jones style, breaking down techniques and influences.

Audio Commentary by Daniel Thomas MacInnes: He’s the writer of Ghiblicon.blgspot.com and takes a different approach for his commentary, by reading various essays on anime from different contributors. There’s some decent insights at times but it’s a little distracting from the feature.

Every Poet is a Thief – Inspirations from Horus: This is an interesting and revealing gallery alternating between screen shots and quoted from different Ghibli staff of how Horus influenced them in later works ranging from Flying Phantom Ship to Heidi to Tales From Earthsea and all points in between. There’s a lot of these and it’s great stuff.

Horus and Hilda: Just like Twins – Daniel Thomas MacInnes gives an extensive critical analysis of the film here. Again, there’s some good insights to read up on.

Reiko Okuyama: A Tribute to a Legend – Reading up on this woman’s contribution to the animation industry and how Takahata and Miyazaki’s careers turned out was a truly emotional ride. I’m now wanting to see 30, 000 Under The See, 3000 Miles In Search of Mother and several other works she was involved in. It’s a heck of a read.

Message of Hope – Isao Takahata conversation: This is a transcription of an interview given by Peter Van Der Lugt who spoke with Takahata at Anima, the International Animation Film Festival in Belgium.

Interview with Isao Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe Production Gallery, Theatrical Trailer: Always nice additions to have.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Long before garnering an Oscar nomination for his work on The Tale of Princess Kagu’ya, animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata directed his first feature film at Toei Doga entitled The Adventuers of Horus: Prince of the Sun. It’s a nice Norse based fantasy film which carries a few archetypes foun in quest movies.

The story begins with our hero Horus being chased by a pack of wolves led by a particularly menacing silver haired wolf. He fights them off with his rope-guided axe but the pack begins to wear him down with the chase and he leans on a rock awaiting the end. Suddenly, the rock mound rises, along with a huge rock creature called Rockor. He’s been laying dormant for a long while with a “thorn” in his shoulder. In gratitude for helping with the wolves, Horus pulls out the thorn, which turns out to be a sword. Rockor says it’s known as the sword of the sun, but its blade has been dulled. However, if Horus can get the blade re-forged, Rockor will come to see it and proclaim Horus as Prince of the Sun, and the opening credits roll.

Later, Horus returns home to hear his father talk one final time. It turns out they were from a northern land from which the father had to retreat due to an evil wizard called Grunwald who came to destroy the place. And torment its villagers into turning on each other. The father tells Horus to track down their ancestral lands and bequeaths Horus his axe… just before he passes on. Horus sets out on his perilous journey, with his talking miniature bear friend Coro remaining at his side.

Along the way, they encounter a large bird who carries Horus right to Grunwald’s presence. Grunwald has been watching him and looks to either have the lone village survivor as a younger brother or looks to him killed. Refusing to join, Horus is knocked off a cliff and eventually finds himself in a village Grunwald has been tormenting by using a giant sea creature to systematically scare off game and starve the villagers. Horus deals with this and other complications and gains new friends in the process, which leads to an encounter with the beautiful Hilda, possessing a beautiful singing voice and the mysterious “Medal Of Life”.… after which the discord that happened to Horus’s people seems to start up again.

For many years in anime fandom, I’ve had friends talk to me about how influential Horus The Sun Prince was for future anime. As I’ve examined this movie and the extras on this disc, I can truly agree in several respects. My first viewing was of the English dub, directed by Fred Ladd, famous mostly for his 60s Gigantor dub. Much like other dubs such as Speed Racer, there was a competent cadence that activates the nostalgia button for anyone who was a kid in the 70s on up, especially when one hears Corinne Orr (known for portraying Trixie in Speed Racer) voicing Hilda as well as Chiro The Bear with varying high pitches.

You also hear Billie Lou Watt carrying the major load as Horus (or Hols, rather, since the dub was re-named Little Norse Prince Valiant for broadcast on Superstation TBS in the 80s) and Mack Gilbert being boisterous as Grunwold the wizard. The music of Michio Mamiya helps with the nostalgia as it ranges from opera stylings and orchestral pieces to simple vocals, which naturally are sung in English or played without vocals as was customary back then. This makes it feel like a Disney musical classic at times.

When I watched it this way, I’d just thought of it as any other classic cartoon piece. However, watching it in Japanese with the knowledge about what was taking place behind the scenes made for a different experience. Beyond hearing the rock creature referred to as Mogue instead, I continued to notice the animation work overseen by director Takahata, in which he switches styles throughout the film. At times there’s incredibly fluid key animation simulated depth into great backgrounds (oft provided by a young Hayao Miyazaki at the time) in this pre-flash era. Some times though, there’ll be still shots of a given scene (sometimes with the screen shaking) with only the audio to provide the action describing what’s taking place. It could be an early inspiration for Osamu Dezaki’s ‘postcard method” of stopping all action on a single painted piece (utilized in Golgo 13 and Black Jack for example).

In this way, Takahata establishes himself as a master manipulator of multiple techniques, not afraid to experiment. This helps put his filmography in better context when watching his work on My Neighbors The Yamadas and The Tale of Princess Kagu’ya, for which he deviated from the Studio Ghibli look after helping to establish it in Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday, among others.

The story is based on a puppet play entitled “The Sun Above Chikisan”, which was taken from folklore about the Ainu natives of Japan. There’s a lot of traditions and customs that play out over the course of the screenplay, which was aimed at both kids and adults. In a time when man releases were aimed at kids primarily. The fantasy elements help the visuals out for storytelling sake. It also seems to be an early progenitor to similar fare where a young warrior finds out something from his past, goes on a quest and meets a woman who may or may not help him before battling the big foe at the end, much like The Dagger of Kamui and Ninja Scroll. In this film’s case, the woman Hilda takes center stage in her way as she has to figure out her role in events affecting Horus and the villagers. According to extra section on Reiko Okuyama, Hilda may be based to an extent on her since Okuyama was involved in the animators’ labor & union disputes against Toei Doga, the animation company releasing the film.

Between this element and Takahata taking a long while to produce an animated movie for a non-traditional target audience, Toei decided to take matters into their own hands by wresting control of the film away from him and releasing it for 10 days total in the theater to dismal ticket sales. This likely is why there are a couple seemingly unfinished scenes in the film animation wise. In any case, Toei Doga decided never to let Takahata ever direct another movie. Subsequently he went on to work on other projects before getting together with his friend Miyazaki to form Studio Ghibli.

In Summary:
Even after all the craziness and turbulence behind the scenes though, a quality anime movie was created in Horus The Sun Prince. It’s quite enchanting to take in during the musical scenes, while generally entertaining throughout the overall adventure. Knowing everything that went into this movie and this DVD, this release serves as a primer or compendium of sorts on Takahata’s career, one I recommend very highly for anime enthusiasts.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star
Release Date: December 23rd, 2014
MSRP: $24.98
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment: Samsung 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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