Miyazaki: The Early Years

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the best known and most respected animation directors of all time. With films like Princess MononokeSpirited AwayPorco Rosso, and Kiki’s Delivery Service to his credit, he has been setting new standards for animation visuals and story for decades. Miyazaki’s feature films have been seen the world over, but some of his earlier work is not as well known, particularly in the States.

These are a few of my favorite examples of Miyazaki’s early animation work.

Lupin III TV Series

Miyazaki fans know that his feature directing debut was The Castle of Cagliostro, a film starring the popular manga character Lupin III. But Cagliostro wasn’t Miyazaki’s first encounter with Lupin. He and future Studio Ghibli colleague Isao Takahata co-directed most of the first Lupin III TV series. Miyazaki returned to write and direct two episodes during the second TV series: “Wings of Death – Albatross” and “Farewell, Beloved Lupin.” Both of these episodes showcase some of the major themes that were already developing in Miyazaki’s work, including his love of airplanes and flight, his distaste for war, and his frequent use of strong leading ladies.

Both the first and second Lupin III TV series are available on Hulu and on DVD.

World Masterpiece Theater

This long running animated series was known by several names, but always follows the same basic format. Each season adapts a different classic work of children’s literature. Seasons originally ran in once a week airings for roughly a year, allowing plenty of time to tell lengthy stories. Miyazaki once again worked with Isao Takahata, this time as a key animator and scene designer with Takahata directing. Miyazaki’s work can be seen on several seasons, including Heidi: A Girl of the AlpsA Dog of FlandersRascal the Raccoon, and Red-Haired Anne – better known to English speaking audiences as “Anne of Green Gables.”

Not much of World Masterpiece Theater  has seen a proper US release, but you can check out an English dub of Anne of Green Gables on YouTube.

Sherlock Hound

Sherlock Hound – known as “Famous Detective Holmes” in Japan -was Miyazaki’s final TV series. The show takes place in a world populated by anthropomorphic canines and is loosely based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Miyazaki directed six episodes, some of which he also wrote, which are scattered throughout the series. Some are completely original plots. Others are more faithful to the original Holmes tales, but may still feature the occasional pink robot pterodactyl. These are lighthearted, fun takes on the Holmes mythos with a lot of Miyazaki flair. Mrs. Hudson becomes a prototypical Miyazaki heroine. She is portrayed as much younger than she is in most retellings and even takes the lead role in an episode or two.

The series was given a US DVD release.

Tell us about your own favorite early works of animation greats in the comments!

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