The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Little Norse Prince Valiant

Title: Little Norse Prince Valiant aka Horus: Prince of the Sun aka Taiyou no Ouji: Horus no Daibouken
Genre: Drama
Company: Toei Animation
Format: Movie; 82 minutes.
Dates: 21 Jul 1968

Synopsis: When Horus was a baby, his village was attacked by the demon Grunwald; in the aftermath, his father spirited him away from the village. Years later, Horus’s father pleads his son to return to his people. On his way, Horus finds the legendary Sword of the Sun, which has become rusted and dull with age. It is by this sword that one can slay Grunwald, and Horus finds that he must do that if he is to save his former village once more.

The Highlights
Takahata Isao: The first animated feature by the legendary director.
Visuals: Character designs are simple, but the animation holds up surprisingly well.
Budget: Limitations hinder a couple of scenes to an unfortunate degree.
Story: Nothing groundbreaking, but solidly told.
Characters: A surprising amount of depth for some of them.

In 1968, Toei Animation gave now-famed director Takahata Isao his first crack at directing an animated feature. Takahata had big ideas for how he wanted the feature to turn out; unfortunately, budget problems during production noticeably reduced the scope of Takahata’s vision. Nonetheless, what made it to the screen is undoubtedly a solid, confident debut from a soon-to-be master director.

What’s interesting about the movie is that while much of it is bright, joyous and fun, there’s a sinister tone that cuts through the plot when the villains make their appearance. This is most apparent when Grunwald’s sister, Hilda, is involved. She is by far the most interesting, complex character in the picture: she is torn between her loyalty to her brother and the developing love she feels for the village that Grunwald is to destroy. It seems like a simple inner conflict, but the way it is rendered reaches out and grabs the viewer. The weight of Hilda’s actions feels palpable. Grunwald and a couple of opportunistic villagers are villains in broad strokes, but Hilda’s story is truly the heart of the movie, and it beats strong. Horus himself is a solid lead character, right out of the children’s tale mold of bright, plucky boys who gather their courage to take on their enemies. He’s not very deep, but he is fun to root for.

Because the movie is so old, it might be tempting to think its animation will be far behind what we see today. But while the character designs and backgrounds may not be as detailed today’s strongest features, the movie definitely does not slack in its stronger scenes. There are moments of action that are surprisingly fluid and absolutely hold up — the movie opens with a scene of Horus slaying an army of gray wolves sent to kill him, and the gymnastics Horus unleashes while dodging and fighting the wolves are impressive. Unfortunately, the aforementioned budget issues prevent a couple of scenes from being as grand as Takahata planned. There’s one scene in particular featuring a massive army sent by Grunwald to raze the village, but the budget limits it to a series of still shots with quick camera movements to simulate action. It’s better than it should be, but far below what it could have been.

The setting is also interestingly rendered. It has a picaresque feel to it, as if it’s on the cusp of being realistic but there’s something slightly off-kilter. This is of particular interest when it comes to the village; certain townspeople find themselves easily swayed by a plot to defame Horus, and the visuals support the dark feelings lurking within. It’s easy to see that actual thought went into designing Horus’ surroundings. There’s also a bizarre mindscape near the end of the movie that is as dark and twisted a nightmare as one would be able to find at the time. Everything fits the tone of darkness lurking underneath the surface waiting to be unleashed.

Although Takahata’s debut feature was a financial flop at the time, the movie itself has endured and remains as a solid foundation to what would become a career well worth remembering. What could have been is a scenario that will never be realized; what remains, however, should be watched by any fan of animation.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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