Panda, Go Panda!
Thirty-eight years ago a new fad was sweeping the nation of Japan, a somewhat surprising fad considering the origin. Pandas. Yes, China had generously donated a panda to a Japanese zoo in an attempt to increase their political and social ties and in the process the Japanese population went into a frenzy. Then Panda! Go, Panda! arrived and sent them all into overdrive.
Panda! Go Panda! is an early work of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, which predates Studio Ghibli and the pairs more famous works by many years. However, the early signs of the pair’s creativity and artistic style is very dominant throughout the film itself.
Calling this production a film is a bit of a stretch though, it’s more like a collection of extended episodes from an anime sewn together with a common theme – pandas. Not that this is a bad thing though. In the original release there were a few follow up episodes; these have all been threaded into one extended DVD with three episodes.
From the off it’s clear to see that this is not only early anime, but is also early Miyazaki work. The character designs, while distinct, lack the finesse of more recent films; however, his style has clearly been developed from this early work. This is clear to see from the resemblance between Ponyo and Mimiko for example. The pair’s work has also become famous for paying an incredible amount of attention to the scenery and being surrounded by nature, this style and theme is apparent throughout all of Panda! Go, Panda! as one is able to tell simply from the name of the feature.
The basic premise of the story is that a little girl- Mimiko has been left on her own to tend to a home whilst her Grandma goes away in Tokyo. Mimiko is a very young girl, so immediately the thought of someone of that age being left alone does strike a chord of disbelief; however, Mimiko is a very capable young girl who manages to see her Grandma off and goes home to find she’s got intruders in the house. Before she can really comprehend what’s happened, there’s a baby Panda in her home who she decides to care for with the passion of a Mother.
Mimiko is still of school age and decides to take Panpan to school with her, which understandably causes a riot as they don’t believe Panpan to be a Panda but another creature that needs attacking. Mimiko manages to secure Panpan and takes him back home only to be met by a giant Panda, Papa Panda. Mimiko takes this all in her stride and decides that they will become a larger-than-life family with a human “mother” and two Panda’s for relatives. The rest of the stories continue in a similar vein, and it’s clear that this story is a precursor to the more internationally famous Pippi Longstockings and Totoro.
Panda, Go Panda! is available in both English and Japanese. The English dub is well done, considering it’s got no Disney backing unlike the majority of Ghibli works, although Papa Panda does have a very strange, almost Jamaican imitation style voice. The subtitles are well placed and the overall quality of Panda, Go Panda! is top-notch. Considering this title is older than the majority of the people who will be watching it and as it’s clearly a “cash-cow” to try and grab some cash from a passing fad the actual animation quality and transfer to DVD is brilliant.
Panda, Go Panda is an amazing piece of work, for fans of Ghibli who want to see what the lead directors were up to before the creation of the Studio this DVD is a must and as it’s been out for a while now it’s going to be cheap to pick up. For people looking to try and emulate the “Spirited Away” experience, it’d be best to look elsewhere.