AKA: The Little Mermaid (1975), Andersen Dowa: Ningyo Hime, Andersen’s Fairy Tales: Princess Mermaid
Year Released: 1975
Running Time: 68 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: The Daydreamer, Mako no Mako-chan, The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid (1976 Czech film), The Little Mermaid (1976 Russian film), The Little Mermaid (1989 Disney film), Adventures of The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid (Disney TV Series), The Little Mermaid II, Mermaid, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, Ponyo, The Idle Mermaid, The Little Mermaid (2018), The Little Mermaid Live, The Little Mermaid (upcoming Disney live action remake)
For Fans Of: The Snow Queen (Osamu Dezaki remake), Grimm’s Fairy Tales Classics, Princess Knight, Ponyo, Unico
-The English dub was used for this review.
-The Discotek release was used for this review. They released it in an uncut fashion with both the dub and sub.
-This take on The Little Mermaid was directed by Tomoharu Katsumata. He was a regular at Toei Animation and has directed Devilman, Cutey Honey, Mazinger Z, and Arcadia of My Youth. Yes, this guy who has worked on multiple Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto works adapted this fairy tale. This is the 3rd animated adaptation of The Little Mermaid and the first animated film adaptation of that story.
-Hans Christan Andersen wrote this story in 1837. There’s a statue of the title character in Copenhagen, Denmark which is shown in the ending of this film. Andersen was born in Odense in 1805 (then the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway) and died in Copenhagen in 1875. Some of his other stories he wrote consist of The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and The Snow Queen (that’s the story Frozen is based on for those scoring at home) to name a few.
-The English dub features Canadian twin siblings Kirsten and Thor Bishopric as Marina and Fritz respectively. The late Kirsten was the dub voice of four different Sailor Moon characters as Zoycite and Emerald in the DiC dub as well as the Cloverway/Pioneer/Geneon dub when she played Kaorinite and Telulu from S (the 3rd season). Thor has lent his talents to shows such as Wimzie’s House, Arthur, Winx Club, and A Bunch of Munsch.
-The late Kosei Tomita was the voice of Duke the Whale. He had a career of voice acting from 1956 to his death in 2020 at age 84. Some of his other roles have included the likes of Chief Ootsuka from the original Tetsujin no. 28 (Gigantor), Dr. Hell from Mazinger Z, Emperor Daibazaal from GoLion (Voltron), and different iterations of the Osamu Tezuka’s Dr. Mustache character from multiple Astro Boy remakes in the 00s and Jungle Emperor Leo (1997).
-This version of The Little Mermaid actually had some American help from producer David Wolper who actually worked on the original Roots miniseries, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, and Superman IV.
-Geography/Language Bonus: The black-haired princess is from the kingdom of Suomi. That’s actually the Finnish word for Finland for those that weren’t aware.
-One of the original American distributors of this version of The Little Mermaid before Discotek rescued it was United Artists. Yes, the same company who brought multiple Rocky and 007 movies as well as becoming an MGM (remember when it was MGM/UA?) subsidiary brought this stateside back in the 70s.
Alternate Disney August finally concludes for this year. This experiment has been fascinating and I have to thank Winst0lf for giving me this idea for my blog. Thanks, mate! This month, I’ve covered alternate takes of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book. This time, I get to take on an anime version of The Little Mermaid which predates the Disney version by a good fourteen years. Even back when I actually liked Disney movies when I was a child, I was NEVER a fan of this story or at least their take on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale. I don’t know if it was just me being a boy, but I wasn’t drawn to this movie. Before I even knew what a Mary Sue was, I thought that Ariel didn’t have many flaws as a character and was way too reliant on plot conveniences to get by even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time. I thought the animal sidekicks were annoying and I wasn’t really into the songs even though I would jokingly reference some of them even in my adult years. Also, I have to confess that Ursula scared the crap out of me as a kid. Even in my later elementary school years, I didn’t want to look at her. I could watch Frieza from Dragonball Z killing several people while he laughed maniacally about doing so without even batting an eye or only being mildly creeped out by the scarier episodes of Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark? (whenever I had an opportunity to watch it at a friend or relative’s house since I didn’t have cable), but I would break in a cold sweat whenever that movie would be playing if a scene came up that involved her. Don’t worry, I’ve had worse childhood nightmares and I’m okay now, but that was still something that happened. I heard that there was an anime version that existed (besides Ponyo) years ago, but I never had any interest to see it. If I didn’t have this Alternate Disney August project, I seriously doubt I’d even review it on Iridium Eye. If I did watch some movie or series that is more family-friendly, you would think it’s because of a plagiarism controversy I heard about. That’s one trend I noticed just recently.
Is this take on The Little Mermaid better, worse, or the same as the version that kicked off the Renaissance Era for Uncle Walt?
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid takes place centuries ago in Scandinavian waters. There’s an underwater kingdom where the princess Marina lives with her sisters, father, and grandmother. She also has a dolphin friend named Fritz who’s a bit of a troublemaker and the two of them usually play around in the ocean while also collecting submerged things from the human world. One such thing that caught her attention was a statue of a young man which enraptures her. On one day where she and Fritz go to the surface, she rescues a prince from a capsized ship who looks just like the statue. She falls in love with him, but he never fully got to see her since he was unconscious. Marina is desperate to go to the surface world to be human and in order to do so, she must go to The Sea Witch who is willing to use her potions to make her human. However, there are major strings attached. The big one is her voice (as one knows from the story), but the other addenda are more severe. Marina can never switch back to being a mermaid again and if the prince falls in love with another woman, she will die and her body will dissolve into sea foam. She desperately goes forward with the plan just to see him and takes the potion once she swims to the shore. The prince finds her on the shoreline and brings her into the palace where she lives with him. How will she be able to win the prince’s heart when her voice is missing?
This certainly felt different than the original and not just because of the animation or different names for the characters. Like the other films I’ve covered in this project, it’s not as musical as the Disney version, but there were a couple songs that were quite good to listen to. The score has a lighter symphonic feel and even some hints of disco in some parts (this WAS made in the 70s, you know). There were other noticeable differences like the protagonist’s grandmother being the only other elder relative besides her strict father which added an interesting dynamic. The grandmother wanted Marina to be happy and safe, but isn’t as strict as her son (her father). They even mention that merfolk can live for three thousand years if they die of natural causes. The stakes are also a lot higher with the existence of the other princess that the Prince sees and the dynamics with The Sea Witch. There’s an arranged marriage subplot which does make things intense in the final act given Marina’s ordeal. The Sea Witch despite not having a lot of screen time was very different. She laughs at Fritz for accusing her for being “evil” which I find to be a breath of fresh air in contrast to several Disney villains and she even gives Marina a chance to back away from the potion after warning her about the risks instead of coercing her. Also, this version of this voice-taking mage is a slender devil ray woman that oddly looks like a missing Go Nagai character. When The Sea Witch goes over the risks and when Marina asks how she could communicate without her voice, she responds by saying the mermaid should talk “with her eyes” to The Prince. Not going to lie, I did laugh at that piece of dialogue because it’s a much better response than telling her to utilize her “body language”. That deserves a bonus point from me by not resorting to fan disservice like her morbidly obese cephalopod counterpart (I had to make a potshot against Ursula)! Even before watching this version of The Little Mermaid, I found out that the original story is VERY different than the Disney version and this anime adaptation is surprisingly accurate to the original. I don’t want to spoil everything, but there’s a reason why I put “tragedy” in the genre section because the ending is going to break the hearts of those who only know the version with Ariel. This could feel like watching Grave of the Fireflies for those who aren’t aware of the original story. One aspect that I thought was interesting were the live action scenes of Denmark in the beginning and ending. They felt like brief history lessons of sorts with Hans Christian Andersen being from there and how he was a big deal in that country with his various fairy tales. How many American adaptations are willing to talk about an author like that or others such as The Grimm Brothers for example? That was a nice touch and it was good with them adding the drama as well as being faithful more or less to the original story.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid does have a few things going that are…what do you call them? Oh, flaws. Yes, I used my free Disney music reference card for this review. Anyways, this is an old-school Toei work, so don’t expect to have pristine animation quality. There were still shots during some of the party scenes and the production is certainly dated. Some of the brief disco tracks really showed which decade it was made in. While I did think it was a fascinating touch by The Sea Witch not being the main villain, I thought that the existence of Jemmy the Cat being the real antagonist was bizarre. I can suspend my disbelief in a movie like this with talking animals, but it felt like Jemmy was a random addition and was very shallow as to why she wanted Marina out of the picture. There’s also no comeuppance for that character at all. The Raven Haired Princess was barely even a character and was an extra body to bring conflict even if it made sense with the plot. The English dub was dated and very cheesy with characters either overacting or underacting at different times. I don’t want to come off as a prude especially since I’ve covered multiple movies and series with more mature or objectionable content, but why are all the mermaids topless? The only thing covering their chests are their long hair and there were some “nip slips” in different scenes which was facepalm-worthy especially since this movie was aimed at families and younger audiences. The live action shot of the mermaid statue in Copenhagen is one thing, but having some nudity in the animation is just too much for a movie like this. Say what you want about the Disney version having fanservice or with Ariel being one of the more sexualized princesses (Don’t lie, Disney fans. You know I’m right) even in a G-rated movie, but they never resorted to this stuff. I would caution parents about that before they decide to show this to young children.
Granted, I was never a fan of Disney’s take of The Little Mermaid, but I’d say this anime version is better despite some of the film’s shortcomings. There is more authenticity with the source material in this particular take. Some of the differences were ones I thought were better like the fatal stakes of Marina’s condition, The Sea Witch being a more complex character instead of being straight-up evil, or being upfront about the homage to Andersen himself. Some differences were worse like the random surprise antagonist of Jemmy or why there were some bits of nudity despite the clear viewing demographics of this movie. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was a faithful adaptation of the original story and had a good sense of tragedy, but it’s not something I would actively watch unless one wants to see alternate takes on fairy tales that Disney monopolized for decades now.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like anime versions of fairy tales.
-Add 1 point if you like accurate adaptations of fairy tales.
-Subtract 2-4 points if you’re a huge fan of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you’re not a fan of old-school anime.
-Accurate to the source material for the most part
-Good insert songs
-Adept usage of tragedy for the final act
-Pointless nudity and fanservice
-Jemmy being a random antagonist and karma houdini
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Advisory: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid may look like kiddie fodder, but there are aspects of it that prevent it from getting a G-rating. It’s more violent with some blood (both human and animal), creatures getting stabbed like wolves getting punctured by the Prince’s Sword or Fritz using starfish as shuriken to behead or dismember polyps (not making this up at all). Characters do die and there’s even a suicide scene at the end. The mermaids and the Sea Witch are topless, but the latter doesn’t have any nipples and you do see frontal nudity with some of Marina’s older sisters as well as the statue at Copenhagen at the end of the film.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is property of Discotek. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Discotek.
Amazing review!!! This film was something that I was lucky enough to see on VHS as a kid, and while it was horrific then – child-me preferred it to the Disney version. I revisited it a couple of years ago, and I was surprised at how Marina’s tale (while having dated elements) stood up to the test of time. It goes to show that dumping money into something doesn’t make it more memorable. The best part of the Disney iteration, in my opinion, was the music. Thank you! I really enjoyed reading this, it took me on stroll down memory lane! 😄
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Thank you very much. You actually saw the anime version back then? Nice! Yeah, I was surprised by how well parts of the story held up even with the dated animation and some of the implications. Major props to them for being accurate to the original story with the ending even if it is heartbreaking. It’s good getting comments from those who have seen the things I’ve reviewed. This version despite is flaws is definitely better than the Disney version even if the animation isn’t as good as the more famous adaptation.
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Yeah, my step-sister somehow had the VHS of it and I was shocked at how dark it got at the end. I watched the Disney version first, but is isn’t as poignant imo. I totally agree that it is much better, it has atmosphere for days – while the Disney adaptation is just a flurry of pretty colors and sing-song melodies.
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Gotcha. I heard the original VHS was a rarity and how the original uncut version didn’t come out until a few years ago when Discotek did their habit of rescuing the licenses of all these older anime movies and series. I’m sure a lot of peopel saw the Disney version first especially if they were kids in the 80s or 90s given the Rennaissance Era for that company. Then again, that argument about colors and sing-along melodies applies to a lot of other Disney movies.
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That is really interesting, I had no idea that it was so rare. With anime, as a kid, I had trouble finding the Cardcaptors VHS tapes, but I remember Sailor Moon and Digimon tapes were easier to hunt down. And, as for adult-oriented anime, you had to get lucky while scrounging through tapes at a used bookstore. I have been wanting to buy the Discotek release, along with Nutcracker Fantasy!
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Yeah, it was out of print for years after United Artists dropped the license a long time ago from what I gather. That’s not surprising about those VHS tapes back then. This version is on DVD and Blu-Ray now which is good. Discotek has been great in rescuing all these anime projects even if at least 90% of their catalog came from other companies and a lot of it is streaming on RetroCrush. I’ve never heard of Nutcracker Fantasy. Is it an anime take on that fairy tale/symphonic piece?
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I haven’t actually WATCHED Nutcracker Fantasy yet, but supposedly it is a Sanrio-produced, stop-motion animation that is surreal and has nightmare fuel. It is an alternate interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. What I have heard about it intrigues me to no end, and I want to purchase weird, obscure things like that so Discotek licenses more lesser-known properties!
※ Plus, I have always loved the ballet/music for original The Nutcracker.
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Sanrio-produced stop motion nightmare fuel animation? This sounds contradictory, but I’m quite intrigued. That certainly has my attention. Maybe it’s on RetroCrush. I’ll definitely check it out whenever I can. I remember watching a production of the Nutcracker when I was a child. It’s interesting to see these alternate takes on various stories.
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I mean, Sanrio *DID* produce the Ringing Bell anime film, too, and that is pretty dang dark, haha.
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Very good point and that’s one movie I do want to see. I heard it was a very dark animated work despite the character designs. Real talk, I thought it was a Tezuka work at first when I saw screenshots of Ringing Bell. Also, am I the only person who finds it interesting that the villain just happens to be someone with dark brown fur and a vertical wound over his left eye? Don’t worry, I would NEVER call that wolf a rip-off from what I know about that movie. Hahaha! XD
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[…] month Ospreyshire over at Iridium Eye Reviews has been talking about alternate takes on stories with famous Disney adaptations. He’s closing out the month with an anime take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little […]
Great review! This is one of my favorite movies from 70s and I am happy to see somebody else talk about it for a change. Your point about the topless mermaids caught my attention because I’d forgotten about it myself. I agree that it’s weird, but in a way it’s also fun to recall this Wild West era of animation before strict regulations
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Thank you very much, Casper! I didn’t know you’ve seen this take on The Little Mermaid before. This was a new experience even if it was for August’s them. I saw the uncut version that Discotek released and I didn’t think it would be an issue, but there were some scenes where there was brief nudity (not just the ending shot of the mermaid statue). That’s a good point with the lack of regulations potentially, but I doubt that would fly in America with a lot of the animated works that came out back then. However, I did like how accurate it was with the original story with the ending.
Like many people in their 30’s/40’s I grew up watching this film as a kid. I now work in Hollywood and two years ago I decided to revisit all the films of my youth as I embark on my own path as a filmmaker. This film was one of only two animated films my family owned, and I recall being completely mesmerized by the story and crying at the end. What was shocking about it is that it somehow passed the censors of Saudi Arabia, given a few of the risque visuals.
Though I am delighted that this film has been reviewed here, I disagree with your assessment of “Pointless nudity and fanservice.” You did not explain what you meant by “fanservice,” but here in Southern California, the “topless” scenes are harmless to kids. My 9-tear-old boy has seen more skin walking on the streets, and although he is so prudish as to cover his eyes at kissing scenes, he watched the whole film without a single remark or show of embarrassment (even when Marina first gets her legs, which I recall as a child as part of my sexual awakening).
Also, I felt your review overlooked to mention the notable people working on this. The animation director was the incomparable Reiko Okuyama (https://herstryblg.com/amplify/2020/9/16/amplify-reiko-okuyama), one of the first female animators on any continent and a champion of non-discrimination in the male-dominated anime and animation world that persist 7 decades later. Her lush visuals and art design were no doubt an inspiration to the Disney artists some 14 years later. Also, not enough credit is given to Takekuni Hirayoshi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takekuni_Hirayoshi). His sweeping melancholic and romantic score and the main theme of this film has been bringing back images of my childhood… it is the best score out of any anime film I have heard!
Although I do agree on the Jemmy the Cat was a distraction, and the Prince’s decision to suddenly marry the other princess came across as being tactless and underdeveloped, these were probably -and I am guessing here- shortcomings that were in the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. Though far from perfect, it certainly deserves more than a 6/10 rating, as the adulation this old film is now getting on Amazon and IMDB reviews attest.
Sorry for the massive delay. For starters, thanks for checking out this post and for following the blog. I didn’t see the anime version until last year for the first time. That is amazing how it passed the Saudi censors. It’s interesting how this movie means a lot to you and I’ve been hearing about how some anime fans really like this film.
Sure thing and I wanted to feature some alternate takes on things Disney adapted. Fanservice comes from anime with more provocative shots and could involve a male gaze at times. I was more surprised that it had some nudity and I’m not talking about the live-action shot of the statue in Denmark at the end.
Thank you for informing me about those people involved in the film besides the actors and director. I wasn’t even aware of that about Reiko Okuyama. There definitely needs to be some respect on her name. I’m not too familiar with Takekuni Hirayoshi’s work, but I’m willing to listen to hs music.
Thanks for seeing my points about Jemmy and the Prince’s rushed decision even if the outcome was accurate to the original story. I do think it’s a good movie, but it’s not far from my favorite. However, if there was a gun to my head and I had to pick this version or the Disney version to watch multiple times in one sitting, it would be the anime version hands down. With that said, I totally see why you and others would consider this much higher than a 6/10 and see this as a hidden gem in animation. It deserves to be more known, but there are anime works I enjoyed more than this. It’s good that you shared this comment and I’m glad we can respectfully disagree on things about this movie.
[…] Yes! One of my favorite reviews I’ve written is still getting some love on Iridium Eye. This underrated Shonen Jump work is still the longest anime series I’ve covered here, and this series deserves more attention. Revisiting Hikaru no Go felt great, especially when lockdown happened in the middle of my watching the TV series on Viz’s site. I’ll be honest that it was one of the times I was elated to type up my thoughts on this anime even when I’ve given similar or higher scores to other series or movies; I still haven’t felt that happiness in a long time. I hope more people check out this creative and innovative series to realize how it still holds up in the 2020s. Hikaru no Go is something I continue to recommend to this day. I hope they can animate the Hokuto Cup Arc sooner than later. Part of me is curious about the Chinese live-action remake, but I have my reservations because of live-action remakes of anime, in general.8: Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid […]