Ringing Bell Review

AKA: Chirin no Suzu, Chirin’s Bell
Genre: Tragedy/Drama/Coming of Age
Year Released: 1978
Distributor: Discotek
Origin: Japan
Running Time: 46 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Bambi, Watership Down, Kimba the White Lion, The Lion King, The Land Before Time, Felidae, Nutcracker Fantasy, Grave of the Fireflies
Notes:
-The Japanese version was used for this review.

-Ringing Bell can be streamed for free on RetroCrush.

-The villain will be addressed by his Japanese name of Woe (pronounced just like the synonym for “despair” or “misery”). His dub name is The Wolf King.
Fun Facts:
-Ringing Bell is based on a manga by the late Takashi Yanase. He is a respected and acclaimed Japanese author/manga-ka who is best known for creating Anpanman who is a cultural icon in his home country even to this day. This is the same character who has a song titled after him by BTS of all groups and his look, as well as his name, was homaged with the anime One Punch Man.

-This is actually a debut animated work for a certain Japanese company that normally doesn’t operate as an animation studio. Want to know which company? SANRIO! Yes, the same people who invented Hello Kitty were responsible for this morbid story with cute animals. Sweet dreams, everyone.

-Chirin is played by Minori Matsushita as a lamb while the adult version is played by Akira Kamiya. Matsushita is known for voicing characters such as the original Dororo, the title character from Candy Candy, and Temari in Ranma 1/2 among other characters. Kamiya has voiced several characters such as Ryoma from the Getter Robo series, Roy Fokker from Macross, and even Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. That’s right, now you have other reasons not to mess with this sheep.

-Ringing Bell was actually shown as a double feature with The Mouse and His Child which was also a Sanrio production.

I didn’t get a chance to review as many anime films, series, or OVAs in 2021. This wasn’t something I had intentionally planned, and I do apologize. Anime reviews have been some of my most viewed posts even to this day. The last Japanese animated work I covered was My Neighbors the Yamadas. In this year, I’ve dealt with so many ups and downs with my offline life, moments of major depression, lots of work, and having some realizations about how I was psychologically affected in ways (sadly, some of it was lowkey abuse towards me) I never realized in my past. It’s a really long story, but some of those elements did affect the tone of some of my posts over the past several months. I swear this wasn’t targeted towards my loyal readers and my friends. Sometimes I’ve internalized a lot of anger, sadness, and stress which is a bad habit of mine that I struggle with. Regardless of how I’ve felt, I thought I would get back into reviewing an anime. RetroCrush has been helpful in helping me discover anime for free and I wanted to watch something I heard some interesting things about.

Even though I normally don’t actively watch too many family-friendly films or series, the concept of this one greatly intrigued me.

Ringing Bell deals with the life of a lamb named Chirin. He starts out by living on a farm with other sheep that’s safe and fancy-free. Chirin does have a habit of getting lost, so he has a bell on him to signal his location so his mother can find him. She warns her son not to go beyond the fence unless he would be attacked by this ferocious wolf named Woe. The lamb does go past the fence but eventually comes back unscathed to his concerned mother. As time goes on, a significant tragedy changes everyone’s lives. Woe sneaks into the barn while the sheep are asleep and he kills Chirin’s mother as she shields him from the wolf. This traumatizes the lamb so much that he leaves the farm. He chases after Woe as he begs his mother’s killer to make him strong. Chirin rants that he’s sick of being weak and how weak creatures are “killed just for doing nothing” and wants to be a wolf. After multiple tries and failing to be intimidating to the other animals, Woe does eventually take him under his wing. However, his sheep pupil is upfront about becoming strong enough to kill the wolf to avenge his mother’s death. He learns to sharpen the “fangs of his heart” and grows to have longhorns as well as being a stone-cold killer alongside the wolf who slaughtered his mom. Is Chirin losing his will to be a sheep in order to be someone who’s feared?

This is only the second movie I’ve reviewed that features no humans (the other one was Ernest & Celestine) even though there is an unseen human presence with the farm in all, but I didn’t expect a movie with animal characters like this would be THIS dark. I refuse to believe Sanrio was involved with this, but I was impressed with how they handled this short animated film. The animation quality was surprisingly fluid most of the time for a 70s work. There were some good action scenes involving Woe and the adult Chirin that could still hold up to later movies or series. The subject matter was very heavy and even depressing, yet still works for the intended demographics. Don’t be fooled by the cute animals, the story can still be taken seriously as an adult with themes such as Stockholm Syndrome, trauma bonding, anti-war messages (on a metaphorical level), and especially the cycle of vengeance playing a major role in Chirin’s character development. The last concept is handled with a shocking amount of realism despite the characters being talking animals and could’ve never been handled well if this was an American production. Chirin’s progression from being a scared and naive lamb to a hardened assassin of a ram was powerful as well as beautifully tragic with how he tries to succeed in being strong. This was an unintentional deconstruction of the typical shonen trope of the heroes wanting to be stronger, but instead of them being more powerful heroes, Chirin gets some psychological issues that end up being his downfall despite being more of a force as he grows up. Woe was a surprisingly complex villain with how brutal he is, but at the same time becomes the reluctant mentor/father figure to the lamb he orphaned. I won’t spoil the ending, but his reaction to the fight scene was something I didn’t expect and I would never see any other animated villain act like that with the outcome in a family-friendly setting. The music was good with the theme song foreshadowing some plot points and having a mix with symphonies, guitars, and flutes. Interestingly enough, I actually thought Ringing Bell was an Osamu Tezuka work of all things when I first heard of it, but I was mistaken. Tezuka Productions was mentioned in the Special Thanks section of the credits and Woe is played by a Kimba cast member with Seizo Kato who voiced Toto/Cassius. Knowing what I know now, I can definitely see an influence on the art and some of the aesthetics. Yes, I know about RetroCrush and Discotek leaning into some Bambi parallels with the main character’s mom being murdered with how much sadder it was compared to that Disney movie or him growing up, but trust me, Ringing Bell would put Bambi and so many other animated movies with “dead parent” plot points to SHAME. Don’t expect a happy ending or some happy moments spread throughout. This was a brave film by addressing how life is hell and is surprisingly realistic about it instead of just ignoring all forms of suffering. It’s an uncomfortable truth that needed to be said.

I also have to bring this up…Am I the only person who thinks The Lion King stole stuff from this movie, too? This did predate that Disney movie by sixteen years, by the way. Seriously, Chirin’s reaction to waking up near his dead mom had to inspire how Simba responded to Mufasa’s death except it’s more disturbing because he snuggles up to her while still thinking she didn’t get attacked. Woe gives a villainous take on what might as well be a “circle of life” speech. You’ll know it when you hear it. When the adult Chirin claims that all the various lands are theirs [him and Woe] atop a mountainous area, I thought of it as a reversal of Mufasa’s “Son, all of this will be yours” dialogue especially when you consider that the ram refers to the wolf as a father of sorts later on. As I avoid spoilers and context, there’s a scene where the adult Chirin sees Woe in a reflection while looking at a pool of water and I was reminded of that one scene in The Lion King II where Kovu sees Scar in his reflection. Speaking of Scar, Woe can say that he’s the first animal villain with dark brown fur and a vertical wound over his left eye to murder a main character’s parent (I told you there was a Tezuka influence and the Kimba comparison does work here). Shoot, Claw can’t even say that and he’s definitely an inspiration for Woe’s character design despite being a lion and not a wolf such as this lead antagonist of Ringing Bell. I’d be shocked if no one at Disney saw this movie. Then again, I could also make a case of Ringing Bell’s ending being unintentionally and abstractly closer to Hamlet than The Lion King ever was if anyone knows anything about that play, but I digress. Besides, the “Hamlet with Lions” excuse I hear is window-dressing at best with the House of Mouse. I don’t want to be conspiratorial, but after watching Kimba, The Lion’s Share, and La Maison Noir, could anyone blame me for thinking that there was filching on Disney’s part with this movie? I would never call Ringing Bell a Kimba or Hamlet rip-off, and I’m sick of people saying how “original” that 90s Disney movie and its characters are. Okay, my mini-rant is over. Wow, I swear to do my best to suppress my spurned ex-fandom whenever I can, but I had to address this issue.

Ringing Bell does clang at moments. This is an older anime and there were times that the animation does get choppy at times. There were a few times where the animators cut corners with some scenes of dialogue where no mouths are moving. One of the songs was very repetitive with the hook of “get out of my way” and really felt super 70s to me. While Ringing Bell does have the advantage of having a small cast, there was a noticeable gender gap. The only female characters were the mom who died early in the film and some random adult sheep in the background. I’m not asking for a whole load of characters, but some more background characters with the agency could’ve helped a bit. As I said earlier, this is a very depressing movie. Anyone could see the cover and think it’s an innocuous film until they get a gigantic rude awakening. This gets to Grave of the Fireflies and/or even Texhnolyze levels of tragedy albeit for different reasons than that Ghibli movie or that Yoshitoshi ABe work. Do not watch Ringing Bell if you’re feeling depressed, and I’m being serious about this. Trust me on this one. Bambi, The Lion King, The Land Before Time, and the Kimba/JEL series at large COMBINED don’t have the levels of somber storytelling with this 46-minute movie. Pardon my acerbic observation, but I could see Disney fans bashing it because of how dark the plot is across the board. With that said, I could see the average viewer having legitimate concerns of being too depressed while watching this work from the Hello Kitty company.

This short anime film had tragedy used in the right way. Ringing Bell had a strong story and was daring with the adult themes it covered. The animation was competent despite a few budget shortcuts here and there. Chirin’s character development from an innocent lamb to a cold-blooded assailant was handled adeptly and they had the temerity to show the realistic consequences of his actions. However, this work can get too depressing for some audiences. As easy as it to be potentially trollzy on how Disney may or may not have stolen a few things in THAT 90s movie, I liked this film way more than the observations I’ve noticed while watching it. I’m not a fan of anthro-based movies or series, and I’m glad they didn’t resort to furry bait (THANK GOD!). This was an animated film that didn’t lie to me by resorting to toxic positivity or some commercialized agenda (and this is a Sanrio project) which I massively respect. Ringing Bell did an excellent job of portraying how hellish life is without being gimmicky, but by doing so in a PG setting. This is a hidden gem and I recommend Ringing Bell to anyone who wants to see brave storytelling without being too gory or reveling in nihilism. Strongly recommended.

Again, please do not watch this movie if you’re feeling depressed much like Grave of the Fireflies! You’ll thank me later.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you like old-school anime or revenge flicks.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you prefer simpler stories.
-Subtract 2-5 points if you don’t like depressing animated works.

Pros:
-Good animation
-Brilliant handling of dark subject matter and adult themes in a family-friendly setting
-Complex characters and adept character development from Chirin and Woe

Cons:
-Some production shortcuts at times
-Gender imbalance with the small cast
-Gets VERY tragic and morose

Final Score: 9/10 points

Content Advisory: If anyone were to look at the DVD cover or the older VHS cover, one might laugh at it while thinking it’s some kind of baby movie with all the cute animals. Riddle me this: Would a so-called “baby movie” have the lead character say [paraphrased] “I’m willing to go to hell just so I can be strong like you!”. Yeah, your argument is invalid. Ringing Bell doesn’t mess around with its subject matter with death in multiple ways such as Chirin’s mom murdered by Woe or even a brief scene where Chirin accidentally breaks all the eggs of a bird’s nest AFTER the mother just died by getting bit by a snake to name a few (let the fridge horror sink in with the latter example). Some of the violence has brief blood in it. There are some hard-hitting themes such as trauma bonding, the cycle of vengeance, and brutally deconstructing the shonen cliche of a character always wanting to be stronger in a sorrowful and psychologically damaging way. Just don’t resort to abusing antidepressants after watching Ringing Bell if you have a limited scope of animation.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Ringing Bell is property of Discotek. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Discotek. The screencaps of Ringing Bell are from RetroCrush and are property of Discotek.

5 comments

    • Yeah, I was shocked with how dour Ringing Bell was and the art style is dissonant with the tone which had to have been intentional. I didn’t realize a story like this could exist especially with how it plays out with the character development. Does that question involve a certain movie that I mentioned in this review if I see where you’re going with this?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I figured it was that one even though I did mention that movie in my review. Of course, Ringing Bell gave me more ammunition in calling Scar the biggest ripoff character Disney has made of all time when you factor the existence of both Claw and Woe. At least Ringing Bell got the cycle of vengeance stuff right by having consequences for the main character getting revenge unlike TLK let alone so many American movies because they just have to have a happy ending and power fantasy, right?

        Liked by 1 person

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