Frozen In Time
Northern Europe meets anime in The Snow Queen the adaptation of the classic children's story.
The works of Hans Christian Anderson are familiar to all. From "The Princess and the Pea" to "The Ugly Duckling," to "The Little Mermaid" and "The Little Match-Seller," these stories have become bedtime canon for many children. Many of Anderson's tales have been adapted and animated in the past by companies around the world, Disney's The Little Mermaid franchise being a prime example. Now "The Snow Queen" is receiving a high quality anime treatment.
The plot of "The Snow Queen" revolves around a mirror that distorts beauty into ugliness, and enhances all flaws. One day, a hobgoblin takes the mirror high into the sky, intending to look at the image of angels perverted by the mirror's effects. However, the mirror shatters, and slivers of glass enter the hearts and eyes of the people of the world below, causing them to see everything as marred and tainted, and their hearts to turn to ice.
Meanwhile, Kay and Gerda are best friends who play with each other every day and who share a rooftop garden with two rose bushes. Unfortunately, a sliver of glass enters Kay's heart and his eyes. He kicks over the two roses, runs away from the shocked Gerda to play outside with the other boys in the town's square, where they have a game of tying their sleds onto carts and sleighs for a free ride. Kay ties his sled to a white large sleigh that belongs to the Snow Queen, and she takes him to her castle in the far north, where there is nothing but the cold perfection of a snowflake. The townspeople believe Kay to be lost in the snow, but Gerda refuses to give up hope. She makes the journey to the Snow Queen's castle, where her warm tears wash the mirror fragments out of Kay's body, and the two children return home.
Directed by Osamu Dezaki (AIR: The Movie, The Rose of Versailles TV), The Snow Queen (“Yuki no Joou”) began showing on NHK in late May. With thirty-nine scheduled episodes, the series is still ongoing. The story stays close to its source material, but some new elements are added, such as the comic relief characters Red and Blue Troll, the forest church, and the back story of Gerda and Kay is elaborated. The anime also changes the blatant Christian origins of the broken mirror to that of a more secular nature. However, the mirror fragments still retain their properties of twisting the good nature of all things, and of turning people's hearts cold.
The anime opens with eleven-year-old Gerda and twelve-year-old Kay finding a small valley filled with red and white wild roses. They decide to bring home a plant each; Gerda a red rose, and Kay a white rose. While picnicking with their families, they hear the sound of church bells coming from the forest. There is a legend of a church somewhere in the forest, but no one has ever seen it. The children return home and plant their roses in pots along the plank that connected their bedroom windows. The seasons pass, and autumn is in full swing as the children finish attending school; they are needed to help in gathering in the harvest for the winter.
We are briefly introduced to the Snow Queen and her two minions, Red and Blue Troll, who are eager to see winter begin. However, the queen is willing to wait. Gerda and Kay hear the church bells again, and they ask their respective grandmother and father about it. Gerda's grandmother tells her that she heard the bell ring when she received the news of the death of Gerda's father, which made her feel sad, but now the bell has a soothing effect. Kay's father simply tells him not to enter the forest to look for the church. Only naturally, Gerda and Kay, along with the other children of their town, enter the forest to search for the church. The other children get scared and run away, leaving the two of them to continue on alone. They have a falling-out, as Kay is skeptical of the very existence of the church, while the church is a connection for Gerda to her father, but they quickly make up and continue their journey. As the sun sets on the shore of a large lake, they see the faint outline of a church or castle as the bell rings. Satisfied, they leave the forest to meet Kay's father, who is understandably angry and worried. They keep the fact that they found the forest church a secret, and return home. The first snowflakes begin to fall, and the long winter begins.
The first episode ends with a shot of the Snow Queen on her throne. In the second episode, Blue and Red Troll break the Snow Queen's mirror, leading to Kay's infection by the sliver of glass and his subsequent kidnapping by the Snow Queen in the third episode. The pacing might seem slow and the plot spread out, but in actuality, the story is centered on Gerda and her journey in recovering Kay from the clutches of the Snow Queen.
Dezaki's hand can be seen in the expressionistic style of the anime, with pacing that alternates between moments of calm and those of high emotional intensity. He always tries to remain faithful to the spirit of the source work in his animated projects, and The Snow Queen is no exception. "The Snow Queen" is a story about relationships and the power of love, giving this anime a slightly shoujo tone.
The animation by TMS Entertainment (Hamtaro, various Lupin III specials) may deter some anime viewers, as it seems more European than the stereotypical 'big eyes, small mouth' anime style. The Snow Queen uses colored pencil stills frequently, which enhances the storybook atmosphere. Additionally, there is the fact that The Snow Queen is set in North Europe, not Japan, and the animation strongly reflects this. The summer alpine flowers have bright solid colors, and the children wear wooden clogs. The words on the blackboard at Gerda and Kay's school are in Danish, not Japanese. Likewise, the character designs represent Nordic people circa 1850, which will be a change for the average otaku. The final product is reminiscent in tone of the children's animation broadcasted in the US during the 1980's, namely Belle and Sebastian and The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
The music is an aspect that boldly stands out. "Snow Diamond," the opening theme composed by Akira Chisumi, is a beautiful violin instrumental, played by Mariko Chisumi. Lazily, yet with a sense of purpose, "Snow Diamond" invokes the feeling of winter and of snow drifting down onto the dormant world below. The ending theme, "Daisuki na Kimi ni" ("Towards You, My Beloved") is composed and sung by Kazumasa Oda. The lyrics match the focus of The Snow Queen, namely Gerda's quest to find Kay and to bring him home. All of the incidental music within the episodes flows beautifully, neither blending in nor overpowering the animation on screen. Instead, it only adds to the mood of the scenes.
As is found in most European folk tales, The Snow Queen has a dark edge to it; this is not your average filler children's show. Life for Gerda and Kay and their families is brutal, with them living hand-to-mouth in environmentally adverse conditions throughout most of the year. That isn't to say that Gerda and Kay don't have time to play, but they are expected to work hard at the laundry and cobbler's shop as small adults. Praise must be given for the effort made by the production team to make The Snow Queen realistic in its depiction of life in a Northern European town during the mid-nineteenth century. This depth will maintain the interest of older viewers while entertaining younger viewers.
There is a lot of voice acting talent in this production. The voice of Gerda is veteran Ayako Kawasumi (Morgan Le Fay of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, Fuu of Samurai Champloo, Chidori Kurumi of Ceres, Celestial Legend, to name a few), and the Snow Queen is played by Mayo Suzukaze, best known among anime fans as Kenshin Himura in the Rurouni Kenshin series. Rio Natsuki, the voice of Kay, is another veteran of voice acting as the Japanese voice of Lulu in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, Lina of Bubblegum Crisis 2040, and Nanami Jinnai of El Hazard. All of the seiyuu do a great job in The Snow Queen, making us feel strongly for Gerda and Kay, and even the cold and emotionless Snow Queen.
Although it is doubtful that this series will be licensed in the US, The Snow Queen is an excellent anime for the entire family. Blending quality animation with excellent music and an engaging plot, this anime will keep the dreary doldrums of winter far away.