Rintarō, “New Moomin” (1972), and the Last Days of Mushi Pro


Last year marked the 50th anniversary of a rather little-known series in Japanese animation history. New Moomin was the second TV anime to be based loosely on Finnish author Tove Jansson’s famous children’s books and comics about Moomintroll, his family and friends, and the strange world of Moominvalley. Largely forgotten today, it was one of the very last series to be produced by Mushi Production, the seminal studio established by Osamu Tezuka in 1962, and was chief-directed by the great Rintarō, later known for his spectacular animated epics like Galaxy Express 999HarmagedonThe Dagger of Kamui, and Metropolis.

I first became interested in New Moomin thanks to an article about Rintarō’s early years, derived from the PLUS MADHOUSE 04 book that featured a career-spanning interview with him. In this interview, Rintarō mentioned that it was on the later Mushi-produced episodes of the 1969-70 Moomin series that Isao Okishima, who I had long known as the head writer of Group TAC’s Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi, made his animation screenwriting debut after a career working in pink films, of all things; moreover, Okishima provided a unique perspective on family and domestic life that made the series stand out amongst its peers in children’s TV anime. I then sought out the episode that Rintarō recommended, Pappa’s Old Shoes, which was episode 35 of the 1972 series known as New Moomin; naturally, I enjoyed it and quickly realized that, in its bucolic, wondrous atmosphere, this was indeed a predecessor of sorts to Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi. For that matter, this was one of the few episodes where credits were available online at the time: Okishima not only wrote the episode but directed it, and the animators were the unsung Toshiyasu Okada and Kazuhide Fujiwara, both of whom later worked on MNMB or its equally creative spin-offs Manga Ijin Monogatari and Manga Kodomo Bunko.

That sealed it: I had to learn more about this obscure series. In due time, I found out that New Moomin was the series on which future industry legends Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko made their official debuts as animators, and that it was in fact a final meeting ground for many, many interesting ex-Mushi names who were already coming into their own and putting out quality work here before going on to make names for themselves elsewhere—of course, two other artists involved who played major roles in Group TAC’s 1970s anthologies were Hiromitsu Morita, the series’ main character designer and animation director, and Masakazu Higuchi, one of the series’ most talented animators who also made his debut as an episode director here. This finally led to me obtaining a complete VHS collection of the series towards the end of 2021: not only did I now have every episode in at least slightly better quality than the low-resolution uploads that had been on YouTube for years, but I now had the credits (which were always missing from most of these earlier uploads) for all of these episodes. More than ever, it was clear how surprisingly writer- and artist-driven the show was, and how the success or failure of a given episode almost always depended on the staffers involved; while the series may not have been faithful to Tove Jansson’s original stories, the majority of the episodes were very much worthwhile, fascinating, and even beautiful in their own right, and certainly deserved better than the obscurity they had fallen into.

With the series’ 50th anniversary coming in 2022, this was a perfect time to start an especially ambitious project: all the worthwhile episodes had to be translated, and an article written to present a more positive, even revisionist image of the series after years of being ignored or curtly dismissed by Moomin and animation fans alike. Of course, very special thanks must go to longtime friends and collaborators Meizhan and Kenji the Engi, as well as to a new translator, Nau (whose acquaintance I made thanks to fansub fan extraordinaire Lys), without whom this massive translation project would not have been possible within a year; for that matter, in the last two months of 2022, an unexpected boon appeared in the form of YouTube’s auto-generated Japanese subtitles, which surprisingly proved more effective in transcribing several pieces of dialogue than any of us had previously anticipated. And, naturally, special thanks must go as well to my dear friends Poppy, Mew, and the folks at Animation Obsessive, whose constant support throughout this endeavor encouraged me to keep going in spite of immense hardships, difficulties, and doubts.

Introduction: On the 1969-70 Moomin series and the situation at Mushi Pro

New Moomin was not the first time that Mushi Pro, under Rintarō’s direction, had produced an animated adaptation of the Moomins. Before this, the studio had taken over the 1969-70 Moomin series, the first 26 episodes of which had been produced by the studio Tokyo Movie and its partner A Production, under what can only be described as extremely contentious and difficult circumstances.

The idea of making an animated adaptation of the Moomins originated from planner and producer Shigeto Takahashi. Dissatisfied with the kinds of shows he was involved with at studio TCJ (later to rebrand as Eiken, it is best known for producing the long-running Sazae-san), Takahashi split off and established his own company, Zuiyō Enterprise, with the intent of planning, selling, and overseeing potential TV anime adaptations of what he saw as more wholesome Western children’s literature. As early as 1967, while still working for TCJ, he had already produced a pilot film for a potential series based on Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi, with a certain then-TCJ animator named Toyoo Ashida as the character designer.

In preparing a Moomin series, Takahashi went as far as to travel to Stockholm to meet with Tove Jansson and secure the rights to produce an adaptation from her. Soon, it was decided that the series would air on Fuji TV at 7:30 pm on Sunday nights, sponsored by the drink company Calpis, which was already sponsoring Mushi Pro’s Dororo in that timeslot. This was the beginning of what eventually became the World Masterpiece Theater, as from this point on the timeslot would be occupied by a succession of animated series adapting Western literature, all planned and later produced first by Zuiyō and then by its splinter company Nippon Animation (which took over Zuiyō’s animation division and all the shows it was producing).

The trouble began when Tokyo Movie and A Pro were appointed to produce the adaptation, with director Masaaki Ōsumi and animation director Yasuo Ōtsuka as the lead creative figures. Ōsumi and Ōtsuka, along with animators Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi, had just created the original pilot film for Lupin III, and it was obvious that Lupin was their true passion project at the time; when it was not greenlit immediately, they essentially had no choice but to take on Moomin for the time being. Making matters worse was that, while they did have earnest intentions from there in trying to create a series that would bring Jansson’s world to life, they wound up misinterpreting Jansson’s orders to Shigeto Takahashi of “no money, no car, no fight”—rather than eschewing these elements altogether, they instead created stories with those themes, which nevertheless were rather excessive and even Lupin-esque in showing off vehicles and weapons and violence and such. (As a side note, Takahashi himself recalled Jansson’s conditions for the series being somewhat different: “no money, no machine, no television”.) To top it all off, Ōsumi and Ōtsuka were given the Moomin comics, which were much edgier and more satirical than the books to begin with, and which were taken over by Tove’s younger brother Lars after the first several years, as reference material in creating the series—these served as their main sources of inspiration and confidence that they were doing Jansson’s creations justice, without realizing, as Ōsumi heard later on, that Jansson herself had purportedly grown dissatisfied with the comics.

The result was a fascinating disaster: while popular with viewers at the time, these first 26 episodes were, for the most part, an unpleasantly bizarre, obnoxious, and mean-spirited mess that often (even if unintentionally) comes off as a demented parody of the Moomins and their world, complete with Ōtsuka’s misguided attempts at making the characters look rounder and “cuter” and his, Shibayama’s, and Kobayashi’s efforts to maintain a certain level of quality in the show’s largely-outsourced animation even so (several episodes did have some animation by Tokyo Movie’s own in-house staff, but none were actually animated at A Pro). Even taken on its own, it does not hold up well today—and it famously angered Jansson, who, upon being shown an episode with the hopes that it would impress her, instead complained vociferously about what had been done to her characters.

However, the idea that Jansson personally forced Tokyo Movie and A Pro to stop working on the series is an urban legend: rather, her ire was simply a convenient excuse to cover for the fact that Tokyo Movie, and Ōsumi and Ōtsuka themselves, had no interest in continuing the series beyond their initial 26-episode contract, and dropped it of their own volition. According to the liner notes included with these 26 episodes’ Laserdisc releases in 1989, attempts to improve Moomin‘s animation quality by using more drawings—even though it was planned as a low-cost affair—resulted in the series going over-budget, causing most of Tokyo Movie’s higher-ups to decide that continuing to work on it was not feasible; Ōsumi and Ōtsuka, meanwhile, said that they were the ones who took the initiative in ending Tokyo Movie’s involvement, as they needed to get back to preparing Lupin III and had already agreed that they would only work on Moomin‘s originally-contracted 26 episodes.

At any rate, Shigeto Takahashi needed to quickly find a studio that could keep Moomin going in Tokyo Movie’s stead. Perhaps in a moment of hasty desperation, he and Zuiyō saddled none other than Mushi Production, the studio that had pioneered TV animation as a viable industry, with this troublesome series; the studio, in turn, appointed veteran Shigeyuki “Rintarō” Hayashi, who had recently finished supervising Mushi Pro’s episodes of the seminal adult series Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales, as the chief director. As Rintarō recalled to Yūichirō Oguro in his PLUS MADHOUSE 04 book interview, and as anyone would expect, Moomin was far from the kind of series he wanted to be doing:

The truth is, I couldn’t help wanting to do Ashita no Joe (1970-71). But, that was bound to be the Osamu Dezaki-Masao Maruyama duo. And then it came up, “Won’t you do Moomin for us?” When I tried reading the original work, it was very interesting. It was previously made by Tokyo Movie, and I also saw what Tokyo Movie did. It was a world very far apart from my sensibility, but at any rate, as long as I was told “do it”, as an employee I have to do it. I said, “understood”, but there were almost no usable in-house staffers.

It was the worst possible time for Mushi Pro to be taking on any further projects. Almost all of the studio’s other staffers were busy working on either Osamu Tezuka’s Cleopatra, Ashita no Joe, or various co-productions with the American studio Rankin-Bass. Thus, even more than had been the case in Tokyo Movie’s portion of the series, Rintarō had to outsource most of the actual production left and right to whatever studios or freelancers were available, with Hiromitsu Morita soon being pulled off of Joe to serve as Moomin‘s main animation director. He did not even have a proper workspace for the series’ production:

The good staff were all carried off to feature films. The only ones left were Hiromitsu Morita, who I got to be animation director, and about a few people. Therefore, for the rest I used outsourcing. Norio Yazawa [of Japan Art Bureau] and the like. I used various places. There wasn’t even a studio. I had them make something like a shack, and I was doing it there.

A good way to get a sense of just how haphazardly Moomin was dumped in Rintarō’s lap, and the enormous difficulties he faced, is to watch the opening that was initially used when the show moved to Mushi Pro. It is plagued with astoundingly sloppy animation, layout, and shooting errors, like Moomin levitating slightly as he bobs out-of-sync with the log in the water, the jittery animation of the Muskrat being rocked in his hammock by My, and the bizarre manner in which Moomin walks along the hills in the background of the shot with Nonnon and the Hattifatteners. Later in the series, after Hiromitsu Morita had overhauled the character designs and the production had stabilized somewhat, this opening would be slightly reanimated and refilmed in a more polished, professional-looking manner; nevertheless, the very existence of its original version is a grotesque illustration of the dangers of moving a well-established, popular series to a completely different, unprepared studio on incredibly short notice.

Episode 27, Ninny Who Lost Her Face (watch here and here) was the very first Mushi-produced episode of the 1969-1970 series. It was directed by Moribi Murano, who had already played a significant role as main character designer, animation director, and episode director on Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales, and animation-directed by Kazuhide Fujiwara (a non-Mushi staffer), with animation outsourced to Studio Zero which had been the other main production studio behind Sabu and Ichi—and, as anyone could have expected, it was a disaster with viewers. For one, in an overcompensatory measure, the character designs were suddenly changed to crude facsimiles of Tove Jansson’s original, decidedly less “cute” designs (with the exception of poor Ninny herself, who just looks homely), and the primitive, clearly rushed animation cannot have helped matters; similarly, the gentler, more easy-going atmosphere turned off viewers who were used to the excitement of the Tokyo Movie episodes. Even the series’ sponsor Calpis purportedly complained about what had been done to the series; nevertheless, circumstances being what they were, there was no choice but to keep the series going in this strange new direction, as ramshackle as the initial results were. The next animation director to try dealing with Moomin was a young Nobuyoshi Sasakado, who only lasted for episodes 28 (also animated by Studio Zero) and 29 (in which Murano also served as animation director) before he was pulled off to work on Cleopatra. (Of course, in what is surely another testament to the haste and immense difficulty of these initial episodes’ production, these earliest Mushi episodes did not even credit Mushi Pro at the end, and on top of that had a revolving door of different producers, as evidenced by the surviving credits for episodes 27 and 28.) Things began to steadily improve when Hiromitsu Morita took over with episode 30: as animation director, he would gradually shift the character designs to a much more appealing, animatable hybrid between Jansson’s originals and Ōtsuka’s more viewer-popular versions.

According to Morita in a 1977 interview, this deliberate shift away from a strict adherence to Jansson’s original designs came in part from a realization that there was no way Mushi Pro, or any other Japanese studio at the time, could produce a Moomin adaptation that would truly be to Jansson’s satisfaction. He recalled that the studio was in talks with Jansson over how to proceed with the series, and at one point she even visited Mushi Pro to voice her demands; design-wise, however, one of the changes she requested was that Snufkin’s and My’s bare hands be colored black, which would not fit with the norms of Japanese culture. In the end, Morita decided to seek out a sort of balance, hewing the characters close to Jansson’s designs while keeping the tastes of Japanese audiences in mind, and Jansson declared that, in the event that this series would be sold overseas, she would not allow it to be sold as an adaptation of her original Moomin books. Thus, the fate of the 1969-70 Moomin series was sealed: there was no real way it could be exported outside of Japan, regardless of whether it was Tokyo Movie or Mushi Pro producing it.

Of course, outsourced animation and Jansson’s implacable dissatisfaction were relatively minor issues compared to the dilemma of actually writing good stories for the series. As Rintarō recalled:

I went to Dentsū and talked with various people. Calpis was the sole sponsor, I think. So I was told (by Calpis) that they wanted it to have a cozy character…In relation to the contents [of Moomin], as a home drama, I had to do it properly. I wonder if the request was roughly that. I also had fascinating characters like the Hattifatteners, and it’s not a world I don’t like, however, at the beginning it did not readily become my own flesh and blood, and I went about making it while probing. I asked various people for scenarios, however, many of them were of obvious contents where if you read the first 1 or 2 lines, you can roughly figure out the ending. While wondering if “cozy” is all I can do and the like, I have to do it.

In this regard, the series was later rescued to a degree by the arrival of two writers, Isao Okishima and Kunio Kurita. They came from the unlikeliest of backgrounds to be recruited for a cozy children’s series—up to this point, they were intimately involved with the transgressive, pornographic pink film movement of the era, with Okishima being credited as assistant director on several films produced by Kōji Wakamatsu from 1966 to 1972, and Kurita being credited for “recording” on The Embryo Hunts in Secret and as an assistant director on Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses. Their episodes defined the focus on family (and the seemingly ordinary in general) from a different, esoteric perspective that Rintarō sought:

Then, when I was in anguish, a man named Susumu Kōsaka (高坂進) entered Mushi Pro’s literary department and became in charge of “Moomin”. Before joining Mushi Pro, he was in the Japan Reading Newspaper (日本読書新聞). Do you know the Reading Newspaper? In the left-wing Reading Newspaper, unthinkable guys like Ryūhō Saitō (斎藤龍鳳), Sadao Yamane (山根貞男), and Yukio Mishima (三島由紀夫) were writing. Talking to him is interesting. Talk of the Zenkyōtō, of avant-garde films, and so on. Then I told him, “Give me an idea.” That is, I asked him if there wasn’t a guy who could make a drama that’d show the family from a different point of view, and not a story that anyone can come up with even if I say “cozy”. And then he says, “There is. Leave it to me.”

What came up then was Kōji Wakamatsu’s Wakamatsu Production. At that time, Wakamatsu Pro was “bang-bang!” shooting strong pink films of a highly political color. Kōsaka introduced me to Isao Okishima, who was there. When I met and talked to him, he was the same age as me, and we even got on well. When I explained, “About once every 4 episodes in ‘Moomin’, I want to put in a perspective-changing home drama and resist”, he was amused. He said, “The schedule is not enough on my own. There’s a guy named Kunio Kurita who’s doing documentaries. Is it okay to collaborate with him?”, so I replied that it was no problem. They said, “We’re doing pink films, so we think it’d be better not to put out our names in ‘Moomin’”, and the two of them decided to participate with a name somewhat like rakugo, “Kurihachi Okiya” (沖屋栗八). So, the reputation of the very first screenplay that I got them to write is good. A Dentsū person asked me, “Rin-chan, who wrote this?”, but I can’t afford to tell him the truth, so I said things like, “No, with an acquaintance of mine”, and evaded.

Theirs was a movement that Rintarō always had strong affinities with. He even tried to take it a step further by asking none other than the radical New Wave filmmaker Masao Adachi, another Wakamatsu Pro member and a colleague of Okishima’s from his university days, to contribute scripts:

Isao Okishima came out of the Nihon University Struggle. From the same Nihon University, I also asked Masao Adachi, who later joined the Japanese Red Army, for screenplays, but I ended up being told something like, “‘Moomin’ is a conservative reaction, so I won’t do it” (laughs). Well, I thought so. With the question of whether guys like those can somehow write with subject matter like “Moomin”, in their own way they can write. But, the point of view is different [from Tove Jansson’s]. They pull “Moomin” a little towards their own feelings.

And so we fast-forward to late 1971, when, for some reason, Zuiyō decided to commission a new series of Moomin episodes to succeed Andersen Monogatari in the very same timeslot that the earlier Moomin series had occupied, with Rintarō again serving as chief director. By this time, Osamu Tezuka was no longer in charge of Mushi Pro, which was now in increasingly dire financial straits. Up to a certain point, the studio had been kept afloat by his income as a manga-ka, but the rise of gekiga in the late 1960s caused Tezuka’s work to decline in popularity, which additionally meant that there was little demand for Tezuka-based TV animation; moreover, having to run a large studio like Mushi meant Tezuka had little free time to do anything else. On top of this, meetings were repeatedly held in June 1971 in which the majority of the studio’s employees wanted the studio to refocus as a corporate, profit-seeking structure, and this was the final straw that led to Tezuka resigning in disappointment by the end of the month on the condition that he would bear the studio’s deficit up to that point, with Eiichi Kawabata becoming president in his stead. Thereafter, Tezuka would focus on his new studio, Tezuka Productions, which he had founded in 1968 to deal with producing and managing his manga, and through which he now produced the series Marvelous Melmo; for that matter, three of Mushi Pro’s very best veteran animators, namely Kazuko Nakamura, Mikiharu Akabori, and Teruto Kamiguchi, opted to leave with Tezuka, and these, along with Takateru Miwa (another gifted animator who had left Mushi years before), would be sectioned off to a different studio at Nakamurabashi, where they began preliminary work on Tezuka’s long-gestating experimental animation Legend of the Forest.1

Still, the majority of Mushi Pro’s immense workforce, enough to support the production of three different series over the course of 1971 (Ashita no JoeAndersen MonogatariWandering Sun), had not yet dispersed. Now, in a complete reversal of the outsourcing woes of the 1969-70 Moomin series, Rintarō had almost all of the studio’s up-and-coming talented animators at his disposal, ensuring that this continuation of the Moomins’ adventures would be a major step up from the previous iteration quality-wise. (Meanwhile, Joe‘s successor series Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai was almost entirely outsourced, with only Akio Sugino, Nobuyoshi Sasakado, Toshio Nitta, and Tadashi Yahata supervising the animation from Mushi Pro.) Hence, this New Moomin would prove to be a training ground for many young animators, including future legends Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, both of whom were officially promoted to key animators with this show and even worked alongside each other on the same episodes early on. Kawajiri had just distinguished himself as an inbetweener on Ashita no Joe, and it was precisely thanks to recommendations from Joe‘s creative leaders Osamu Dezaki and Akio Sugino that he became a key animator here; Yas, meanwhile, had already been serving as a character designer on Wandering Sun in spite of his inbetweener status. In a testament to the enormous trust that Rintarō must have had in these two talented new key animators, their very first work would be to animate New Moomin‘s lovely opening (in tandem with veteran Mushi animator Mitsuo Shindō who was the head of their team), which would greet the show’s viewers every week for the entirety of its year-long run; Yas, in particular, was responsible for the animation of the pencil-drawn Moomin jumping up into a headstand towards the beginning.

Kawajiri summed up his experience on New Moomin thusly:

Rin-san hardly gave any direct orders regarding the key animation. He was already leaving that to the animation directors, so there wasn’t anything like receiving advice from the chief director. With “Moomin”, there were two pressures that weighed heavily on me: wanting to somehow meet the chief director’s expectations, and the genius (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko, whose desk was lined up with mine, drawing wonderful key animation at a tremendous speed. Even so, while making my hands pitch black, I kept drawing anyhow. Rin-san really recognized that kind of endurance, and somehow or other I felt like he treated me warmly.

Another distinguishing characteristic of New Moomin was its much more explicit focus on the humanity of the characters amidst the strange world in which they lived, with many episodes philosophically conveying themes pertaining to how to live one’s life well, treat others with love and charity, and appreciate our world and its nature in all their fascinating, wondrous, at times mysterious and frightening ways. I presume that this was in large part thanks to Rintarō’s friend Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, who is credited for “setting” throughout the series as he had been in Wandering Sun the previous year: it seems he was essentially the series’ head writer, establishing the overall ideology of the scripts and how the characters would act and the like, and it would certainly make sense given that Hoshiyama went on to distinguish himself as the main writer on such cult classic humanistic mecha anime as the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Fang of the Sun Dougram, and Galactic Drifter Vifam. For that matter, there were also a few standout episodes written by Isao Okishima and Kunio Kurita, now working under their real names; unsurprisingly, their episodes are the ones that most effectively epitomize New Moomin‘s unique worldview.

To be sure, New Moomin was not a complete break from the previous series. Hiromitsu Morita, who was once again appointed as the main character designer and animation director, recalled that there were thoughts about creating a truly new, different-looking Moomin adaptation that could potentially be sold overseas, but in the end, it was felt that it would be strange to completely diverge from the previous series’ designs, especially since only a year had passed since its end. Thus, Morita for the most part simply polished the designs he had already achieved in the later 1970 episodes, making the Moomins and Snorks in particular a tad less bulky, more appealing, and easier to animate. For that matter, New Moomin also carried over the few other things that worked about the earlier series, namely the impeccable voice cast led by the great actress Kyōko Kishida as Moomin, Seiichirō Uno’s beautiful, often varied music tracks and songs, and Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s quirky sound effects, all of which would have been under the supervision of the great audio director Atsumi Tashiro.

As chief director of New Moomin, Rintarō was responsible for checking and correcting every episode’s storyboards, which were always drawn by a given episode’s director. For the most part, he did not try to brand the storyboards with his own highly idiosyncratic, spectacular filmmaking style. Rather, his role seems to have been to encourage the episode directors to develop and cultivate their own styles within the show’s framework, using his corrections to give them pointers on how to make their work more visually and thematically interesting while nevertheless letting their unique personalities shine through. Of course, it is obvious that the more ambitious directors involved with the series, like Toshio Hirata, were given almost complete freedom to create episodes according to their own tastes and vision, making this series perhaps the ultimate expression of Mushi Pro’s auteur-driven approach; but even episodes by the series’ more standard directors often feature some remarkable moments of atmospheric direction and fascinating cinematic flourishes.

More crucial for the production, perhaps, was Rintarō’s ability as a practical administrator. Kawajiri recalled that, as chief director of New Moomin, Rintarō was already a formidable presence:

My impression of Rin-san at that time, sure enough, was that he had an intensity like, “Aah, is this what it means to be a director?” He was also sharp-eyed, and his speech and conduct were terribly powerful as well…in those days, he had a more razor-like sharpness, and even his speech and conduct were quite scary. It was like he talked about things straightforwardly and without reservation…I often heard his voice rebuking assistant directors in meetings [nearby], and I thought, “What incredible power.”

The result of all this may well be the first true slice-of-life anime, complete with some truly atmospheric, often detail-oriented and at times slow-burn direction from the storyboarders and episode directors who worked under Rintarō’s supervision. Even the pleasant limited animation can often be well-posed, well-timed, and filled with interesting gestures and subtleties; what it may be lacking in movement and fluidity, it usually makes up for in the strength of the character acting. So, without further ado, let us begin discussing this remarkable little series…


The exceedingly rare Calpis Cartoon Theater opening logo that would have appeared at the beginning of every episode when New Moomin was originally broadcast, taken from an online auction of a 16mm print of the first episode (Dream, Dream, Dream). The VHS releases replaced this with the Moomin logo and the tape’s volume number jumping out against a slowed-down version of the background animation.

Episodes 1 to 8: Uneven but compelling fits and starts

The first five episodes of New Moomin serve as a gateway back into the world of Moominvalley as spring begins to arrive once more, giving us both the return of old friends and the arrival of a few new faces who, while part of Tove Jansson’s world, had not appeared in the 1969-70 Moomin series. The very first episode, Dream, Dream, Dream, serves as a general reintroduction to the main characters after a year of being absent from Fuji TV’s airwaves. In a nice bit of continuity, just like the series finale of the 1969-70 Moomin series, it was written by Keisuke Fujikawa and directed by Noboru Ishiguro, and like the end of that episode, it frames the series as actually taking place within a Moomin book. Our re-entry into the world of Moominvalley occurs via a well-meaning tapir (voiced by Shinsuke Chikaishi) who, in accordance with Japanese mythology, wants to eat Moomin and his pals’ bad dreams so they can have good ones; the irony, of course, is that his strange presence is what ends up ruining the good dreams they are already having.


As with the first episodes of many American animated series, there is a certain roughness to the character animation and drawings in several scenes, indicative of how key animators Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Takekatsu Kikuta—none of whom had worked on the previous Moomin series, with Kanayama and Kikuta having previously worked on Ashita no Joe and Asato being fresh from Andersen Monogatari—and animation director Hiromitsu Morita were still finding their way around the new series. For that matter, the scene of Snork shooting recklessly at the tapir with Moominpappa’s shotgun and bringing down the chandelier—intended as an early portent of his zeal for taking swift, heavy-handed action when things go wrong—feels like an unfortunate leftover from the 1969 series that had yet to be fully ironed out.

Still, as a sort of preview of what is to come in the series, this episode works fairly well. The first half of the episode consists of a series of amusing vignettes in which the characters go about their business in their dreams, all of which are ultimately ruined by the tapir’s sudden arrival; it helps that, perhaps because this first episode was produced in advance, the animation by Kanayama-Asato-Kikuta is more exuberant than it would be in the episodes they did immediately afterwards. The vignettes are also bridged by some very nice live-action transitions, in which the last shot of the previous vignette fades to an illustrated version within the book, after which the camera zooms out to give us a fuller view of the book as it turns to the next page (featuring an illustration of the next vignette).

In the second half, the dream versions of the characters gather to try finding out who this tapir is, and he proves his magical powers by gradually clearing the snow clouds away to reveal the sun: there are some fun bits of character animation as My tries to literally hog the spotlights that appear and dance in them, and once the sun is out and the folks begin dancing in a circle around the tapir, we get some great atmospheric shots of the snow and ice gradually melting and falling from the trees and cliffs—and into the now-thawed river, which begins to overflow, causing Moominvalley to nearly be flooded by a massive tsunami in the episode’s most impressively-animated sequence! This, of course, is just the first of several moments of impressive effects animation that Kanayama will create over the course of the series. Realizing he’s only caused trouble, the tapir reverts everything to winter before Moomin and the others can drown, and decides to let them all dream in peace—and in a nice bit of live-action/animated integration, he closes the book himself before letting us know that the Moomins will wake up from hibernation next week!

The second episode, Fire Festival To Usher In Spring, marks the beginning of the series proper, as we see Moomin and everyone else awaken from hibernation towards the end of winter. In a cute and rather melancholic story, Moomin befriends a mysterious girl named Elisa (voiced by Yoshiko Matsuo, just as Ninny has been in Mushi Pro’s very first episode of the previous Moomin series!), spending all his time playing with her at the expense of his old friends like Nonnon and My—only for her to turn out to be a winter spirit, who must leave with the coming of spring. To be sure, the episode does suffer to a degree from the misanthropic, mean-spirited character writing of Junji Tashiro. It is not as bad as it would be in later episodes he wrote; still, it is hard not to feel a sense of irritation at, say, Sniff hostilely accusing Elisa of being a demon at first for no real reason, or My’s spiteful nastiness and at times psychopathic behavior against Moomin and Elisa throughout, or even Moomin’s overreaction to Elisa getting up from her bed after she eventually recovers from a bad fall (caused by a particularly horrible prank from My).


Nevertheless, from a visual standpoint, it is easily the most stunning and polished of the first five episodes. The character animation, while limited, never feels stilted: solid, convincing poses and gestures that express the characters’ feelings abound, as do some nice subtleties here and there (like My nodding when Nonnon chews out Elisa early on, or the way she breathes into her hands to alleviate how cold Elisa makes her later on). Also in evidence is a certain mastery of moving the characters around very fluidly and dimensionally when needed, as seen most obviously in the ice-skating sequence towards the beginning, as well as in certain other shots like Moomin and Elisa tumbling from their sled or later Elisa running away in fright. (Incidentally, the beautiful waltz music heard in the ice-skating scene, while it originated in the first Moomin series, was also reused in Andersen Monogatari.) The very satisfying animation is all the more impressive when one considers that this was the first full episode to be animated largely by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the two recently-promoted novices of the series (working in tandem with senior animator Mitsuo Shindō)—a sure testament to their talents even early on.

Episode director Mitsuo Kaminashi had been working under Rintarō since Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales. In general, Kaminashi was the director on New Moomin who most obviously channeled Rintarō’s cinematic proclivities, and his episodes are the most consistently successful at conveying a certain breathtaking sense of atmosphere, especially in their focus on minor details in the environment; for this reason, he seems to have been entrusted mostly with pivotal episodes like this one. We see how the lovely winter snowfall as Moomin wakes up gradually makes way for spring, heralded by the emergence of the harsh, brightly-shining sun which hurts Elisa, as well as bringing the squirrels out of the trees, melting the snow on them, and thawing the ice in the sparkling rivers such that it gradually crumbles and washes away; there are also a number of fascinating shots from a filmic perspective, like the Dutch angle of the snowy landscape speeding by as Moomin and Elisa go sledding down a hill.

In some scenes, though, Rintarō’s own influence seems much more prominent than usual; perhaps he was more hands-on with the storyboard this time, so that this first post-hibernatory episode could leave that much more of a spectacular impression. The initial shots of Moomin meeting Elisa are framed by faded white borders, giving the scene a certain wistful, romantic wintery magic; for that matter, the fade between the saddened Elisa and the Moomins’ burning fire after Moomin is taken away by his friends almost feels symbolic, as though the fire were also expressing Elisa’s burning desire to play with Moomin. When Elisa falls off a cliff and loses consciousness later on, a spotlight and sparkles highlight her collapsed body, and the diagonal lighting from the window as she recovers in bed is also unusual; later, her reemergence from bed is heralded by the appearance of her reflection in Moomin’s bucket of water.

Of course, the most outstanding Rintarō-Kaminashi visual storytelling takes place during the titular fire festival. After Moomin makes it clear that the fire festival will be happening, the background behind Elisa fades to black, and the camera zooms out to show her whole figure, emphasizing how alone and mysterious she is in not wanting the festival to happen (underlined as well by Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s chilling, ambient sound effects in sync with the fade and the camera stopping); the fade to the beginnings of the fire festival is such that a massive flame seems to overtake her, and this is followed by a showcase of rows of flames against the black screen, conveying the crowds of villagers carrying their torches in the dark night to throw them into the big fire. The torches being thrown is initially conveyed by the flames sliding across the screen, and then we watch as the villagers, lit by the orange glow of the fire, begin dancing around the elegantly-drawn, massive fire, their shadows bouncing along the ground and their silhouetted backs hopping in front of us.

As the fire dies down, the kids undertake a fun custom in which they try to jump over the fire (perhaps based on the Iranian festival of Chaharshanbe Suri); Elisa, however, is afraid, and it is only thanks to Moomin’s assurance that he’ll catch her that, in the episode’s climax, she decides to run towards him and try jumping over the fire in doing so. Rintarō and Kaminashi direct this scene in such a way as to emphasize that she is doing this only out of her love for Moomin: the moment of her decision is conveyed through a close-up lit only by a soft spotlight on her face, emphasized by some of Kashiwabara’s trademark flashing and sparkling sounds, and then we watch as everything else besides Moomin, even the fire separating him from Elisa, literally fades away from Elisa’s point of view. We see Moomin alone drawing ever closer to her as she begins running to him, each further view of his waiting self underlined by Kashiwabara’s abrupt fizzing sounds, and the tears flying from Elisa’s eyes as she says Moomin’s name—and at last, just as she tries to make a loving jump into Moomin’s beckoning arms, the heat of the fire causes her to disappear, in an allusion to the tale of Snegurochka.

And so, after a frantic search for her all over Moominvalley as Elisa’s voice bids Moomin goodbye (emphasized by the vast views of the paths Moomin takes, as well as some shots of background animation in which he runs towards the screen, even tripping and falling at one point only to get up and keep running in his desperation), Moomin at last learns the truth from Pappa: Elisa was a winter child all along, hence her fear of heat, and was bound to leave with the coming of spring. With Elisa gone now, and with all the pain that she went through for Moomin’s sake, Moomin can only be grateful that the two of them played with each other as much and as happily as they could…thus, in only the second episode of this series, Moomin learns about the transience of even the closest friendships.

Hello, Too-Ticky, written by Keisuke Fujikawa and directed by Wataru Mizusawa, is the episode in which Mr. Hemulen decides to pick up the horn, much to the ire of Snork who cannot stand the noise, as well as the episode which introduces the wise and practical girl Too-Ticky, who sabotages Snork’s attempts to trick Mr. Hemulen into exile. It is also the first episode to be animation-directed by Toyoo Ashida, with animation by Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki, and Kazuko Hirose—and what is immediately obvious is how much worse the animation looks here compared to the previous two episodes, with frankly unsightly character drawings and largely stilted movement. Ashida, Ebisawa, and Hirose had just been the main animators on New Moomin‘s low-rent predecessor Andersen Monogatari, and were undoubtedly still shaking off that show’s influence (Suzuki, meanwhile, was actually an Ashita no Joe veteran); in fact, Ashida and Ebisawa, along with Andersen‘s character designer Shūichi Seki, had previously been TCJ staffers like Zuiyō head Shigeto Takahashi. Regardless of whether Zuiyō nepotism (so to speak) was involved as far as their high positions on these proto-WMT Mushi series, though, they would be the animators who most dramatically improved over the course of New Moomin. Already there are glimmers of what this team was truly capable of: the scene of Snork going ballistic after he messes his painting up especially stands out as being ridiculously well-animated compared to just about anything else in this episode.


In any case, it is the show’s top-notch voice cast that carries this charming episode, especially in the scenes with Too-Ticky, whose warm, spirited, bubbly voice acting by Yoshiko Yamamoto, along with her cleverness and her sprightly demeanor, are more than enough to make her a lovable character in spite of her frankly horrendous appearance here. Unfortunately, this is the only time she shows up in the series’ earlier episodes; not until the show’s second cour will she begin to appear much more often.

The general dilapidation of the drawings and animation continues into Ashida’s second episode as animation director, Snufkin Is Back—which, however, was animated by Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Takekatsu Kikuta, just three weeks after Dream, Dream, Dream. Perhaps Kanayama’s team simply wasn’t used to working on this tight three-week turnaround at first, or didn’t work well under Ashida’s design corrections; at any rate, the subpar animation here is all the more unfortunate because, story-wise, this is easily the strongest and loveliest of New Moomin‘s first five episodes. In the first script by Yoshiaki Yoshida—who wrote 13 episodes, or an entire quarter of the series, and was easily the best of the series’ regular writers—Moomin seems to have broken Mr. Hemulen’s horn and begins working hard to pay for a new one, finding himself secretly helped along the way by an unexpected old friend who knows what really happened.


Aside from the humane and philosophical script—characters commenting on each other’s actions in profound ways, making thematically-relevant statements about life, and often being remarkably kind to each other amidst difficult situations are characteristic elements of Yoshida’s writing for New Moomin, and a perfect fit with the world of Moominvalley—what makes this episode a rough gem is the complementarily atmospheric, bucolic direction of Kazunori Tanahashi. The first sequence sets things up well, as we slowly zoom into Moominvalley and Mr. Hemulen playing his horn beneath a tree amidst the hills, with only the sounds of the birds singing and the horn; the slow zooms as Mr. Hemulen struggles with his composition create a curious relaxing feeling, and this is furthered by the slow pan up the tree, where we see flocks of birds singing on the branches. Even more of a highlight is the whole interlude in which Moomin goes cutting firewood for the Police Inspector in the forest: we follow a bird as it swoops down and flies off into the distance amidst the trees and mountains, and this is followed by a lovely multiplane pan through the woods, with only the sounds of birds chirping and Moomin cutting a tree. The lovely backgrounds by Kazuo Miyagawa further convey the serene ambience of the forest that surrounds Moomin as he cuts the wood and obtains tasty fruits from a hitherto-unknown benefactor, and there’s the way we see the bird watching Moomin from a branch as he washes himself from a stream flowing down a cliff; this is the first episode to truly give off a sense of the wonders and beauty of the wilderness and nature that lie just beyond the characters’ homes. For that matter, Snufkin’s return is repeatedly foreshadowed by the appearances of his silhouette amidst the flora at various moments, beginning when Moomin unsuccessfully tries to retrieve Mr. Hemulen’s horn in the river.

Of course, Tanahashi emphasizes the drama where necessary as well. After Mr. Hemulen walks off forlornly with his seemingly broken horn, we see everything but the tearful Moomin himself fade to black, leaving him all alone and emphasizing his remorse and regret. A similar trick is used when Moomin collapses from his hard work: we suddenly cut to the handle of the cart being jerked up, emphasizing the weight of Moomin landing on it, and from there we zoom out on the view of the fainted Moomin on the cart amidst the beautiful sunset forest, whereupon the background fades out, leaving only a dim spotlight on the now-unconscious, ill Moomin as the camera zooms back in.

This at last brings us to the last third of the episode, which begins with various cinematic zooms-in on the horn as we hear the sound of it playing—what seems at first to be a dream, however, turns out to be real, as Moomin can indeed hear it playing, and his rush outside causes such a stir that we get a glimpse of Moominpappa’s book falling from his sleeping self! Thereupon, both Moomin and Mr. Hemulen find themselves outside late at night, and we get further gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape as the mysterious horn-playing resonates all over Moominvalley. Eventually, Moomin leads Mr. Hemulen to a cavern where the horn seems to be coming from, and find the Groke dancing in her icy cavern—celebrating the return of a mysterious fellow. Sure enough, as Moomin and Mr. Hemulen walk back, all of a sudden the horn blares out a familiar theme—Snufkin has returned, and we get cuts back to the various things Moomin has experienced during this episode as he realizes Snufkin was helping him all along, followed by some slow pans through the hilly landscapes as Snufkin’s theme resonates all through Moominvalley!

Thus, Moomin and Mr. Hemulen run back to find the now-functional horn right at Mr. Hemulen’s doorstep, and Moomin, in turn, begins running all over Moominvalley, calling out for Snufkin excitedly from all the hills and cliffs and bridges! Finally, Moomin and Snufkin are reunited by the river, amidst the lovely flowers and trees—and as Snufkin reveals, Mr. Hemulen’s horn was never broken at all, but simply had an egg lodged in it, hence the bird’s repeated presence throughout the episode. In a beautiful moment showcasing the miracle of life, the egg, after all these travails, hatches at last into a baby chick—and so, as Moomin rejoices at both Snufkin’s return and the newborn chick, we end with Snufkin officially marching back into Moominvalley, with Tanahashi cutting back and forth between the cinematic, gallant-looking view of Snufkin’s legs walking forth and the various villagers happy to see him back, as Hiroyuki Nishimoto sings Snufkin’s theme song for the only time in New Moomin.

The last of the five introductory episodes, I’m Not Afraid of Wolves, is the series’ introduction to the dog Sorry-oo, and seems to be the only episode of New Moomin that is actually based on Tove Jansson’s original stories, in this case the section of Moominland Midwinter devoted to Sorry-oo. (Its title in the original Japanese, 狼なんかこわくない, is actually something of an ingenious bilingual pun on the Japanese title of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, ヴァージニア・ウルフなんかこわくない, which translates to I’m Not Afraid of Virginia Woolf.) Unfortunately, it is also the weakest of these initial episodes. As in the original story, Sorry-oo is obsessed with wolves and wishes to join them, only to find out the hard way how bloodthirsty and savage they really are; to this story, screenwriter Ariyoshi Katō adds various elements that impart a grittier, more unpleasant flavor. Moomin and his pals’ initial meeting with the stray Sorry-oo (who, in this series, is unable to speak at all) takes place amidst a wolf infestation in Moominvalley, which the kids try to help out with by constructing a wolf trap by which they can beat the wolves to death; they must then protect Sorry-oo from a nasty hunter (voiced by Kunihiko Kitagawa, now known as Yonehiko Kitagawa) who wishes to shoot him dead for stealing his meat. Later, Moomin accidentally stokes the town’s paranoia by dressing as a wolf in an attempt to teach Sorry-oo how to be braver, but deflects the blame to Sorry-oo by revealing how he howls in imitation of the wolves every night; this, in turn, leads to an extended sequence in which the town at large votes to exile Sorry-oo.


To be sure, director Noboru Ishiguro does provide some interesting visual touches. The scene where Moomin imagines himself being ostracized for stirring up the town’s fear features some striking shots of Moomin all alone in the hot seat, surrounded by a dark mob of angry eyes while the hand of justice condemns him and then locked up in jail as the bars cast their shadows over him, and there are some nice bits of background animation as well, most notably the tense introductory shot of Sorry-oo’s legs tramping along the ground just before he is caught in the kids’ wolf trap. For that matter, Ishiguro’s talent for conveying a sense of atmosphere does come through in several scenes, most notably when Moomin arrives at the town’s meeting area only to find it completely deserted now that they’ve exiled Sorry-oo, with the leaves blowing freely in the wind, as well as the frequent presence of shadows and unique lighting depending on the time of day. Unfortunately, the latter is largely absent during the episode’s climax, in which, as in the original story, Sorry-oo attempts to join the wolves only to find himself surrounded as they grow increasingly hostile; it does not help that Hiromitsu Morita’s designs for the wolves here are much too cartoonish, looking as though they wandered out of some Saturday morning cartoon.

For that matter, this was the first episode to be animated by the show’s fourth team, consisting of Takao Ogawa, Ikuo Fudanoki, and Masakazu Higuchi: Ogawa and Higuchi had both worked on Andersen Monogatari, while Fudanoki appears to have made his key animation debut on Ashita no Joe. Their work here, while serviceable, largely feels tepid and non-committal, as though they were still getting settled into the rhythm of the series; in a nice reversal, though, this team would go on to be responsible for some of New Moomin‘s most fascinating episodes. Higuchi, in particular, was actually a freelance animator, and had already worked on the Mushi episodes of the 1969-70 Moomin series in that capacity; he would quickly distinguish himself as one of the show’s best and most fluid animators. (He had left Mushi Pro in late 1969, as his horrific workloads animating on Dororo and the first Animerama film A Thousand and One Nights over the same period were too much for him to keep staying in-house. During his brief time away from Mushi Pro, he would work on Tōei Dōga’s seminal Tiger Mask under the pseudonym Torabu/Toratake Iribe (入辺虎武 or 入部虎武), which dated back to when he was moonlighting on Tōei’s Rainbow Sentai Robin (where it took the forms 入辺康武 and 八部虎武) while still an employee of Mushi Pro.)

In the original Moominland Midwinter, it was the arrival of the Hemulen that saved Sorry-oo from the wolves. Here, though, it is Moomin who actively seeks out Sorry-oo first, and only afterwards do Mr. Hemulen and others arrive to drive the wolves off; thus, from this point on, Sorry-oo will largely be Moomin’s companion in New Moomin. With the entirety of the series’ main cast now introduced and assembled, it is time for New Moomin to shift to a more episodic, anthological structure, albeit still following a rough seasonal structure in accordance with how the show was airing in real-time.

Episode 6, The Star Child That Came Down, is a special episode in a number of ways. It was the second episode to be well-animated by Mitsuo Shindō, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko; more importantly, it is the first of three stellar episodes directed by the great Toshio Hirata, and the earliest meeting place of the three figures who would most define Madhouse in the 1980s (Rintarō, Hirata, and Kawajiri). At this time, Hirata appears to have still been part of Hiroshi Saitō’s studio Jaggard, where he spent years mainly working on commercials while doing storyboards for other studios’ shows on the side (he is notably credited under the pseudonym Motoo Honda (本田元男), coined by Ashita no Joe production leader Masao Maruyama, on his later episodes of Joe that weren’t animated at Jaggard and his episodes of Tezuka’s Marvelous Melmo)—this commercial work was a valuable experience that would inform the visual experimentation of his later films. In that regard, Hirata’s New Moomin episodes are perhaps his earliest directorial efforts to be distinctly recognizable as his own vision: no doubt thanks to the encouragement of his friend and chief director Rintarō, his budding talent for stunning, beautiful visual storytelling shines here like in no other TV series. For this episode, in particular, Hirata’s penchant for lyricism perfectly expresses the rich celestial beauty that one would expect from such wondrous, cosmic happenings as a little shooting star falling to the Earth, crying pearl-like tears, and finally returning to its home in the cosmos by way of a radiant aurora-like rainbow.


In another story by Ariyoshi Katō, Moomin is shown a book about shooting stars by Sorry-oo, and, having already wanted to learn how to play a watergrass flute, decides he’ll wish for a golden flute; his insistent stargazing is such that he stays up late, and the next night even opts to miss Nonnon and Snork’s musical performance so he can go out and search for shooting stars. Hirata’s love for poetic, artistic illustrated interludes already comes through in the gorgeous illustration of the shooting stars seen when Moomin reads from the book, and Moomin’s initial encounter with the shooting star on the second night is conveyed through a mix of Hirata’s visually-stunning and comedic sides: just as Moomin is about to drink a cup of coffee to keep himself awake, he suddenly sees the reflection of a bright star shining in his coffee, and looks up to find a shooting star is indeed descending—but in his surprise, he accidentally tosses the cup such that the hot liquid spills on the sleeping Sorry-oo, who panics and attempts to run off, the rope tying them together ultimately causing Moomin to be left dangling from the branch and Sorry-oo to be even more tied up!

Hirata’s beauteous side takes over as Moomin discovers that the shooting star has landed: something is glowing vividly and sparkling profusely behind the bushes. As Moomin tiptoes over and peers into the bushes, a color-changing glow illuminates him—sure enough, there lies a flashing orb of light amidst the lovely leaves and flowers, the zooms-in on the orb and Moomin’s eyes emphasizing the awe that Moomin must be feeling, and from there Moomin picks the glowing orb up (its radiance such that sparkles emanate far beyond its own self), whereby it reveals itself to be a trembling, frightened little star child! As Moomin stares with amazement, lit by the scintillating glow of the star child, we get a reprise of the earlier illustration, its beauty further underlined by the delicate, celestial-sounding Seiichirō Uno music track heard here; as in Snufkin Is Back, Kazuo Miyagawa deserves special mention for his beautiful background art throughout this episode. (Sadly, these two episodes would be his only contributions to New Moomin.)

Later, while My alerts the other townsfolk as to Moomin’s discovery (I like how she runs towards the screen as she arrives at Snork’s mansion screaming about the situation, and then pops from place to place in her excitement), Moomin tries to make a home for the star child, who looks out towards the sky in sad longing for its home—and, in another marvelous revelation, begins crying tears that take the form of bright, glowing, sparkly beads! At first, Moomin believes the beads are coming from the stars above, and takes the star child to get a better look at the sky, but this causes it to cry even more profusely—in shots both sad and beautiful, we see the pearlish tears bouncing down the dark stairs and all over a blank screen, creating a field of pearls around Sorry-oo. By the time the others arrive, the accumulated beads form an impressively sparkling, heavenly, glowing paradise, with shades of blue, yellow, and purple light furthering the attraction of it all as beads continue to rain down the stairs from the scintillating star child’s eyes; Moomin and his friends, in turn, begin using the star tears for their own purposes, with Moomin in particular continuing to prance all through the night over all the stars now hung in his room (Hirata even shows his silhouette continuing to prance past the window as he zooms out on the Moominhouse for the night, in a cinematic and rather lyrical concluding shot). Of course, special kudos must go to cameraman Hiroshi Isagawa, for the extensive lighting and sparkling effects these scenes clearly required.

The next day, Moomin’s friends come to him angrily: their beads have disappeared, and they suspect Moomin has taken them back. As it turns out, though, the star tears only last for one night: in a flashback, we see that, as Moomin was feeding the star child with dew at daybreak (the close-up of Moomin collecting the dew from the leaves is a lovely early example of Hirata’s attention to the small things in life, aided by how painstakingly the dripping dew is animated), one-by-one the sparkling beads in the shed disappeared. Thus, the kids decide to wait for the night, when, looking up at the twinkling stars high above, the star child begins crying its beautiful tears once again; in their cruel innocence and delight, the children are oblivious to the suffering of the star child and how they callously exploit it to gain their sparkling, glowing crowns and necklaces. Just then, however, an ominous presence casts his shadow upon the brightly-lit shed—Snufkin, the gleams of moonlight on the edges of his dark silhouette making him appear all the more foreboding. While acknowledging the star tears’ beauty, he refuses to take any for himself, and warns Moomin and the others to treasure them as he and his long, frightful shadow of outside judgement depart from the sparkling shed. While My and the others dismiss Snufkin’s elusive warning as mere jealousy, Moomin is clearly troubled from this point on…

And so Hirata suddenly plunges us into a stark nightmare sequence, depicted entirely in minimalistic monochrome save the characters themselves: Moomin suddenly arrives home (shown as him barging a door-like entrance open from within a blank screen, accompanied by a much more frightful sound effect than a standard door-opening sound) and finds Mamma crying so profusely that her tears have formed an upsetting puddle on the table, from there learning that Pappa has drowned! The use of Dutch angles for these initial shots already gives off a sense that something is horribly wrong—but this is nothing compared to the impressive shots of Moomin running along the beach and breaking down in tears as he beholds Pappa’s top hat and the capsized boat, with sketches of intricately-animated waves crashing and shimmering over the white screen. It is then that Snufkin comes in with a blank, cold look on his face, the wind blowing dramatically as we hear his voice wondering how Moomin could still be crying when he plays with the star child’s tears and pains; the severe close-ups of Snufkin and his lack of mouth movement work to underline his condemnatory lack of empathy for Moomin’s misery, in the face of Moomin’s own cruelty. With that, he begins to walk far off into the distance as Moomin runs after him and begs him to wait, his desperation magnified by the way he trips and falls and causes water to splash profusely into the air—and this jolts Moomin awake in time to see the star tears begin disappearing from his room once again, with the repeated cuts back-and-forth between the views of the incrementally-disappearing tears and the increasingly close zoom-in on Moomin emphasizing his gradual realization of just how delicate and pitiful these tears really are.

Realizing how cruel he and the others have been, Moomin wishes to return the star child to the sky. That night, Pappa convenes a council to try finding out how to do so—but as it turns out, time is of the essence, as Sorry-oo alerts them to how the star child is now dying, its color fluctuating between its bright pink and a fatal dark blue as it begins breathing its last pained breaths! At this point, though, Hirata decides to interrupt the tension momentarily with an early showcase of his comedic side, as we get some bizarre, fun gags depicting the characters’ futile initial attempts to return the star child to the sky; the Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas team’s animation especially shines here, as they get the opportunity for some exuberant pratfalls. First, the entire town collaborates on a massive, long ladder to the sky, and try to set it up—only for it to collapse under its own weight and onto the townsfolk, complete with an impressive first-person shot of all the pieces falling from the sky and a view of the aftermath with everyone cartoonishly injured and bandaged! Next, My and Sniff blow up a hot-air balloon, with My being especially lively as she urges Sniff to keep blowing air—but then My releases the massive balloon from the pump right as she’s holding onto it, causing her to go flying all over the sky and left hanging from a tree as Sniff panics! Finally, Snork has built an entire massive rocket, and forces the resistant Sorry-oo into it to test it out—sure enough, the rocket simply explodes upon Snork’s attempt to launch it, leaving him and Sorry-oo quite charred and worse for the wear on the tree.

As Moomin looks at the dying star child, he realizes that maybe the picture book that started all this has something about returning it. However, the real solution comes right as he is falling from the unwieldy stack of books he has set up in an attempt to retrieve it—Hirata gives us a rapid-fire flashback to the night the shooting star fell as Moomin realizes he hasn’t actually made a wish on the star yet, complete with a brilliant cut from the scene of Moomin falling from the tree to him slamming into the ground in the present-day! He runs down to tell Pappa and Mamma of his rediscovery (I love how Mamma is taking care of Pappa’s injuries from the previous sequence)—and as the climax approaches, Hirata gives us grand views of Moomin looking out at a single shining star in the sunrise sky with the star child in his hands, perched on a high cliff with the other townsfolk behind him at a distance so he can handle this matter alone. As he meditates, the dying star child quivering terribly, Moomin wishes to return the star child to the sky—and at that moment, as heralded by a shot of the townsfolk with a blurry glare effect conveying its bright glow, an incredible, sparkling rainbow begins to trickle through the vast sky and down to Moomin, striking everyone present with awe. The aforementioned glare continues to be present as Moomin hands the star child over to the sparkling rainbow, which allows the star child to at last rise back up to the sky as Moomin and the others bid it goodbye; to conclude this spectacular display, the rainbow’s rays grow ever more colorful and sparkly as the child rises further away. With that, the rainbow recedes—and there is a certain bittersweet element of selflessness to the departure, as Pappa reminds Moomin that what he had really hoped to wish for was a golden flute…while Snufkin looks on.

That night, Moomin, disappointed at his watergrass flute as he looks out at the starry sky, is about to throw it away—there’s a nice bit of character acting as he takes a quick peek at the flute after casually raising it up in preparation to throw it out, as a way of ensuring that he really wants it gone, and only afterwards raises it up even further with more determination. But he is interrupted by the sound of Snufkin pensively playing his guitar below, with Hirata conveying Moomin’s point-of-view in the diagonal shot looking down on Snufkin; Snufkin takes a fond look at Moomin as a sign that he knows what’s he doing, and sure enough, as Snufkin’s playing continues, Moomin realizes that it doesn’t matter what kind of instrument he has—the music is what matters most. Once again, Hirata conveys Moomin’s gradual realization through a slow trucking-in on the lonesome Snufkin, which soon cuts right to an effective zoom-in on Snufkin’s actual strumming hand; at last, we get an even more direct view of Snufkin looking fondly at Moomin as Moomin confidently states that his grass flute is good enough, and with that, we zoom out for the last time on the Moominhouse, bringing this early Hirata classic to a beautiful close.


Cover page of Ariyoshi Katō’s original script for episode 6, revealing it had the working title of “Gazing at the Stars”, along with an excerpt from the script itself. The excerpt is from early on, when Moomin’s parents are discussing his new hobby of star-gazing, just before Nonnon comes by to invite him to the recital.

Alas, this great episode would be followed by With White Horse and Full Moon, easily the worst of New Moomin‘s early episodes. This is the first episode to be directed by Masayuki Hayashi, one of Rintarō’s younger brothers; like Toshio Hirata, he had been working for Jaggard in the preceding years (even animating on the Tokyo Movie episodes of the 1969 Moomin series from there!), but he had already carved some time out to direct a few episodes for his older brother’s previous shows, like the Mushi Pro episodes of Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales and the 1970 Moomin episodes. The failure of this episode cannot be blamed on him, as he clearly did the best he could to create a tense atmosphere with some frightful cinematic flourishes, right from the very beginning of the episode when the clouds disperse to reveal the full moon, against which the titular white horse leaps across the screen in slow-motion, to say nothing of the one intense scene where the horse approaches the Police Inspector amidst the darkness (conveyed by a pitch-black screen) and leaps over him, his shock conveyed by how his lantern suddenly drops to the ground and shatters. The same can be said for animators Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki, and Kazuko Hirose, whose work has already improved considerably from Hello, Too-Ticky; the animation of the horse is especially impressive in its intricacy and fluidity.


What kills the episode, rather, is its rotten core: a poorly-written, needlessly mean-spirited attempt at a “life is unfair” story by Junji Tashiro, in what would sadly only be the first such episode to besmirch New Moomin‘s 52-episode run. Basically, Moominvalley finds itself in an uproar over the white horse, which (per a dumb superstition) is supposedly responsible for the recent senseless slew of bad luck, and a lynch mob led by the gun-toting Snork arrives and seemingly shoots it dead off a cliff. In a terribly out-of-character mood, all the kids except the compassionate Moomin are happy about the horse’s apparent death, with Moomin in turn getting extremely angry when My insults him by splashing water at him, and then Moomin discovers that the horse is still barely alive but injured and begins secretly taking care of it. In the meantime, everyone starts to suspect that the horse is still alive and causing more bad luck, especially after finding that its purported corpse is gone—giving Moomin the opportunity for a prank in which he dresses as a ghostly rider when the Police Inspector tries to search the horse out—and Moomin gets so fed up with Nonnon after she keeps insisting that the horse is demon-possessed (such that for it to be killed can’t be helped!?) that he snatches her bouquet and throws it into the river in rage! Eventually, Moomin is found out, and Pappa is about to kill the horse himself for the sake of Moominvalley’s peace even as Moomin begs him to save it—except the horse is now dead, with Moomin screaming in his despair that he himself killed it. The episode then tries to end abruptly on a note that Moomin should just be glad that the horse was loved while it was still alive (this is said by Pappa—who was just about to kill the horse!), and Moomin claims he can see the horse’s spirit riding to heaven—the end. Thankfully, this is Junji Tashiro’s last script for quite a while; perhaps Rintarō or Hiroyuki Hoshiyama realized that his poorly-scripted drama, to say nothing of how truly unpleasant the characters became in his hands, were a terrible fit with what they were trying to do in this series, and accordingly kept him away for as long as they could, only bringing him back when the series’ production as a whole began to decline.


Cover page of Junji Tashiro’s original script for episode 7, revealing it was supposed to have been episode 8, along with an excerpt from the script itself. The excerpt is from the climax, beginning when Pappa comes out and reveals that the horse is already dead, followed by Moomin running in and agonizing as he declares the horse’s death was his own fault; there is also a bit of the scene afterwards as Moomin and Pappa emerge from the cave.

This at last brings us to the intriguing misfire that is The Marvelous Spoon, the first appearance of the little furball Stinky (voiced by Chikao Ōtsuka), and the first of a number of episodes to be written by Yoshiaki Yoshida, directed by Mitsuo Kaminashi, and animated by Akihiro Kanayama’s team—essentially, a dream team of the series’ top main staffers, reserved for what were no doubt intended to be the “important” episodes of the series. For his second script, it seems that Yoshida sought to push the didactic element even further, giving us a story in which Moomin is too picky an eater to the point of rejecting Mamma’s food; yet simultaneously, he also tried to be overly esoteric, philosophical, and just plain weird about it, as Moomin becomes curious about starvation, to say nothing of the bizarre food-conjuring giant spoon that Pappa pulls out from the closet, or Moomin’s nightmare in which the spoon chases, smacks, and force-feeds him, or the numerous extended dialogue scenes in which the characters do little more than discuss their views (for instance, Pappa’s rant on the importance of heirlooms after he finds out Moomin has given the spoon away to the hungry Stinky), or the whole climax in which the spoon turns against Stinky with a slew of rocks and Snufkin wrestles it down (and, as Snufkin suggests, the spoon went berserk because it sensed Stinky’s laziness and gluttony?).


Still, the episode does have a rather lovely feeling to it, largely thanks to Kaminashi’s atmospheric, detail-oriented direction and the bits of pleasant interaction that Yoshida manages to get in even so. For instance, when Moominmamma initially lectures Moomin about wastefulness, we see Moomin shuffling his legs with a certain irritation; then, during Snufkin and Moomin’s first conversation about starvation, there’s a shot of ants going up the tree behind Moomin, with one ant going against the tide and carrying a crumb, and when Snufkin reappears later, the introductory zoom-in is such that the flowers seemingly move out of the way to reveal him as he plays his guitar in the dark night. Additionally, in the better moments of dialogue, Yoshida does manage to convey a certain sense of community and warmth and politeness amongst Moominvalley’s inhabitants, like how Moomin’s parents try to comfort the Police Inspector when he feels bad about the crime of someone apparently stealing the precious spoon, or Pappa’s attempts to ask around for Stinky, or Mamma and Mymble laughing after Pappa finds out bemusedly that Mamma has gone searching as well.

In its better moments, you can feel the makings of a great episode struggling to coalesce and break through, but never quite making it there due to Yoshida’s uncharacteristically uneven script. This is the first episode to truly explore Moominvalley’s environs, all the way to the Lonely Mountain, and Kaminashi certainly excels at bringing out the unique characters of the settings, especially with Tomie Inaba’s fine backgrounds: as Moomin calls out for Stinky and treads narrow cliffs, we see the mountain birds flying past, and Pappa and Mamma manage to share a nice walk together in the sunset as they inadvertently head towards the Lonely Mountain, where Moomin, now starving, nevertheless treads on through the grand vistas of snow and rocks in search of Stinky as strange flashes of light emanate from the spoon at the top. For that matter, while Akihiro Kanayama’s team still turns in rather rough character animation here, Kanayama’s effects animation is back to the level of Dream, Dream, Dream; he simply excels at animating the swirling gusts that blow across the Lonely Mountain, to say nothing of the brilliant smoke and water released as Stinky uses the spoon to conjure up food and fish, or the snow as Moomin slips and slides down the mountain and gets buried. And of course, I cannot go without mentioning the final sequence, in which Pappa and Snufkin take a ponderous walk together by the river in the night, and Snufkin expounds wisely on how the world is better for everyone having different tastes; even if it is rather out-of-place in an episode about Moomin learning to overcome his pickiness, it is surely one of the more memorable Snufkin monologues in the series. (I should add, before we go on, that all of Stinky’s speaking appearances in this series would be in episodes written by Yoshiaki Yoshida; clearly he was the only writer who could deal with Stinky’s unique personality and dialect in this series, having already established them in episode 31 of the 1969-70 Moomin series.)

Episodes 9 to 18: The Golden Age of New Moomin

In the first eight episodes of New Moomin, Rintarō and his team had plenty of time to get reacquainted with Tove Jansson’s world and iron out various problems. The animators got settled into the kind of limited but well-acted character animation that the series required, with some animators showing more dramatic improvement than others, and continued to get better as the weeks passed; overt mean-spiritedness and didacticism in the writing were found to be unsuitable for the series, and largely phased out; and atmospheric, often cinematically-intriguing direction that enlivened the stories, whether they were purely slice-of-life or dealt with more fantastical subjects, became the standard that all episodes were expected to live up to. Now, in addition to Yoshiaki Yoshida becoming much more prolific as a writer for the series—no doubt his ability to convey a certain humanity in the characters was well-recognized, and it has been said that he was a gentle soul—there came similarly fascinating, often thoughtful scripts from a few great writers who had not worked on the series’ earlier episodes. In all, it can be said that New Moomin quickly achieved a remarkably consistent level of quality, as Mushi Pro began producing an uninterrupted streak of memorable classics, culminating in the outstanding episodes 15 to 18; and thanks to the unique writer, director, and animator combinations, each episode during this period has its own peculiar characteristics to recommend it. This is the period I refer to as the Golden Age of New Moomin, a time when it seemed all was well with New Moomin‘s production, and the series, with its many solidly-crafted and interesting works, seemed destined to go down as a classic.

Unsurprisingly, the Golden Age kicks off with episode 9, Gramps is a Magician?, the second episode animated by the Takao Ogawa-Ikuo Fudanoki-Masakazu Higuchi team, and the first episode to be written by the great Isao Okishima, who (in collaboration with Kunio Kurita) had contributed so significantly to the 1970 Moomin episodes with what Rintarō considered his unique perspective on familial relationships. Unlike the previous Moomin series, Okishima was now credited by his real name—a daring and risky move, considering Okishima was still working on pink films for Kōji Wakamatsu, and indeed, this episode aired on 5 March 1972, less than a week before the release of Wakamatsu’s Ecstasy of the Angels, on which Okishima is credited as the assistant director. The credited episode director is one Nobuo Kosugi, an obscure figure whose only other known credits are two episodes of New Moomin‘s predecessor Andersen Monogatari; given Okishima’s later episodes, it would seem that the careful, pensive direction of this episode is largely Okishima’s influence. Here, Okishima uses the character of Frederickson (voiced by Ryūji Saikachi), renamed Hodgkins in most English translations of the Moomin books, as an opportunity to poignantly explore relationships with family friends and the nature of childhood fantasies, and how easily children can idealize strangers who don’t actually live up to their fantasies.


Right from the start, we get a quiet, measured series of views and pans through Moominvalley at twilight, as a mysterious fellow trudges his way through the dark, desolate, windblown hills, with a smattering of trees here and there; throughout this time, we hear only the howling of the wind, as well as the man’s footsteps and his occasional pants and grunts, conveying his rugged solitude amidst the eerie, precarious foothills at dusk. In the meantime, it seems to be a fairly typical, comfortable night at the Moominhouse: the fireplace is crackling, Moomin is focused on reading his book (to the point of not even noticing that the window is open and letting the wind in), and Pappa is sleeping in his rocking chair, all to Mamma’s discontent. Thanks to his book, Moomin begins dreaming of foreign travel, and he imagines his departure on a ship in a rather avant-garde manner, with cuts between picture-book-like illustrations in which Moomin and his parents stand out amidst the anonymous, painted people.

This wanderlust gives way to the mysterious fellow’s sudden arrival at the Moominhouse. As Mamma opens the door, the wind blows an unusual feather over to Moomin; in the meantime, the fellow turns out to be Pappa’s old friend Frederickson, whose mere name jolts Pappa awake. As Frederickson is warmly invited into the house, Moomin is intrigued, looking at the feather as he wonders who this man is; soon, Frederickson is sipping tea at the family table as he and Pappa reminisce on their old days adventuring across the world, perfectly harmonizing with Moomin’s present interest in traveling. Pappa then reveals that, while he himself has settled down, Frederickson is still traveling for work to this day, further stoking Moomin’s interest in him and what he could be carrying in his bag; sure enough, just as Frederickson reveals a surprise gift of foreign chocolate for Moomin—doves suddenly fly away outside! Now it is clear where the mysterious feather came from, and Moomin is amazed at both the unusual doves and the flag-carrying chocolate.

That night, Moomin lies awake in bed, still fascinated by the chocolate and by Frederickson as he begins wondering what kind of job Frederickson has; I love how Frederickson is so plainly shown snoring, underlining the flawed, imperfect human he proves to be in spite of Moomin’s idealization of him. Eventually, after some pondering of his strange outfit, Moomin concludes that Frederickson must be a traveling magician: thus, we get a dream sequence of strings of flags waving as Frederickson’s gloved hand, in a striking shot where it is the only thing visible against the blank screen, commands the doves to fly off, and then Frederickson performing magic tricks with doves and flags on a darkly-lit stage, perfectly depicting the idealism with which Moomin now sees Frederickson. Incidentally, I suspect this scene was animated by Masakazu Higuchi; there’s a certain fluidity and pliability here, especially in the shot of the flags waving, that would distinguish much of his later work.

The next morning, as the sun shines down on him, Moomin awakens and finds that Frederickson has already woken up. Going to the restroom, he discovers Frederickson sharpening his razor in preparation for shaving his beard (the close-up of the razor-sharpening is animated on ones, emphasizing how phenomenal it must be for Moomin)—this further confirms, in Moomin’s mind, that he is a magician. Frederickson, for his part, does nothing to dispel Moomin’s illusions and explanations for his conclusions, and even goes along with the magician act amusedly—a mistake he will come to regret later.

As all children who want to show off fascinating loved ones do, Moomin decides to tell his friends about Frederickson, his travels, and how he is supposedly a magician, leading them all back to the Moominhouse to find that Moominpappa and Frederickson are sitting quietly at a table outside. My is especially earnest in her hushed excitement over what Frederickson might be up to, and the kids tiptoe over to get a closer look, only for Frederickson to take notice, intimidating them in precisely the way a great, formidable stranger would intimidate children; with Pappa and Moomin’s encouragement, Nonnon, My, and Sniff all introduce themselves to Frederickson in their own unique ways, with Nonnon being rather reserved and dainty, My being more outgoing and also haughty, and Sniff being especially shy and rather afraid to be in Frederickson’s presence without someone else like My being there to reassure him. Frederickson once again displays a certain showmanship as he tosses some more foreign chocolates to the kids, and he casually and rather dismissively assures them that he will perform a magic trick at the stump tomorrow—only realizing what he has done when Moominpappa begins questioning him about it all.

Moomin bids his friends goodbye with the anticipation that they’ll see magic and get more candies tomorrow, and lets the chocolate’s flags wave in the air carefreely as he runs home—only to find Frederickson is troubled about how he is supposed to perform any magic tricks. He listens in as Moominpappa lectures how Frederickson should have told the truth upfront, genuinely shocked at the revelation that Frederickson isn’t a magician: “When children meet someone new for the first time, their imaginations run wild.” And then comes the most devastating blow for Moomin: as Frederickson admits he merely goes around selling candy, his large bag opens up, making clear that he carries nothing more than candy. Thereupon, Moomin’s string of flags falls pathetically to the ground, his naïve and idealized view of Frederickson and his travels all but shattered, and he walks away forlornly as, right on cue, the cold and desolating winds begin to pick back up.

As Frederickson goes to shut the door, he finds that he has accidentally stepped on the flags; looking out, he sees, much to his dismay, the downcast Moomin at the bridge. In a last effort to try bonding with him, Frederickson calls out to him and waves—but Moomin, completely disillusioned, simply shakes his head “no” and leaves, as Frederickson looks on unhappily. As the sun sets, Moomin is all alone out in the forest, overcome with sadness and in no mood to have fun, his desolation well-expressed by the pans through the vast, deserted landscape surrounding the forest and down the large tree where he is standing, the forest ground largely barren and rays of sunlight barely peeking through the many other trees that dwarf him, magnifying his loneliness. Though he makes sure to return home before it gets dark, that night Moomin is too depressed to finish his dinner, and retires to his bedroom; Mamma wonders if he may be sick, but Pappa looks at the remorseful Frederickson, knowing full well that he is to blame.

Frederickson realizes how much he has hurt Moomin. As he enters the bedroom quietly, the moonlight shining through the window gives him a clear view of the sleeping, teary-eyed Moomin; tenderly, he tucks Moomin in, taking one last long look at him with such love and affection as he does so, and leaves a final letter on his bed before departing for good, the moonlight barely illuminating him as he takes his belongings and goes away. The next morning, Moomin wakes up to find the letter, in which Frederickson apologizes for leaving so suddenly, but exhorts Moomin to come to the stump for a special gift nevertheless—so Moomin does just that, tearing up and clenching the letter in his hand as he rushes over, and—in a way of bringing this episode full circle—finds that Frederickson has crafted him and his friends a set of wondrous, sparkling boats, including a large traveling boat just for Moomin!

For a while, Moomin and his friends have a grand time racing their boats in the river. But as Moomin keeps running along, he begins to realize—staring at his boat as it sails along—that these were Frederickson’s farewell gifts, and the excited shouts of his friends recede into distant echoes as he stops and takes in the emotional weight of the situation. Soon, as twilight falls, Moomin runs to a cliff overlooking the way out of Moominvalley: he has realized that Frederickson’s love for him, to where he would craft these boats, is in itself magical. Thus, he calls out to Frederickson and thanks him, hoping in vain that perhaps he will hear his echo, even as he trudges ever further away on his journey. Sometimes, we can never fully appreciate what our loved ones have done for us—even with the pain, suffering, and disappointment they may put us through—until after they’re gone; in the end, we can only learn to cherish the Fredericksons in our lives for who they really are, even if they ultimately fail to live up to our idealistic childhood expectations of them.

Episode 10, The Police Inspector Goes Away, directed by Wataru Mizusawa, marks writer Yoshiaki Yoshida’s return to more lovely, grounded slice-of-life material. Here, we get a thoughtful and touching story in which the Police Inspector feels unnecessary in the peaceful Moominvalley, and considers leaving for a place out there that truly needs people like him. His opening soliloquy expresses his state of mind well, as he wonders if he is simply growing old without doing anything of note; for the time being, though, he must spend his day making the rounds and seeing if maybe, just maybe, an incident will arise where he is needed.


By this time, the Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas animation team has reached its peak as far as creating convincing, physical movement and at times surprisingly intricate character acting. Right from the start, when the Police Inspector opens the window and yawns, whoever animated this scene paid special attention to having the Inspector’s arms sort of flap as the sudden urge to yawn overcomes him, leading to the way he exerts his whole body in stretching and yawning. For that matter, there are the humorous reactions as the Police Inspector seeks out possible incidents only to be rebuffed, like the way he rolls his eyes in confusion while waving his hand apologetically as he settles down after Nonnon assures him that a mole isn’t worthy of his attention, or Mamma wiping her handbag with her apron in embarrassment after finding out that she simply misplaced the handbag, or how My, upon being stopped in mid-air as Sniff notices the Inspector watching their jump-roping, quickly becomes standoffish, backing herself firmly onto the ground and trembling with rage as she nearly gives Sniff a beating.

Director Wataru Mizusawa, too, has improved from Hello, Too-Ticky at creating a sense of place and atmosphere, with some more ambitious cinematic touches. As the lonesome Police Inspector, having concluded from the day’s events that there really is no reason for him to be here, begins to leave Moominvalley for good, we get an impressive shot of his legs walking along the ground towards the wider horizons out there as the setting sun shines down on him, in the midst of which he concludes that there is no reason for him to rush and decides to stay back for the night. Later, as the Police Inspector gives a solemn farewell toast to Moominvalley (with the forebodingly high alcohol content of his drink causing him to sneeze at first), Mizusawa perfectly conveys the dramatic finality of his toast as he begins zooming out on the Police Inspector, and in doing so cuts further and further away to wider, more expansive shots of the hill on which the Inspector’s station is perched while his farewells reverberate all through the area. In the meantime, Moomin and his friends, having found out from the friendly neighborhood stalker Stinky about the Police Inspector’s woes, finalize their plan to fake a major incident that will make the Inspector feel useful again, and Mizusawa gives us a beautiful shot of the vast, dark twilight forest as their silhouettes assure each other and depart, making clear that night is falling.

That night, the Police Inspector hits new lows, as his attempted farewell toast to Moominvalley devolves into him trying to drink his sorrows away while trying to blurt out the series’ theme song—which takes on a whole new pathetic meaning here, expressing his desire to be needed. So far gone is he that he falls out the window as he tries to have yet another drink, and from there, as he stands himself back up on a tree, Mizusawa takes us strikingly into the Inspector’s point of view: we see images of Moominvalley’s kind folks floating past us, the Inspector remembering them one last time as he plans to leave, and as he tears up and is so overcome with emotion that his eyes narrow in pain, he succumbs to his drunkenness—multiple images of the moon swirl around before him, and the next thing he knows, as his vision is overtaken by a sort of swirling wormhole, he is lying on the ground, surrounded by Moominvalley’s folks looking down at him, his sight still blurring as he regains his consciousness.

Right then and there, as Snork calls him out for his drunkenness, the Police Inspector is plunged into what seems to be a huge incident: an ominous noise is overtaking the valley, and Moomin, Nonnon, Sniff, and My are missing. At last, the Inspector has an opportunity to do something big, and fulfills his job diligently: he ventures into the dark forest to figure out the noise, zipping deftly between the trees to prevent himself from being seen as he draws nearer, and finds the kids and Stinky are banging loudly on garbage, claiming that it’s their “concert”! The kids, for their part, play the roles of rambunctious delinquents quite beautifully thanks to Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas’s animation: just look at the way Moomin prances along playfully and bangs on his bucket one last time as he and the others begin to run off, and how My twirls around at one point as they’re running! Ultimately, they are cornered at the edge of a cliff—and meanwhile, at the police station, we get another beautifully animated moment as Snork’s excessive worrying quickly devolves into an aggressive, zippy, flailing argument with Mr. Hemulen about the lousiness of the latter’s horn!

Yoshida shows the great concern and love with which Moomin’s parents, Snork, and Mymble initially greet the return of the children, which quickly turns to disbelief and anger once the Police Inspector reveals that they were the cause of the awful din; before they leave for the night, however, Moomin exhorts the other children to secrecy on their true motive, namely the desire to keep the Police Inspector happy, no matter what punishments they will get as a result. Thus, Yoshida begins to introduce some social commentary on how difficult it can be for adults to understand children, and vice versa: the next day, while the Police Inspector releases the orphaned Sniff and Stinky from custody with a nice little meal (clearly pleased with how their mischief has given him something to do), Moomin is grounded in the basement, Nonnon is endlessly scolded by Snork (who, true to his high-class, venerable status, is also deeply concerned for the honor of his family), and My is outright made to hold buckets of water in her hands and on her head. In her hotheadedness against Mymble, My ends up accidentally revealing their motive—and dousing herself in water as she realizes what she’s done and tries to shut her mouth again!

All the adults are touched by the truth. However, Snork, in a misguided attempt to clear up the misunderstanding, runs off to the Police Inspector to explain the situation and the children’s good intentions—and winds up outraging the Police Inspector, who had just been planning to stay for good, into wanting to leave even more passionately than before! We see Snork sincerely flustered at the Inspector’s anger, and Moominpappa tries to explain as well; in the end, though, after the Police Inspector declares his desire to go to a place that truly needs him, it is Pappa and Mr. Hemulen who find themselves plunged into existential crises of their own, wondering if what they have done will be of any use in Moominvalley. Thus, just as Moomin tries talking to Snufkin about the dilemma, Mamma runs down to them in tears, the drama well-conveyed by the Dutch angle of her running along the animated ground—Pappa and Mr. Hemulen are running away as well!

After looking back with no regrets, Pappa and Mr. Hemulen pass by the incredulous Police Inspector, making it clear to him that they’ve come around to his point of view. Soon, Moomin and Snufkin catch up to the Inspector and beg him to stop the other two; at first, the Inspector is so unwilling to do anything that he even swipes his elbow away when Moomin tries grabbing it. But Snufkin, at this impasse, delivers a grand reminder to the Inspector of what a police officer should truly be—listening to the requests of villagers in trouble is a valuable enough reason for living! This causes the relentlessly trudging Police Inspector to stop—and, after a long silence in which he no doubt realizes the true meaning of his profession, he drops his bag and rushes after Pappa and Mr. Hemulen in a panic, sprinting with all his might to catch up to them after how far they’ve gone, as emphasized by the repeated cutting between him running and the other two walking along! (Incidentally, the drum-solo music track here goes back to the very first episode of the 1969 Moomin series, and was recycled in Andersen Monogatari and Rocky Chuck as well.) Immediately, he dispels their illusions and chews them out powerfully for their own wrong-headed departures—surely Mr. Hemulen has so much more to accomplish in his pleasant hobbies of butterfly-catching and composing, and that’s to say nothing of how Moominpappa is abandoning his own child, in spite of how Moomin has proven to be so kind-hearted as to fake an incident just to keep the Police Inspector here! As Pappa and Mr. Hemulen realize the errors of their ways, the Police Inspector at last speaks about how wonderful he himself felt at the time of the fake incident, with Mizusawa trucking in on his quivering fists to emphasize the emotion and determination that has overtaken him—and he declares loudly, as strengthened by the close-up of his sweating, teary-eyed face, that he will never leave Moominvalley no matter what happens!

So, all’s well that ends well as the three return to the village, much to everyone’s jubilation and tearful joy (I really like the very fluid animation of Moomin running towards us on the bridge and prancing triumphantly). Of course, the kids are all the more confused about the grown-ups’ behavior, especially now that, as shown by a photographic montage, Mr. Hemulen, Pappa, and the Police Inspector are devoting themselves to their roles with a renewed fervor, clearly happy just the way they are—and Snufkin’s assurances that they’ll understand when they grow up, and that it’s only natural for the adults to be that way, do nothing to dispel their bewilderment and frustration. In the end, as Snufkin puts it, adults can be more like children than children—at times to the point of forgetting how blessed they really are.

More irreverent, meanwhile, is the oddball episode 11, Moominvalley Is Full of Holes, the first of only two episodes written by the great Yoshitake Suzuki. I have discussed Suzuki in my article on The 11 Cats, of which he was the screenwriter, and he comes up with a simple but smart story that is rather bonkers from the start, as Moominvalley wakes up to find that, overnight, someone has dug a massive, gaping hole—and, even more ludicrously, it turns out that it was dug up by Little My, as a result of a petty argument with the Muskrat over whether or not holes are useless! Suzuki has a lot of fun coming up with quirky dialogue and character interactions from the early going as well, like the Police Inspector’s remark that “just as this hole is deep, the root of this incident may also be deep”, or the entire argument between My and the Muskrat, or the way Snork tries to talk some sense into My regarding the giant hole’s uselessness (“Can this hole bake you a cake, eh!? Can it read you a book? Prepare you a meal?”). Things get even weirder when a little creature named Diggyouty (his Japanese name is Horutoderu, literally “horu to deru” (掘ると出る), meaning “it comes out with digging”), voiced by Keiko Yamamoto, emerges from within the hole and climbs out, politely thanking everyone for what he sees as a “present” that has allowed him to come to the surface for the first time.


The episode director is one Hiroshi Minamikawa, whose only other known credits are a handful of episodes of earlier Mushi Pro series like Princess Knight and Dororo, and his direction is filled with unusual compositions and angles and interesting visual quirks, making it unfortunate that this would be his only episode for New Moomin (and the last thing he ever did in anime, it seems). The flashback to My and the Muskrat’s spat is conveyed by blurring the border of the screen in an iris shape, complete with audio director Atsumi Tashiro making the voices echo to a ludicrous degree, and Minamikawa cuts to increasingly distant shots of My and Snork over the course of their argument, showing the massive hole and the tiny villagers around it in all their glory. By this time, the Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose team has reached a fairly satisfying level of quality in its animation, with Diggyouty’s introduction (featuring a cute little poem from Y. Suzuki) and walk up the hole standing out as especially fluidly-animated; Minamikawa then provides a strange little shot from Diggyouty’s point-of-view as he walks towards Moomin and the others, with the villagers actually being animated gradually drawing closer to us. Almost every little thing Diggyouty says or points out is emphasized by an abrupt cut to something else, most notably when he points out the sun and the forest in his childish wonder at the things that lie above the surface, and My’s initial hostility is conveyed through an overhead shot of her scurrying around and sizing him up, followed shortly by a close-up pointed directly at the ground (and My’s feet) as Diggyouty points out that his home is underground, with My in turn stepping awkwardly and prancing in surprise at the strange thought of anyone living under this ground.

Still, Diggyouty seems cute and friendly enough that he is invited with everyone else to the Moominhouse, and out of gratitude for the “present” of the giant hole and everyone’s willingness to be friends, he decides to go and get them a “present” of his own. My, naturally, thinks his present will be goodies from underground like gold nuggets or diamonds, much to Snork’s scorn—but in an absurd twist that also makes sense in its own strange way (the way Moominpappa spins around as a result of Snork rushing out after My’s scream is just beautiful), Diggyouty’s present turns out to be even more holes! In his earnestness to repay the villagers in kind, Diggyouty goes on to misinterpret the hesitance and stammering of Moomin’s parents as an indication that these holes weren’t enough—and thereby, we get a demonstration of the powerful drill on Diggyouty’s head as it quickly digs another hole, much to Moominpappa’s anguish as he tries to stop him and Moomin’s amazement! Yet, the villagers themselves are much too kind to tell Diggyouty directly that these holes are not good, as Moominpappa tries to assure him how he thinks the holes are wonderful and coaxes Moominmamma to do the same; the others are amused at their flustered attitudes at first, with Snork even joking that Pappa should tell Diggyouty that they want their own holes—until it turns out that he’s already delivered holes to their own homes, sending them all into such a panic that they all run towards and past the screen, showing off their mania for us! Thus, as transitioned into cinematically by our view of the Moominhouse going blurry (which cuts to a blurred view of the Snork mansion clearing up), we get some views of the carnage outside Snork’s, Mymble and My’s, Mr. Hemulen’s, and Sniff’s homes, along with their hilariously flustered (or, in My’s case, satisfied!) reactions.

That night, rather unexpectedly, a lively party congratulating Diggyouty for his holes takes place within the Moominhouse (the animation of everyone dancing around Diggyouty is reused from Dream, Dream, Dream); we see beforehand how the entire area around the Moominhouse is rather unsettlingly deserted. It is here that Suzuki begins to introduce the episode’s emotional core, as Diggyouty suddenly bursts into tears and runs out, touched by everyone’s kindness—all his life, he has been lonely underground, and it’s just too much for him to be welcomed and appreciated like this. Later, while the villagers continue the party, Diggyouty returns coyly—and reveals he has dug even more holes throughout Moominvalley as presents. In their unwillingness to be upfront to the kind, yet sensitive Diggyouty about how undesirable his holes are, and even trying to celebrate them in the meantime, the villagers are simply delaying the inevitable moment when they must tell him to stop—and setting it up to be all the more painful and devastating when it does happen.

Later that night, after the kids have gone to sleep, the adults go as far as to carry out a lottery in an attempt to determine who will tell Diggyouty to leave the next day. Minamikawa conveys the dim candlelit setting in which they carry out their secret, deadly game by framing this entire sequence with dark purple irises, their positions dependent on where the candle is located or the center of attention at a given moment, and a great feeling of tension is created by the slow fades between the close-ups of the participants as we hear Pappa adding the balls to the bag one-by-one. Just as Pappa begins to shuffle the balls, however—Moomin arrives, calling the adults out for their sneakiness! After Snork unsuccessfully tries to explain it all away as a misunderstanding, the Police Inspector decides they have no choice but to explain everything—and as Moomin demands to know why they’d want Diggyouty to leave (shown in a tense, very close close-up of the side of his angry face!), it is revealed that the holes have become dangerous. In a minimalistic hypothetical sequence delineated by black holes against a blank white background, we see Snork, Mr. Hemulen, Mymble, and the Police Inspector falling into holes as they go about their business (complete with incredibly abstract sound design from Mitsuru Kashiwabara), followed by a pan past the line of their injured selves—a line that will no doubt grow longer as more people fall into the holes, especially as, per the Police Inspector, eight people have already fallen in and gotten injured. At the same time, it would also break Diggyouty’s heart if they simply filled the holes in themselves—ultimately, as it is, the party was a way for Diggyouty to ensure he’d have good memories before being forced to leave.

At that point, though, it turns out Diggyouty has been watching all along—he genuinely did not know he was causing harm, and suffice to say, he runs out of the Moominhouse in tears. Minamikawa provides a striking, distant shot of the dark night as, in front of the moon, Moomin tries to convince Diggyouty to stay, both of them seen only in silhouettes; his penchant for showing places in unusual ways further shines when, eventually, the two kids turn to Snufkin for help, their arrival shown in the rippling lake’s reflection. As Moomin throws a rock into the lake, Snufkin suggests that he look down into the hole behind him, which would naturally be futile—and then to imagine himself looking up from within the hole, whereby he would see the stars in the night sky. To see things in only one way would be like looking at a hole from above—the point being that Moomin and the others should try to look at holes in a more positive way, as Minamikawa pans down to the stars reflected in the lake. Sure enough, a star fittingly twinkles in the sky as Moomin realizes they’ve only been seeing holes as nuisances, and he and Diggyouty run off to carry out a new plan Moomin has in mind, as shown once again in the rippling lake’s reflection; in a way, Minamikawa’s fascinating direction is in perfect keeping with the episode’s theme of seeing mundane or undesirable things in newer, more positive ways. In the course of the night, Moomin wakes his friends up to convince them to help out, and they are unexpectedly joined by Snufkin, who assures them that everyone will be doable within the night.

The next morning, Nonnon convinces the injured Snork to get up from his bed and see how apparently holeless the town is, which Snork refuses to believe at first (again, Yoshitake Suzuki comes up with some funny lines: “Did you fall into a hole and hit your head?”). Sure enough, the hole outside Snork’s mansion is now a fountain, and similar transformations have happened across town, as, overnight, the children and Snufkin have turned the holes into ponds and bug enclosures and the like! In the end, the holes proved to be rather unusual starting points for quite a bit of beautiful landscaping, for which all the townsfolk can be grateful—nevertheless, Diggyouty resolves to leave that afternoon, as he still has his duties underground.

Before he leaves, though, the adults arrive with a massive cover for the hole from which Diggyouty came: rather than filling in the hole, they want to leave it open enough for Diggyouty to be able to return whenever he pleases! There’s another fun gag in how the cover crushes Snork’s foot after Moominpappa runs off to stop Diggyouty (and Snork’s less-than-pleased reaction to Nonnon nonchalantly asking if he’s okay), and a charming farewell moment as My, revealing her crush on Diggyouty, gives him some flowers with the excuse that there are none underground; with that, Diggyouty drills himself back into the ground, and the hole is covered. In the end, to come full circle, My has unexpectedly been proven right than even a massive hole like this is not useless—and the Muskrat, upon receiving a less-than-friendly welcome when he tries to insist the hole’s uselessness, is comically forced to change his tune to how it was useless. Having made a new friend underground, Moomin and the others all look out to the sunset sky, where a bird is flying overhead…

With three unique slice-of-life episodes in a row, it is now time for the much more fantastical episode 12: Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror is the first of five episodes written by Eiichi Taji, all of which focus on supernatural happenings and/or alternate worlds within Moominvalley, making for some of the series’ most unusual and fascinating visuals. Things start out ordinarily enough: Moomin and his friends have fun playing tricks by reflecting light from a hand mirror, which at one point leads to an amusing argument between the neat and tidy Snork, the casually fashionable Mymble, and the rough, scornful My; the character animation, credited to Takao Ogawa, Ikuo Fudanoki, and Masakazu Higuchi (just three episodes after Gramps is a Magician?), is a tad more active and worked than before, especially in this scene with all the coy gestures and poses that Mymble strikes, and the way she sporadically moves between them on more fluid twos. Eventually, Snufkin suggests that they try holding the hand mirror up to a much larger mirror, claiming spookily (as punctuated by a dramatic guitar flick) that they’ll see the “entrance to Hell”, and sure enough, there’s a large mirror in Moomin’s attic…


Kazunori Tanahashi’s direction here takes a more spectacular tack, beginning from the brief shot of the reflected sunlight shining in our (and Sniff’s) faces towards the beginning, and continuing with some shots in which we see the characters by way of their reflections in the hand mirror. Even better is when Moomin and Nonnon try out Snufkin’s trick, and wind up creating an infinity mirror: the effect is conveyed by how, against a black screen, multiple reflections of the two rapidly fade further and further into the distance from us.

Later, Sorry-oo panics out of fear of his own reflection, creating a destructive commotion that draws Pappa and Mamma up to the attic; Pappa, unwilling to let the kids play any further with the old mirror, begins claiming that this mirror is in fact a passage between their world and an alternate world populated by “Mimi-Mimics” (the original Japanese is manemane, which is simply the word for mimicry, 真似 (mane), repeated twice), and the seeming reflections in this mirror are in fact the Mimi-Mimics imitating them! The seeming truth is punctuated nicely by how, after Pappa calls out his apparent reflection, the reflection fades to a blue color, surprising Moomin—and after a few antics with Pappa’s reflection, as the pie starts to burn and the kids are rushing down the stairs, Moomin wonders if Pappa might indeed be telling the truth. Unable to keep her curiosity at bay, Nonnon walks back up to the mirror and begins conversing with her reflection all alone, eventually putting it to the test by closing her eyes—and in an unsettling moment punctuated by one of Kashiwabara’s eerie echoing drip sounds, Nonnon’s reflection opens its eyes on its own and takes on an unnatural smile, and this is followed by Sorry-oo running up only to be frightened at what is taking place before him…

Moomin, wondering what’s taking Nonnon and Sorry-oo so long, rushes up—and is confronted with the harrowing scene of Nonnon being taken away into the mirror by her reflection, with Tanahashi playing up the drama via a sudden cut to a close-up of Moomin’s eyes, followed by a zoom-out on Nonnon’s malevolent Mimi-Mimic dragging the real Nonnon away, itself shown in fading slow-motion! As Moomin bangs desperately on the mirror, My and Sniff come up; flashing back to what Pappa apparently said about the Mimi-Mimics’ behavior, namely that they only show their true face when one is alone (this particular bit of dialogue actually did not appear at all previously, even if the shot of Pappa did), Moomin decides to shove the disbelieving My and Sniff out and turn his back to the mirror, feigning a lack of attention. Sure enough, Moomin’s Mimi-Mimic tries to reach out and grab him—only to be thrown to the floor and strong-armed into cooperating by the real Moomin in a surprise attack!

We find out that the Mimi-Mimics are mostly opposites of their real selves: Mimi-Mimic Moomin is noticeably more weak and timid and cowardly, yet he keeps his promises as strongly as the real Moomin would, in this case promising that he’ll take Moomin to where Nonnon is being kept. As Moomin and his Mimi-Mimic enter a strange mirror version of Moominvalley, the uncanniness of it all emphasized by the slow zoom-ins on the blue-tinted wide views of the valley and Kashiwabara’s ambient sound effects as the two Moomins start to fade in, we also learn how surprisingly barbaric the Mimi-Mimics are: if it should be found out that Mimi-Mimic Moomin has allowed his real version into the world, both of them will be torn to pieces. To underline both of these points, we soon find ourselves watching a bizarre mirrored version of the earlier argument between Snork and Mymble, in which the Mimi-Mimic versions take the completely opposite sides of the previous argument—and Mimi-Mimic Snork, aside from finding himself smitten with the neat Mimi-Mimic Mymble (in contrast to Snork’s earlier disgust at Mymble’s immodesty), voices his contempt for not only the real Moomin but also the real Snork. An additional eerie revelation comes when Mimi-Mimic Mymble suddenly disappears—she has been spontaneously warped to Mymble’s mirror to take on the difficult job of being the fashion-conscious Mymble’s reflection.

Not all of the Mimi-Mimics are wicked, however. All of a sudden, much to the Moomins’ haste, Mimi-Mimic Snufkin begins to arrive from afar, with Kashiwabara providing a frightful, relentless whirring sound as though he may be an especially dangerous threat, and we see in an overhead shot how Moomin sidesteps in tandem with the turning of his Mimi-Mimic to avoid being seen as Mimi-Mimic Snufkin passes by. It is then that this Snufkin suddenly comes to a halt, emphasized by Kashiwabara’s spine-chilling, echoing clinks, and the possibility that Mimi-Mimic Snufkin knows what’s going on makes for extreme suspense as we get a brief shot showing he’s stopped right in front of the two Moomins, followed by some tense zoom-ins on Mimi-Mimic Moomin’s worried eyes and the back of the suspicious, yet hard-to-read Snufkin—and at that point, Mimi-Mimic Snufkin unexpectedly turns out to be a benefactor, revealing that Nonnon is being kept in the Hall of Reflections and advising the two Moomins to hurry, before walking off.

Thereupon, the Moomins rush off to the Hall, making their way through a dark, creepy forest where the origin of the Mimi-Mimics is living before arriving at a brightly-shining area—where Nonnon is tied up and surrounded by a mob of ghostly, blobby creatures! Tanahashi’s use of jump cuts here is simply stellar—as the Moomins draw closer to the Hall, the rapid cuts to closer views of the shining area build up the suspense of what lies within, and then the abrupt cuts from the close-up of Nonnon to increasingly wide views of her grotesque surroundings emphasize the increasing horror as, from the initial shock of seeing Nonnon in distress, we are confronted with the hideous reality of the abominations that have taken hold of her! These creepy, shape-shifting, pliable, gooey creatures are the true form of the Mimi-Mimics—surely one of the series’ most fascinating masterworks of pure animation—and the massive, runny, faceless gray one is their King. In due time, they will tear Nonnon to pieces; background artist Naoshi Yokose, by the way, does an outstanding job with the nightmarish, cloudy, purple surroundings, especially with all the freaky-looking, sponge-like vines hanging throughout, looking as though we’re observing some nasty bodily tissue under a microscope.

This at last brings us to the outstandingly surreal climax of the episode, in which Moomin saves Nonnon and the two are pursued by the Mimi-Mimics as they escape back to the real world. This is the first great work by animator Masakazu Higuchi: the floppy, dough-like pliability and fluidity of the Mimi-Mimics is simply impeccable, especially when Mr. Hemulen’s Mimi-Mimic reverts to his original form and afterwards when the Mimi-Mimics form a bridge across the chasm, and Higuchi also pulls off the stunning background animation of the staircase demanded by Tanahashi’s ambitious storyboard exceedingly well, with the shot of Mimi-Mimic Moomin sliding down on the table to stave off the pursuing Mimi-Mimics being especially outstanding in the dimensionality and shading of the passing stairs—which, at last, leads to the beautiful scene of the mirror-shaped gateway Moomin and Nonnon fly through to return to their real attic, much to the astonishment of My and Sniff! In the end, Pappa cannot believe that his story of the Mimi-Mimics was actually true—and My and Sniff now try in vain to activate their Mimi-Mimic versions, to no avail. Sadly, this is the last episode to be storyboarded-directed by Tanahashi; more impressively-directed classics might have come out of him had he continued working on the series.

Episode 13, Mr. Hemulen’s Promise, was the first episode to air in April, and picks up where Hello, Too-Ticky left off as far as the townsfolk’s willingness to tolerate Mr. Hemulen playing the horn. Like the earlier episode, it was written by Keisuke Fujikawa and directed by Wataru Mizusawa, and it is the first episode since then to feature the amazing Too-Ticky; in stark contrast to the ropey animation of Hello, Too-Ticky, however, Mr. Hemulen’s Promise features animation direction by Hiromitsu Morita and key animation by Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Takekatsu Kikuta, and it has the honor of being the first episode by Kanayama’s team since Dream, Dream, Dream to be fairly excellent in both its character and effects animation.


Spring has almost fully arrived in Moominvalley, and yet Mr. Hemulen’s horn-playing is as lousy as ever: in the midst of the establishing zoom-in on Mr. Hemulen’s home, Mizusawa cuts away to the various other inhabitants of Moominvalley trying to go about their morning business, only to be visibly bothered by the loud, amateurish horn as it echoes all through the valley. Around this time, Moomin and Nonnon are having a nice stroll, and upon hearing the horn, they try to invite Mr. Hemulen to eat—but Mr. Hemulen, tired and blinded by the sunlight as he opens his window, refuses. We see that he has been suffering over his composition: scraps of sheet music litter his floor, and his attempt to add on to his composition ends in him crumpling the sheet fitfully and throwing it away with scorn into his overflowing waste basket, his wearied and irritable attitude well-conveyed by his animation and expressions. Every further attempt from there is simply torn from the notebook, and he agonizes over the creative impasse he has run into; he then peeks out the window to check the weather, recalling that a spring storm will come on the day that he had promised his composition.

In the meantime, Moomin is having trouble ice-fishing for his friends’ meal. As he casts his rod again, he sees Too-Ticky’s reflection appear in the water; with no words and a wise look on her face, she exhorts Moomin to remove his fishing rod, and thereupon she begins playing her barrel organ, causing a bunch of fish to jump out of the hole in the ice! Just as Moomin is slipping all over the ice to subdue a fish, though, Too-Ticky suddenly stops playing and takes on a serious look; she stands up, whereby we now see the wind visibly blowing her hair, and looks out to find that, sure enough, a storm is approaching, its massive and ominous clouds approaching from a distance. Thus, Moomin and Too-Ticky rush back to the bathhouse, along the way stopping to tell the painting Snork about the oncoming storm; Snork, in turn, seems unusually cheerful in response, knowing full well that the day has come for Mr. Hemulen’s reckoning.

At the bathhouse, Moomin brags about his supposed catch, with a wink for Too-Ticky; before they can begin cooking, however, Too-Ticky proposes that they fortify the little house in the face of the arriving storm, as the winds begin to pick up. Mizusawa gives us a first-hand view of the rolling storm clouds, impeccably animated by Kanayama, and this is followed by similarly dramatic and well-animated views of the clouds’ dark shadows overtaking Moominvalley, animals fleeing or taking shelter, and the grass blowing violently in the wind as the panicked birds fly away; in the midst of all this, Snork drops by Mr. Hemulen’s home to make clear that the spring storm of his promise has finally arrived, and everyone is looking forward to his composition once the storm passes. This brings Mr. Hemulen into a state of further stress and exhaustion, as he still has not finished his composition; at that point, someone comes knocking on the door, and in an attempt to drive the interloper off he grabs his horn and blows as though he were practicing! But the strong winds end up barging the door open anyhow: it’s Sorry-oo, the sheer intensity of the winds such that he actively struggles to close the door as the winds blow his coat violently and bring debris into the home! Mr. Hemulen’s state of mind is such that his relief briefly turns to panic, wondering if Sorry-oo was somehow sent by the others to demand his composition, and then he begins pacing around and mumbling about his pathetic situation, driving the very unamused Sorry-oo to leave his house (and he can’t be bothered to fully shut the door in the face of the strong winds, causing Mr. Hemulen’s sheet music to be blown all over the place).

As the storm continues with some more atmospheric shots of its destructiveness animated by Kanayama, with the debris-filled winds blowing on the trees and tearing signs from their buildings while the river flows impressively, Sorry-oo makes his way back to the Moominhouse; Mymble and Snork have taken shelter there as well, and Snork aggressively demands to know the state of Mr. Hemulen’s composition, falling off his chair as Sorry-oo escapes his grip! Desperate over the likelihood that it’s still not done after weeks of putting up with his lousy horn, Snork engages in quite a few acting calisthenics, banging on the table rapidly and shaking his head “no” as he refuses to put up with any excuses Moomin’s parents try to give him, his pointed hand even trembling with fury as he warns Mamma that unkept promises could become a problem in Moominvalley if they cut Mr. Hemulen any slack; in the meantime, even the smoke emanating from Pappa’s pipe is animated with a ridiculous amount of intricacy, and we see Mymble caring for Sorry-oo as well. With everyone silenced, Snork sits down and sips more tea with satisfaction (just look at the anticipation as he briefly raises himself up before sitting down, and then the ease with which he implants himself in the chair, all of which go towards expressing his relief), noting that the problem of Mr. Hemulen’s horn is effectively solved now, while Sorry-oo hides under the table, clearly downtrodden over what will surely happen from this point on.

In the meantime, Mr. Hemulen continues to try practicing his horn and adding onto his composition, but with results no different than earlier in the day (as shown economically through the reused animation). Clutching his head in agony and succumbing to his frustration, he bangs on his window and kicks his music stand over, retiring to bed as the afternoon storm continues to rage outside. Soon, the storm passes, leaving fallen trees and wreckage in its wake as the birds chirp peacefully; while the villagers at large begin rebuilding (the destruction wrought by the storm made especially clear in a long diagonal pan over Moominvalley), Mymble has the time of her life skipping amidst the carnage over to the bathhouse, where she lets My know about what is supposed to be the debut of Mr. Hemulen’s composition soon. At this time, though, My and Sniff are still busy eating, so Moomin, Nonnon, and Too-Ticky decide to check the situation out themselves; before anyone can find out the truth, however, Mr. Hemulen takes the opportunity to escape to nature, peeking out his door, opening it cautiously, and then zipping out with his horn—only to find Sorry-oo waiting to join him! (Of course, there’s a fascinating continuity with the original Moomin books in this relationship, which is exclusive to this episode as far as New Moomin goes: it was precisely the horn-playing Hemulen that Sorry-oo accompanied in Moominland Midwinter.)

Mr. Hemulen’s disappearance raises a minor commotion, with Snork self-righteously taking the opportunity to bash Mr. Hemulen for seemingly running away; for the time being, the villagers decide to wait for Mr. Hemulen to come back. Meanwhile, Mr. Hemulen and Sorry-oo are venturing up the mountain, and, in a beautiful interlude, soon find themselves relaxed amidst the beauty of the young spring: colorful birds are now chirping, the last remnants of the snow are melting (even piling onto Sorry-oo from high in a tree), and Mr. Hemulen slides down to a little stream that has begun flowing again, washing his face in its fresh, cool waters. Back at the bathhouse, spring begins to act on the remaining ice in the sea as well, making loud noises that Too-Ticky refers to as the sea’s artillery: as the kids rush outside, we get some more impressive animation of the ice and glaciers cracking, breaking down, and being washed in the sea! Too-Ticky, for that matter, decides to show off, bouncing all around the floating pieces of ice with youthful flair—Moomin, however, cannot bring himself to enjoy her carefreeness, as it only exacerbates his worries about Mr. Hemulen, wondering if he was pushed too far under everyone’s pressure.

If only Moomin knew that Mr. Hemulen was getting the relaxation he deserved! By now, Mr. Hemulen has made it to the top of the mountain, and he partakes in the wondrous, heavenly view of the clouds around him—and in doing so, as conveyed nicely by a slow fade, he almost instinctively begins practicing the finger movements he needs for his composition. Now refreshed and with a renewed sense of motivation, and much to Sorry-oo’s pleasure, Mr. Hemulen picks up his horn and begins playing—while it still sounds a little wonky, his playing now has a clear aim and a melody of some kind, and we see that he has even begun tapping his foot to the rhythm as well.

Back in the village, as the sun sets, everyone has gathered once more at Mr. Hemulen’s home—and the Police Inspector now brings up the possibility that they had asked too much of Mr. Hemulen. This immediately triggers Snork’s wrath and ranting about how Mr. Hemulen is ultimately, even as Moomin’s parents and Mymble try to get him to see otherwise; Mizusawa gives us a slow pan across the villagers, with Moomin’s parents and the Inspector at the foreground, amidst whom Snork paces back and forth while gesturing wildly in the course of his tirade, conveying a fascinating sense of the vast, crowded space with its layers of waiting, anxious villagers. At last, the Inspector admits that Moomin was the one who came up with the idea that it was their fault that Mr. Hemulen was driven this far, furthering peeving off Snork who even tries to begin flailing in Moomin’s face before Mamma stops him; the kicker comes when Pappa remarks that it’s a bit late for Mr. Hemulen to be strolling, whereby Snork immediately retorts that he’s in fact fleeing, shocking and depressing Moomin.

Moomin is now so downcast that, as gradually revealed through a few increasingly distant, pensive-feeling fades, he does not realize that he is sitting on a chunk of ice floating across the sea in his misery, not even when his friends try to alert him as such; eventually, the chunk breaks in half, and after struggling to keep himself on the two ends, he slips and falls into the cold ocean, forcing Too-Ticky, in another amazing feat on her part, to jump in and save him! On the mountain, meanwhile, as the setting sun casts its beautiful red light on the clouds, Mr. Hemulen finishes his last perfect rehearsal of his composition, with slow zoom-ins and fades to closer views of him, along with a fade to a slow pan across the high clouds and mountains as they come into focus beyond his horn, emphasizing his state of pure peace and tranquility. With that, Mr. Hemulen declares that his composition is complete, and Sorry-oo barks jubilantly; thus, with the sunset shining down on them, Mr. Hemulen at last gives his first public performance of his Hemulen March—at a spectacular location from which everyone in Moominvalley, as it turns out, will be able to hear.

The performance begins just as Moomin is sneezing from his little dip in the ocean; soon, all across Moominvalley, the villagers are opening their windows and doors and perking up in excitement and surprise as the serene Mr. Hemulen blows out his new march from high in the mountains, and everyone gathers to rejoice and enjoy it! Even Snork finds himself humbled as he inadvertently enjoys the new march the most, waving his arms like a conductor and humming before he realizes what he is doing, much to everyone’s laughter. As night falls, Mizusawa climaxes the wonderful performance with an impressive rotating zoom-out around Mr. Hemulen and the mountain, perfectly conveying the majesty of his zen-like mastery of the horn, and finally closes the episode by zooming out from Mr. Hemulen to a grand view of the high mountains, the sun’s final rays shimmering out in the twilight like a lovely aurora—too often, it is easy to forget how important a peaceful state of mind is to creating something you can truly be proud of, and that to put yourself or others under constant stress does no good for anyone.

Alas, this is the last episode to feature Takekatsu Kikuta as an animator, as it seems he left Mushi Pro afterwards. He would be just the first animator to leave New Moomin, in a foreboding omen of the calamity that was to befall the series in due time. Not until the extremely short-lived and obscure series Mon Chéri CoCo, of which he was the character designer and animation director (and which began broadcasting on 27 August 1972, almost five months after Mr. Hemulen’s Promise aired), did he eventually resurface, after which he became one of the first members of the studio Madhouse. According to Manabu Ōhashi, Kikuta and Madhouse’s star director Osamu Dezaki were very close in these early years: even after Kikuta left Madhouse and went freelance, he would animate Dezaki’s marvelous 1976 segment of Group TAC’s Manga Nippon MukashibanashiThe Thunder God and the Mulberry Tree (a must-watch!).

Episode 14, Sorry-oo’s Own Home, is the first in a streak of three philosophical slice-of-life episodes written by Yoshiaki Yoshida, and the first in which the animation team of Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki, and Kazuko Hirose, now working under Hiromitsu Morita’s supervision from this point on, really comes into its own. Here, Sorry-oo has been far too rambunctious and destructive lately, to where no one can stand owning him or trying to keep him in control anymore—but what if he had his own home?


The dramatically improved animation is obvious from the early scenes, as Sorry-oo wreaks havoc in the Moomin family: dirtying Mamma’s white sheets in his attempt to get a butterfly, destroying Pappa’s valuable pages of writing, barking relentlessly when he gets tied down as punishment, and finally dragging the dinner table down to the floor. The sheer energy and fluidity of Sorry-oo prancing and squirming around, Pappa’s table-banging exasperation (in tandem with Hitoshi Takagi’s excellent voice acting), and the culmination as everything on the table comes crashing down—all of this perfectly conveys Sorry-oo’s playful recklessness, which finally leads to Moomin carrying Sorry-oo far away from the house and practically slamming him into the ground, declaring he is henceforth kicked out of the Moomin family. Naturally, Sorry-oo begins to whine and cry and walk away forlornly, looking back at Moomin as he does so—and there’s some excellent facial acting from Moomin as he begins to have second doubts. His anger turns to realization of how cruel he’s being, and for a brief moment he begins to feel sorry, but this then becomes a mere pitying look; finally, he regains his angry composure and confidence that this is the right thing to do, and is just about to run back home while trying to suppress his guilt—the way he jerks his head to his left with a pained look in preparation for turning around is simply a marvelous way of showing the pain he feels inside and his futile suppression of it, made all the more effective by how it is fluidly animated on ones (a perfect example of framerate modulation!)—before his friends arrive, wondering what’s going on.

While My and Sniff, having had their own share of sorry experiences with Sorry-oo, are in perfect agreement with Moomin’s decision to kick the puppy out, Nonnon feels sorry for him and decides to let him into the Snork home, much to Snork’s initial approval and the Moomins’ relief—I really like the atmospheric shot of the Moomins discussing the matter that night, as framed by the blurred, out-of-focus window, and Nonnon’s girlish gratitude and affection towards Snork is another lovely acting highlight. Of course, this is a decision the Snorks come to rue the very next day, as Sorry-oo shatters Nonnon’s plates and desecrates one of Snork’s wigs! Unfortunately, I can’t pin the specific animation styles down to any names, but the strongest animator in the Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose team, aside from a penchant for incredibly exuberant, fluid movement, also liked to draw the Moomins and Snorks with distinctively beady-looking eyes in moments of emotion. Take a look, for instance, at the hilarious scenes of Snork’s over-the-top reactions to Sorry-oo’s mischief, whether it’s the way he barges out the door stumblingly in response to Nonnon’s cries or the way he initially leaps along the ground in his unthinking desperation instead of getting up after he tries to jump after the wig-snatching Sorry-oo—all bolstered by director Noboru Ishiguro’s strong storyboarding, with its rapid cuts between the initial carnage of the plates, Snork repeatedly overtaking the screen in his mania, and the one layout of Snork going ballistic in a circle against Sorry-oo over his ruined wig!

Now that even Nonnon has lost her faith in Sorry-oo, it seems that this puppy, who continues to frisk about eagerly as though completely oblivious to the trouble he’s been stirring up or how fed up everyone is, is destined to become the bane of Moominvalley; once more, Moomin chews him out for his apparent lack of empathy and how there is no home that will keep him anymore. Just as Sorry-oo slinks away forlornly, though, Nonnon comes up with a promising idea: they can all build a doghouse for him to live in! So they all run off to begin the work, along the way passing by Snufkin, who already has an uneasy feeling about where this will go as he continues fishing; indeed, as the building commences, it quickly becomes obvious that the kids themselves do not really care what Sorry-oo thinks, continuing to regard him as a nuisance who’s getting in the way as they tie things and carry the supplies around. As the doghouse is completed—Ishiguro conveys the passage of time nicely by panning down a view of Moominvalley such that the sunset sky remains still, as though the sun were quickly setting—the kids place Sorry-oo in front of what is supposed to be his new home; but the sight of this new house immediately fills him with terror.

The kids’ obliviousness to Sorry-oo’s feelings is further underlined by the party they decide to have that night in honor of the doghouse’s completion, with Moomin even tripping on the way in his enthusiasm. They don’t even notice that Sorry is not celebrating at all, let alone that they nearly step on him as they dance (part of their animation is reused from the end of Hello, Too-Ticky), and they go on to misinterpret Sorry-oo’s unwillingness to sleep in the doghouse as bashfulness, such that they leave him alone with the house for the night in the hopes that he will then enter on his own—but all this does is cause Sorry-oo to howl sorrowfully, his loneliness emphasized by the pan through the dark treetops of Moominvalley as he howls out. This failure in communication, with neither side really understanding the other, is bound to have dire consequences later on.

Early the next morning, Nonnon is in a panic: Sorry-oo has been sleeping under the Snork home’s eaves! Moomin, at first, does not believe that Sorry-oo could possibly dislike the doghouse, and he checks inside to see what could be wrong; the problem, he concludes, is that they forgot to make a bed. Once this is done, the impatient, no-nonsense My plants Sorry-oo on the bed and shoves it all into the doghouse with a rush—and sure enough, this misguided solution does nothing to solve the problem, as the next day Sorry-oo is sleeping right outside the Moominhouse, infuriating Moomin! Now wise to Sorry-oo’s fear of the doghouse—and unwilling to understand his feelings even as they accuse him of not understanding their feelings—Moomin and his pals decide to try forcing Sorry-oo to sleep in the doghouse that night, keeping watch with their angry glares in the event that he should try to escape. Suffice to say, this backfires as soon as they inevitably doze off—and Moomin, by now, refuses to let the issue go, running off furiously to hunt down Sorry-oo!

Noboru Ishiguro’s direction is outstanding as things reach a head. Snufkin busies himself cleaning his guitar within his candlelit tent, when he hears Moomin running past and hollering for Sorry-oo to come out. Soon, upon hollering futilely one last time amidst a vast, deserted field, Moomin realizes he’s all alone and becomes forlorn, his desolation emphasized by the terrible winds blowing through the grasses. He finds himself in front of the dark lake, lit only by the lonely moon, and the futility of his anger is reflected in the ceaseless rippling of the mirrored moon even after he pathetically throws a rock into the lake in his rage; he then begins walking back through the forest, crying and sniffling, as Snufkin listens quietly in his tent and peeks out to see what will happen next. At last, Moomin finds himself in front of the doghouse, and he begins to stare at it with increasing anger, as the thought of everything he has gone through no doubt goes through his head—and at last, it all explodes as the frustrated Moomin bangs on the doghouse with rage while screaming out against Sorry-oo, and from there takes a massive stone and bashes it to smithereens, the rushing catharsis of his relentless beatdown made all the more palpable by the upfront view of Moomin furiously smashing the stone towards us on swift, frightful ones!! It is only as the doghouse comes crashing down loudly that Moomin realizes what he has done, and there follows a brief, uncomfortable silence, punctuated by the ominous, quiet wind, as he stands there in shock, absent-mindedly dropping the stone, collapsing on his knees—and finally breaks down sobbing in agonized frustration…

At that moment, Snufkin arrives to comfort him, his familiar presence emphasized by the way his silhouette strikingly shows up in front of the moon; the way the moonlight shines behind Snufkin and on poor Moomin is simply excellent, perfectly conveying the darkness of the surrounding night, as is the tilted shot of Snufkin standing over Moomin, emphasizing the dependence on Snufkin that Moomin now feels. As Snufkin and Moomin walk along in the dark night, Snufkin assures Moomin that Sorry-oo will return, with Moomin at first trying to deny that he cares about Sorry-oo. It is then, though, that Snufkin causes Moomin to realize: all along, the doghouse was Sorry-oo’s jail, and Moomin did the right thing in destroying it. “If you were forced into a place that you didn’t want to come into, what would you do? If you were kept from doing what you wanted, what would you do?” Snufkin then expounds on how there are many in this world who won’t be the way you want them to be, as well as many disrespectable toadies who try to be friends with mere flattery—and Moomin, left behind in the midst of his realization, runs after Snufkin…

And so, early the next morning, as the birds are chirping (Ishiguro gives us a great establishing zoom-out from the mountains to the top of the Moominhouse), Sorry-oo has returned to the Moominhouse—and Moomin, opening his window as he hears his barking, is overjoyed at his return, even tumbling down the stairs as he rushes to greet him! Sorry-oo lovingly licks Moomin, who playfully chides his friskiness, and the two run out to the forest together. Thus, we close this episode, easily one of Noboru Ishiguro’s strongest for New Moomin, with a beautiful, semi-photographic montage of Moomin spending a wonderful day with Sorry-oo out in the open—all along, what Sorry-oo wanted was simply to be recognized and appreciated as the playful, outgoing dog he is, and so it should be with others whose personalities may not quite match up with what we like.

Now we come to the last four episodes of the Golden Age of New Moomin. These four episodes see the show’s storytelling and its four distinct animation teams at their peak, and they feature a number of special artists who were not regular contributors to the series. The first of these episodes is 15, Useless Scandals are Useless, once again written by Yoshiaki Yoshida, but directed by Rintarō’s younger brother Masayuki Hayashi and animated by the all-star team of Mitsuo Shindō, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, now working under Toyoo Ashida’s animation direction. We begin with a distant shot of Moomin, Nonnon, My, and Sniff playing jump rope, the spring flowers now in full bloom, and in the close-up we see Nonnon is actually skipping with flair and elegance (very nice animation to begin with!); eventually, it is My who trips on the rope and ends their turn, but just as she kicks the rope off in frustration, Too-Ticky passes by, seemingly engrossed in her book. Moomin tries asking her if she wants to play, and My, sensing the need for some encouragement, runs up and brags about how she just got 35 jumps, but Too-Ticky curtly responds that she has no time for children’s games, even swiping her hair haughtily before sulking away. As My just barely stops short of exploding with raw anger, Nonnon and Moomin note that Too-Ticky has been acting weird in general lately, burying herself in books—but My, seeing no need to dwell on the matter, tries to continue their game of jump rope with Sniff (I like how their rope-swinging is completely out of sync, causing it to wave willy-nilly).


Too-Ticky arrives back at the bathhouse, lamenting that nothing of any interest happened when she went outside. In a cinematically fascinating shot, we see a close-up of her mirror rattling as she tosses her book aside, and this makes way for her to walk up to the mirror to try refining her look, readjusting her hair and even stretching her mouth side-to-side—all to no avail, as she winds up simply shaking her head to undo it all and puckering with dissatisfaction as her hair droops down, and from there hops up onto her barrel, placing her hands behind her head wearily as she sums her mood up with one expression: “I’m bored.” That night, Moomin discusses the issue of Too-Ticky’s apparent boredom with his parents, wondering why she won’t speak up about it, whereby Pappa responds that sometimes people can’t talk about their troubles; still, Moomin decides to visit Too-Ticky that night, as Hayashi establishes Too-Ticky’s abject loneliness with a pan down from the moon to the dark dock leading to the bathhouse, where she sits depressedly, looking at nothing in particular. Too-Ticky does not even notice Moomin approaching, and remains apathetic when asked if Moomin can take a seat next to her and even after he begins flipping through her book; the use of her barrel organ’s decrepit-sounding music as the soundtrack works well in conveying the decadent emptiness and numbness she now feels.

Moomin tries to make small talk, commenting that the moon looks pretty tonight; but the disillusioned know-it-all Too-Ticky dismisses it as simply being the moon’s surface reflecting the sun’s light. When Moomin tries to interject that she’s thinking about it all wrong, only to repeat that the moon is pretty (his uncertainty made clear in the weird shape of his mouth after he tries shouting as much), Too-Ticky brushes him off as a simpleton: the truth is, as of late, she has felt the need to contemplate everything she does or sees, ultimately concluding that the world is made up of only foolish things—clearly, she’s been acting too “mature” for her own good. Rather than trying to convince Too-Ticky to see things more simply and innocently, though, Moomin comments that she’d make a great philosopher, much to her surprise: her comments remind him of the Muskrat and his obsession with the uselessness of things. Too-Ticky is immediately enamored with what Moomin has to say about his useless research, leaning forward amorously and then clasping her hands romantically as she begins begging Moomin to introduce her to the Muskrat, pulling on his arm and even dragging him up to make him show her the way! As it is late, Moomin decides it’d be better to do so tomorrow—but in a fun cutaway that establishes his grouchy character, we see that the Muskrat isn’t asleep anyhow, suffering as he is from a bout of sneezing. His sneezes are such that his entire hammock-laid body scrunches up every time, in another nice example of Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas’s attention to convincing physical movement.

Early the next morning, as the birds are fluttering and chirping merrily, Moomin immediately sets off to gather his friends, with Pappa just barely waking up and stretching out his window before he sees Moomin running off (we get a nicely laid-out view from Pappa’s window too); as they walk along the mildly hilly path to the Muskrat’s cave, Too-Ticky is swooning over the Muskrat, while My, walking alongside her buddy Sniff (as we see in Hayashi’s neat front-facing view of the two, complete with some nifty background animation of the path running by below them), goonishly mocks the Muskrat and declares she’s simply tagging along for the laughs. Too-Ticky’s impulsive admiration for the Muskrat reaches ridiculous levels as they arrive at the Muskrat’s abode and hear the Jōji Yanami-voiced Muskrat’s curt demand for them to just get in, as she clasps her hands and fawns over what a philosophical abode and voice he has; it becomes delightfully ironic as the starry-eyed Too-Ticky, after staring for a while at this old, dirty, hairy piece of trash who thinks everything is useless, begins praising the jerk’s physical features, with Hayashi driving the point home by cutting to extreme close-ups of the Muskrat’s face, while the astonished My cringes at the sincerity of it all. As the Muskrat demands that Too-Ticky get to the point and chides her for going as far as to refer to him with the highest honorific possible (sensei-sama, basically great teacher), Too-Ticky swiftly prostrates herself before the Muskrat and begs to become his disciple—his surprise is such that, in a beautiful little visual gag punctuated by Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s funny sound design, he is provoked to stand up in his hammock, struggling to maintain his balance as the hammock accordingly swings back and forth, and from there topples right into the ground, his whole body visibly shaking from the impact once his lower body lands as well!

As the Muskrat heads out of his cave to stretch and do some exercising (clearly conscientious about his health and liveliness to some degree), he ponders how having disciples is useless, but notes as well that not having them is also useless, adding even this whole state of affairs is useless—and with that, he points his finger approvingly at Too-Ticky, who practically dances with joy as she officially becomes the Muskrat’s disciple, much to both My and the Muskrat’s disgust! Pappa, upon hearing about this, has his reservations, and that night, we see Too-Ticky busying herself trying to read the Muskrat’s books without understanding them. The hammock-ridden Muskrat goes on to teach her that even reading is useless, and now that she understands that, she can begin to cast off everything useless tomorrow—a command that, as we shall see, Too-Ticky takes to heart. With that, the Muskrat goes to sleep (just look at the marvelous animation of him shoving himself further into his floaty blanket, clearly desirous of a dark, deep, undisturbed rest), and so too does Too-Ticky as she hears that staying up all night is even more useless than sleeping, even to the point of imitating the vulgar, snoring Muskrat’s total blanketing of himself; dissatisfied with her former contemplativeness, Too-Ticky has now completely abandoned her independence of mind for a cult-like devotion to this dubious thinker.

The fruits of Too-Ticky’s indoctrination become evident from early the next morning, when she runs to the Moominhouse asking to see Moominpappa. There, she reveals that, having discovered reading is useless, so too does she now conclude writing novels is useless—and tries to rip up Pappa’s manuscript in an attempt to force him to realize the uselessness of things too, much to Moomin’s anger! With this intervention unsuccessful, Too-Ticky decides to go and foist the philosophy of uselessness on others, as Pappa confirms that his worst fears have been realized—and as Too-Ticky sets out, we get a freeze-frame of her swiping her hair up, now clearly more optimistic and high-spirited than ever before. Thus, we get a splendid series of comedic situations, as Too-Ticky throws the panicked Mr. Hemulen’s collections out of his window, tries to fish off the confused and haughty Snork’s wig from high in the forest (only to end up falling down as he runs away and takes her little fishing stick with him), and destroys My and Mymble’s plates (just look at how she niftily smashes a bunch of plates by smacking a plate into a little stack of them, the way she casually shrugs it off as an intervention, and then how she takes an entire stack down by shoving a plate out from the middle such that it all comes crashing down!), all in the name of casting off useless things throughout Moominvalley. The latter takes an especially hilarious turn as Stinky arrives out of nowhere and begins eating the broken plate pieces, with Too-Ticky taking him in her hands and prancing and singing with glee as she rejoices in this apparent new soulmate in uselessness—only for the angry My to scream at them to cut it out, whereby the trouble-evading Stinky hops away at a much faster speed than usual, leaving the nonplussed Too-Ticky alone in the face of My and Mymble’s wrath!

Soon, as conveyed by a distant shot above the police station with a large crowd gathered outside, things have reached the point where the villagers at large want Too-Ticky and the Muskrat arrested, with the table-banging Snork, naturally, speaking out on everyone’s behalf. As the Police Inspector expresses an unpopular hesitance to arrest them, Moomin and Nonnon arrive (as expected, some very lively and fluid animation of them running up!) to try convincing everyone to let them handle the matter themselves, much to Snork’s wig-ruining frustration; the problem is, they don’t have any concrete ideas beyond that Snork and the others are being too mean, and the crowd at large remains on Snork’s side, as we get a pan across the villagers (including Sniff!) angrily demanding the two useless troublemakers’ arrest. (My, of course, looks very pleased with this proposition, while Mymble seems more than a little uncomfortable with the mob outrage.) Just as the Police Inspector is ready to cave to the pressure from the crowd, though, Snufkin arrives: while he agrees that doling out punishment for crimes is only natural, he manages to remind the villagers that they only want to make arrests as a last resort, and accordingly asks everyone to let him talk to Too-Ticky and the Muskrat. There’s some great character acting from Snork as he initially laughs triumphantly when Snufkin seems to support the crowd, only to flinch from Snufkin’s contradiction so flusteredly that his wig falls over his eyes, whereby he lifts it up a little to peek out rather hesitantly as Snufkin begins to elaborate; later, he seems very self-confident and wise guy-ish as he questions the idea that Snufkin could possibly reason with the Muskrat, only to take on a look and posture of disgusted skepticism as Pappa agrees with Snufkin.

So, as the Muskrat and Too-Ticky busy themselves uselessly reading useless books, Snufkin arrives at the cave: as often seems to be the case, we get a striking shot of Snufkin’s silhouette at the entrance, emphasizing his enigmatic mystique, and his figure scarcely becomes more well-defined as he enters the cave, showing how dark it is. The Muskrat is clearly not keen on talking to Snufkin, eyeing him with suspicion (shown by how his eye very briefly pops out tremblingly) and then burying himself in his book as he declares discourse is useless; when Snufkin tries to remind him that discourse is the foundation of the expansion of knowledge (as we see in the background that Moomin and the others have begun watching), the Muskrat rudely demands that Snufkin leave and turns his back on him in his hammock, seemingly desiring to sleep. Thus, Snufkin decides to talk to Too-Ticky, who by now is so loyal to the Muskrat that she initially repeats his demand for Snufkin to leave: Hayashi gives us a good layered shot in which the Muskrat, feigning sleep, proceeds to open an eye, clearly listening in on the conversation behind him. As Too-Ticky eagerly repeats the Muskrat’s philosophy that everything in the world is useless, Snufkin, with one single question, exposes its fatal flaw: Too-Ticky agrees that even living is useless, only to slam her hands over her mouth in horror at the realization of what she has just said, her eyeballs even joggling in tandem with the boggling of her mind! Thereupon, she tries confirming if the Muskrat thinks living is useless, to which he carelessly replies in the affirmative with clear annoyance at suddenly being doubted; this at last awakens Too-Ticky’s hitherto-suppressed true self, as she thinks life is precious.

As Snufkin demands for him to properly answer the sincere Too-Ticky’s question, the Muskrat at last becomes fed up and asks who said living was useless, with Snufkin in turn pointing out that this is the natural conclusion Too-Ticky may draw from his philosophy. Thus, as the Muskrat’s eyes tremble and dart around nervously with the kids watching from outside, and valuing his own self-respect over natural logic, he decides to double down and declare ragefully that not only is living useless, but he is only pretending to be one of the living (his insanity comes through quite effectively in the close-up of his simple but uncanny expression, his eyes trembling and one eye half-closed)—whereby Too-Ticky recoils in horror, and Sniff outright runs away screaming that the Muskrat is a ghost! Things go wonderfully off the rails from here, as My now comes in and concludes as well that the Muskrat is a ghost, with the Muskrat himself now growing nervous as he realizes what he has just gotten himself into: soon enough, My begins feeling around the Muskrat’s body, and this quickly devolves into a lively tickle torture to test the Muskrat’s ghostliness, with My popping from place-to-place in a beautiful show of her intense devotion to this humiliation as the Muskrat screams and flails around, culminating in a delightful close-up of his unhinged state of mind with rainbow rings rippling in his eye! Snufkin cannot help remarking amusedly on what a large ghost the Muskrat is, and he peers towards Too-Ticky, who now realizes with displeasure what a fraud the Muskrat was.

Meanwhile, as the sun sets, the adults are heading towards the cave to see how things are going, with some more fun from Snork as he grotesquely mocks the Muskrat’s face: they are immediately confronted with the spectacle of My chasing the desperate Muskrat to keep tickling him, with the two of them even running on the side of the cave as My chases him around a tree! We see Snork closing his eyes only to try dragging one of them open, in a beautifully over-the-top show of his disbelief, and the Muskrat thrashes and jerks around as My has him cornered against the tree; yet a very real drama takes place in the midst of this comical situation, as Too-Ticky, disillusioned with the still-uncontrollably laughing Muskrat, begins to walk off forlornly again. Seeing this, the Muskrat makes a last-ditch effort to regain Too-Ticky’s good graces, stepping forth and admitting that life isn’t meaningless, and even declaring that he will live for a hundred years as he tries to flex his muscles tremblingly; but this is too little, too late for poor Too-Ticky, even as the Muskrat then tries to claim that maybe his way of life is only comprehensible to him. (I like how Hayashi views this sequence largely from behind as though we were among the bystanders, putting the spotlight on how the two of them express themselves through their very postures.) As Too-Ticky abandons the Muskrat for good, Hayashi briefly cuts to a shot of his flabbergasted face as he begins to try going after Too-Ticky, only to stop as he realizes it’s no use, his body slowly drooping down in an excellent expression of the futility and defeat he must be feeling—and he proceeds to raise his fist with trembling rage as he declares he is expelling Too-Ticky, only to turn around and realize that he has just exposed his true embittered, possessive self to the public! Blinking his rather horrified eyes (as though he has been caught red-handed) at the villagers, and then turning away while briefly peering with his eyeballs to see if they’re still watching, the Muskrat attempts to carry on with his usual philosophical demeanor as though nothing has happened, clearing his throat and declaring a few simple farewells with a feigned look of nonchalance as he walks back into his cave—and My has the last word, playfully running up and waving the Muskrat farewell in return.

While fishing as usual, Snufkin admits to the kids and Too-Ticky that he’d like to study more about the Muskrat’s way of life. As Too-Ticky looks up ponderously, we cut back to the Muskrat, sleeping and twisting and grumbling vulgarly in his hammock as always, adding further weight to Snufkin’s observation that people who hold different views are at least worth considering, however crassly they may behave: “Great discoveries in philosophy often come from such outsiders, after all.” (As an extra bit of funny character acting, the observing My gasps and begins pointing and stomping over how Snufkin’s rod apparently has a catch, and even looks up with open-mouthed anticipation as Snufkin pulls the reel, only to be disappointed when it turns out there’s nothing.) But it is unwise to try forcing such views on others, as Too-Ticky now realizes, and Snufkin leaves her with the valuable advice that she must figure things out for herself. As Snufkin heads off, however, we quickly find out that Too-Ticky has not changed much: the fawning adoration and hero worship she once reserved for the Muskrat has now been transferred to Snufkin, much to the other kids’ shock, and in her ecstasy over this potential new guru, she jumps into the distance after Snufkin, overloading him with questions and preventing him from leaving very quickly as she darts from side to side! The kids look at each other with astonishment—and My, realizing that the cycle has begun anew, giggles with a crazed, sadistic glee towards the sight and us. Thus concludes this very fine episode, one of the best to be animated by the Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas team, and a perpetually-relevant warning to be cautious about trusting too deeply in weird, alternative thinkers in one’s search for meaning and profundity in life; it manages to strike a great balance between the key philosophical drama and the boisterous humor that easily results from taking a questionable worldview to absurd levels.

The Wataru Mizusawa-directed episode 16, My is Kind?, is the last in writer Yoshiaki Yoshida’s streak of three episodes, and was also animation-directed by Toyoo Ashida; however, it features animation by Akihiro Kanayama and Sumiko Asato, just three weeks after Mr. Hemulen’s Promise. It is notable because none other than the talented animator Toshiyasu Okada, soon to be a significant contributor to Zuiyō/Nippon Animation’s 1970s shows and then several of Studio Pierrot’s 1980s works, was brought on board as a temporary replacement for Takekatsu Kikuta, in what would be his only work for New Moomin‘s first half. From around 1970 (at the latest) to late 1973, Okada led a studio named Ad 5 alongside veteran ex-Tōei Dōga animator Minoru Tajima, located right next to Tōei Dōga’s studio at Higashiōizumi (even today, Tōei Animation still owns that studio, using part of it as the site of the Tōei Animation Museum). Naturally, most of Ad 5’s work was on Tōei shows like Himitsu no Akko-chan, Mahō no Mako-chan, and Babel II, but it also worked on other studios’ shows from time to time, like Mushi Pro’s Andersen Monogatari, Tokyo Movie’s Tensai Bakabon, and Tatsunoko’s Kerokko Demetan. (The animation historian Yōko Gomi, née Yōko Tomizawa, has written of her formative experiences as an inbetweener under Okada on Babel II here.) According to Jun Masami (née Hiroshi Shimozaki) and Okada’s son Ikiru, however, there was an interim beginning in late 1971 in which Okada actually worked from his home at Kanayamacho in Higashikurume (near a housing complex at Uenohara), contributing to episodes 5 and 13 of Tezuka Pro’s Marvelous Melmo from there, with the quality of his work receiving praise from Osamu Tezuka himself. I would presume that Okada worked on this New Moomin episode from home as well, since, like those Melmo episodes, this was an instance of Okada contributing key animation independently to an episode otherwise created by the series’ main staffers. Even at this early time, Okada already stands out for his more refined drawing style (especially the distinctive way he draws My, fittingly enough for this episode) and his slower-paced, naturalistic character animation with its careful attention to the intricacies of even the simplest movements; his understated expertise makes the characters all the more convincing and endearing, and enriches this very charming story, in which we find out My has a secret caring side.


We begin with a pan down the forest of Moominvalley, where the kids have been playing, as the sun is setting and casting its golden light all through the valley. The arrival of evening comes as a surprise to My and Nonnon, who remarks on how fast the day passes when they’re playing; the book-loving, patronizing Too-Ticky, however, ridicules them for their carelessness, immediately provoking the fury of My. Naturally, I presume Toshiyasu Okada animated this entire opening scene: aside from the multiple folds at the bottom of My’s dress, take note of how clearly defined My’s shadow is in the very first close-up of her, or the way she jerks her bent, clenched-fist arms ever higher as she marches over to Too-Ticky (and the way she kicks her foot out to the side on her last step in accordance with her turn towards Too-Ticky), or the neat way she rejects Too-Ticky’s proposition of reading a book all day long by swatting her arms towards Too-Ticky while turning her head away in disgust (notice how her arms bounce back up slightly after the downward swatting motion, grounding it further in reality)!

Just as My’s insults begin to cross the line, though, she realizes that she’d better run back home before it gets too late; I like how Okada conveys My’s playfulness by how she puts her hands behind her head while sticking her leg out as she bids the others goodbye, and then sticks her tongue out as she turns to leave (look at the way her leg turns and bumps up a little in preparation for taking her first step back home too). Moomin, Nonnon, and Sniff leave as well, with Sniff even accidentally swinging a cherry out of his basket as he begins jogging off prancingly. At first, Too-Ticky scoffs at the others leaving, claiming that “a lovely forest night will begin” as she flips another page in her book (note the way Okada draws her hand moving in perfect perspective as she brings it up and turns the page), but Mizusawa then cuts to a wide shot of Too-Ticky all alone in the forest, emphasizing the ominous squawks and screeches that begin to echo all through the area—and he cuts right back to the close-up of Too-Ticky to reveal how uncomfortable and disturbed she has become in the face of what will undoubtedly be a frightful night. Looking around worriedly, she decides it’d be best to leave after all, placing her book back on top of her stack and then carrying it all away—once again, look at how perfectly Too-Ticky’s shadow actually reflects what she’s doing!

That night, Mymble arrives at the Moominhouse, clearly troubled about something; I would say Okada animated these initial shots of Mymble entering the Moominhouse as well, based on the folds at the bottom of her dress and the careful way the light of the home gradually overtakes her as she walks in, while the conversation afterwards seems to be when one of the other two animators (Akihiro Kanayama or Sumiko Asato) takes over. Inside, Mymble reveals that My has not come home, but just as the kind Moomin is about to rush out to find her (I like how he’s drawing a picture of Nonnon and a flower), Mymble, on the verge of breaking down, reveals that this has been a strange recurring pattern: every night, My has disappeared, only to return by the morning. Relatably, Mymble has not tried asking My, for fear of whatever horrible secret she may be hiding; now feeling better after talking about it with the Moomins, she excuses herself, and we see her walking away forlornly into the dark night, while the Moomins watch with empathy. The lonely darkness of the night is underlined by a shot of Mymble’s silhouette walking along beneath the moon, but just as she arrives home, she is surprised to find that a light is lit inside—rushing in, she finds My has already returned, sleeping soundly and peacefully! In a delicate scene, amidst the dim lighting of the candle, Mymble gently and lovingly tucks My in, and she wipes a tear from her eye, overcome with relief and joy. However, the next morning, as the sunlight shines down from the window, Mymble, worrying about My even in her sleep, awakens to find she has disappeared once again—and once again, she falls into sadness.

Outside, Sniff and Nonnon are joking to Moomin about how the happy-go-lucky, gluttonous My would have nothing to hide. This irritates the ever-bibliophilic Too-Ticky, who comes swirling down stylishly from her tree to chide them for their lack of understanding of people’s feelings; slamming her book shut, she then takes on a petite, womanly demeanor as she asks if My is a boy or a girl, with Sniff snickering as he confirms that, hard as it may be to believe, she is indeed a girl. Thereupon, Too-Ticky, proclaiming that she very much believes so (much to Sniff’s surprise!), lectures the kids (I really do adore her charming, romantic schoolgirlish manner here) that My, as a woman, has various complex feelings that men cannot understand, calling upon Nonnon to confirm as much. This gets Moomin thinking deeply about what this has to do with My’s situation, with Mizusawa giving us a match fade to him still stuck in pensive thought even as he is now sitting on his stairs at home; Pappa then suggests that if the issue is bothering him that much, then surely they, as her friends, should all do something for her. (It really cannot be emphasized enough just how much of an understanding of humanity Yoshiaki Yoshida had in his best screenplays for this series!) So, that night, My sneaks out of her room while Mymble is sleeping and carefully squirms out the window, looking around to make sure no one is there, to jump out and leave her home once again—note the very un-Okada-ish zippiness of her animation as she scrambles to put all her items back in the basket after she trips and falls—but this time, Moomin is watching from behind a tree, and runs after her from a distance to see what she’s been up to!

Now, we find ourselves at a rocky cliff with a cave at the bottom (note how the entrance is covered by a door, indicating some kind of civilized presence), where My, taking one last look around for eavesdroppers as she arrives, rushes in; Moomin then arrives as well, zipping between the rocks to keep himself hidden and tiptoeing up to the door. And what a surprise he finds when he opens the door slightly to peek in—we get a close-up of My bandaging Stinky’s leg, after which she strikes a girly pose and declares he just needs to heal a bit more as she gives the top of his leg a playful little smack! Stinky, in his politeness, begins thanking “Miss” My in no uncertain terms for saving him and taking care of him after his fall from a cliff, and My humbly asserts hand-swattingly that it was nothing, handing him her basket of fruits to eat and recover. Her care for Stinky is such that she even snatches an apple from him to peel it for him, declaring peppily that it isn’t good for an invalid like him to just eat it as-is, much to Stinky’s tearful gratitude and ravenous appetite; the fast, zippy animation throughout this sequence, while not Okada, is certainly very fun to watch in its own right. Just as Stinky is remarking on My’s unexpected kindness and about to chow down on a fully pre-peeled banana, however, My asks him one thing: swishing her knife threateningly, she warns him to keep the fact that she saved him a secret from the others, with Stinky sweating nervously as she elaborates that Moomin and the others would make fun of her if this came out (note how, true to her more typically vulgar self, she peels an apple and begins munching on it herself as she says so). Sure enough, Moomin begins laughing stiflingly, and his amusement becomes unbearable as My goes on to demand that Stinky stop calling her Miss My, with Stinky inadvertently continuing to do so; unable to hold it in any longer, Moomin runs away from the cave and begins laughing heartily, even banging on the rocky floor and rolling around with gusto!

Now begins some 7 minutes of quality animation by Toshiyasu Okada, as Mymble, upon being told of the situation, bursts into laughter herself; look at the way she lifts her hands up right as she is about to laugh, and then tries to stifle her laughter at first, only to succumb as she raises her head and lets her mouth hang open while moving her left arm outward! She then steps over to take Moomin’s hand gratefully and thank him, moving her head and left arm down in sync with how she begins to step forth, and continuing to step forth even as she bends for Moomin’s hand to put her two legs next to each other and maintain her balance; as Moomin admits he didn’t mean to tell anyone, Mymble promises that My’s kindness will be a secret only for the two of them, even winking to underline as much (look how she even tilts her head slightly to emphasize her wink). Thus, the tired Moomin yawns (look at how wobbly his mouth gets as he starts and then stops yawning!) and leaves for the night, and Mymble, too, goes back into her house; I like how her own tiredness comes through as she steps up the stairs, hinging slightly to one side as her arms waver, struggling to maintain her balance.

The next morning, My is sleeping in after a long night, and the bright sunlight is such that she pulls her blanket over herself and tries to squirm inside even further, only to bump her rear end into the front of her bed, forcing her to wake up and wipe her eyes; the amount of detail Okada puts into My squirming beneath her blanket is downright impressive, as we see all the wrinkles and creases of the sheet developing and following along realistically with the girl beneath it! From there, My walks into the living room, still very tired as she tinkers with her hair a little and yawns terribly (all while continuing to step towards us—look how she moves her head to the side slightly to make tinkering with it easier and how she takes her left hand out in preparation for the yawn, and the way she moves her head down to her left a bit after her yawn, still in a state of weariness), and continuing to wipe her eyes as she says good morning to Mymble—only to be surprised at the sight of the banquet Mymble has prepared for her! Mymble does not reveal that it is a reward for her kindness towards Stinky, simply telling My to hurry and wash up (Okada has Mymble actually step into the frame and bend forth as she points My to the sink, her dress continuing to shift slightly as she bends towards My); My cannot help finding it curious, placing her pointy finger beneath her mouth as she walks over to the sink, and after a bit of hesitance in which she simply slaps water on her cheek, she washes herself fully, bending her head down repeatedly as she splashes water all over her face before wiping it down, still quite weary.

As Pappa is busy writing, Mymble arrives at the Moominhouse once again, this time laughing with great amusement over the truth behind My’s disappearances; Pappa’s confusion is such that, while going down the stairs with Mamma, he actually stops himself for a bit to take his pipe out of his mouth so he can ask what’s so comical (really, the amount of care Okada puts into the animation of the Moomin parents walking down the stairs has to be seen to be appreciated, including the way Mamma’s apron slightly shifts and wrinkles as she goes down). Miyoko Shōji’s voice acting for Mymble is simply wonderful as she retorts that, even without a reason, there really are some comical things in this world; before Mymble can tell the Moomin parents about My, however (I like Mizusawa’s framing here, as the Moomins flank the distant Mymble with their backs turned towards us in the foreground), Moomin suddenly returns—jolting her into fulfilling her promise to keep it a secret, as she feigns forgetfulness of her errands and walks out before she can say anything more! At first, Moomin wonders what’s up with her, but as he looks up in thought, he realizes and bursts out laughing.

In the meantime, Stinky has fully recovered at last: carefully untying the bandage and pulling it from his leg, he manages to tremblingly stand himself up using the cave wall as a temporary crutch, and from there begins to walk again! Okada’s impeccable animation perfectly conveys how Stinky grows ever more confident and reaccustomed to using his legs after so long: his initial walking is wonky and hesitant as though he could stumble and fall at any moment, but then Mizusawa cuts to a close-up of his walking legs showing improved mechanics, and during this close-up, Stinky turns around and begins walking with such confidence and dexterity that he even kicks his foot up with each step he takes! At last, he is able to jump around again as he normally does, even bumping his head on the ceiling of his cave in his excitement—and he vows with tearful joy to repay “Miss” My’s kindness from now on, not realizing the trouble he will get My (and himself) into.

Thus begins a series of funny vignettes in which Stinky intrudes on whatever My is doing to try and help her, only to be rejected and even abused in some way. First, as the sun shines brightly above them, the kids are playing jump rope, with My and Nonnon in the middle—this is actually reused animation by Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas from the opening scene of Useless Scandals are Useless, albeit slowed down to fit better with the Okada animation surrounding it! This time, it is the sudden arrival of the frisky, barking Sorry-oo that causes My to trip and fall, and we switch seamlessly to Okada’s animation as My gets angry and begins chasing after Sorry-oo, with Sniff struggling valiantly not to fall as he trips on the way to stopping My. Moomin, having witnessed My’s soft side, does not bother to do anything and even watches with amusement as My chases Sorry-oo in a circle around, believing that My will not go any further even as the worried Nonnon tries to get him to stop her—in this case, though, My absolutely means business, as she grabs Sorry-oo and gives him a nasty-looking punch on the back (look at how incredibly well-drawn her fists are, and the way she tilts her whole body over with her punch to give it that extra force), and then begins marching towards Moomin threateningly with raised fists for doubting her nastiness (look how Okada realistically animates her entire body moving such that her dress waves in the wind as she marches along, and even her fists waver slightly while staying in the same general position)! At that point, though, Stinky jumps in and halts the backing-away Moomin, shoving him aside as he declares that messing with Miss My is messing with him, much to the confusion of Nonnon and Sniff who know nothing of the situation; as Stinky tries to ask My what they’ll do with Moomin, however, My gets peeved at his public sycophancy and kicks him down, screaming at him to cut his act out, then marches off into the distance, with Stinky continuing to bounce after her in his desire to be helpful! (I love the distinctive march Okada gives My here, the way she kicks her legs and clenched-fist elbows out to the side with each step, conveying her haughty and irascible yet somewhat happy-go-lucky attitude.)

Secondly, Mizusawa gives us a close-up of Mymble washing the dishes, with Okada, as usual, putting extra care into the way her hand splashes water on the dish and wipes it; we then see My is helping her out as well (albeit not very delightedly), wiping the dishes down with a towel (look at the elbow of her wiping arm jutting out with each wipe, and the way her other arm holding the dish sort of moves the dish in tandem with the wiping as well). All of a sudden, Stinky pops up from below the window and bounces in to help My, with My ducking and running off the chair stumblingly (very careful stumbling, too, with the way she slightly bounces on one leg as she struggles to maintain her balance!) as Stinky bounces into her spot; now even more fed up, My steps up and takes the frying pan to bash the dish-wiping Stinky on the head, with Okada making the swinging-down of the pan all the more fast and impactful not only by animating it on ones but also by moving right from a drawing of My just starting to swing the pan to the pan landing on Stinky’s head, to say nothing of Stinky’s cartoonish reaction as he gets squished down from the pan, the rattling of his brain from the hit coming across in his eye multiples!

Thirdly, we see the kids’ hands as they play rock-paper-scissors, with My losing out as the only rock while Moomin, Nonnon, and Sniff all play paper; thus, she is the one who must seek them out in their game of hide-and-seek. As she calls out to make sure they’re ready, however, Stinky hops in and once again volunteers to take My’s place, whereby My, straining to hold her anger in, once again screams at him to cut it out and begins to walk off frustratedly; the cycle repeats itself as Stinky tries to proclaim out loud that he won’t tell a soul about their secret, and once again, My marches off with attitude while Stinky trails after her. This time, however, as Moomin giggles at the situation without letting the other two know, Sniff gets fed up himself and decides to march after Stinky to put an end to his stalking for good, with Moomin running after Sniff in turn (I like how Mizusawa has him running right over the screen, underlining his desperation).

Finally, My is back at home and lying in bed angrily, refusing to tell the worried Mymble what’s going on; you gotta love the high-pitched screech of rage Junko Hori lets out for My when Mymble points out how bad she looks, as well as how Okada animates My’s blanket jerking up and floating down slightly when My suddenly sits up and swishes her fist to assert frustratedly that nothing is wrong. And once again, the relentless Stinky pops up in the window, surprising My and sending her tumbling from her bed; note how My’s surprise is magnified by the way her arms shoot down over her bed on ones, and from there Okada has My flail them around in a desperate struggle to keep herself standing as she falls over and rolls onto the floor! As Stinky tries to tell My to get a hold of herself, My has had enough: she pushes herself back up enough to almost leap for Stinky and shove him into the ground, from there dragging him by the top of his head and literally kicking him out of the house, sending him tumbling down the front steps! And as Stinky begins trembling in physical and emotional pain over My’s mistreatment, Sniff arrives, his overbearing, authoritarian demeanor heralded by how his massive leg steps right in front of us and before the much smaller Stinky: in a somewhat tilted shot from Stinky’s point-of-view, the domineering Sniff demands a talk, ordering Stinky with his thumb to come with him. Sure enough, as soon as Stinky bounces off with Sniff, the very next shot is of Stinky tied to a tree, buzzing “S.O.S.” as Sniff begins to angrily interrogate him!

Before Sniff can get violent in his fist-shaking rage, however, Moomin comes in and vouches for Stinky’s desire to show My gratitude, to the point of revealing all the details of My caring for his leg—which we find out that even Stinky didn’t actually want revealed for fear of My’s dissatisfaction on that specific issue, trying to deny them to Sniff at first. In his excitement, Sniff rushes off to tell everyone, while Moomin futilely tries to stop him (I like how they just leave Stinky tied up, and how, true to life, Okada has Moomin’s desperate, reached-out arms shake as he runs after Sniff), and we say goodbye to Toshiyasu Okada’s animation as Mizusawa gives us a montage of Sniff running all over the valley, his running sporadically interrupted by photographic stills of him telling the folks of Moominvalley about My’s good deed. As evening falls, Too-Ticky is still reading at the top of her tree, and below her is the exhausted Sniff; only now does Moomin catch up with Sniff, chiding him for revealing My’s secret, but Nonnon assures him that it was good for Sniff to do so. To assuage My’s potential anger, she suggests that they all do something for My—and Too-Ticky quickly comes up with an idea in her usual know-it-all manner, slamming her book in satisfaction while her eyes remain shut.

In the meantime, Mizusawa now cuts to a close-up of My’s fingers drumming furiously on the table, establishing her frustration as she no doubt ponders how to shake Stinky off for good. As she asks Mymble not to let Stinky in (with Mymble answering yes without much care or thought, clearly focused more on her sewing), Moomin comes by and lets Mymble know that there’ll be a party at his house tonight, telling her specifically to come with My. Oblivious to the meaning behind the party, My suggests that they go out and eat up a grand feast, even gesturing how she’ll grab gobs of food and eat them all up before snickering goonishly, much to Mymble’s hand-swatting disapproval and My’s playful blep. That night, as shown by a shot high above the Moominhouse in which we see the silhouettes of Mr. Hemulen, the Police Inspector, and Snork entering the home, all of the main characters gather for the party, and Mizusawa gives us a nice zoom out that reveals decorations have been hung above the dinner table; Too-Ticky, true to her aloof nature, is away at the stairs, munching on her food while continuing to read, while Nonnon and Mamma are busy in the kitchen. And just as Pappa remarks how late tonight’s guest of honor is, My and Mymble arrive, much to everyone’s applause; as My squeals affectionately over the feast (look at how she clasps her hands sentimentally) and peers side-to-side to figure out where she’ll sit, she prances for the open seat Moominmamma is holding out for her—initially provoking a fracas with the fussy Mymble, until the two of them find out, to their surprise, that My is the guest of honor! As the two of them struggle with this revelation, right on cue we pan over to the window, where Stinky once again thanks My.

As My realizes what’s going on and becomes suspicious, Moomin confesses that he was the one who told the secret, and Mymble in turn reveals that she was the one who made Moomin investigate, much to My’s downheartedness. Mizusawa pans across the smiling villagers as, by stark contrast, one of Seiichirō Uno’s more pensively depressing music tracks starts up, conveying My’s despair over how everyone now knows about her secret caring nature—and, trembling with frustration, she lashes out thrashingly in the air and runs away into the night, even feigning her usual rough attitude as Mymble tries to stop her, much to everyone’s surprise! As Too-Ticky fittingly remarks, human relationships are complicated; once again, Moomin goes off to look for My, and this time, sweetly enough, Nonnon joins him.

After a bit of running across the field and calling out, Moomin and Nonnon find My sitting forlornly next to Snufkin, amidst the dim glow of Snufkin’s campfire; before Nonnon can run up, Moomin stops her hastefully (look how he collapses onto his knees in doing so), knowing full well that the wise Snufkin will smooth things over better than they can, and the two of them watch their dialogue from within the bushes. My sincerely believes that everyone is just making fun of her, but Snufkin, eating his dinner from a can like a true wanderer (true to his nature, he chose not to attend the party even though he was invited), assures her that they’re all truly impressed with her—and the hero of the party shouldn’t just rush out like that, especially with such a good feast. Moreover, surely it is normal for My to be kind, and it wouldn’t do for her to keep troubling Mymble—but before Snufkin can say more, My stands haughtily, having already realized the situation as she gives Snufkin a certain glance conveying as much—and shoves her bitten-into chicken leg into Snufkin’s hand as a little reward for his lectures, rushing back to the Moominhouse! Snufkin smiles as he looks on at the reinvigorated My, and Moomin and Nonnon pop out of the bushes to call on her; initially shocked and horrified to find they’ve been stalking her, My quickly regains her composure and, in her usual scornful manner, exhorts the two to hurry back so they can eat again, much to their confusion.

As Snufkin observes the Moominhouse from a distance (still holding the chicken leg), My busies herself chowing down on the cake, with everyone else staring in some disbelief—and My, dissatisfied with this reaction, reminds everyone that she’s the hero today, abandoning all pretensions as she outright grabs the cake and stuffs her face in it, with Mizusawa zooming out from behind her to show everyone now watching her do so enjoyably! Outside, Stinky takes a bite off of a bone as he once again thanks “Miss” My emotionally; I presume Akihiro Kanayama animated this shot (and by extension this whole section), as Stinky showcases some great liveliness and personality in the way he tosses the bone up to twirl it around and then wipes his tears away with an emphatic swipe that slightly stretches his face (and also sends a drizzle of tears flying from him), to say nothing of the fancily-dispersing dust he leaves behind as he bounces away once more. So, we zoom out from the Moominhouse at the end of another very charming episode, reiterating the simple but timeless theme that even the roughest people can have a soft, caring side, bolstered by Toshiyasu Okada’s expertly-drawn, understatedly intricate animation.

If Useless Scandals are Useless and My is Kind? represent the pinnacle of New Moomin‘s slice-of-life focus, in which Yoshiaki Yoshida’s excellent writing is complemented with atmospheric direction and convincing, well-posed character animation, then episodes 17 and 18 are shining examples of how lyrical and visually spectacular the show could get with outstanding directors at the helm. 17, Nonnon’s Wish, is the only other script by Yoshitake Suzuki for the series, and in contrast to the cartoonishness and clear theme of Moominvalley Is Full of Holes, this one takes a much more esoteric tack, as Nonnon and the others find a seashell filled with ancient flower seeds that, in the end, impart strange and enigmatic blessings upon Moominvalley. Director Mitsuo Kaminashi once again delivers the place-oriented, atmospheric, and often dazzling visual storytelling needed to fully realize such a fantastical scenario, and Takao Ogawa, Ikuo Fudanoki, and Masakazu Higuchi again deliver some very nice character animation, with Higuchi especially standing out for his incredible work at the episode’s stunning climax.


The episode’s very opening indicates that it is going to be special: the title simply fades in over the blank screen, with no music whatsoever, as Moominpappa begins solemnly narrating that, once every hundred years, Moominvalley receives the blessings of the spirits of light and the sea, through which happiness is granted to a lucky few. During this monologue, bright sparkles begin to twinkle on-screen, and this leads to a beautiful overhead view of the shimmering sea and its waves; these wondrous views symbolize these rare blessings of light and the sea. With a sense of this magic and its presence in Moominvalley now established, Kaminashi now brings us into the story proper, panning across the sea to the dock where the bathhouse lies as the seagulls glide through the skies. It is evening, and Snufkin, Moomin, My, Sniff, and Sorry-oo have all fallen asleep in the midst of their fishing and boating; the quiet, peaceful atmosphere is well-conveyed by the slow fades between the characters in their different locations, all while the seagulls cry out. A crab then passes by Sorry-oo and drops into the sea, and the soft splash sound wakes Sorry-oo briefly enough for him to yawn and scratch his cheek a little; just as he is about to lay back down, however, all of a sudden we hear Nonnon loudly alerting everyone to an incredible discovery of some kind, with Kaminashi cutting to a close-up of her feet running down the dock to emphasize the urgency of it all! The groggy Moomin is immediately startled as soon as he realizes Nonnon is the one arriving, standing up so rapidly that he causes My (who has been leaning on him in her sleep) to fall over in a rude awakening; soon, with all the characters aroused from sleep, Nonnon holds up a massive, sparkling, glowing, and pretty seashell, with everyone present admiring it! All of a sudden, however, the light disappears, and the seashell opens up on its own, revealing a bunch of what appear to be flower seeds and an accompanying letter.

Neither Snufkin nor the kids can read the letter, written as it is in a strange, ancient language. In the meantime, Sorry-oo notices someone who might be able to read it, clawing at Moomin yippingly and then outright biting his tail after he is initially rebuffed to gain his attention: the Muskrat, muttering about the uselessness of things as usual. Interestingly, the kids (even My) treat him much more respectfully here than they did in Suzuki’s Moominvalley Is Full of Holes, owing to his scholarliness; still, as in the earlier episode, it is the Muskrat who gets the ball rolling on the plot, in this case by translating the letter and its information on what to do with the seeds. Kaminashi fades to a slowly zooming-in close-up of the shell with soft, faded boundaries, emphasizing the wonder of the seeds within, as the Muskrat reads out the archaically-written instructions: these are the seeds of a flower that brings happiness, and once it blooms, it should be given the very first dew that shines in the morning light. Now excited and wondering what happiness will come, the kids run off to Moomin’s house to split the seeds—and, as usual, the Muskrat remarks that it’s useless to think about whatever kind of happiness will come, swatting his hand dismissively as he strolls off, with a comedic Seiichirō Uno stinger emphasizing the amusement of his unfailingly unfazed attitude. But Snufkin continues to look on, curious where this will lead…

Kaminashi now fades to a close-up of the seed-filled shell and its accompanying letter under a dim spotlight background, and he zooms out on this view as we hear Mr. Hemulen and Moominpappa wonder about the shell’s origins and what happiness will result from the seeds, conveying their extraordinary mystique; the background then fades to reveal everyone standing around the table on which the items are placed, and this is compounded by a pan across everyone staring as Snork notes that these seeds don’t seem to be normal, underlining how they are now the center of attention. Thus begins a brilliant sequence that delves into the different characters’ ideas of happiness and, ultimately, aspirations in life as they speculate on what kind of happiness the seeds will bring, with Kaminashi conveying their thoughts in a series of lovely, whimsical visions featuring some quirky visual ideas. To begin with, Snork suggests that these are the seeds of a new and undiscovered flower, and we get views of various oddball bubbly, springy, spinny, smiling flowers and Snork writing amidst them as he proposes that he can develop a research thesis out of this new flower, from which he’ll instantly become a distinguished scholar! He is then laughed off, much to his finger-tapping discontent, by Moominpappa, who proposes that the flower will bloom with a vivid color and a rich aroma: thereupon, it will serve as endless inspiration for his next novel, which we see him writing at his desk below a tree in the midst of a flowery field, and this vision zooms out until Pappa is framed by flowers as he fancies how his imagination will fly to create the greatest tale of the era! Pappa, in turn, is contradicted by the giggling My, who has a much simpler vision of what the flowers will bring: one by one, glimpses of exotic fruits appear on-screen, and we see My enjoying herself on top of a massive pile of fruits! Just as My licks her lips and sighs with gusto in thinking of this delicious vision, though, Mr. Hemulen objects and brings up his idea: the flower will attract swarms of rare, unseen insects, and we see a garden of pink, red, and orange flowers with stylized insects surrounding them, followed by Mr. Hemulen running up a lovely blue field with white flowers amidst a white-pink gradient sky as he tries to catch one of the butterflies!

As we see Mr. Hemulen in the real world swinging his body as though he were holding a net, though, Snork begins to laugh off all the other visions—and then swiftly turns around on his chair to bang on the table violently, asserting that Moominvalley will become his botany research paper, in turn provoking similar assertions from the other three! That’s when Moomin, acting quite wise and sane when My tries getting him to agree with her, suggests that they all just hurry up and plant the seeds; a brief silence follows as they look down at the seeds and peer their eyeballs at each other awkwardly, as though waiting to see who will make the first move—and suddenly they all reach for the seeds in such a loud panic that the letter goes flying towards the screen, and with such haste that, by the time the letter floats out of our view, all that’s left are the shell (still quivering from how it has had multiple hands violently shoved into it) and a few scattered seeds!

Pappa and Moomin dig up special places for their seeds, and we get a montage of the days passing by, with storybook-like views of Moomin and the others watering their seeds and obtaining water; as the days pass, however, nothing grows for anyone, and the enthusiasm slowly dissipates as watering the seeds becomes a mere side job for most involved. By the pivotal 10th day, it is clear to both Pappa and Moomin that nothing is growing, much to their bewilderment, and Snork and My haven’t gotten any sprouts either. Snork, meanwhile, just flips out in a fine scene of character acting: extending his hands out furiously towards the mound of dirt as he rhetorically shouts “WHAT is this!?”, he jumps side-to-side impatiently (alternating between his two legs) as he questions why nothing has grown in spite of all the care he has put into it, and from there steps back to point accusingly at the mound for making him work so hard, in turn jumping on it repeatedly with rage! At that point, Nonnon comes out with the watering can and tells him to stop taking his anger out on the plant, with Snork retorting snappily that if it was even around for him to be angry at, they wouldn’t even be in this situation. As he steps away arrogantly, Nonnon steps in delicately and waters the plant worriedly, with a close-up on her eyes looking pitifully at the mound as she wonders why the sprouts aren’t growing…

Kaminashi gives us another montage of the days continuing to pass without any growth, as we fade between different views of Moomin futilely watering the plant while remarking over and over again how, even on this particular day, the sprouts didn’t grow. This finally leads to a sunset-lit, shadowy view of the watering can, conveying how the time to reasonably expect any growth has come to an end, as the impatient Moomin kicks it in frustration, causing it to rattle on the ground pathetically. We then see Moomin munching on his food in a hurry—the way we see him doing so from behind, without any view of his face, initially leaves us to assume he’s doing so angrily—before he grabs his ball (already on the table in advance!) and lets Mamma know he’s going out to play; as Mamma, busy in the kitchen, tries to remind him to take care of the flower, he simply speculates that Pappa is doing so already and rushes off. Of course, it becomes clear that they’ve all completely given up on the plant when Pappa immediately afterwards enters the frame and says he’ll be out on a little stroll, speculating that Moomin is taking care of the flower in his stead. To top it all off, in an extra bit of attention to the details of domestic life, this line of questioning has wound up distracting Mamma from her cooking—she has left the pot boiling and burning in the meantime!

As the kids play ball amidst the glow of the late, orange evening sunset (well-conveyed by the sunlight shining on only one side of them and the shadows they cast), Nonnon decides to leave early: as the last birds fly over the hilly landscape, it turns out that she, kind-hearted and conscious of how blessed they must be, has not given up on the seeds and is off to water them as usual, much to My’s scorn (I like how she sits on the ball and jiggles on it with her crossed-arms pose, adding to her worldly-wise attitude as she denounces the apparent fakery of the seeds). Snork, too, is flustered as he tries to go out and enjoy the sunset only to see Nonnon caring for the mound; it seems, as always, that the mound is destined to remain a mound.

Early the next morning, however, as heralded by a beauteous pan down the Snork mansion amidst the out-of-focus foliage at the front of the home (which continues to frame the remainder of this shot as we zoom in on the window), Nonnon awakens and, brushing her hair, checks on the mound—and gasps as she finds that the happiness-bringing flower has bloomed at last, calling on Snork in her excitement! Soon, we see the breakfasting Moomin family being alerted by Nonnon through their window, with Pappa in particular getting so excited that he inadvertently lifts up his cup and nearly splashes the liquid out of it, and all of them head off to see the bloomed flower, with a fence and a tipped-over watering can in the foreground as an atmospheric reminder of the Moomin family’s prior abandonment of the cause. At the mansion, everyone is looking down on the flower—most of them confusedly, as we see in a shot from the flower’s perspective, in a bit of foreshadowing—as Snork emerges from within and waxes on about how, while he is late, he too would like to see the flower—only to be flabbergasted as, in a bizarre revelation played up by the quick zoom-in and the accompanying hickish-sounding springy sound, it turns out to be quite the homely-looking flower!

Snork’s floridly dumbfounded reaction is followed by a brief silence—and then everyone except the two Snorks breaks out into laughter, as all their fussing has ultimately led to this. Flinching and trembling with humiliation and anger, Snork cruelly puts down Nonnon and her hard work in raising the flower, even aggressively demanding to know what exactly her care has led to; heartbroken, the tearful Nonnon runs off, and Snork blocks Moomin from running after her. In an unusually passionate move showing his care for Nonnon, Moomin proceeds to angrily confront Snork for his cruelty, even going as far as to rub his accusational finger up and down against Snork’s upper body, with Snork in turn shoving Moomin aside as he demands not to be shamed even more and storms back into his mansion! To add insult to injury, My remarks that even she couldn’t have guessed the flower would end up like this.

Kaminashi now gives us a cinematic zoom-in through Nonnon’s gated window as we see her lying on her bed, all alone and confined, sobbing quietly and pitifully. We pan over to see Snork open the door, and he lets out a quiet sigh of resignation as he peeks in; he then pauses with a certain look of determination before fully closing the door, as though he knows what must do next. We then cut to an exterior shot of the mansion at night as smoke billows out of the chimney while Snork is heard singing a little cooking song, indicative of some furious activity: sure enough, Snork is busy cooking up a fancy meal to win back Nonnon’s good graces, literally popping from place-to-place in a show of his efficient expertise and speed (especially with the contrastingly fluid animation of what he does at a given location) as he takes out dishware and sides and checks on various dishes! Finally, the table is all set, with Snork carrying the big, steaming covered dish over as he croons about the macaroni gratin, and he adjusts a chair to its proper position as the finishing touch.

Pinning himself saccharinely with a flower as he notes that it isn’t befitting for an older brother to be mean all the time, Snork goes over and knocks on Nonnon’s door with his back turned on it in a familiar posture. However, no answer is forthcoming, and Snork grows increasingly nervous, finally banging on the door as he tries to let her know desperately that even the macaroni gratin she loves is ready, and barging in only to find she’s not there! We see a distant shot of him rushing down the stairs, looking around the vast mansion, and running to the entrance panickedly enough that his hat falls off; opening the door as he frustratedly remarks on Nonnon’s disappearance, he concludes that she must have gone to the Moominhouse (very disparagingly, too, in his high-class haughtiness), untying his apron and throwing it off—whereby it floats down next to where the now dug-up flower (!!) used to be.

Naturally, Nonnon is not at the Moominhouse—as always, Kaminashi marvelously portrays how, in the midst of the night, the house and its dwellers are lit only by the glow from the fireplace—with Moominpappa suggesting that she ran away precisely because of Snork’s cruelty this morning. Snork attempts to deny this as he cautions Pappa not to say “such ill-omened things” (the way we see him from the back at first emphasizes his nice, simple character acting here)—but at heart he realizes it is his fault, as he stops in the middle of trying to explain away Nonnon’s behavior, droops down, and turns around overcome with despair over his mistake (note the almost spasmodic shrug as he begins to turn around, like he’s about to break down in tears). The Moomins try to reassure him that Nonnon might be at someone else’s place, with Moominpappa placing his hand on his shoulder as he announces they’ll all split up into groups to search for her—Taichirō Hirokawa really does an outstanding job voicing Snork in this episode, like the almost choking, emotional whimpers he lets out here as he turns towards Moominpappa.

Later that dark, moonlit night, everyone gathers at the signpost only to make clear that Nonnon is not at any of their houses, and Snork’s despair is palpable as he smacks his hand onto his forehead grievingly (look how he twirls his arm around to do so as he turns and leans back stumblingly against the signpost, all of which add to the sincere theatricality of his anguish); even Moominpappa and Mr. Hemulen are unable to find her. As the situation looks increasingly hopeless, Moomin remarks that they shouldn’t have laughed at her over the flower, but this leads the scornful My to condemn the apparent fakery of the happiness-bringing flower itself—angering Moomin and nearly causing another fight to break out! Moominpappa sternly reminds them that now is not the time to bring that up, and they all split off once more in their futile search for Nonnon. Kaminashi gives us a series of pans through the vast, dark, desolate landscapes as everyone runs around and calls out for Nonnon; one particularly striking shot is of Snork agonizing beneath a tree as he begs for Nonnon to come home, the moonlight shining down on him as though it were a spotlight.

In the midst of this, as heralded by a slow zoom-in on a distant campfire, Moomin and Sniff go to Snufkin, standing before the fire as its smoky heat blurs and ripples the screen (it really can’t be said enough how incredibly atmospheric Kaminashi’s direction is). As he ceases playing his guitar, Snufkin gently rebukes Moomin in a philosophical manner: he has purportedly known Nonnon for a long time, yet doesn’t seem to understand anything about her. Moomin objects that he does understand—or, at least, is going to try understanding her—and with that, Snufkin points him to where Nonnon almost certainly is: the Lonely Mountain, with a dramatic stinger from Seiichirō Uno as we pan over to it. As Snufkin leads everyone up the rocky cliffs, he and Moomin remind everyone of the initial letter’s instructions to give the flower the very first morning dew that shines in the morning light: naturally, the place where morning light shines down first in Moominvalley is said to be the very peak of the Lonely Mountain.

Kaminashi pans down from high in the sky, revealing the silhouetted Nonnon has already reached the very top of the mountain; we slowly fade to her looking out at the horizon, and then to the expansive view of Moominvalley she sees as the morning light just barely begins to be visible below the horizon. She has no doubt that the flower will be reborn as a lovely flower, and at that moment, Moomin and My arrive—but then the overbearing Snork dramatically shoves his way to the front, running up to confront her as, with a faltering voice somewhere between genuine concern and scolding, he asks her if she realizes how much everyone was concerned about her, wagging his finger such that his whole body rocks and raising his hand out towards the crowd behind him before dramatically thrusting his clenched fists down in a show of his anger! Nonnon, about to tear up, apologizes, as she felt that Snork would’ve gotten angry if she had told him, and the others look on pitifully…but then Snufkin steps forth, asking Snork if he doesn’t think everyone should learn from Nonnon’s kindness, making his fist-raising self (clearly about to berate Nonnon even more) visibly troubled; Moominpappa compounds this by suggesting that, just this once, for the sake of Nonnon’s kindness, all of them should join her, much to Moomin and My’s excited approval. Realizing he has gone too far, Snork tries to awkwardly smooth over the situation in a manner befitting his usual authoritative yet humble self, clearing his throat as he tries to announce formally that they can indulge Nonnon if Moominpappa says so, only to fumble over the words—but as he peeks over to Nonnon with one eye to find her smiling, he realizes that the best way he can show his approval is a warm, loving smile for her. In the end, Snork really does care about Nonnon’s happiness, for all the trouble he may put her through in his fretfulness.

With that, the sun is starting to rise, its golden glow already visible on My as she points it out, and Kaminashi gives us a view of the sun shining ever more brightly as it rises, conveyed with real light! As its light overtakes everyone present, Kaminashi cuts to a close-up of dew beginning to drip down from a leaf, which Nonnon reaches in with her little cup to preserve; she then places the flower towards the very tip of the cliff and, basking in the sunlight, pours the sparkling drop of dew into the flower—whereupon it disappears, only to re-emerge as a shining light, with the flower in turn taking on a golden glow as it blooms into a more majestic golden-red blossom, and a marvelous flame swirls out and emerges as the fiery form of the spirit of light on a phoenix! (The dramatic freeze-frame as it reveals itself to everyone really is effective in getting across the amazement of its entrance.) Thus begins a truly amazing climax of pure, out-of-this-world visual storytelling, clearly meant to be beheld in its inscrutable glory and not understood, as the two begin to fly all around and rain golden sparkles down upon Moominvalley, turning the whole valley golden; they are soon joined by the spirit of the sea as he emerges from the purple-colored dawn sea riding his giant fish, and the spirits continue to fly and ride all over with their blessings until, at last, they swirl back into the flower, which completely fades away as Moominvalley reverts to normal. This outstanding sequence, with its beautiful direction by Kaminashi and lavish animation largely (if not entirely) by Masakazu Higuchi, is buoyed by Seiichirō Uno’s wondrous music tracks, with their beautiful, alternatively serene and mysterious flutes and fluttering, perpetually-building strings, as well as by Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s sparkly sound design.

We end this marvelously esoteric episode on a solemn, pensive note with no conventional dénouement, as Kaminashi gives us slow, sequential fades to increasingly close zoom-ins on our beloved characters on the Lonely Mountain who have just witnessed this awesome sight first-hand, gazing out at the valley silently, clearly as stunned as we are. It is on Nonnon, the kind girl at the center of it all, that the most profound impression is clearly left, as we truck ever closer into her awestruck eyes and the sound of waves crashing grows ever louder—and we fade back to the beautiful view of the sparkling sea that had opened this episode, in a perfect bookend. One can only wonder what other episodes Yoshitake Suzuki might have conceived had he continued working for New Moomin; in the midst of its unusually mystical premise, Nonnon’s Wish also serves as a lovely, humane character study of Snork and Nonnon.

The Golden Age of New Moomin at last culminates in episode 18, The Pinwheel of the Sea, the second of Toshio Hirata’s three outstanding episodes for the series, and the crowning achievement of the tremendously improved animator trio of Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki, and Kazuko Hirose: far from their ropey work on Hello, Too-Ticky, they are now creating well-defined character acting and energetic, fluid movement on par with anything by the show’s other three teams. Here, screenwriter Ariyoshi Katō provides a classic, archetypal “boy-and-his-now-tragically-gone-pet” story, as Moomin remembers a dolphin he had once saved and grown to love, with the pinwheel remaining as a valuable memento of their friendship. The rather predictable story is elevated to truly stellar, even touching levels by Hirata’s lyrical direction, with its grand and at times melancholic views of Moominvalley’s environs that showcase the beauty of the world in times of both great happiness and great tragedy, to say nothing of certain poetic interludes that, in addition to pointing the way towards Hirata’s future films, serve to illustrate the deep bond between Moomin and the dolphin Poppy.


We hear the sound of a pinwheel spinning rattlingly as the episode fades in on its establishing view of Moominvalley, making clear precisely what the episode will be about even before the title fades in (the word 風車 usually means windmill rather than pinwheel). It is now late spring, and the flowers are in full bloom, as shown by a beautiful multiplane pan in which the Police Inspector, singing the theme of “La donna è mobile” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, makes his rounds while passing by an abundance of beauteous, out-of-focus flowers in the foreground. We get a magnificent shot of the hilly, flower-speckled landscape surrounding the Moominhouse as the Police Inspector draws closer, a certain sense of space coming from the way he disappears beneath the foremost hill as he walks down the path, and at last he arrives to find the Moomin family in the midst of an exhaustive spring cleaning: note how Pappa grabs onto his shoulder, as though resting his right arm from all the hard work, and how he shrugs in such a way as to both emphasize the pile of junk before him and express his lack of realization that they had so many useless items. Moomin, especially, is throwing old and worn items away from his shelf without a care in the world, and as he walks down the stairs with his crate of junk in the observant Police Inspector’s presence, the Inspector reminds the family that the junk-burning will take place at noon; at this, though, Moominpappa takes on arm-crossing airs and elaborates that their major cleanup is a splendid academic study “unsuited for an everyday Police Inspector” (I like how Hirata frames the initial shot such that the Inspector, looking towards the Moomins, is at the bottom of the screen, as though he were ultimately at their mercy)—only to backtrack this sly dig and claim nervously and hastily that it was a compliment when the Inspector starts to wonder if it was sarcasm, even moving towards the screen threateningly while pointing to the police symbol on his hat (even tilting his head to emphasize it) as though reminding Pappa that he has the power to arrest him!

As Mamma invites the Police Inspector to have some tea, Moomin’s friends arrive with their cart of junk, and Moomin’s crate is the last addition. Just as Moomin is dusting his hands off, however, Sorry-oo runs in and jumps onto the crates to place down one more worn-looking item, even turning towards Moomin with an incredibly sweet look as though he just did a very good deed, no doubt expecting to be praised; this, however, instead provokes horror from Moomin, who grabs the item and hides it behind his back as he tells Sorry-oo (who pulls back in fright, thinking he’s in for a scolding) that he’s going to do something else with this item! At that point, Nonnon recognizes it as the pinwheel of someone named Poppy, and as Moomin turns back slightly and hesitantly acknowledges as much, she and My pour scorn on him for keeping it. To Moomin, however, this aged pinwheel is something precious, gazing on it fondly in such a way as to make clear he won’t let go of it easily; suddenly, he is overcome with a brilliant idea, running off with the pinwheel as he promises he’ll be right back!

Hirata now gives us a close view of waves crashing onto the sandy shore as Moomin runs by, even washing away his footprints; we then see him running up and climbing the painterly, rocky cliffs surrounding the beach, looking for a spot of some kind as he rushes along, even stepping through a puddle along the way in his haste. (Special mention should go to background artist Jirō Kono for his marvelous work in this episode!) We get a clearer view of him stopping to look around once again as he runs past us, evidently determined to find the exact place he’s looking for at any cost, and at last he climbs up another cliff, only now panting tiredly after all he’s put himself through, as he finally encounters the place he is looking for. With that, Hirata cuts to a grand view of the vast, shimmering sea from the high cliff, panning to the right to reveal Moomin now standing before the sea, pinwheel in hand. Moomin gently grasps one of the pinwheel’s blades in his fingers, perhaps to see if it is still sturdy, and then places it down on the sand, burying its bottom so that it can stand on its own. Hirata zooms out on the close-up of the pinwheel that follows, allowing us to recognize how dirty and worn it looks on the whole—making the moment it begins spinning in the wind again, even after so much time has passed, all the more jubilant for us and Moomin! As he lies down to watch the spinning pinwheel closely, he peeks around to ensure he is alone amidst the rocks by the sea, and begins to remember Poppy…

On the fateful day it all began, there was a storm, and we flash back to a pan down the trees and grass being blown terribly in the wind (look at the trees’ rocking!), followed by views of waves crashing violently within the sea and onto the shore, and at last a shot of the Moominhouse amidst the storm with its dark sky, windblown trees, and gusty winds. As Moominpappa, casually reading a book, remarks on how things don’t seem good, we see Moomin’s rattling bedroom window just barely standing up to the wind, with Moomin having trouble sleeping—and suddenly his book barges open and goes rapidly flipping, showing the strength of the wind now that it has forced the window open to blow into the room! Moomin, struggling against the winds to the point of trembling on ones as he resists them, gets up to shut the window, even breathing an emphatic sigh of relief upon doing so; he then returns to sleep, clearly not in the best of moods. After a final prolonged view of the Moominhouse as the storm rages, Hirata fades to the next day, as we hear Moomin and his pals being excited—amidst the wreckage of the many crooked, broken, felled trees, as we discover in the long pan down. As shown by a pan from the now-eerily calm sea to the debris-ridden beach, they are off to scour for any interesting items that may have washed up thanks to the storm.

As Moomin digs around and tosses away unwanted items, he suddenly takes notice of a large, conspicuous chest, half-buried in the sand. Sure enough, it’s a treasure chest of some kind: even before we see the pearls and jewels inside, a radiant golden glow emanates from within the chest, illuminating the excited faces of the kids. Soon, we see Sniff stepping around fancily as he basks in his kingly crown, and the necklace-dressed My and Nonnon fight over who’s the prettiest princess in the world (I love the disgusted, haughty demeanor Nonnon takes on as My objects to her claim), while Moomin, like a true boyish adventurer, raises his little jeweled sword up with a foot on the chest as though he were a pirate! But the kids’ pretending is interrupted by a strange squeaking sound, with this unease quickly turning to fright as Nonnon fears that an actual surviving pirate has come back for the chest; Moomin shows quite the personal courage as he takes the risk of going on ahead to deal with it, sword in hand as he carefully tiptoes over (using the rocks as a sort of crutch to keep him grounded) while the other kids look on in fright. Hirata give us another pan from the sea to the surrounding cliffs, where Moomin and the others look almost miniscule, underlining the kind of exhilarating, somewhat dangerous landscape they seem to be adventuring in; just as Moomin climbs up one last cliff, however, he is surprised to find that the squeaking has been coming from a pink dolphin in distress, beached on the rocks as a result of the storm and struggling for its life!

With that, the kids rush over to push the dolphin back into the ocean; however, it continues to writhe in pain, clearly injured in some way. Thus, the kids immediately find themselves before Mr. Hemulen, flipping through pages as he searches for information on how to heal dolphins: the solution involves boiling garlic chives and rowan berries down in seawater as medicine, and sure enough, even before Mr. Hemulen has finished speaking, the kids have already disappeared to gather the materials! Hirata slowly pans through the beautiful field of rowan berries as Nonnon and Sniff gather them, even giving us a close-up of Nonnon pouring the berries into her basket, and from there Moomin lets her know from afar that he’s finished gathering the chives (note the continuity error as Sniff has gone over to Moomin’s side!); we then get a distant shot of the kids’ silhouettes boiling the rowan berries on the beach, surrounded by the cliffs, with the thick aroma of the berries billowing high into the air. Things get stinky as Nonnon begins to add the chives: we see the gross-looking yellow liquid in the pot as it boils, and from there My reacts bouncily with disgust as the repugnant smell of the chives and berries becomes obvious, with Moomin in turn trying to remind her that this is for the dolphin’s sake—only to be repelled himself, even flinching away with his arm folded over his nose in revulsion! As the capper, Hirata cuts away to reveal the other kids are now hiding behind the rocks, far away from the horrible smell.

Soon, Moomin, now masked (along with the other kids) to avoid the worst of the smell, is pouring the medicine into the sea for the suffering dolphin; its painterly texture is a nice way of conveying its gloppiness. The kids are impatient, wondering if the medicine is ineffective as the dolphin does not react immediately—but suddenly, the dolphin thrashes and lets out a huge splash as it begins rapidly swimming around and drinking the medicine, and all is well again as the kids rejoice over the dolphin’s recovery, its vivaciousness emphasized by its swift movement as we see it swimming all around in the vast sea and then repeatedly leaping out of the water towards us! As he ponders the dolphin, Moomin hits upon a great idea, even crying out and snapping his fingers in his youthful enthusiasm: he’s decided to name the dolphin Poppy, much to Nonnon’s romantic delight, and as though to express her approval after Moomin declares it’s settled, the newly-christened Poppy comes spinning out of the water, with the kids running along the beach to follow her as she continues leaping out vibrantly! By the evening, as the sunset gives the rocks some lovely pinkish hues, the kids are playing with Poppy by splashing water onto her: eventually, the playful Poppy responds in kind by spewing water back at the kids and even laughing in her uniquely squeaky manner, clearly having fun even as the kids are soaked!

As Moomin looks around, he realizes that it’s about time for them to leave, with the sun now barely above the mountains; just as the kids are saying goodbye, however, the distressed Poppy brings her upper body onto the rocky shore, clearly begging them not to go. She is unrelenting even after Moomin tries explaining that his parents will scold him if he stays—and that’s when he gets another idea: he’ll make something nice for her. As he runs off into the distance, we get a sudden close-up of him slicing a leafy stick with his sword from earlier in a quick show of his resourcefulness, and from there he carves this stick into…a pinwheel! He blows on it repeatedly to ensure it will actually spin, and then runs back to plant it right before Poppy, who is enchanted with how it begins blowing in the wind on its own. In her joy, she begins leaping all over the sea as the kids watch, even swimming on her back in ecstasy at one point! (Alas, note the blatant continuity error with the daytime background here, even though it is already sunset.)

With that, Moomin and the others leave, and Poppy continues to swoon over the pinwheel. That night, Moomin tells his parents all about how he made the pinwheel just as Pappa had taught him, and then heads off to bed early and rather excitedly (note the little wink as he thanks Mamma for the meal), planning to get up early to play with Poppy tomorrow. We see his silhouette in the window as he looks out and says good night to Poppy, and from there we zoom out slowly as Hirata fades to the pinwheel spinning: its sound begins to be accompanied by the gentle chiming of a music box, and Hirata slowly fades between views of Poppy, Moomin, Nonnon, My, and Sniff peacefully sleeping in the night, followed by some slow zooms and pans over Moominvalley and the sea, finally concluding in some shots of the pinwheel and the sleeping Poppy amidst the bright, yellow moon. This is the first of Hirata’s quiet, pensive interludes that allow us to take a little breather from the story for some visual poetry, which here expresses how, at this time, as the pinwheel spins on, Moomin, his friends, Poppy, and Moominvalley itself are all sleeping as though they were one.

The next morning, Moomin and his friends are delighted to see that Poppy is swimming around as friskily as ever. Moomin begins throwing fishes for Poppy to eat, and Hirata showcases some cinematic panache as the camera follows the thrown fish, panning over to the right in a curve as it spins through the air and then straight down as Poppy catches it and descends back into the sea; he then has us follow Poppy herself as My throws a fish for her! As everyone applauds Poppy’s catching skills, Moomin suggests that they try to bring Poppy further out into the sea; forebodingly, Nonnon is worried about whether it’ll be safe, but Moomin disregards her caution, noting how happy Poppy is. So, they all row out on the boat, with Poppy leaping along at a distance from them; of course, this turns out to be the setup for another bit of mischief, as, just as Moomin and My are looking around in the ocean for her, Poppy suddenly jumps out right in front of them and over the boat, startling all the kids (dig that shot of her going over the frightened Nonnon and Sniff)! As she once again flaps her flippers and laughs, the fired-up Moomin decides to jump in and swim after her, and the two of them have a grand time chasing each other in the sea, eventually taking their chase underwater. But this proves to be a dire mistake: after Moomin resurfaces to take a breath of air, he dives back underwater to find Poppy is now hiding, and begins to look for her in the completely wrong place—heading right into the dark territory of an evil shark, which begins to give chase!

As Moomin tries to get away, his distance from the shark is significantly decreased by how he gets tangled in seaweed; soon, even after tearing himself from the seaweed’s grasp, the shark is fast zeroing in behind him, the terror underlined by the shot of it gradually overtaking the screen as Moomin desperately swims towards us without getting any closer. Poppy, horrified at what’s happening, emerges from her hiding place and bravely shoves the shark from below just as it is about to bite down on Moomin, saving him as the shark now targets Poppy instead! On the shore, the panicked Moomin climbs back onto the boat and lets the others know what’s happening, but they don’t know if Poppy will make it…by the evening, Poppy still hasn’t returned, as established by a forlorn-looking shot of the kids looking out to the purple-colored sea from the darkening rocks, their backs not lit by the sunset. The moment My dares to suggest she may have been eaten by the shark, however, Moomin gets angry and shouts that she will return, estranging himself from his friends as he suggests that they all go home. With that, the fed-up My marches off haughtily, and so too do Sniff and Nonnon leave, the latter with visible regret as she fears Snork will scold her if she stays out too long. In his anger, Moomin does not say a word of farewell, continuing to sit and stew impatiently as he waits for Poppy.

Time continues to pass without any sign of Poppy, as conveyed by a slow fade to a distant, darker shot of Moomin waiting before the sea, and in a quiet symbol of how abandoned the area has become, the pinwheel, no longer blowing, drops pathetically to the ground. Letting out a heavy sigh, Moomin gets up and resigns himself to the likelihood that Poppy won’t come back, and starts to walk away sadly—only to perk up as he seemingly hears the sound of Poppy’s squeaking, and turns back to find that, far off in the distance, Poppy has indeed resurfaced! But all is not well; as he runs up and hugs her, she is suffering, and it turns out that she is bleeding from a terrible wound caused by the shark! At this pivotal moment, Snufkin suddenly arrives, clearly aware of the dire situation as Moomin runs up and begs him to save Poppy, her suffering plainly evident as we cut back to her squeaking desperately.

As established by a brief scene in which Moominpappa returns home late that night, Moomin decides to spend the night by the shore with Poppy and Snufkin. We slowly zoom in on the grand, atmospheric night view of Moomin and Snufkin all alone amidst the dark cliffs, lit only by the campfire which is billowing smoke high into the air, as Snufkin plays his guitar as usual; we then see Moomin sitting forlornly, the smoke rising from the fire like sound waves, as he looks out to the ocean, where Poppy remains in pain. In the end, not even Snufkin’s alluring strumming can keep Moomin still, as he suddenly gets up with a determined posture; Snufkin reminds him that he’s already done all he could for Poppy, whereby Moomin retorts apologetically that he’s not in the mood to be listening to a guitar peacefully. Thus, with the wise Snufkin’s resignation, he runs off with the lantern to see Poppy: asking if her wound still hurts, he stands her beloved pinwheel up and blows on it, its familiar sound revitalizing the weakened Poppy somewhat as she smiles and goes over to it. Thereupon, Moomin begins to assure her that she’ll get well soon, and that next time they’ll swim to an island with no sharks and go pearl-diving together; it is here that Hirata especially begins to shine, as the sea around the enchanted Poppy begins to sparkle romantically, and this leads to a wonderful, lyrical dream sequence of Moomin and Poppy swimming and playing amidst the bubbles, eventually even floating around in them…more than any other sequence from this period, this beautiful expression of Moomin and Poppy’s friendship is a direct precursor of the flights of fancy that would define Hirata’s later films.

Yet, tragedy lies just ahead. As we fade back to Moomin sleeping before the campfire, Hirata briefly gives us a reminder of how wholesome and dependable Moomin’s friendship with Snufkin is: Snufkin stops playing his guitar to blanket the sleeping Moomin, and some time later, after the fire has burned out, Moomin wakes up and decides to blanket the sleeping Snufkin in return. At that point, though, he realizes that Poppy is no longer squeaking, and runs out to find she is gone; in his desperation, he begins to run all over the place and call out for Poppy, the drama emphasized in one particularly impressive shot in which his silhouette runs to the very top of a cliff overlooking the sea as the dawn begins to break. This awakens Snufkin, who looks down at where Poppy used to be to find a streak of blood disappearing into the sea: it is clear now that, as Snufkin puts it, “Poppy has returned to the graveyard at the bottom of the ocean.” As he tries to elaborate that animals have a habit of wanting to die at a familiar place, however, Moomin goes into tearful denial, furiously running out into the sea as he tries calling for Poppy once more, his steps splashing water high into the air in a powerful, melancholic, beautiful manner…

Snufkin runs after Moomin and holds him back, even as he fiercely yet tragically resists: seemingly coldly but wisely, Snufkin calmly makes it clear that no matter how much Moomin cries and screams, Poppy will never again come back, and as Moomin objects that this is too pitiful, he further explains that death is the inevitable fate of all living creatures, in turn suggesting that they pray quietly for Poppy’s future. But this is too much for the young Moomin, who bangs on Snufkin as he breaks down sobbing inconsolably; Snufkin, ultimately, can do nothing more than to leave Moomin behind in the sea and let him mourn for as long as he needs. Eventually, as Moomin regains his composure a little, the sun begins to rise beautifully behind him—and as he stands up and wipes his tears away, he imagines, just for a fleeting moment, that Poppy is still jumping around in the sea as she always did. With that, Hirata closes this tragic flashback by trucking out on this hauntingly beautiful view of Moomin looking out at the sunrise, revealing that the pinwheel, too, is still spinning and looking out as though Poppy were still there…

Back in the present day, Moomin is looking out pensively at the sea, and Hirata rapidly cuts between various different, alternatively close and distant views of Moomin and the sea as we hear only the sounds of the waves crashing and the wind blowing, emphasizing the special, almost spiritual connection that Moomin alone feels with this vast, desolate, yet solemn beach as he remembers the truly life-changing events that took place here. As he recalls how he wanted to go pearl-diving with Poppy, he decides to stand the pinwheel on the beach once more, as a small but perpetual reminder of those unforgettable days.

At that moment, we suddenly hear Moomin’s friends calling out to him—they still have a junk-burning to carry out, with none other than Sorry-oo, his present-day pet, barking enthusiastically for him to join them! With that, Moomin runs off to join his pals—but not before taking one last look at the pinwheel, perhaps to see if it will be okay on its own. To close this beautiful episode, Hirata trucks out on the pinwheel as it once more begins spinning in the wind amidst the sea where Poppy once was, the zoom-out made all the more powerful by the cinematic multiplane effect as the cliff emerges from below the screen on a separate background layer from the sea behind it…Poppy may be gone now, but the old pinwheel, a memento far more valuable than its shabby appearance would suggest, will always spin for her.

Easily the emotional pinnacle of New Moomin’s first third, The Pinwheel of the Sea is also, alas, the last episode in the series’ Golden Age. With a streak of at least four outstanding episodes, one would think that the show was on a roll, and had yet more great episodes to come; at the end of the day, though, the level of quality that New Moomin had attained was simply a façade for Mushi Pro’s ever-declining business situation, and the series did nothing to alleviate this problem, which was now reaching untenable levels. In truth, it was a miracle that New Moomin had managed to last this long without any noticeable production issues—but now, that luck would run out just as the series had reached its highest point thus far, and the momentum it had built up in the last few episodes would be abruptly halted as it found itself speeding right into a brick wall. Disaster laid just around the corner.


Some striking cinematic parallels between The Pinwheel of the Sea and Sanrio’s unsung first film Little Jumbo, on which Toshio Hirata was one of three directors (alongside Takashi Yanase and Masami Hata).

Episodes 19 to 32: The Dark Age of New Moomin

To begin with, it must be acknowledged how, up to this point, New Moomin‘s animation was created almost entirely in-house at Mushi Pro, with outsourcing only to certain artists like Masakazu Higuchi and Toshiyasu Okada who had already begun distinguishing themselves for quality work. At a time when outsourcing the animation wholesale to different studios and subcontractors was already an established and arguably necessary practice in TV anime—one need look no further than the 1969-70 Moomin series, in both its Tokyo Movie and Mushi Pro periods, for a case of an entire show dependent largely on rampant outsourcing to studios of variable quality and repute—the fact that Mushi kept New Moomin‘s animation in-house for the first 18 (!) half-hours is in itself a major achievement, and surely speaks to how, in the beginning, the studio sought to create the best series possible. Given the dire situation Mushi Pro was in financially, perhaps the studio pooled almost all of its artists into New Moomin in the hopes that such a quality series would be a hit.

Alas, as Rintarō recalled, Mushi Pro’s Moomin series never succeeded ratings-wise. This is borne out by the surviving records of ratings for New Moomin, in which episode 38 (The Curse of the Red Moon) only received 12.4% of Japan’s viewing audience, and episode 42 (Flap Your Wings! Pegasus) only 14.4%. Such ratings were especially low given the prime-time Sunday night slot New Moomin aired in, and only by Calpis’s goodwill was the series allowed to continue:

In those days, 20-25% was considered the norm for anime. But “Moomin” had ratings of about 10% in Fuji TV’s prime time. Therefore, Fuji TV couldn’t help being unsatisfied. However, there lies the strength of a single sponsor. Calpis said,  “No, please don’t worry about the ratings, director. It’s fine as it is. As long as Calpis sells, it’s fine.”

Perhaps realizing that New Moomin would not be the hit that would save the studio, from this point on Mushi Pro began to engage in some fairly impressive self-sabotage. The studio now took on a final spate of co-productions with the American company Rankin-Bass, likely as a desperate measure for money; this would, naturally, take several animators away from New Moomin, which after all the executives probably felt was no longer worth putting all of Mushi’s efforts into, and in their stead, the studio began once more to rely on the dreaded outsourcing of the previous Moomin series. Thus, while animators like Yoshikazu Yasuhiko were squandered on the likes of Mad Mad Mad Monsters, entire episodes of New Moomin would now have their animation farmed out to outside studios or groups, with often-wonky results that did not belong in the series as it had previously been.

But it was not just the animation that began to suffer around this time. More than any other TV anime airing in 1972, New Moomin relied on quality screenwriters who, while not adhering strictly to Tove Jansson’s world, could nevertheless write stories depicting the seemingly mundane and domestic from philosophical, wondrous, and humanistic perspectives. Now, the three writers who most characterized New Moomin‘s unique storytelling in its previous episodes—Yoshiaki Yoshida, Yoshitake Suzuki, and Isao Okishima—were unavailable. Yoshida, in particular, wrote five episodes within the 11-episode stretch from episodes 8 to 18 alone; now he took a break to focus on Tokyo Movie’s Tensai Bakabon instead. Suzuki, meanwhile, moved to writing for Tokyo Movie’s Akado Suzunosuke and Shin Obake no Q-Tarō, and Okishima’s involvement was likely tenuous due to his pink film work.

To say that the episodes from this unfortunate period, which I refer to as the series’ Dark Age, are a mixed bag would be an understatement. The few good episodes from this time are some of the very best that the series has to offer, and are clearly the fruits of the series’ best writers and directors, veterans and newcomers alike, who were no doubt encouraged to focus on their own little gems rather than spread themselves thin trying to save the series. The worst episodes, however, may very well be among the absolute worst pieces of semi-official Moomin media ever filmed, and there is little doubt that at least a few of them have, by their very existence, served as convenient fodder for Moomin (and animation) fans to justify dismissing New Moomin as a whole, which is a shame.

So this brings us to episode 19, The Mysterious Alien, the first episode of the series with fully-outsourced animation—and the first badly-written one in a while. For some reason, Mushi Pro sent this off to a group of total no-names who never appeared outside of this series (pseudonyms of some kind?), and it is immediately obvious how low-rent the results are: the drawings are bland, the animation often looks like the characters are moving 3 times too slowly, and the acting is nonexistent save the barest minimum of movement needed to convey certain actions here and there. In this case, the fact that Toyoo Ashida still served as de facto character designer would seem to indicate that this episode was a test to see if outsourcing the show was feasible; later episodes by these no-names/pseudonyms would credit an equally enigmatic “Hajime Uzuki” (宇月 始) as animation director.


As if the lifeless animation wasn’t bad enough, this is the first of two episodes to be written by an obscure writer, one 三枝睦明 (Mutsuaki Saegusa?), whose other known credits were mainly doramas and NHK’s children’s show Okaasan to Issho, and it plays out like a worse, aimless retread of Isao Okishima’s episode 9 (Gramps is a Magician?). Here, after some odd cosmic event (conveyed through an ugly yellow tint and some weird curtain-like skies—definitely far from director Noboru Ishiguro’s finest hour), a mysterious fellow named Herax appears at an apparent crash-landing site, and pots and pans begin to disappear. Due to the circumstances, Moomin believes he’s an alien, and this all leads to a mess of contrived situations, like My accusing Herax of being stealing the cookware (even though he just found it and was literally bringing it all back to the village!) and rousing up an angry mob (and my goodness, the “animation” of the mob chasing after him and Moomin especially stands out for how poor and apathetic it is), or Moomin smuggling out an entire obvious basket of apples out from high in his room so he can deliver it to Herax.

Unlike Frederickson in Gramps is a Magician?, Herax (also voiced by Ryūji Saikachi) has no intriguing history and does nothing of any significance to actually endear himself to Moomin or to us, nor does he occasion the low-key drama and commentary on childhood fantasies and love that made the earlier episode so poignant; in short, he’s a total nobody who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For that matter, there’s the superfluous appearances of the Hobgoblin and the two elves Thingumy and Bob, who feel as though they were shoved in to give a Moomin veneer to this dumb story. The Hobgoblin, in particular, does nothing of any worth for this episode: he’s simply there to be an ugly, unlikable jerk. Thingumy and Bob, meanwhile, end up being the true culprits behind the cookware thefts in their search for a good home—a lame twist that ultimately has no effect whatsoever, as Herax’s name is never actually cleared: Moomin simply understands why they did it, Sorry-oo scares them off, THE END.

Similarly to Gramps is a Magician?, Herax leaves Moomin abruptly as the cosmic event starts up again—but again, the realization and poignancy that came with Frederickson’s departure is profoundly lacking here. Moomin never even learns who Herax truly is; Snufkin actively prevents as much by hurrying the bloke off while having him leave Moomin a star badge that’s actually Snufkin’s, even saying he’s doing so in order not to shatter Moomin’s dreams. This is, to put it bluntly, a juvenilizing mockery of the ending of Gramps is a Magician?, in which Moomin overcame his disillusionment and learned to love Frederickson for who he really was, even if it was too late for him to say so directly. It is perversely symbolic how the episode which marks the beginning of New Moomin‘s downhill slide happens to be a bad caricature of the very episode which marked the beginning of its Golden Age; fittingly, this is the first episode to use the beautifully melancholic “Moomin is Yesterday” as the end credits theme, and this song will last all through the Dark Age, as though the show itself were mourning its fall from grace.

One of the few good things to happen during this period of the series was that Rintarō began to invite certain lower-ranking but promising staffers to storyboard and direct their own episodes. Thus, animator Masakazu Higuchi, who by now had distinguished himself as one of the series’ best animators, makes his directorial debut with episode 20, Mamma’s Handbag, the last episode to be animated by the hallowed trio of Mitsuo Shindō, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Unfortunately, it happens to be the weakest episode from this trio by far. As an animator, Higuchi often complained about others’ storyboards, but here he realized how hard it was to create a truly compelling storyboard and direct it, even with Rintarō correcting his work heavily before it could be approved for production—and it probably didn’t help either that the storyboard was based on an uneventful and rather inane Keisuke Fujikawa script, in which Moominmamma’s handbag goes missing (actually, it was stolen by Thingumy and Bob as a home), and Moomin and his friends decide to resort to fakery to make the depressed Mamma happy, in turn being rewarded with a party to celebrate them for supposedly finding the handbag.


There are some interesting touches from Higuchi, to be sure, most notably the unusual camera angles that would prove to be a trademark of his storyboarding, and are here a good fit with conveying the small statures of Thingumy and Bob: I like the one scene where they return to their new handbag “home” at sundown, surrounded by flowers above them in a multiplane pan (I especially love how the flowers are blurred as though they were out of focus!). Later on, the scene near the end where My tears down the poster calling for the return of the lost handbag, and Moomin decides to tell the truth about the faked handbag, ends with My throwing away the poster such that it flies towards the screen and covers it in black—a nice little closer in lieu of a mere fade-out or cut to the next scene. At the end of the day, though, I honestly find Thingumy and Bob pretty annoying in New Moomin, at least when they show up for anything more than a small cameo appearance. Here, they don’t even bother returning Mamma’s real handbag until they find out that Moomin and the others have earned a party from their sham bag (which Mamma already realized fairly quickly was a fake, but she felt no need to press the issue), and from there relish in calling the kids out as liars; ultimately, no good deed goes unpunished, as the two elves ultimately find themselves living in a shoe henceforth, much to their dissatisfaction.

Even with the humdrum story and novice direction, though, there are some shots and sequences that stand out for how well-animated and intricate they are, as expected of Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas: for instance, the quiet interlude at the Moominhouse near the end of the first half features some remarkably delicate movement and posing, and the last few minutes are also quite fluid and lively (just look at the incredible smoke that comes from Pappa’s pipe, too!). In fact, while checking the drawings for this episode, Higuchi was amazed by Yas’s animation—his “skilled lines and movements”, as he put it, which is surely as good an assessment as any of the kind of animation the future character designer and animation director of Mobile Suit Gundam would be putting out early in his career. Sadly, this is the last New Moomin episode with Yas’s involvement, as he would be the first animator pulled off to work instead on Mushi Pro’s Rankin-Bass co-productions. It is surely a testament to the effort that he and Kawajiri put into the series—and the bond they shared—as young key animators that the two of them remembered their time together in spite of how brief it was. (Another sign of general staff changes taking place around this time: this is the first episode to credit a different lead inbetweener besides Ichiya Kaminashi, Masateru Yoshimura, or Katsuo Takasaki, in this case Jun Kiguchi.)

One other cute story: the day this episode aired, 21 May 1972, was also when Higuchi got married to an inbetweener at Mushi Pro (most likely Michiko Senju, who is credited in the next episode: by the end of New Moomin, Higuchi’s wife would be credited as Michiko Higuchi, and her kanji for Michiko, 美知子, are the same kanji used to write Michiko in Senju’s name). Thus, at the wedding reception that evening, Higuchi brought in a TV to show his very directorial debut as entertainment—and everyone ate silently, with his uncle from the country shouting “Banzai!”

And so this brings us to the outright disaster of episode 21, The Big Incident of Flower Divination, the third episode directed by Rintarō’s younger brother Masayuki Hayashi and the first episode in which longtime inbetweener Ichiya Kaminashi is promoted to key animator alongside Akihiro Kanayama and Sumiko Asato—and, most fatally, the only episode of New Moomin to be written by Shunichi Yukimuro, who had written for the 1969-70 Moomin series. More than anything, this episode feels like a Tokyo Movie-era Moomin episode dressed in 1972 skin with its unpleasantly absurd scenario: Yukimuro stretches the idea of plucking petals to play “love me, love me not” into all-out “(X), not (X)” divination that suddenly becomes popular in Moominvalley, and everyone believes that…the Lonely Mountain will erupt if even one person, like Moomin, doesn’t comply with the latest fad?? Perhaps in keeping with the bizarre script (or maybe as a failed experiment of some kind), Kanayama’s team goes too far in putting out overly broad and cartoony animation in this episode, to the point where a number of shots outright suffer from extreme squash-and-stretch for its own sake; I doubt this is because of the newly-promoted Kaminashi, as there are glimpses of this squashy-stretchy animation even in earlier episodes animated by Kanayama and Asato.


Things go even further off the rails when it turns out that some jerk magician named Hayareeno, voiced by Ichirō Nagai, is apparently responsible for all this. At night, he blows spores through the air so that, by the next day, everyone in Moominvalley is obsessed with…standing upside-down lest their doom arrive? Naturally, the non-conformist Moomin is unable to stand upside-down, and upon consulting Snufkin, he finds himself confronting Hayareeno, who blows spores at Moomin that…make himself invisible to everyone but Moomin and Sorry-oo? Suffice to say, no one wants to believe Moomin when he tries to point out how Hayareeno is standing right before the mob, and it culminates in Moomin trying to manhandle Snork into seeing the guy and getting smacked in return—physical Snork-Moomin antagonism of a kind that has not been seen since 1970!

That night, Hayareeno attacks Moominvalley with more mind-altering spores, and then the next day—Moominvalley has gone so trigger-happy that the citizens have formed a massive firing squad, in a ludicrous scene that one would normally expect only in the wildest moments of the 1969 Moomin series! Finally, as Moomin makes one last attempt to show Hayareeno to the disbelieving people (and the needlessly squashy-stretchy, melty animation is especially bad here), it takes a deus ex machina intervention from the flower-plucking Too-Ticky (darn if Yoshiko Yamamoto doesn’t put in a wonderful vocal performance here though) to finally reveal the jerk, and then another sudden appearance by Snufkin to ensure this charlatan gets to cower and disappear without being shot to pieces by the angry mob who initially believes he’s an evil god or demon of some kind (and note how Hayareeno’s design completely changes here—a complete lack of quality control from animation director Hiromitsu Morita, or an attempt at emphasizing the guy’s cowardice gone horribly awry?). Yeah, what on earth?

Thankfully, after three weeks of bad, mediocre, and mind-meltingly dreadful episodes, we at last get a much-needed respite from the Dark Age in the special episode 22, The Boy Who Came From Town. If 21 was a woeful relapse into the errors of the 1969-70 series, then this episode, by contrast, offers a perfect example of what Rintarō did want to do with the Moomins. Here is the first episode of New Moomin written by Kunio Kurita, the budding documentary filmmaker who had helped Isao Okishima write the more unusual scripts of Mushi Pro’s 1970 Moomin episodes, and like Okishima’s Gramps is a Magician?, it was key-animated by Takao Ogawa, Ikuo Fudanoki, and Masakazu Higuchi; just as importantly, here is the directorial debut of Yū Tachibana, who had been one of New Moomin‘s two assistant directors since Toshio Hirata’s The Star Child That Came Down, and indeed does not seem to have worked on anything else before then. That Rintarō would entrust such a green young staffer with direction so early in his career, and over a script that was destined to be a highlight in a sea of decay, is no doubt a testament to the enormous potential he showed while serving as assistant director: with this episode, in spite of his novice status, he began to distinguish himself as one of New Moomin‘s most outstanding directors, exhibiting a certain penchant for slow-burn, pensive, atmospheric filmmaking. This fits perfectly with Kurita’s script, in which Moomin finds himself philosophically at odds with Mr. Hemulen’s brainy, scientifically-oriented nephew; his own unpretentious knowledge and experience of the natural world eventually teaches this overly logic-driven boy genius a valuable lesson about underestimating how wise and intelligent even the most seemingly simple of folks are, whether they be rural villagers or animals.


Kurita and Tachibana open the episode by establishing Moominvalley’s rurality in an almost documentary manner, setting the stage for the story. From the flowing river, we pan up to a hilly field, the woods and mountains not that far away, as a large herd of sheep begins passing by; further down the hill, a shepherd goads two stray, hungry sheep to move along and rejoin the rest of the herd. As the herd and its shepherd walk along, a swallow begins darting through the sky, catching the attention of My, Moomin, and Sniff who are running around in the spacious field by the river: even here, Tachibana creates a lovely pastoral atmosphere by showing how small My and Moomin are amidst the vast, bright green field, as well as how the sheep are trudging along on the hill behind the kids, with another herd marching further along the grassy hills as the swallow continues flying around. Clearly, summer is beginning to arrive in Moominvalley.

Later, the three kids are running past the Snork mansion, only for Moomin to come to a stop as he notices Nonnon sitting forlornly on the steps of the mansion. Nonnon is troubled, so much so that she cannot bring herself to speak at first: apparently, a swallow that they once knew has returned to take up residence with a partner in the platform above the mansion’s entrance, with My forcing the fussy Sniff to carry her up so she can see them. Tachibana intriguingly shows this in one long take, zooming out from the close-up of the swallows to reveal Moomin looking on as My and Sniff gradually rise up, putting the stress on both the swallows’ strangely frenetic activity and the childish jumpiness of My’s excitement as she gets high enough to see them. While Moomin naturally thinks the return of these two swallows is good, something about it is clearly bothering Nonnon, and she begins to elaborate as we flash back to how they met the swallow last year: Tachibana beautifully transitions into the flashback by having rain start to fall over the screen as we fade out from the present, bringing us to that fateful rainy day, when, on those very same steps outside the Snork mansion, Moomin and Nonnon found a chick that had fallen and hurt its wing. We then see how the kids lovingly nursed this little swallow back to health, with even Sniff and My doing their part as they prepared food and spoon-fed it; in due time, the swallow recovered, flapping its wings and flying up and even playing with the kids (I love how My turns away with a pouty face after Moomin is the one who catches it), and they set it free to fly towards the southern islands with the other swallows. Naturally, I presume this lovely sequence was animated by Masakazu Higuchi, given the fittingly vivacious animation as the bird jitters and begins flying and the kids scramble to catch it, and the lovely, uplifting Seiichirō Uno music track here was never used better in the series!

Moomin remembers well how Nonnon took care of the swallow—with My and Sniff taking offense to not being acknowledged as they point out how they fed the swallow!—and therein lies the problem: the swallow does not seem to remember Nonnon at all, with Nonnon pointing out the golden band of friendship she tied to its leg as proof that this is indeed the same swallow from times past. Its seeming indifference to the kids is underlined when it begins darting around as My, still on Sniff, tries to jump for it and then grab it while struggling to keep herself on the now-destabilized Sniff, causing the two of them to drop to the ground; it then circles off into the sky as My aggressively objects to its apparent ingratitude, swinging her fists as she gets up and jerking her body up and down as she wags her finger at the swallow! (I wonder if this sequence might be Ikuo Fudanoki’s animation, given the dry-brushed smears as My tries to grab the swallow and Sniff’s funny cross-eyed expression after the fall; both would be trademarks of his gag-comedy animation at Madhouse a few years later.) Moomin, looking on at the swallow with Nonnon, suggests that it’s just too busy right now, but the emotionally-bruised My is adamant that the swallow has forgotten everything, even swatting her hand and grasping her tie with a certain haughty, fancy flair as though she were the expert, and not taking it kindly when Sniff reminds her that it’s clearly remembered enough to return to the Snork mansion. Just as Moomin concurs with Sniff, however, My gets an unexpected savior in the sudden objection of an unfamiliar, scholarly voice: standing before the kids is a fancily-dressed young egghead. This is Peacham, Mr. Hemulen’s nephew and a student of the Royal Academy (voiced by Katsuji Mori), who is spending his summer vacation in Moominvalley: stepping forth, he bows formally as My and Sniff run up to him excitedly, and adjusts his spectacles as he makes out Moomin and Nonnon as well.

Peacham then steps up towards the nest with a certain pretentious, scholarly gait, just as the old swallow flies back to it, as he elucidates confidently that the swallow simply returned to its homeland as a matter of instinct; Tachibana then pans down from the perpetually busy, purportedly instinct-driven swallows to Peacham looking up at them (note the slightly bent perspective and the way the camera slightly zooms out during the pan, creating a sense that we’re looking up at the swallows as well) as he concludes that the discussion about the birds being ungrateful is besides the point—and, in an officious manner as though he were the moderator of one of his university debates, turns and declares that Moomin’s side of the argument was in error in answering the question. He elaborates that Moomin has a mistaken view of animals: per his own cold logic, it is impossible for kids like them to communicate their feelings to purely instinct-driven creatures like swallows, which is why they are coming off as ungrateful. Tachibana gives us a fascinatingly cinematic look down from the top of the Snork mansion’s entrance, with the swallows at the foreground coming into focus as the kids below go out of focus, emphasizing Peacham’s claim that they essentially live in their own little mental world; for that matter, the fabulous, snazzy-sounding music heard here perfectly plays up the pompousness of Peacham’s intellectual, urbane demeanor. Of course, Peacham strokes My’s ego by noting that her opinion of the swallow being ungrateful is, in a sense, correct, even if he does surprise her by adding that the swallow ultimately cannot be held responsible given its supposed nature; we get a great angled close-up of Peacham’s legs almost towering over Moomin and Nonnon condescendingly as he closes his statement, with Moomin turning towards Nonnon quizzically.

Just as My basks contentedly in her now-independently-fact-checked conclusion that the swallow is ungrateful, however, a sudden explosion from within the mansion rocks the area, sending the surprised My scrambling onto Sniff’s neck in fright! The kids open the door to find the living room enveloped in smoke, and the injured Snork struggles to climb out from behind a thrown-over furnishing, looking quite worse for the wear as he brushes himself off and readjusts his wig while reassuring the others that he is fine in his affected gentlemanliness. Of course, his manner-obsessed self is offended at Moomin just casually asking him what the heck is going on as the kids take a look at his “innovative new experiment”; Peacham, on the other hand, quickly recognizes this as a biology experiment, endearing him to the prideful Snork who immediately elaborates that he is writing a report for the Royal Academy, only realizing after this self-satisfied statement that he is talking to someone he doesn’t even know. Peacham continues to think deeply about the experiment as he lets My and Sniff do the introducing, his academic credentials exciting Snork even more; but this quickly turns to fussy unease and then fright as Peacham diagnoses the problem with the experiment and begins fixing the wiring calmly, with Snork, after trying to stop him, backing away with the other kids (conveyed effectively in Tachibana’s distant overhead shot of the table) for fear of another possible explosion!

But all turns out well: as Peacham adjusts the machine while the others watch tensely from their hiding spots, the electrical charge goes through as expected, and the liquid in the giant flask begins to bubble, with Peacham adjusting his spectacles in an assured, expertly manner (just listen to those authoritative creaking and shutting sounds as he does so!) as he declares the experiment a success. Snork stammers as he climbs back through the window and runs over to the table, unable to believe it at first: thereafter, with Peacham’s conclusive declaration that his experiment is complete, Snork begins to lionize the young prodigy, proposing that they pontificate on science together as the kids look on with astonishment. But Peacham rebuffs him, swiping his arm away and even shaking his hand “no” in a rather arrogantly dismissive manner—he is here to play with the kids, turning towards them with a contrastingly warm expression as he suggests they play in the forest! My, clapping her hands with excitement, and Sniff naturally go over to his side with ease, and Nonnon is enchanted when Peacham specifically invites her too; Moomin, however, just stares, even as My exhorts him to join them. His lonesome reluctance to have anything to do with this brainy city boy—who put his way of seeing things down, after all—comes through in the way Tachibana lingers on him, even zooming in on him as he continues to stare while the others move on; he then turns to the side, further expressing his hesitance.

Tachibana’s penchant for conveying atmosphere in a variety of unique ways especially shines in the next sequence. He gives us a lovely multiplane pan across the lake, the silhouetted, slightly out-of-focus trees of the forest in the foreground, as Peacham remarks on how wonderful nature is; this surprises Nonnon as the two of them begin to walk in the opposite direction, with Tachibana maintaining this beautiful view and even panning backwards as Moomin, My, and Sniff begin to follow them from a distance. He then switches to some equally interesting first-person views of the kids walking along, like we were walking with them (between Nonnon + Peacham and the other three, in fact), as Nonnon explains that they’re used to seeing this nature every day; behind them, meanwhile, Sniff and My begin talking about the things they plan to show off to Peacham. Tachibana finally switches back to a more conventional view as My comes up with an idea and whispers it to Sniff while Moomin continues moving on; in the vast, flower-decorated views of the downsloping hill that follow, however, it is Moomin who stalls behind the others as My suggests to Peacham that they all compete at strawberry picking. Tachibana again emphasizes, in a low-key way, how left out Moomin apparently feels amidst the bucolic hills now that Peacham is firmly the center of attention: we get a front-facing view in which the other four are all talking to each other in the same row while Moomin is far off in the background, and then the impressively tree-framed long take in which Moomin, after lingering, decides to just go with the flow is interrupted by a brief shot of his blank expression, making clear his uncharacteristic lack of excitement.

By evening, the kids have gathered around a stump-table at the edge of the forest, rays of sunset light shining through the trees. They hold their strawberries out as four of them begin wondering whose strawberry is bigger: when Peacham suggests that Moomin’s strawberry is the biggest of all, however, My steps onto the table and, after feigning some looks between Moomin’s and Peacham’s berries, naturally toadies up to Peacham, smacking Moomin’s hand and its much bigger strawberry away as she declares Peacham’s is bigger! From there, as Moomin looks confusedly at his berry, Peacham reveals that he found a whole field of strawberries: Tachibana continues to emphasize the gorgeous countryside’s importance to the story as we see the kids arriving over the rolling, sunset-lit hills, the woods and mountains just a short way off, and marveling at the flower-dotted, red-speckled strawberry field before them. (As in Toshio Hirata’s The Pinwheel of the Sea, background artist Jirō Kono deserves a special mention.)

Moomin’s friends charge into this hitherto-secret field without a care in the world, but Moomin remains skeptical about whether they should really be here, even as Peacham encourages him to come along. At that point, the two swallows begin flying over the area, and it becomes clear that, above all else, the dilemma of what the swallows are truly thinking and Peacham’s unsatisfyingly cold view of them continues to hang heavy in Moomin’s mind: as Moomin looks up at the flying swallows, Tachibana jump-cuts from his distant view of the swallows to a close-up of the band of friendship that remains on the older swallow’s leg, a perpetual reminder of why its current behavior is so troubling, and he runs down the hill mainly to get a closer look at the swallows as they dart through the area, even as Nonnon calls on Moomin to join them in the strawberry field. As Moomin returns to staring at Nonnon and Peacham, Tachibana trucks in on the two—and then cuts right to a close-up of a goblet of bountiful strawberries as he trucks back out, establishing rather playfully that even Moomin’s parents are now enjoying the fruits of Peacham’s seemingly unimpeachable know-how in Moominvalley.

Moomin himself has become the only one who feels—even if he can’t quite express it very well—that something is off about Peacham and his way of thinking. He cannot even bring himself to eat the strawberries that the kids have picked thanks to him, and leaves the table discontentedly as his parents begin repeating Snork’s praises of the lad. Before he can finish walking up the stairs forlornly, however, he decides to finally ask his parents if swallows are ungrateful, opening up about the issue of the swallow the kids saved. While Pappa mulls over it troubledly, Mamma comes up with a surprisingly easy answer: the swallows, having grown up and returned to build a nest, must be busy taking care of an egg or two. We hear the series’ theme song start up as Tachibana zooms in on Moomin, emphasizing his sense of growing realization as Mamma explains: she then suggests that Moomin take a look at the swallows’ nest tomorrow to confirm the presence of eggs, definitively reinvigorating his spirits as he stands back up, and Moomin runs off to bed excitedly as she elaborates that, when those eggs hatch, the swallow will want to play again! We get a clear view from outside as Moomin walks up to his bedroom window and rests his head in a certain dreamy anticipation, pondering Mamma’s words and then looking out towards the sparrows: Tachibana then fades slowly to a thoughtful view of the sparrows resting peacefully in their nest, illuminated for us by a sort of painterly spotlight as they have now proven much more interesting than they seem, and we fade out for the night.

Early the next morning, Moomin is already hard at work dragging a heavy ladder to the Snork mansion; only after placing it down at the top of the entrance does he stop to take a breather, wiping his brow, after which he climbs up to take a good look at the swallows’ nest. Sure enough, the old swallow’s partner is resting warmly over an egg; Nonnon then comes out in time for Moomin to invite her up the ladder so she can see the egg as well! Clearly, caring for this egg was why the swallow was too busy to play; as they wonder when it will hatch into a chick, Moomin and Nonnon promise to keep it a secret. Right at that moment, My, Sniff, and Peacham arrive to go butterfly-catching; things seem to go well at first as neither Moomin nor Nonnon say anything about the egg, and Moomin actually runs off happily with the others as Tachibana pans back up to the nest with its secret egg, simultaneously fading to the next sequence…

That evening, however, as the kids are walking back down the hill with the beautiful orange sunset sky over them, Peacham suddenly asks Moomin about the swallows’ egg, causing him to drop his net in shock. When Moomin attempts to evade the question, Peacham reveals the cruel truth: Nonnon has indeed betrayed their secret to Peacham—and to add insult to injury, the egg only reinforces Peacham’s view that the swallow is acting purely out of instinct. As Seiichirō Uno’s music swells dramatically, conveying the almost Shakespearian sense of betrayal that Moomin must be feeling, Tachibana cuts back and forth between the distant shot of the sold-out, abandoned Moomin and a zoom-out on Nonnon walking along happily and chatting with My and Sniff: this perfectly conveys Moomin’s helplessness in the face of how Nonnon seems to have gone fully over to Peacham’s side. In what no doubt comes off as a gloating consolation prize, Peacham then invites Moomin to come over to Mr. Hemulen’s home later tonight so he can show everyone the slide projector he brought along; once again, Moomin lingers and stares as Peacham runs over the hill with everyone, and only afterwards does he take his net up again, dragging it along the ground rather than carrying it as he walks along in his depressive, undesired state.

As night falls, Moomin, unwilling to join the others, is simply staring out the first-floor window of the Moominhouse, his pensiveness conveyed by how Tachibana slowly fades from a wide shot of the Moominhouse to a closer view. At that moment, Nonnon comes by to pick him up so they can all see the slide projector together; Moomin, not so much angry and confrontational as he is simply disillusioned and left in the lurch, asks Nonnon if she forgot their promise to keep the egg a secret. Nonnon seems oblivious to how much she has shattered Moomin’s trust in her, initially forgetting that they even had a promise and then claiming that Peacham isn’t the same as the others like My. Moomin at last raises his voice in response to this blatant dismissal of their promise—whereby Nonnon simply runs up and reassures him carefreely that Peacham wouldn’t tell anyone, finding it much more important that they’re late to Peacham’s projector demonstration. Now that he sees for himself just how much Nonnon has come to value Peacham over him, the downcast Moomin turns his back and asks Nonnon to just go on without him, which she gladly obliges. As she runs off, however, Moomin is clearly thinking, as underlined by how Tachibana zooms in on him—and he turns back towards the departed Nonnon, perhaps wondering if he should at least check things out like he has been doing…

Tachibana now treats us to an upfront view of Peacham’s slide projector, as he shows pictures of various places in the Royal Academy to the kids and discusses them; Mr. Hemulen is watching his nephew’s presentation as well, his silhouette visible in the window of his home. It is then that Tachibana pans over to the dark, pitch-black woods, with a series of sequential fades to increasingly close, moonlit shots revealing that the lonely, curious Moomin is observing all this from afar; a certain introspectiveness on Tachibana’s part comes through in the slowness of the fades, as he almost invites us to join him in contemplating Moomin’s feeling of abject neglect. Peacham then switches his academic slides out for a new set of slides illustrating a fairy tale (I like how animation director Toyoo Ashida’s ex-TCJ/Andersen Monogatari heritage comes through in the design of the prince), much to the kids’ applause; right then, Tachibana fades back to Moomin as he lowers his head despondently, confirming as he has that his friends are having all the fun they could ever hope for without even remotely caring for his own feelings. As Tachibana fades to a more distant shot, Moomin begins to walk away forlornly, but not without turning to take one last look at everyone else enjoying Peacham’s storytelling; Tachibana then fades back to the even more distant shot of Moomin’s tiny silhouette all alone in the dark, underlining his strong sense of loneliness and how he is practically just a shadow to the others now, as he disappears down the hill for good. This remarkable sequence of Moomin’s loneliness concludes with a tilted shot of the lake reflecting the yellow moon as Moomin’s silhouette passes against it; in his absent-minded loneliness, Moomin decides to kick a rock into the lake, causing the reflection to blur and ripple melancholically as he walks back home.

The next day—Nonnon is running panickedly across the bridge to the Moominhouse, as an emergency has arisen! At first, the now-bookish Moomin tries to ignore her irritatedly, but as Nonnon continues to insist on his attention, he cannot hide his increasingly worried look, trying to snap back in turn that he’s reading; only then does Nonnon reveal that the swallow’s egg has gone missing, which is enough for Moomin to be back at the nest in an instant as one of the swallows flaps its wings panickedly. As the other three kids argue over how Moomin and Nonnon keeping the egg a secret could have contributed to its disappearance, however, Peacham dismisses the egg’s disappearance as an unfortunate coincidence (note how he adjusts his spectacles afterwards as though this is the “intelligent” response to the situation), concluding coldly that they should all just forget about it. While the ever-sycophantic My concurs and reminds everyone that the swallow was supposedly ungrateful anyhow, Moomin, perturbed more than ever by Peacham’s “logical” disdain for animals and the problems of the natural world, suddenly realizes who could have taken the egg and runs off to get it; Peacham tries to stop him (and Moomin is clearly worried about what he has to say at first) by elaborating that the egg must be dead now that it has removed from its nest for more than an hour, but Moomin is confident that this is not the case and continues to speed down the hill—and Nonnon briefly runs down the steps after him, clearly worried.

In a certain irony, as Moomin rushes up the forested hills and along the precarious cliffs of the Lonely Mountain, it turns out that he is acting based on the knowledge of Peacham’s own uncle Mr. Hemulen: there exists a bird that takes other birds’ eggs and cares for them as if they were its own. After Tachibana pans up to the top of the Lonely Mountain, he gives us a fascinating match fade: we now see this same backdrop in the background as he zooms out to reveal Peacham leaning against one of the Snork mansion’s columns, reading a book as he snidely remarks on how unscientific Moomin is. When he tries asking Nonnon to agree, however, only My, as usual, concurs, in the meantime berating Sniff for not holding the ladder firmly as she tries to climb up for whatever reason: Nonnon is now too worried about Moomin to say anything against him, drawing a picture of him on the ground as her true feelings for him finally show at last. The swallow, too, is darting high above the picture, and Nonnon cannot help but stare at it, no doubt realizing that everything Moomin has done lately has been for the sake of their friendship with it. In the meantime, Moomin is now climbing up the Lonely Mountain, clearly exhausted as he stops to breathe but determined to press on nevertheless: at last, Moomin finds the egg-stealing bird, and we get a funny little scene as it turns out to be a cartoonish thing—flying off in fright only after Moomin prods its drunken, demented-looking self awake, revealing the swallow’s egg within its nest!

Back at the mansion, even My, sitting on the ladder, is now bothered by how long Moomin is taking, while Peacham declares that he will continue to wait, asserting self-importantly that this is the best chance for him to correct what he sees as Moomin’s flawed way of thinking. The worried Nonnon continues to sketch her loving picture of Moomin, but then she looks out and is joyously surprised—Moomin is at last returning, egg in tow, and he rushes up the ladder to put the egg back so fast that he doesn’t even notice My, who tumbles right over in a panic as Moomin nearly steps on her! Nonnon climbs up the ladder to look at the recovered egg as well, with Moomin assuring her that things should be alright now, and we pan over from My and Sniff to find that even Peacham is staring up at the nest, silent and astonished.

As the sun sets once more, the children all sit in peaceful, pensive silence, no doubt reflecting quietly on everything that has happened as they wait for the egg to hatch, with only the sporadic chirping of birds echoing through the air. Tachibana sets the scene perfectly with a slow fade from the Lonely Mountain to a very distant view of the Snork mansion; he cuts between the kids sitting contemplatively, and then gives us a shot of all of them together as the Police Inspector walks by, taking a quick glance at the unusually quiet children before moving on. Finally, we see that even the swallow is watching its egg quietly, and we slowly fade to a rather unusually low back view of My, Moomin Sniff…as the meditative silence is suddenly interrupted by Snork’s legs running out of the mansion and jumping over the children rejoicingly, his research report now complete at last! Snork begins to stuff it into an envelope so he can mail it to the Royal Academy—but then he realizes that the deadline to submit it is today, causing him to fall dramatically on his knees and lie down in trembling despair.

As Snork is agonizing, however, the swallow suddenly gets excited, and its chirping immediately signals to Nonnon that the long wait is over: the chick has hatched, as the other kids now turn around with delight as well! With this wonderful miracle of life, the swallow begins to dart around jubilantly in the sky, while Snork, in the foreground, gets up depressedly and tosses his now-seemingly useless report away—only for the swallow to grab it and begin to fly off, much to Snork’s astonishment and the other kids’ excitement as he realizes that the swallow is off to deliver his report to the Royal Academy! As everyone looks out, it is obvious to Snork that this could only be out of gratitude for how much everyone cared for the swallow. With that, Peacham walks up to Moomin and concedes at last that he was right about the swallow all along: adjusting his spectacles more warmly than before, he even goes as far as to say that Moomin has taught him something precious that he would not have learned at school, clearly impacted by how the swallow would repay Moomin and the others’ kindness in such a profound manner. As he holds his hand out for the two of them to shake hands, though, Moomin hesitates at first, perhaps feeling awkward about it given Peacham’s previous condescending attitude; it is only after My raises Moomin’s arm for him that the handshake happens, with Moomin warming up and taking on a fond, increasingly happy smile as Peacham thanks him, much to Nonnon’s enchantment!

At last, Snork calls the swallow’s name out in a formal acknowledgement of its presence in the sky as we see its old band of friendship floating down to the ground—and landing right on the edge of Nonnon’s affectionate dirt drawing of Moomin, which Tachibana gradually zooms out on to reveal in all its charming earnestness, magnified by its child-like, wobbly lines. This lyrical climax is at once a symbol of how the swallow has finally repaid its debt to the kids and a powerful reminder that, in the end, Nonnon has no greater friend she can count on than Moomin. So, the swallow heads off on its journey to deliver Snork’s report, gliding towards the shining, setting sun…of course, I cannot go without mentioning the slow, beautiful, farewell-like rendition of the series’ theme song that is used in this final sequence, especially the way it comes to a grand, flourishing piano climax in perfect sync with the band of friendship landing on Nonnon’s drawing of Moomin.

Unfortunately, this would be the last New Moomin episode animated by the Ogawa-Fudanoki-Higuchi team, which was disbanded outright amidst the pressures and maneuvering of Mushi Pro’s ongoing collapse. Takao Ogawa seems to have been shafted to the Rankin-Bass co-productions; Masakazu Higuchi, thankfully, was able to keep working on the series (likely due to his status as a freelancer), but as part of Mitsuo Shindō’s group henceforth, filling in the vacancy left by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Ikuo Fudanoki, meanwhile, was pulled off to work on episode 38 of Mushi Pro’s other ongoing series Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai, which was being produced by the Yasuo Ooda-Masao Maruyama team with Akio Sugino as the main animation director. Although it was his only credited involvement on that series, he never returned to New Moomin’s staff—instead, he would follow this Osamu Dezaki-associated circle, with whom he had already worked on Ashita no Joe, to their new studio Madhouse. Fudanoki went on to be a top animator on many of Dezaki’s classic series, especially The Adventures of Ganba, The Rose of Versailles, and Ashita no Joe 2, standing out for his ability to move characters with a certain sense of weight and exuberance; he also exhibited a deranged side in Tokyo Movie’s classic gag comedies Hajime Ningen Gyatoruzu and Ganso Tensai Bakabon and Madhouse’s own Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, in which his chonky, often lively animation was complemented with a penchant for throwing in as many funny faces and quirky drawings as he could. (Sadly, according to the information booklet included with the boxset of Mushi Pro’s Dororo, he died in 2002, before he could be interviewed about his career.)

It is a mark of the tragedy of New Moomin around this time that this shining beacon of an episode happens to be flanked by two of the series’ all-time worst. Having already delivered The Big Incident of Flower Divination to us, the Dark Age now returns with a vengeance by way of episode 23, Mamma, I’m Sorry, which marks the unwelcome return of writer Junji Tashiro to the series. This vile and despicable episode, in which Moomin for no particular reason begins acting really nasty and rebellious to the point of being a total jerk against Mamma in more ways than one (right from the first awful sequence in which he and Mamma fight over who gets to bathe him), is a frankly dreadful way for animators Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki, and Kazuko Hirose to end their time on New Moomin; Nonnon is scarcely more likable in her petty quarrels with Moomin, and Pappa just disregards and even laughs off Mamma’s tearful agony over Moomin’s behavior. To be sure, Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose and director Wataru Mizusawa clearly tried to dress this fetid story up with some beautiful visuals and good character animation, especially in the whole interlude where Moomin and Nonnon decide to go out to the forest in the evening, only to get lost; but frankly, good visuals cannot save a script in which every other character is incredibly unlikable.


Indeed, in one of the single most shameful moments in Moomin history, the episode climaxes in a lengthy scene of Mamma spanking Moomin. There is nothing remotely defensible here; that it even made the cut says something about the worsening state of the series’ production. And then, similar to the earlier Tashiro-written With White Horse and Full Moon, the episode tries to end on a half-baked humane, “all-is-well-again” note as Moomin writes a letter apologizing to Mamma for his horribly out-of-character bad behavior, which should have never happened in the first place—it’s especially insulting how the episode even tries to generate warm, fuzzy feelings here by playing the rarely-heard second verse of the series’ theme song as Moomin runs along joyously in the sunset, an ending which frankly does nothing to cover up the stench of everything that came before it.

Ideally, Junji Tashiro should have been banned from New Moomin for good. But in a sure sign as any of how Mushi Pro was just throwing this series at large to the dogs by now, this is the first of a deluge of Tashiro-written episodes that will infest the series over the next several weeks. It seems he became more common around this time precisely because he was fast and prolific, and could deal with a rough production: in 1972, he also wrote almost an entire tokusatsu series on his own, 緊急指令10-4・10-10, and much later, he would be the main writer on Tōei Dōga’s long-running Ikkyū-san and even script all of Tsuchida Production’s Manga Nihonshi in addition to his work in live-action doramas. If nothing else, the decline in the series’ writing at least matched that of the animation: almost all of Tashiro’s episodes from this point on would be outsourced to non-Mushi studios, the wreckage of the results making clear that the good New Moomin of the first several episodes was mostly gone by now.

As for the animators’ fates: Ebisawa and Hirose, along with Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Takao Ogawa, may have been shafted to work on Mushi Pro’s Rankin Bass projects (Mad Mad Mad MonstersFestival of Family Classics); Masatoshi Suzuki, meanwhile, was briefly elevated, directing an episode of Mushi Pro’s other series Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai. Years later, Ebisawa and Hirose would be prolific animators on Tōei’s Akira Toriyama adaptations in the 1980s (Dr. Slump & Arale-chan, Dragon Ball), both working from studios founded by their seniors on New Moomin (Ebisawa from Toyoo Ashida’s Studio Live, and Hirose from Mitsuo Shindō’s Shindō Pro); Suzuki, on the other hand, seems to have disappeared from animation altogether after working on a handful of other shows in the immediate wake of New Moomin, of which I will say more as we reach the end of this article.

Junji Tashiro also wrote episode 24, Let’s Make a Clock (yes, two episodes in a row from him!). If Mamma, I’m Sorry is awful for its foul, rancid story, then Let’s Make a Clock is simply a tedious waste on almost every level, right from its opening pathetically-animated lightning strike (complete with some unusually poor thunder sound editing on Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s part). Basically, a massive ship is lodged between cliffs after a storm, causing Moominvalley to be flooded, and to dislodge it, the villagers need to time their attempt such that it takes place at a certain time of the day when the seawater level is at its highest—but rather than simply making a single new clock after Snork’s turns out to be broken, they decide to hold an entire needless clock-making contest. Naturally, this is a good opportunity for Moomin to be scorned and mocked and eventually driven to rageful, destructive tears for his shadow-based wooden clocks, not only by the mob but even before them by Nonnon and My (who go as far as to “demonstrate” how useless his clocks are by jerkily blocking the sunlight from them)—but eventually, through some pure contrivances (oh no, the rain is suddenly pouring down on the clocks, and Snork has tripped and broken his hourglass!), all the other clocks are ruined or destroyed, leaving only Moomin’s last remaining wooden clock as the sun comes out.


As if Tashiro’s story wasn’t mean-spirited, contrived, and boring enough, we get weird but lackluster direction by one Kazuo Takaichi (whose few other credits include the Tokyo Movie episodes of ’69 Moomin—slow fades, quirky visual compositions and angles, and dramatic slow-motion alone do not make good direction) and soulless animation by the no-names of The Mysterious Alien: a perfect recipe for a total throwaway episode. I’m not even mad that this episode is bad—at least, not enough to actually rant much about it—and I would not mind if it did not exist, which says it all.

Thankfully, we now have another truly outstanding episode just when we need it most. (This series sure has become a rollercoaster of extremes in quality, huh?) Episode 25, The Door Into Summer, is not only the first episode in a long while to be written by Yoshiaki Yoshida: it is also the first episode of New Moomin to be directed by the unsung Mitsuo Kobayashi, who had been the series’ other assistant director besides Yū Tachibana. Kobayashi had begun his career as part of Mushi Pro’s photography department, working on the first Animerama film A Thousand and One Nights and Ashita no Joe in that capacity, but at some point he decided to shift towards directing instead, making his directorial debut on episode 49 of New Moomin’s predecessor series Andersen Monogatari. This was the very first work Kobayashi directed after gaining further experience as an assistant director on New Moomin, from which he clearly became influenced by Rintarō. Here, with an unusually fantastical and enigmatic script by the otherwise character-focused, humanistic Yoshiaki Yoshida as a solid foundation, Kobayashi exhibits a much stronger, more artistic and experimental command of filmmaking than was typical for New Moomin’s episode directors, creating some extraordinary senses of idyll, horror, adventure, and wonder alike as he delivers some of the series’ most spectacular views of Moominvalley and its various fascinating places and phenomena. In doing so, he often makes good use of stellar photographic effects and tricks, clearly drawing on his prior experience as a cameraman; more than any other director, perhaps, he knew how to convey the uniquely wondrous, simultaneously pastoral and exhilaratingly magical atmosphere of the Moomins’ world. Animation-wise, the unusual, transitional team of Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri delivers one of the most consistently well-acted and carefully-animated episodes in the entire series. (Of course, I find it greatly fascinating that, having just debuted as an episode director with Mamma’s Handbag, Higuchi wound up animating on both Tachibana’s and Kobayashi’s directorial debuts for New Moomin as well, and in the latter case under the aegis of the very same team (Shindō and Kawajiri) that had just animated his debut episode!)


Kobayashi opens on the bright, shining sun amidst the yellow sky: summer has fully arrived in Moominvalley. We then fade to Moomin skipping along the ground exuberantly and singing below, at one point even spinning around on his leg before hopping up and switching to a sort of carefree march—only to suddenly stumble to a halt, as we see that he has barely missed stepping onto a horned beetle crawling across his path! Kobayashi briefly cuts to a close-up of Moomin’s awe-struck face, expressing his feeling of wonder, and then cuts back to the ground to show that the beetle is gone, making it safe for Moomin to put his foot down again. With that, Moomin playfully turns around and runs backwards for a bit as he looks back at the beetle, even throwing his arms out jubilantly and raising his hand up while turning back to the front as though he were bidding it a fond farewell, and from there he continues on his way down the hill, surrounded by the forests and mountains. This excellently animated prologue not only showcases Moomin’s youthful, summery joie de vivre, but also demonstrates his fascination with the nature around him.

Soon, in a rather normal start to what could prove to be another typical slice-of-life episode, Moomin arrives at the Snork mansion, calling for Nonnon to come out and play with him; the unusually slanted, rather distant layouts, even in the close-ups, make the woods surrounding the mansion a little more noticeable than usual, as well as emphasizing the mansion’s grand scale and structure, especially after Nonnon comes out to her balcony and assures Moomin she’ll be down. As Moomin walks over to the mansion’s steps and sits patiently, a butterfly flutters by, catching his attention; his observation is then interrupted by the mansion’s door opening, revealing a very elegantly-dressed, artiste-ic Snork! He immediately puts on airs over Moomin simply asking him where he’s going, rotating himself around to showcase his fashion as he claims Moomin ought to know simply from his style; he then insults Moomin’s lack of clothes when he continues not to get what Snork is going for, whereby Nonnon emerges and, chiding Snork’s condescension, explains that Snork is off to paint a picture of the field (note his satisfied nodding as Nonnon does so). So, Snork excuses himself, turning to Moomin with a smirk as he leaves—and Moomin, fed up, runs towards Snork and yells that even he himself can draw pictures, with Snork retorting sarcastically that that’s also a fine hobby! As Moomin looks on angrily at the conceited Snork heading off and even singing to himself, Kobayashi trucks in towards his face (note the curved arc the camera takes)—emphasizing his determination to prove himself as he declares he’ll make a landscape painting too.

Kobayashi then cuts right to Moominpappa placing his newspaper down, intrigued by Moomin’s sudden desire for drawing tools; we see Moomin’s enthusiasm in the way he throws his hands up excitedly to confirm Pappa’s query before elaborating. Before Pappa can start waxing lyrical about how he used drawing tools in the past, though, Mamma appears at the kitchen entrance to let Moomin know they’re in the basement, allowing him to run off for them; I really like how the animator here (either Shindō or Kawajiri, based on how scenes similar in movement to this appeared in previous episodes with them) has Moomin move very fluidly without halting his momentum even when he has to stop and open the basement door to proceed, conveying the way his whole body sort of jerks back as he struggles to pull the door open. After some time has passed, as conveyed by Kobayashi cutting to Mamma now sitting with Pappa at the table as well before panning back to the basement entrance, Moomin re-emerges with his own painter style: now donning a fancy beret and carrying a drawing board strapped to his shoulder (note how the entrance is too short for the beret to stay on his head, and how it is so big that it falls onto Moomin’s face on its own anyhow), Moomin heads off for the hilly field, as his parents chuckle over his apparent change in attitude.

Near the outskirts of the woods, Snork is hard at work painting the field, at one point even measuring something with his brush. Just behind him, Moomin arrives, clearly pleased that there’s a convenient stump where he can be close to Snork, and takes his seat to begin sketching; at this point, though, Snork begins backing away to get a better view of his painting and the field as a whole, and bumps right into Moomin! He is clearly uncomfortable with Moomin being around, and Moomin’s stated desire to have a discussion with Snork while they draw sends him into a fitful agony in which he steps back and forth while making lots of disapproving gestures, culminating in him shaking his head “no” while clasping his tools with a genuine, soulful pain as he proclaims that Moomin doesn’t get what art is: art, he claims with a affected demeanor, is born from a solitary soul, and therefore Moomin must leave. Peeved off, Moomin stands up and decides to leave, with Kobayashi zooming in as he stands to emphasize the revelation that, in stark contrast to Snork’s professional-looking art supplies, Moomin is using a crayon like the kid he is; there’s one last bit of attitude from Snork as, keeping his eyes closed pretentiously without even looking at Moomin walking away, he wrinkles the side of his face scornfully.

Kobayashi now gives us a direct view of Moomin’s attempted landscape crayon drawing; we see Moomin’s hand scribbling on it with a blue crayon, clearly dissatisfied with the result, and in a striking bit of live-action integration, he goes on to tear the drawing in half! Measuring the landscape before him with his crayon, he makes another attempt to draw, as the birds continue to chirp around him and some butterflies flutter, conveying his peaceful nature surroundings quite well; this second attempt also ends in him tearing the drawing in half, as the butterflies flutter idly over it. Finally, he doesn’t get very far in his third attempt before he tears the paper from his board and crumples it up; Kobayashi shows us how this crumpled ball is thrown high into the yellow, cloudy summer sky—and lands amidst the previous scrapped drawings, with the pile quickly building up as Moomin grows evermore frustrated amidst this nice solitude. By this time, Moomin is simply lying down and staring up at the sky, as Kobayashi begins slowly zooming in to underline just how much he’s at a loss to do much of anything; we then fade to a close-up as Moomin turns away and sighs, from there continuing to look up at the sky idly as conveyed by a pan through the puffy clouds, the birds chirping relentlessly amidst the silence. Before long, twilight has arrived, as the yellow sky fades to a dark purple-red gradient and the peaceful chirping has been replaced with the squawking of predatory birds flying over the hills; Kobayashi pans down to reveal that Moomin is still lying down after all this time, his beret and drawing board now tossed aside.

But by now, realizing that the day is almost over as we fade to a closer high-angle view of him (an interesting way of conveying the sloped hill he sits on), Moomin has regained his determination: peering towards his drawing board, he swiftly sits up as he declares his need to make a masterpiece, and takes his board back up. Before he can do anything, however, he suddenly notices: something is sparkling beautifully within the tall grasses, with Kobayashi no doubt using his technical knowledge as an ex-cameraman to ensure photographer Kenichi Yoshizaka would be able to use actual lights for a truly stunning effect, and as Moomin walks over to figure out what it is, he discovers it’s a special crayon of some kind. Its tip sparkles as he holds it up, and he cannot help being struck with how pretty it is as he goes back to his spot; looking down at his still-empty drawing board, he resolves to try drawing with this crayon, picking his board up in such a way as to showcase its impressive dimensionality and the stark shadow it leaves on the sunset-lit ground.

And so Mitsuo Kobayashi breaks out for the first time: in an intense scene filled with rapid cuts between a yellow-tinted view of the canvas and extreme, partially-lit close-ups of Moomin’s awe-struck, shining eyes, Moomin discovers that the crayon makes him create a frighteningly impressionistic, painterly view of a scary winter landscape, culminating in Moomin almost recoiling from the drawing board in horror as he realizes what kind of terrifying sight he has apparently drawn! Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s incredible sound effects especially add to the scene’s impact, with an abundance of unsettling whirring and reversed-sounding swooshes and beeps as Moomin draws making clear that something is not normal, climaxing in a much louder, amplified variation of one of Kashiwabara’s trademark ominous echoing drips as we zoom out for a full view of the final result. Clearly troubled by this extraordinary turn of events, Moomin begins looking around nervously to confirm that the idyllic landscape before him looks nothing like this drawing, underlined by how Kobayashi pans back and forth over the peaceful area. At last, Moomin realizes that the crayon moved on its own, staring directly at us with a suspicious look on his face; Kobayashi then cuts to a multiplane zoom-out on Moomin looking down at the drawing board, emphasizing the strangeness of the creepy landscape that now lies before him. For several seconds, Moomin just sits and stares with unease at the drawing, with Seiichirō Uno’s ticking music playing up the nagging sense of uncertainty and mystery as to how this happened; eventually, the crayon on the board sparkles once again, and Moomin, his eyes once again gleaming, decides to give it another go. Sure enough, the crayon once again causes Moomin to draw the exact same scary winter landscape as before (note how, this time, there is no yellow tinting or rapid cuts to Moomin’s eyes, as though Kobayashi is now specifically paying attention to the repeated auto-drawing in itself)—and he gasps and stares with amazement (emphasized by the reuse of the extreme close-up of his eyes) as he is now confronted with two identical drawings of this strange forest!

Kobayashi slowly fades back to the earlier shot of Moomin holding the sparkling crayon up, and then to a close-up of Moomin staring questioningly at it, conveying a certain sense of mystique and pensive absorption; he then cuts to Moomin amidst the now-darker hill, the woods far off to the left and the setting sun shining only in Moomin’s vicinity as he casts his shadow into the darkness, underlining the vast, seemingly tranquil solitude against which Moomin has made this extraordinary discovery. That night, both Pappa and Mamma are incredulous, wondering if Moomin wasn’t having a dream, and are mystified by the incredible but unseasonal winter landscape drawings; note how Moomin forcefully swipes his crayon-holding hand back and forth to stress his assertion that the crayon drew them on its own. However, when Moomin tries to repeat the earlier self-drawing, the crayon does not do anything beyond Moomin’s own attempts to scribble, with Kobayashi providing some nice, unusual diagonal angles as though we were looking right over Moomin’s struggles to draw; this leads to a zoom-in on Moomin as his struggles progress, ultimately leading nowhere as we end in a view of Moomin throwing the crayon down onto the drawing board in defeat, its scribbles underlining his failure.

Thus, Mamma laughs it off and heads back into the kitchen (notice how its shadows overtake her as she enters!), and Pappa, after some ruminating over what a lovely dream the magic crayon must have been, realizes it could be a novel and runs up the stairs excitedly; this leaves only the defeated Moomin all alone at the table, with Kobayashi’s distant overhead view, lit only by a dim spotlight, conveying how truly alone he is as his own parents will not believe him about the crayon. He trucks in on this view, anticipating that Moomin is about to make his next move; we then cut to a direct view of Moomin, still with a vague spotlight in the background, as he opens his eyes from his feeling of defeat and begins staring at the seemingly impotent crayon on the drawing board, which has humiliated him before his parents. In doing so, his anger begins to build up, emphasized by Kobayashi’s extreme close-up on his eyes as they begin to tremble—and finally he explodes (anticipated by how wide his eyes get right before he loses it!), with Kobayashi emphasizing his dramatic rage as he sequentially cuts to quick shots of Moomin’s hand grabbing the crayon (note how the camera even follows his hand!), Moomin throwing the crayon, the crayon bouncing off the wall and landing on the floor rattlingly as Moomin screams at it and rushes past, and Moomin rushing up the stairs with his drawing board in anger! So, we are left with the crayon on the ground, all alone—and Kobayashi fades in a spotlight on it as it sparkles, making clear that it has not actually lost its magic.

It is only now that we get a shot of the moonlit Moominhouse amidst the peaceful night, signaling that this day’s events have come to an end even as the lower floor remains lit. Soon, Kobayashi fades to an interior view of the lower-floor window, using the yellow-blue sky outside to establish that the next day has begun, and from there he pans back to the stairs as Moomin runs down with his drawing board excitedly, gradually coming to a stop as he arrives at the thrown-away crayon: he has realized that there is one other person he can show it to, as he picks it up and walks off contentedly. That day, at the river by the woods, Moomin meets with Nonnon about the crayon: Kobayashi establishes this brilliantly via a multi-layered pan through background artist Naoshi Yokose’s beautiful, incredibly textured woods, with pink and white flowers blooming amidst the grasses, and follows this up with a view of Moomin’s and Nonnon’s reflections in the river as a flower lands in it and flows away, in turn panning up to the two kids themselves as Moomin shows his dejection over how his parents wouldn’t believe him. As Nonnon looks at the drawing, she suggests that maybe the crayon will work in front of her, encouraging Moomin to try it out even as he insists it won’t work (note that the crayon is now sparkling, foreshadowing what is to come)—and this time, sure enough, we get an intense reprise of when the crayon first drew the eerie winter landscape, complete with rapid cuts to close-ups not only of Moomin’s eyes but also Nonnon’s! With that, we now have three identical drawings of the landscape; funnily enough, while Nonnon is amazed, Moomin is clearly used enough to this result that he instead complains about how the crayon was no good for his parents.

Nonnon suggests, in the face of the crayon’s visible sparkling, that this is simply because she and Moomin actually believe in the crayon’s magic powers. The bigger mystery, rather, is why this crayon is drawing the same place over and over again: Kobayashi emphasizes this point with a brilliant shot of two translucent images of the winter landscape sliding in from opposite sides of the screen, in turn overlapping with each other perfectly. At this, Moomin realizes with astonishment that this winter landscape could be the secret of the crayon—and he and Nonnon clasp each other’s hands as they run off to try looking for it, with Seiichirō Uno’s tense, suspenseful music creating an especially thick sense of the mystery of the winter landscape!

By evening, as Uno’s broodingly eerie music continues, it seems to be no use: Kobayashi gives us an impressively distant shot of Moomin and Nonnon’s silhouettes arriving at the top of a hill with a log, flanked by the trees and clearly dwarfed by the vast Moominvalley. Once again, he slowly zooms in on them to prepare us to pay attention, and fades to a much closer view of the trees before panning over to the two kids, further underlining the wilderness that surrounds them; at last, he slowly fades to a closer look at the disappointed Moomin and the drawing-fascinated Nonnon, the transition (along with the music) accentuating their mystified, contemplative mood amidst the sunset. Moomin remarks that there couldn’t find any forest like the drawing, with Nonnon quietly concurring; in his restless thought, however, Moomin begins banging his legs on the log—causing none other than Stinky, whom we haven’t seen since My Is Kind?, to come swinging out of the log! As Stinky shakes off his confusion and finds out Moomin is responsible (note how Kobayashi switches to a more interesting high-angle shot that emphasizes both his reaction and his spatial relationship to the log-banging Moomin above him), he decides to try greeting him and Nonnon for the first time in a while, popping up from behind the log in his usual inimitable manner; Kobayashi gives us a few interesting shots from his perspective as he looks up behind Moomin and Nonnon seemingly ignoring him, then looks at the drawing upside-down! But it is when he turns it up that he suddenly realizes—he saw this very landscape at the northern foot of the Lonely Mountain, even swinging his finger (and himself) back and forth as he says so, clearly satisfied that he’s helped Moomin! (And just to try and ensure he gets something out of this, he adds that he remembers because he was hungry then.) With this important lead, Moomin and Nonnon jump down from the log and head off hand-in-hand, making sure to bid Stinky goodbye properly—and Stinky, initially astonished that they’ve rushed off so fast, decides that he might as well eat the drawing board they’ve left behind (note how he peers his eyeballs off to the side initially, as though wondering if this would be the right thing to do), taking a seat and munching down on the board with gusto (even hiccuping and licking his lips after the deed is done) as the first half of the episode comes to an end!

The next day, Moomin is already pacing back and forth, his picnic basket prepared and on a stump, when Nonnon finally arrives on the scene with her own bag and basket; the two of them plan to set off for the northern foot of the Lonely Mountain. There’s an amusing moment as Moomin, in a sexist faux pas, admits he was worried that Nonnon wouldn’t come because it’s quite the adventure “for a girl”, whereupon the offended Nonnon haughtily excuses herself and goes off ahead of Moomin, who has to run after her when she shuns him! Before long, as Kobayashi brings the camera over to the Lonely Mountain, the two of them are looking out over one of its high cliffs, with Kobayashi giving us a multiplane zoom-out such that the lovely view below pans into view; soon, the two find themselves strolling amidst a hitherto-unseen, vine-covered, purplish forest, its exotic ambience enriched by the jungle-like sounds echoing throughout. One particularly stunning moment is when Kobayashi suddenly cuts to a massive waterfall, its mist looking like a cloud of smoke, and from there trucks out to reveal the mini-waterfall and flowing stream below it as Moomin and Nonnon, looking quite small in comparison, hop across on the rocks; the full shot is framed by rocky cliffs on both sides of the stream, and it evokes a strong sense of the grand, thrilling adventure that the two kids are on. At last, as they leave the sound of the raging waterfall behind them, Moomin and Nonnon arrive at a beautiful but haunting expanse of marvelous blue-green rock formations amidst lavender-hued foliage—this, at last, is the northern foot of the Lonely Mountain, as some ominous Seiichirō Uno music starts up. Of course, the two kids seem unfazed for the time being, as they happily head forth to search for the winter landscape.

After a bit of walking, as Kobayashi pans over the strange forest with the winter landscape nowhere in sight, Moomin and Nonnon are sitting on a large rock, looking tired and perhaps wondering where their destination could be. Suddenly, though, in a remarkable piece of visual experimentation, a crayon-drawn wind emerges from between the cliffs and blows their reference drawing of the landscape away! Kobayashi stresses the direness of the situation as he cuts back and forth between the paper being blown ever further away and Moomin and Nonnon chasing after it; soon, they find themselves before a large, dark cave, with the two of them hesitating briefly as Kobayashi zooms out on the high-angle shot of them to reveal just how large the cave is before Moomin takes the lead in plunging forth. We see their legs treading through the watery grounds in complete darkness, and then their upper bodies moving forth with Moomin reaching out for the paper desperately, all while the paper continues to blow all the way to the other side of the cave and finally settles down at the exit for Moomin to pick up. It turns out that the crayon wind was guiding them, as Nonnon looks up and we suddenly cut to extreme close-ups of her astonished eyes and then the two kids staring at what lies before them—the very same dark, cursed forest from the sketches, accentuated by the very same terrible sound effect heard at the end of the crayon’s previous drawings, with Kobayashi trucking out from a close-up of the tree to a complete view of the area as the two kids gradually realize where they are! We get a distant front-facing view of the two looking forth with the gaping exit of the cave towering over them, showing just how small they are amidst this frightful land, and from there they begin walking amidst the dead, barren trees, whereupon Kobayashi suddenly cuts right back to the top of the menacing big tree, accompanied by an even creepier, 0.5x slowed-down version of the aforementioned terrible sound effect; this leads to a pan down the tree accompanied by the same distorted sound effects that had characterized the previous landscape-drawing sequences, as though the screen itself were “sketching” the actual tree for us in all its unnatural decrepit glory, and this pan culminates in the appearance of the hill in the foreground with Moomin and Nonnon looking out at the tree from there, allowing us to see for the first time just how massive it is!

As Kobayashi further underlines the two kids’ comparatively miniscule statures with a shot looking down towards them, the sound of a crying woman begins to be heard, and strong winds begin to blow as shown by the affected fog: Kobayashi gives us a multiplane pan of the forest with nothing else in sight as the crying becomes louder, the depth adding to the unsettling impression of the sobs echoing all through the forest. Nonnon, now scared, is hiding behind the unsettled Moomin who protects her; as Kobayashi zooms in to bring us closer to the human drama, Moomin assures Nonnon that it’ll be okay, then warns her to stay close as the two of them continue walking along, with Kobayashi in turn providing a shot from Moomin’s perspective as he steps ever-closer to a thicket. Just then, though, some more crayon-drawn breezes swirl through the trees, blowing the kids away and causing the crayon to fall to the ground (note the metallic clinking it makes, indicative that it is no ordinary crayon!), and as the two kids peek out from behind a tree, an incoming sketchy tornado begins to spin throughout the forest, drawing ever closer to Moomin and Nonnon (and the low angle of this shot conveys its enormity and that of the forest at large)—this is the source of the crying, as Moomin and Nonnon take cover in a tree! (Naturally, this shot makes clear that, as has often been the case with New Moomin’s standout segments, this entire section was animated by Masakazu Higuchi; the overly fluid manner in which the kids escape, especially the way that Moomin continues to sort of rotate even as he stops to look out for the tornado before entering the cave, bears a striking resemblance to their character animation at the climax of Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror.)

Soon, the incoming tornado has fixed itself right in front of the tree, continuing to ferociously twirl dust and debris around itself while crying. Realizing that it clearly wants the kids, Moomin demands that the apparent demon come out: in a cinematically ambitious shot that conveys the grand, vast scale and depth of the forest, as the massive tornado denies being a demon and asks the emerging Moomin and Nonnon for a favor, Kobayashi and photographer Kenichi Yoshizaka carry out a multiplane pan to the other side of the tree in such a way as to simulate how it would look if one were to actually move between the tree’s two sides in real life, as the tornado’s position relative to us and even the sides of Moomin and Nonnon we see are switched! As Kobayashi zooms out from Moomin, continuing to protect Nonnon like the brave friend that he is, to the giant tornado swirling above him, he is asked to draw a door with the golden crayon that had been dropped earlier; we see Moomin hesitate for a bit as his hand briefly stops short of taking the crayon back up, no doubt skeptical of the tornado even as she claims she’ll explain the reason afterwards, but he decides to fulfill this strange request, looking at the magical crayon with a certain conviction that it will do its job as he raises it up—and its tip shines brilliantly.

And so begins another phenomenal sequence of visual storytelling from Mitsuo Kobayashi, as Moomin begins to draw the door: Kobayashi creates tension by cutting to close-ups of each further section of the door as it is drawn on the tilted, invisible canvas of the forest, and from there we see Moomin shading the door’s brown color in, stepping back as it is completed. With that, everything around Moomin, Nonnon, and the door fades to black, as the kids stare at the door wondering what will happen next—and an ominous knocking is heard as Kobayashi suddenly cuts to the door and trucks out, making clear that something huge is about to happen. Soon, a glimmer of light shines through the edge of the door—and this makes way for a bright flash as the door opens up, blinding Moomin and Nonnon (the screen around them flickering to convey as much!) and causing strange, inverted, lit shadows to extend out from them and the surrounding trees (as shown in a vast, incredible shot in which we see the trees are even being lit on the sides facing away from the door’s light), accompanied by hyper-amplified, spine-chilling, supernatural-sounding door creak sounds! As the flash recedes (note the prominent use of actual light effects throughout this sequence, once again a clear testament to Kobayashi’s prior experience as a cameraman), the door has been replaced with a window into an idyllic sky, and as the surrounding forest fades back in with the start of one of Seiichirō Uno’s most wondrous-sounding music tracks…a warm, colorful swirl of flowers comes flying towards us, from there moving all through the hitherto-bleak forest and raining flowers down everywhere! The depth-of-field blurring on the foreground flowers is especially magnificent, strengthening the impression that they are floating down all over the place, and finally, as the last of the flowers flutter down, a beautiful-looking fairy fades into the window’s view and floats out to introduce herself to Moomin and Nonnon—this is the Nymph of Life (voiced by Michiko Hirai), whose facial design is uncannily realistic, perfectly conveying her otherworldliness. (Here I note that the credited animation director of a given episode was the de facto guest character designer, and thus Toyoo Ashida deserves the credit for the Nymph’s fascinatingly peculiar look.)

As the Nymph explains, her duty is to drive the winter away and blow the breath of life into nature, and the Crayon of Life is what makes this possible. However, by losing the crayon, she opened herself to be captured by the Nymph of Winter, and hence was sealed in this forest by way of the tornado. Thereupon, when Moomin eventually found the crayon for her, she realized that she could make the crayon draw the forest over and over again as a distress signal, and with that, she waited for Moomin and Nonnon to come and save her; in a particularly cinematic move, Kobayashi provides a flashback to all the events leading up to this moment. With everything explained, Moomin gladly holds out the crayon for the Nymph of Life to take back; the crayon spontaneously flies and twirls from Moomin’s hand to the Nymph’s, in one further show of how extraordinary it is.

As the Nymph gratefully and lovingly holds the crayon to her heart, she declares that she will give the kids (and us) something wonderful in return—and so she does just that, twirling around with the crayon and releasing sparkles as she begins to prance through the forest in an ethereal manner (especially with how her movement here starts to be conveyed through repeated dissolves—once again, Kobayashi shows off his prowess with photographic tricks to express just how magical the Nymph is!), thereby unleashing a second beautiful, lyrical sequence! The crayon’s sparkles flow through the air like a winding river, in turn raining down upon the wintery forest and causing the thick fog to disappear—and a brilliant, stellar light flashes out from the top of the massive tree, illuminating the entire forest and the surrounding landscape in a downright stunning, almost German Expressionist print-like manner! With that, as another of Seiichirō Uno’s wondrous musical tracks swells evermore with sheer bliss, rays of sunlight begin to shine down all through the dark forest, much to the awe of Moomin and Nonnon as Kobayashi trucks out to show them in the midst of this incredible sight, and nature begins to heal as Uno’s music takes a mysterious turn: the mossy green foliage of the giant tree grows back, the sunlight shining through it brightly as it does so, and as we see a magnificent view of the tree at the very center of the revived forest, even the butterflies and birds begin to gradually reappear (literally piece-by-piece) on-screen! Thus, Moomin and Nonnon now find themselves standing in the midst of a verdant, Arcadian, summery forest, surrounded by the shadows of the trees around them and the birds flying vividly above them; the Nymph of Life’s voice now echoes through the forest, thanking the two children for helping her fulfill her duty as Kobayashi gives us a sublime rotating pan over the now-extensive foliage above the children, and bidding them goodbye as they run to another brightly-lit, spotlight-like part of the forest in a vain attempt to search for her!

As the children look out at the sky where the Nymph has disappeared, Moomin begins to wonder if he and Nonnon were simply having a dream, enthusiastically concluding without much thought that they were. But Nonnon finds that it’d be strange for two people together to have the same dream, as an eerie and increasingly loud static-like noise begins to overtake the soundtrack, adding to the unsettling atmosphere as Kobayashi cuts to a close-up of Moomin now looking troubled alongside Nonnon as well—and the noise abruptly halts as Nonnon discovers that the door Moomin had drawn for the nymph is still lying against a tree, amidst the pleasant, shaded scenery of the idyllic forest! The two kids run over, and Kobayashi gives us an especially pivotal close-up on Moomin’s hand as he tries anxiously knocking on the door, from there cutting to a slow, tense zoom-in on Moomin’s astonished eyes as he finds there is no answer…

That night, as Moomin and Nonnon walk home with the moon shining over them, the two of them realize that they are unable to decide whether or not what they saw was just a dream; at any rate, they really did see something lovely. So, as Moomin looks back at the Lonely Mountain, with Kobayashi cutting to a different tracking shot that more explicitly shows the two leaving the mountain behind them, Nonnon resolves that they should keep what happened today a secret for just the two of them—and Moomin concurs, noting that no one will believe them if they tried to talk about it anyways. But there is still one more issue nagging Moomin, as he runs back and takes one last look at the Lonely Mountain—and Kobayashi begins to zoom back towards the moon, and then towards the massive tree at the center of the forest lit by it, and finally pans rapidly through the forest, bringing us all the way back to the lonely door in an open corner of the forest. As we slowly zoom in on the door, we begin to hear Moomin and Nonnon’s joyful shouts and cries and laughter, as though they were on the other side of the door…perhaps a bit of their summer joy has been forever immortalized within the door, as a perpetual reminder of the marvelous things that took place when they were here. So ends this unforgettable, enigmatic masterwork: already a very unusual, mystical screenplay from Yoshiaki Yoshida, brought to stratospheric levels by young Mitsuo Kobayashi and the talented, one-time-only animation trio of Shindō-Higuchi-Kawajiri…

Of course, it would be remiss for me not to give special credit as well to background artist Naoshi Yokose, and to audio director Atsumi Tashiro and sound designer Mitsuru Kashiwabara, for creating the distinctive atmosphere of this true standout episode, easily one of my absolute favorites in New Moomin. Thankfully, this was not the only great film to come from Mitsuo Kobayashi: he would go on to be the chief director of Group TAC’s Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi for most of its run (from late 1978 onwards), and in his own episodes for that series, he would further hone the artistic filmmaking and visual experimentation seen in this episode. Yokose, too, was a background artist on MNMB and its spin-off Manga Kodomo Bunko, as well as on Gisaburō Sugii’s legendary masterpiece Night on the Galactic Railroad (for which Kobayashi storyboarded the Blind Wireless Operator and Observatory of Albireo sequences), and of course Tashiro was the co-founder and head of TAC, spearheading these projects creatively and with a deliberate focus on their outstanding soundtracks and audio direction.

Sadly, this was Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s last work as a regular animator on New Moomin; he joined Ikuo Fudanoki in returning to the proto-Madhouse circle with episode 38 of Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai. This brings up some grating questions chronology-wise: Kunimatsu #38 aired on 26 June 1972, the very day after The Door Into Summer aired. Did Kawajiri work on that episode at the same time he was finishing his work on New Moomin, or was New Moomin‘s production somehow ahead by a few weeks? I’m highly doubtful that it was the latter, given the kind of collapse the show’s production was going through at this point, as we shall see in the coming episodes. Making matters even messier is the fact that, from this point on, Kunimatsu gradually began airing new episodes only on a biweekly basis, hence its unusual episode count of 46—#38, in fact, was the first such delayed episode. While it’d be easy to assume Kunimatsu was going through serious production troubles of its own that necessitated bringing Fudanoki and Kawajiri back to the ex-Ashita no Joe fold, the sheer regularity of the delays, combined with how Kunimatsu was always reliant on quick and easy outsourcing before this, more likely indicates that Fuji TV and the staffers simply stopped caring enough to produce any more new episodes than they absolutely needed—the series’ production, if anything, may have wrapped months in advance of when it finished airing on 25 September 1972. (It could be argued that Fuji TV saw no need to pour any further resources into weekly new episodes anyhow, since Kunimatsu was paradoxically a major hit ratings-wise in spite of its low quality (23.7% on 15 December 1971, and 26.2% on 8 March 1972)—might as well just rerun previous episodes if everyone’s going to tune in anyways.) Thus, given that Kunimatsu #38 may have been done weeks before it actually aired, it’s possible that Kawajiri (and possibly Fudanoki) indeed worked simultaneously on The Door Into Summer (or The Boy Who Came From Town in Fudanoki’s case) and Kunimatsu #38, then took a sabbatical. Which brings up another question: why didn’t they continue working on New Moomin afterwards? Could Yasuo Ooda, Kunimatsu‘s producer and then co-founder of Madhouse, have lobbied for them not to rejoin New Moomin‘s staff?

It’s quite possible that plans were already being made to found Madhouse, and naturally, the new studio needed those animators whose formative experiences had been with Ashita no Joe. Ergo, grabbing Fudanoki and Kawajiri from New Moomin and putting them on the already-ending Kunimatsu may have been a way of ensuring that these two talented youngsters, who had already distinguished themselves on Joe and probably weren’t as grounded in Mushi Pro as the veterans like Hiromitsu Morita, Akihiro Kanayama, and Mitsuo Shindō were—as was mentioned earlier, it was thanks to Osamu Dezaki and Akio Sugino’s recommendation that Kawajiri was officially promoted to key animator on New Moomin, and Joe may have been Fudanoki’s own debut as a key animator—would be free to leave Mushi Pro with Kunimatsu‘s main staff, with no further obligations to New Moomin. Whatever the case may be, it is regrettable that these departures took place right in the middle of New Moomin’s production, causing the show to suffer all the more greatly for a lack of both competent writers and animators. (On that note, it would be remiss for me not to speculate on the credited inbetweener of The Door Into Summer, one Sachiko Ōta. As it happens, one of the founding inbetweeners of Madhouse later in the year was none other than future Studio Ghibli animator Sachiko Sugino, and the kanji used to write “Sachiko” in her name, 左秩子, are identical with the kanji of “Sachiko” in Ōta’s name. It has been said that Sugino indeed started her animation career at Mushi Pro briefly before moving to the newly-founded Madhouse: could Ōta, then, in fact be young Sachiko Sugino under her maiden name?)

On that note, now that this magnificent episode is sadly out of the way, the Dark Age brings us a new unpleasant surprise. With the fairly insufferable episode 26, The Golden Tails, New Moomin‘s outsourcing begins in earnest: this is the first of six episodes to be outsourced to the studio Japan Art Bureau, which episode director Noboru Ishiguro had founded in the late 1960s, and from which he was loaned out to work on New Moomin at Mushi Pro itself (he even had his own desk at the studio). JAB’s animators, led by animation director Norio Yazawa, had already worked on the Tokyo Movie episodes of the 1969 Moomin series, and their background is evident in the broader, cartoonier expressions the characters make; combined with the slightly less odious but still annoying Junji Tashiro story and characterizations (why would Moomin be so obstinately stupid as to choke on grape seeds, waste Snork’s rare paints, and get shocked by the Hattifatteners in their first appearance in this series out of a desire for a golden tail, which eventually proves to be a bizarre ultra-powerful magnet for all involved?), it feels like an odd hybrid between the 1969 and 1972 Moomin series. Making matters worse is that the actual animation is very uneven, being fluid at times and rough and jerky elsewhere, and that’s to say nothing of Yazawa’s wonky character designs, which (along with the characters’ expressions) will only get even more badly off-kilter as the series goes on. The main animators here, Masako Chiba and Noriko Kusayanagi, would actually move to Tokyo Movie’s partner A Production after JAB shut down (its last work was animating on the second of Isao Takahata’s Panda Kopanda films); there, they were mostly inbetweeners, but would be bumped back up to key animation for episodes 59 and 75 of the classic stone-age gag comedy Hajime Ningen Gyatoruzu, alongside A Pro veterans Tomekichi Takeuchi, Yūzō Aoki, and Michishiro Yamada. (Kusayanagi, in particular, seems to have been Yazawa’s girlfriend and later wife, as her name would change to Noriko Yazawa beginning with episode 3 of Osamu Dezaki’s The Adventures of Ganba.)


The sad thing about most of these JAB-animated episodes is that, even with their subpar animation and stories, Noboru Ishiguro still tried to elevate them with his gifted, atmospheric direction, like the scene of the Hattifatteners’ big ritual, with its impressive views of the gathered Hattifatteners turning gold as they are shocked with profuse amounts of lightning. Incidentally, given Ishiguro would have been working at Mushi Pro itself, the actual direction on Japan Art Bureau’s end for this episode (and episode 28) was handled by fellow JAB staffer Kazunori Tanahashi, who we previously saw on this series directing the early classics Snufkin Is Back and Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror. (How the mighty have fallen…) There is not much more I feel like saying about this dud, which was inexplicably one of the only episodes of New Moomin to be translated before last year, apparently because people liked Yazawa’s ugly Snufkin and his My-roping schtick here way too much.

Luckily, the next of the rare gems from this period comes by much sooner than usual: episode 27, The Hattifatteners Got Angry, sees writer Yoshiaki Yoshida and director Mitsuo Kaminashi back in full form with an ambitious opus about Snork’s seemingly brilliant whim to preserve Moominvalley’s culture in a museum, which goes horribly awry when he begins trying to trap a Hattifattener to display as an exhibit. In the end, he, Moomin, and others learn a valuable lesson about treating the Hattifatteners humanely, as the fellow living creatures that they are. For that matter, this is the first episode since the disastrous The Big Incident of Flower Divination to be animated by the show’s A-team of Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi, under Hiromitsu Morita’s animation direction. It would seem that this trio was going through hard times, not least owing to I. Kaminashi’s newcomer status, as the animation is surprisingly much rougher-looking and less fluid than the previous Kanayama-animated episodes in spite of the less strenuous six-week turnaround; still, their work manages to be lively and well-posed as far as the actual character drawings and the movements they make, and from this point on, just about every episode animated by Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi is worthwhile in some way. (I should add, by the way, that I. Kaminashi was indeed the older brother of M. Kaminashi.)


We begin with a startling close-up of a Hattifattener, as it peeks side to side while flapping its arms a little, clearly checking for something; right from the start, Kaminashi gives us an upfront look at the true sapience of the Hattifatteners. This leads to a more distant shot showing the Hattifattener at the top of a hill, as it jumps excitedly and squeaks—signaling a whole herd of Hattifatteners to emerge from below the hill! We watch as they begin squirming along in Moominvalley, casting their ominous shadows over the grass and moving past us in several lines at once in a show of their numbers, and from there begin crossing the river (notice how they playfully enter by hopping in). As this strange phenomenon is taking place in the night, we fade to Snork, reading a book on his balcony’s divan as he grows tired and yawns while stretching; it is then, though, that he takes a good look at his surroundings, as emphasized by Kaminashi cutting to an extreme close-up of his eyes and fading to the nice, starry view he sees before him. Snork begins to admire how beautiful, but also relaxing and radiant the moon is, and we see him step out to the balustrade as he begins lauding the serene, peaceful nature of the (mostly) sleeping Moominvalley as well, even referring to it as “culture”—and thereupon, he is suddenly struck with the urge to contemplate this fascinating word even further. He begins to walk around the dark balcony, the moonlight shining down on him partially and making his shadow quite visible (lovely night atmosphere, as expected from Kaminashi), and at last, he hits upon what seems to be a great idea that no one else has thought of before, even hammering his fist into his left hand repeatedly in an expression of his realization! Thus, Kaminashi cuts to and zooms out on a high-angle shot of Snork to underline his introspective self turning around to the bright, high moon before him, thanking it for giving him such a wonderful idea and even bowing down to it gratefully on his knees—and with perfect timing, Kaminashi instantly cuts to the episode’s title fading in beneath the moon, predicting in an almost theatrically sardonic manner (especially with the accompanying title card music) how Snork’s brilliant idea will end.

The very next morning, as Nonnon is scooping her breakfast, Snork enters in a very good mood, scatting and even twirling around as he steps along with an easygoing gait, and then kissing Nonnon’s hand politely as he greets her good morning. Taking his seat as Nonnon remarks on how cheerful he is today, Snork asks if she has ever thought about Moominvalley’s culture: naturally, she is confused, whereby he declares that he has come to realize Moominvalley’s cultural heritage is worth preserving! Snork’s newfound calling as a sort of rich patron of culture is underlined by the fancy way he shakes his folded cloth napkin open to place it on his lap, as he concurs with Nonnon’s excited squealing over the lovely cause of cultural preservation.

Soon, the Moomin family, among others, is making their way to the town square, where Snork will deliver a concrete speech on his plans; of course, Kaminashi emphasizes how they do so amidst the natural beauty of Moominvalley’s wilderness, their reflections visible as they run along the edge of the lake with the hill and its stylized woods towering over them, and grasses and flowers passing by at a different speed in the foreground. (The background artist here, Takashi Miyano, would go on to be the art director behind some of Sunrise’s famed mecha series of the 1970s like Voltes V and Tōshō Daimos, in which Akihiro Kanayama played a leading role as the main animation director and Ichiya Kaminashi served as the inbetween checker; this was Miyano’s only credit on New Moomin.) In a nice example of the neighborliness of the characters in Yoshiaki Yoshida’s hands, the Moomins are soon joined by the Police Inspector and Mr. Hemulen, who run in on the hill and call out for them; as the two Hemulens step carefully down the rather steep hill, they begin conversing about Snork, with all of them being at least intrigued by his initiative to preserve Moominvalley’s culture. Mitsuo Kaminashi then introduces us to the town square by having the woods slide from each other like an opening curtain as he trucks in to reveal Snork delivering his speech, further underlining the bucolic idyll of Moominvalley as Snork declares that its cultural heritage is comprised of everyone’s most precious possessions—suffice to say, these rousing words immediately draw applause from the gathered crowd, with Snork, clearly gratified by this reaction, nevertheless having to calm them down so he can continue! Clearing his throat, he goes on to make a concrete proposal, gesturing determinedly and with showmanship as he does so: a Moominvalley Museum for the preservation of this heritage, much to the cheers of Moominvalley’s inhabitants! And to top it all off, he will set aside a floor of his mansion specifically as the new museum’s showroom, with Kaminashi zooming out to show the extent of the crowd as it further erupts in approval.

As Moominpappa nods and remarks that this is certainly new, we see Snork’s hands brushing glue onto a log cabin and putting up a poster calling for donations to the museum (note how the weird lettering vaguely resembles “Snork”!), and this leads us to a fading montage of stills showing people all over Moominvalley, from all different walks and professions of life, taking notice of Snork’s call to preserve their cultural artifacts. Their response is overwhelmingly favorable: Kaminashi pans from the Snork mansion, flanked by a tree with one of the posters on it, to reveal long lines of folks arriving with their belongings, and this leads to a closer pan through the many layers of clamoring, excited villagers making their way to the mansion with their many varied items and treasures! Of course, Moomin and his friends are in on this drive to build the museum up as well, as they begin running through the blue-tinted woods on their way to the mansion, possessions in hand: Yoshida gives us an endearing scene of the kids taking a breather to show off each of their valued items, clearly enjoying themselves and genuinely impressing the others as they do so, whether it’s Sniff’s hollowed-out squash with an intricately-carved map of Moominvalley on the inside, My’s decorated wool handkerchief from Mymble, or Too-Ticky’s trademark barrel organ.

As the others are swaying along to the barrel organ, however, Moomin backs away to a tree, clearly desiring to remain aloof and silent as he sweeps his feet. Unluckily for him, My notices and tries asking him what his family is putting out, quickly getting fired up with impatience as Moomin hesitates and unthinkingly kicks a rock—and Moomin is forced to admit the truth: his parents can’t figure out what to donate, the bizarre twist of this revelation anticipated by how the shot swiftly zips to put him in the center of the frame! To give us a better idea of this ridiculous situation, Kaminashi now pans through the dark, cluttered basement of the Moominhouse, with Pappa rummaging behind the antiques and throwing things away disapprovingly as Mamma examines a picture frame to no avail. Each of them begin successively raising up various ancient candleholders and clocks and trinkets as possible suggestions, with one particular clock amusingly turning out to be much more dilapidated than its appearance suggests, and Pappa even going cross-eyed as though his mind has gone bonkers after all of this aimless digging; ultimately, after a culmination in which a bunch of objects are thrown onto the ground recklessly, the two of them give up in dissatisfaction, finding that there is no end in sight to this fruitless search for the perfect museum donation.

Kaminashi now cuts to a peaceful-looking shot of the Moominhouse amidst the sunset—as we hear Snork loudly accusing Moomin’s parents of making fun of him, his fury made all the more palpable by how we can hear him from this far out amidst the seeming tranquility of the evening. Moominpappa tries to explain that there is nothing in the house that is worthy of being exhibited in the museum by their perfectionist standard, but this only further flusters Snork as he scratches his wig irritatedly and screams at them to give it a good rest; by now, even Moomin is trying to convince Pappa to just hand something over, rocking Pappa in his chair agitatedly as he fears they’ll become a laughingstock! As Pappa continues to hesitate, Snork imposes a solution: he himself will choose an exhibit from the house, slamming his hands down on the table and moving in towards the screen threateningly to ensure Pappa’s acquiescence, and then rushing up the stairs with a funny arm-flapping run as he frees himself to just take whatever he wants! And things take a delightfully ludicrous turn: as Snork steps down the stairs, it turns out that he is taking Pappa’s wastebasket of scrapped manuscripts away, claiming that these tossed-out mistakes are Moominvalley’s “living passages” as he exits while declaring with florid gestures that Moominvalley’s museum is complete! The topper: while Pappa almost cries as he begs Snork to wait, Moomin begins jumping with sincere delight over how these crumpled-up manuscripts will be exhibited in the museum.

That night, as the Snork mansion is bedecked with heirlooms from all over Moominvalley, a huge party is held to celebrate the new museum’s completion: we get a sense of the extent of the crowd by how the camera slowly zooms past Moominmamma and another villager in the foreground to the center of attention that is Snork. Gratefully acknowledging everyone’s efforts in making this museum possible, Snork asks everyone to raise their glasses in cheers, and all gladly oblige as Kaminashi cuts to a succession of different folks raising their glasses and even clinking them together; with that, we get another lovely sequence showing what a fun-loving, joyful bunch of people Moominvalley’s inhabitants are, as the celebration begins in earnest! While Nonnon, Snork, and Mr. Hemulen help perform Seiichirō Uno’s beautiful waltz music with their instruments, My drags Sniff onto the floor to dance with her, and they are soon joined by other waltzing villagers as Moomin keeps time with the music (even Too-Ticky is dancing along while holding her open book, apparently continuing to read while she dances); the more carnally-minded folks, meanwhile, like Sorry-oo and the Muskrat, spend the party simply munching away on the profuse food (I like the not-so-pleased glances the Muskrat gives us). Even as all seems well, however, something foreboding is taking place outside, as the Hattifatteners continue squirming in a line over the hills beneath the full moon…

We now fade to Snork in the midst of the now-deserted dining room, clearly contemplating something in the silence as Nonnon opens the door, surprised that he still hasn’t gone to sleep. Interrupted, and initially irritated at the intrusion before realizing it’s his dear little sister Nonnon, Snork assures her that he still has something to do. So, Nonnon bids him good night and exits…and as we hear the wind begin to blow ominously, the serious-looking Snork marches over to the window and presses himself against it, clearly looking out for something that could be his undoing. Things start to get even more tense as a bank of black clouds arrives and obscures the moon, effectively turning the night pitch-black, and we slowly fade to Nonnon sleeping in her bed in the darkness…only to be jolted awake by the sounds of Snork yelping in fright! Kaminashi gives us a Dutch angle of Nonnon running to her door, emphasizing the sense that something is wrong—and sure enough, she barges into Snork’s room to find his bed empty and his balcony doors open, the wind blowing intensely as she runs out and finds the thrashing, panicking Snork being carried away into the night by a herd of Hattifatteners!

The next morning, as Kaminashi shows that this incident has stirred up enough of a commotion for a sizable crowd to gather outside the Snork mansion, the Police Inspector is hard at work investigating; for all his magnifying glass-aided searching and Nonnon’s worrying, however, he cannot figure anything out. As Moominpappa observes, the Hattifatteners aren’t exactly creatures that attack people on a whim, making their kidnapping of Snork especially bizarre; at this point, however, Moomin notices something lying on the ground behind a curtain, which turns out to be a spilled fish tank! The uncanniness of the discovery is punctuated by one of Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s echoing drip sounds as we cut to a close-up of the tank, and as Nonnon comes forth, it turns out she is all too familiar with it: Kaminashi fades everything around Nonnon and the tank to black while zooming in on them, symbolizing Nonnon’s introspective turn as she begins flashing back to what happened three days ago. As it turns out, Snork has been chasing the Hattifatteners around, trying to capture one for the museum: there’s some playful animation of the Hattifatteners hopping away in the water, followed by Snork repeatedly tripping and tumbling as he tries leaping for them, eventually succeeding in manhandling one into his tank after a prolonged, energetic struggle! Thankfully, this one is freed by Nonnon, who is shocked by her brother’s total obliviousness to the Hattifattener’s feelings (Snork’s conniving, proud self comes through extremely well in the poses he strikes as he explains how unusual and Moominvalley-exclusive the Hattifattener is): in a rare show of her mischievous side, Nonnon begins fake-crying on the wall to trick Snork into coming closer with the tank (I just love Reiko Mutō’s over-the-top warbling as Nonnon shakes Snork off theatrically), whereupon she takes the lid and twirls around playfully, allowing the Hattifattener to escape! To rub salt in the wound, Nonnon even satisfiedly remarks that she knew Snork wouldn’t be the kind to ruthlessly trap a living creature, as Snork just shrugs exhaustedly in defeat.

As we fade back into the present day and occasion, it is now clear that Snork kept trying to capture a Hattifattener even afterwards: thus, fed up, the Hattifatteners decided to not only rescue their companion but also take Snork with them. To rescue Snork, naturally, they must set off to the Hattifatteners’ Island: Kaminashi begins the next sequence with a swift cut to the ocean waves crashing violently against the rocks, creating a sense of both the urgency of the situation and the potentially dangerous adventure that must be undertaken, as the Police Inspector lifts Nonnon onto the boat with Moominpappa following suit. Just as Moomin and the others are about to board, however, they are forced to stay behind lest the boat sink with too many people; regardless of the rash My’s protests, however, the folks left behind can only wish the Inspector, Nonnon, and Moominpappa well as they disappear into the sea. As the Inspector rows along, Nonnon can only stare ahead to their destination, clearly anxious to see her brother again; soon, as heralded by the seagulls flying away overhead, the Hattifatteners’ Island is in sight, with Kaminashi fading to increasingly upfront, detailed views of the island as the rescue party wades ever closer. The exotic atmosphere of the island comes through beautifully in the view overlooking the arriving boat, framed as it is by the out-of-focus tropical flora, and at last the boat beaches itself, allowing Nonnon, Pappa, and the Inspector to disembark on dry land.

Kaminashi and background artist Takashi Miyano revel in the exotic beauty of the strange island, with several views and multiplane pans showcasing the abundance of flowers and grasses and palm trees and craggy rock formations, as the three visitors split up to look for Snork, finding it strange that things seem so quiet. Just as Pappa assures Nonnon that Snork is indeed here, however, Snork’s screams suddenly echo out through the island, frightening Nonnon—on the Police Inspector’s hunch, they begin making their way over to the screams, their haste shown via a direct first-person view of them running along amidst the tall grasses. Sure enough, Snork is being exuberantly tickle-tortured by the Hattifatteners at the top of a hill, the uncanny horror of the situation well-established by the distant shot showing just how numerous the surrounding Hattifatteners are; their uncanniness is further emphasized by the harsh electronic noise they make as their attention is suddenly drawn to Moominpappa calling out for Snork!

Snork’s tickle-torture grows especially intense as he begins calling for the Police Inspector to arrest the Hattifatteners, his posing even more desperate as they start squirming on rapid ones; just as the Police Inspector begins marching over with a big stick and an incredibly determined lumbering gait, however, the Hattifatteners get angry (there’s that creepy noise again) and form layers around Snork, in turn unleashing a bright electric shock to zap the Inspector into trembling submission! And it becomes clear that it’s not simply the Inspector’s violent demeanor that the Hattifatteners have a problem with: Moominpappa steps forth to try and reason with them, only to be zapped and thrown back as well! The Hattifatteners will not tolerate anyone rescuing Snork, and that’s final—as the tickle torture starts back up, Nonnon tries to rush forth, only to be stopped just in time by Moominpappa and the Inspector, the desperate drama played up by how Nonnon overtakes the screen as she runs towards us before being pulled back!

It is decided that they should hold off for the time being, with the three of them backing away from the scene slowly even as Snork’s exuberant torture continues. Back in Moominvalley, the sun is now setting, and Kaminashi conveys Moomin’s forlorn worrying by fading to increasingly close zooms into his dejected self sitting all alone on the steps of the Moominhouse: it is as if he is the only one who is genuinely worried about what’s happening on the Hattifatteners’ Island, as the others converse inside about how late it’s getting and why they should or shouldn’t have tagged along on the boat. When Mamma suggests that something could have happened to them, the disturbed Moomin decides he can’t sit still any longer: he gets up and steps forth haltingly, perhaps still wondering if it’s worth a try, and then takes on a much more resolute posture as he runs away into the hills, leaving the arguing villagers behind him—he must seek out Snufkin.

That night, as we see bits of wood entering his campfire from how he is carving a fishing rod, Snufkin remarks on what a funny incident all of this is; Moomin initially takes it as an insult, before Snufkin explains that he feels everyone is getting the wrong idea about the Hattifatteners. More specifically, he finds that everyone is thinking of themselves as being superior to the Hattifatteners, and Moomin nearly objects that this is obvious before he stops and gasps, realizing that he has just proven Snufkin’s point; as Snufkin takes on a serious look, he begins to wonder if they really are superior beings compared to the Hattifatteners. With Moomin’s attention now brought to the truth of the matter, Snufkin abruptly douses the fire and sets off to prepare for his own excursion to the island, with Moomin initially so caught up in his pondering that he doesn’t even notice Snufkin leaving until he hears the sizzle of the fire. As the two of them push the boat out into the sea and jump in, Snufkin further elaborates that, just as they are living, so too are the Hattifatteners living—in that sense, what difference is there between them? Rowing the boat beneath the quiet, starry night, he concludes that, if everyone reflects on this issue carefully, the Hattifatteners will certainly return Snork.

As Snufkin and Moomin draw closer to the island, Kaminashi fades to a similar zoom-in on Snork lying asleep amidst the Hattifatteners, and in turn to a pan through the similarly sleeping Hattifatteners, who continue to sway slightly in a nice representation of just how alive they really are; at this moment, Snork and Hattifattener alike are in need of rest. A little further off, meanwhile, smoke is billowing from within the tall grasses, and the Police Inspector peeks out, whispering to Moominpappa that now is their chance, only to stop just short of rushing out as Pappa says no: kindling the campfire (and using the lit stick to light his pipe!), he suggests even with the dutiful Inspector’s protests that they sleep a little and come up with good ideas. Pappa then turns towards Nonnon, sleeping all alone on a rock, no doubt relieved that she got to at least see Snork again: in a sweet gesture, Pappa blankets her with the Inspector’s coat, as she whispers for Snork in her sleep…

By now, Snufkin and Moomin have reached the island, as Kaminashi strikingly shows the silhouettes of Snufkin and his boat drawing ever-closer to us amidst the night fog through a series of fades, once again emphasizing Snufkin’s mystique. As the boat grinds against the sand, Moomin hops out and begins to run forth, stopping for a bit to tell Snufkin that he now has an idea of what they need to do; this, in turn, leads Snufkin to jump out and run up enthusiastically, with Kaminashi giving us a sudden, dramatic zoom-in on his now-smiling face as he affirms Moomin’s idea, emphasizing what a pivotal moment this is! With that, the two of them run into the island as dawn begins to break; soon, as Kaminashi pans over Nonnon, Pappa, and the Inspector peacefully sleeping, Snork’s agonized laughs start up once again, startling them all awake!

Just as Nonnon is getting an all-too-clear view from within the grasses of the numerous Hattifatteners tickle-torturing Snork, however, Moomin and Snufkin arrive to save the day! Now having fully taken Snufkin’s lesson to heart, Moomin runs forth and calls upon Snork to apologize to the Hattifatteners; the incredulous Snork, of course, initially refuses, pointing down at them incessantly as he claims that, if anything, he ought to be thanked by them for how his museum supposedly would have benefited them. But Moomin then tells Snork to put himself in the Hattifatteners’ position, as Kaminashi makes clear with the arrangement of this shot that the Hattifatteners are now the ones who will decide what happens next: he’d get angry if he was exhibited with furnishings too! Snufkin, too, adds that no matter how small the Hattifatteners may be, they are still living creatures like everyone else, and of course the Police Inspector and Nonnon beseech Snork to apologize as well. In the face of this overwhelming desire for him to humble himself, Snork is initially frustrated to the point of shaking his head back and forth: but a renewed burst of tickling at last convinces him that he’d better apologize profusely! At this, the Hattifatteners all turn themselves upside-down (note the very classic gag of the smallest one only doing so after realizing everyone else has already done it), squirming in that position as they indicate to Snork that this is how the Hattifatteners properly apologize; flustered but resigned, Snork has no choice but to humble himself even further, undertaking a handstand (look how he struggles for a stable footing at first!) to bring himself upside-down. We see Snork’s surprising athletic ability as the close-up reveals he is actually standing on one hand while trying to keep his wig on with the other; now satisfied, the Hattifatteners swarm off, leaving Snork to keep wavering in the air as he is so caught up in his struggle to stay up that he doesn’t even notice them leaving, only finding out (much to his wide-eyed confusion and relief) after he finally falls over!

At last, Nonnon is able to run up, collapsing in her loving brother’s embrace as she lets out a cathartic burst of tears. Kaminashi gives us a wonderful zoom-out on the two Snorks as the morning sun rises gloriously over the hill, emanating its bright rays of light and symbolizing the dawn of a new appreciation for life as we see Snufkin, Moomin, Pappa, and the Police Inspector looking out at the horizon as well: Pappa, for his part, realizes that he had forgotten that the Hattifatteners were proud, living creatures who love their freedom, putting his hand on Moomin’s shoulder appreciatively as he acknowledges that Moomin has taught everyone as much. Of course, Kaminashi then pans over to Snufkin’s smiling self in the distance, a valuable reminder that, while Moomin may put the solutions into action, Snufkin is the one whose wisdom is behind it all…

Later that day, as established by a pan over all the villagers taking their valuables back (one of them has a giant spoon like the one the Moomins had in The Marvelous Spoon!), Snork has decided to cancel the museum. As the last of the villagers depart from the mansion with their belongings, My and Mr. Hemulen lament what a short-lived waste of effort it all was; however, the now-humbled Snork acknowledges that this is a valuable lesson in the limits of his abilities. The very fact that he could not understand the Hattifatteners, and their adamant refusal to be exhibited, is surely proof he is incapable of running a museum—the silver lining, though, is that his acknowledgement of his all-too-human weaknesses only further endears him to his sweet little sister Nonnon! On the other hand, while Moomin is satisfied that Snork has learned his lesson, he feels that he didn’t need to go as far as to end the museum—and at this, Snufkin has no doubt that, before long, Snork will surely make a mess of things again. Perhaps it is inevitable, given his exceedingly ambitious personality; still, for now, the Hattifatteners are roaming freely and happily once more, a lovely note to end this very lovely episode on.

This charming and humane episode, alas, was followed immediately by another all-time low for the series in episode 28: To Believe? Or Not To Believe?, another Junji Tashiro script tossed to poor Noboru Ishiguro to try making it remotely watchable and hashed out by Japan Art Bureau. Even more than The Golden Tails, this rotten episode is an out-of-character travesty that feels like it barged in from a completely different series, complete with some truly unpleasant drawings and character interactions and an idiotic, jumbled, messy plot: Pappa has a strange cutout-animated nightmare about a friend being attacked and sets off to see him under the impression that it’s a bad omen, Moomin in turn gets into an argument with Nonnon (in which Nonnon actually starts trying to beat on Moomin’s back like a brat!?) and starts feigning psychic powers at a party (complete with an annoying scene featuring Thingumy and Bob), and then things go even further off the rails when Nonnon makes Moomin get a flower hanging off the side of an abyss—and, because of Tashiro’s poor, artificially mean-spirited character writing, ends up caring more about how Moomin dirtied the flower in the process than the fact that he risked his life, resulting in an even more needlessly bratty, petulant argument between the two! It all climaxes in the bridge over the abyss getting wrecked by random strong winds and Nonnon barely hanging onto a plant, Moomin realizing this thanks to some newfound psychic connection with Nonnon (supposed to be reminiscent of Pappa’s apparent connection with his friend) in an overdramatic scene in which he falls down the stairs in slow-motion, a long and irritating climax of Moomin agonizing over how he can’t save Nonnon, and finally Pappa arriving back just in time to save Nonnon from this very stupid and contrived death—and at the very end, there’s another bizarre dream in which Snork dies in a flood after he sees some clouds in the sky? All in all, an aggressively unlikable, utter train wreck of an episode, and it is infuriating to see the series reduced to abominations like this; to add insult to injury, the other credited animator here besides Masako Chiba and Noriko Kusayanagi is none other than future Studio Ghibli stalwart Masako Shinohara, in what would have been her first work after leaving Tōei Dōga. (As a matter of fact, her very last Tōei credit, the wretched Hellhound Liner 0011, screened at the Tōei Cartoon Festival on the very same day this episode aired, 16 July 1972—what a sad time this was for her.)


Less repugnant, but still not a very good episode, is What Can Be Seen In the Crystal Ball, the first episode to be animated by Mitsuo Shindō’s team in its final form: with Yoshiaki Kawajiri gone from the series’ production, former top inbetweener Masateru Yoshimura, who in later years would be a regular animator at Osamu Tezuka’s studio Tezuka Productions, is promoted to key animator on the same episodes as Shindō and Masakazu Higuchi from this point on. The character animation is certainly much more fluid and polished than in the last three episodes; plotwise, though, it is another failed attempt at a slice-of-life story by the same obscure writer behind The Mysterious Alien. Basically, Moomin finds a crystal ball at the beach, and Snork begins using it as a fortune-telling ball to become popular, predicting, among other things, that Nonnon and My’s boyfriends will soon arrive. (Note that Snork’s voice actor Taichirō Hirokawa speaks here in a much lower register than usual, making him sound the way he did in the Tokyo Movie episodes of the 1969 Moomin series; also, the exotic-sounding sitar music used for the fake psychic sequence in the previous episode is reused here.) Director Satoshi Dezaki, in his only New Moomin episode, manages to pull off some nice atmospheric scenes, most notably a sequence of Nonnon waiting all day for her predicted boyfriend in vain—but by the end of the first half, on the embittered Nonnon’s incitement, the townsfolk have already mobbed Snork for fortunes in such a way as to leave him quite bruised and battered. This might have been a good way to end the episode, as Snork learns a lesson about trying to gain fame through false fortunes or something.


Nevertheless, Snork’s earlier prediction sets the episode up to completely switch gears in its second half: to make Nonnon less depressed, Moomin disguises himself as an outsider named “Moumin”, and some silly and fairly insipid things happen from there as Moomin’s friends try to play with this apparent new boyfriend of Nonnon’s. In all, the episode feels like two different plots stitched together, neither of which go anywhere, and the fact that they each take up half of the episode only exacerbates the feeling of disjointment; yet it ends dramatically with Moomin snatching the crystal ball from Snork (who is carrying on like nothing terrible has happened whatsoever) and throwing it back in the ocean, which admittedly is very beautifully animated here? Really, there isn’t much else to say beyond that this episode shows not even good animation could have saved The Mysterious Alien, and I’m glad Mutsuaki Saegusa didn’t write anything else for New Moomin.


Cover page of Mutsuaki Saegusa’s script for episode 29, revealing that it was supposed to be episode 27 and had the working title of Moominvalley’s in an Uproar, along with the first page confirming that this is Saegusa’s script.

At last, we come to episode 30, The Unvanishing Ghost, the third and final episode of the series to be directed by Toshio Hirata. If Hirata’s first two episodes were mostly representative of his lyrical side, then this one takes a very different tack, showing off his remarkable penchant for cartoon comedy: in a bizarre scenario by Eiichi Taji, Moomin and his pals encounter a pitiful old ghost who is unable to scare anyone nowadays, whereby he becomes an extremely troublesome freeloader in the Moominhouse. The ghost is voiced by none other than the great Yasuo Yamada, whose best-known role in animation was as the voice of Lupin III, and his humorous, hammy presence clearly inspired the series’ usual voice actors to have a lot more fun with their roles than usual. For that matter, this is another gem animated by Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi, just three episodes on from The Hattifatteners Got Angry, and they manage to do a stellar job with the very fun character animation here, especially the incredibly pliable ghost.


Right from the start, Hirata gives us something unique: we fade in on a close-up of Moomin drawing Nonnon’s face on a big red balloon! Everyone marvels at Moomin’s great drawing skills, and My, in turn, demands that Moomin draw her for her own balloon. Plot-wise, this seems like an ordinary start, but the deft, irreverent execution is anything but: My rubs her balloon against the clearly unwilling Moomin and even strikes a stylish pose in her enthusiasm to be drawn by Moomin, only for the dissatisfied Moomin to claim that he’s too tuckered out to do any more, immediately angering My as she stands right up to the unsettled Moomin and accuses him of being a favorartist! (The pun: the word My uses for favoritism here is ekohiiki (依怙贔屓), and e on its own can mean drawings (絵).) Sniff’s offer to draw My is swiftly rebuffed with such loud aggression as to make him instinctively recoil and rattle as though he were desperately weathering My’s onslaught, and from there My marches back towards Moomin, now clearly frightened by My’s undisguised fury, and threatens a cruel and unusual punishment for his refusal to draw simply by leaning in towards Moomin with a menacing, clenched-teeth look and crossed-arms posture (look how Moomin edges up even further in fright as she does so)! So, Moomin has no choice but to yield and draw My, who once strikes a fine pose satisfiedly as she warns Moomin to make it look exactly like her; as Moomin begins drawing, however, the others look over at what he’s doing and burst out in laughter, and sure enough, as My gets the finished balloon, she is flabbergasted to find that her demand for an exact image has indeed been fulfilled in a very unflattering way—Moomin has drawn her trademark angry face!

At the sight of Nonnon and Sniff laughing jovially, the frustrated My goes over and snatches Nonnon’s balloon away in rage—but her loose grip as she squishes herself down in humiliated, possessive aggravation winds up causing the two balloons to float away into the sky, even as she tries to grab their strings back! Moomin looks on at the sight with amusement, as though it couldn’t be helped—and then Nonnon breaking down in tears theatrically as she swings her body side-to-side causes him to chide My in a self-righteous, almost satisfied manner as though he relishes this opportunity to scold her (you can hear Kyōko Kishida not taking it very seriously), with My in turn retorting that it was all because of Moomin being a favorartist as she turns away with scornful unrepentance! And as Sniff remarks that a big balloon like Nonnon’s is rarely available, it turns out that Nonnon has her own vanity—she can’t bear the thought of her face floating up there in the big blue sky, practically drifting all the way to the ends of the earth!

As the balloons begin to drift over the woods, Sniff observes that they seem to be coming down, and he and Moomin resolve to go and get My’s and Nonnon’s balloons, respectively. My is still miffed and tells Sniff not to push it—but then Sniff takes on an unusually sarcastic and playful demeanor, wondering if My doesn’t mind her balloon floating around everywhere with that grouchy face of hers on it as she grows increasingly worried, with My in turn trying to shake her dread off and claim she doesn’t mind one bit! But her nagging anxiety only eats away at her even more as Sniff then declares he’ll simply leave the balloon as-is if he does find it; thus, as he, Moomin, and Sorry-oo run off, My succumbs and yells after them that it’ll be fine to bring the balloon back if they do find it (still clearly trying to hide how anxious she really is), with Moomin and Sniff in turn winking at each other as though they’ve got My right where they want her!

After making their way across the woods, Moomin, Sniff, and Sorry-oo find themselves at the beach, trying to find the balloons; Sorry-oo, in turn, alerts them to Too-Ticky sitting on the dock. But their attempt to ask Too-Ticky if she saw the balloons only succeeds in providing the latest burst of inspiration for her poetic musings, as she shushes Moomin from killing the vibe in the air: a balloon is exactly what she needs for her image, as she begins to wax lyrical about how much she feels like a balloon on the verge of bursting in the evening sky, while Moomin and Sniff just look at each other not quite knowing how to react, culminating in a perfect punchline-like cut to a close-up of Moomin shrugging amusedly (Sniff’s confused look above him is priceless) as he admits he has no idea what Too-Ticky is on about! Just as Sniff, Moomin, and Sorry-oo are about to sneak away from the overbearing Too-Ticky, however, she shrewdly gets to the point of their question: while she isn’t sure if it’s actually a balloon, she’s now keeping something like one in the bathhouse.

Moomin opens the door to find a white, bulging thing tied up on a leash: Too-Ticky had found it yesterday in the forest, thinking it would make a good pet as it fluttered down to her. In a rather harsh-looking move, however, she pulls it up and thrashes it onto the ground using the leash, whereupon it lies there lifelessly; it is here that Too-Ticky reveals her suspicion that it might be a ghost, even indulging in a delicious imitation of the thing’s creepy words to her (some truly wonderful voice acting from Yoshiko Yamamoto)! As it happens, Moomin has been told about ghosts by his Pappa, and he concludes that it must be a real ghost, given the words in question are essentially this ghost’s formal expressions; he decides to untie the ghost, even as Sniff, true to his cowardly self, is on edge about it all—and in a brilliantly surrealistic gag, Moomin then wakes the ghost up not simply by splashing water on it, but by gurgling the water and spitting it out at him in a spray!

As the rudely-awakened ghost shakes the water off burblingly and sneezes, not quite aware of himself, Moomin introduces himself and his friends, with Sorry-oo’s bark in particular startling the ghost. Offended by this humiliating cordiality as he realizes what he’s supposed to be doing, the ghost tries to switch to scary mode, ordering them to tremble as he raises himself up and spreads himself out like any other ghost—only to sneeze and tremble terribly himself as though he’s suffering a cold, with Sniff retorting as much in another unusual show of his wise-guy self! This further agitates the ghost, who tries to resort to one of his formal creepy expressions—and bumps his head on the shelf above him so hard that he falls over onto the ground, compounded by the unhinged shelf then falling outright onto his head along with one of the thrown-up cans that had been on it! As Sniff and Sorry-oo laugh heartily at this pathetic excuse of a ghost, with Sniff doing so with such lack of restraint that he has to lean on Moomin just to keep himself standing, the ghost begins to cry eerie green-colored tears; Moomin, in turn, urges Sniff to lay off (even shoving his leaning self away), clearly concerned about how the ghost must be hurt. The haughty ghost, however, denies this emphatically, claiming he’s simply in emotional pain over some serious troubles: at this early stage, however, he does not elaborate beyond saying that he has no choice but to turn to children, wishing melodramatically that he was dead! Of course, Too-Ticky can’t help retorting matter-of-factly that it’s impossible for him to die, given he’s already a ghost—causing him to further break down inconsolably, as Too-Ticky encourages Moomin to just take this lachrymose excuse of a pet out as a balloon substitute! Thus, Moomin convinces the ghost to come home with him, assuring him that Pappa can help with whatever troubles he has. (I like how, similar to his earlier reaction to Sorry-oo, the ghost flinches and trembles as Moomin suddenly exhorts him to come; clearly he’s a fearful fellow himself…)

At the Moominhouse, Pappa assures the ghost that he’s had plenty of past experiences with other ghosts, and won’t be scared to deal with any issues he may have. But that’s precisely this pitiful ghost’s problem: as a higher-ranking ghostly noble, he is obliged to follow the strict rule that, upon appearing, he cannot vanish and go back home until he scares someone to the point of fainting. This was easier in the past, when people were much more afraid of ghosts, but lately no one has reacted as strongly to him—and now, his failed attempt to scare Too-Ticky, intended to be his swan song, and in turn his degrading humiliation as her short-lived pet has all but destroyed his self-esteem! As he cries a nasty green puddle of tears that streams down the tablecloth, Mamma regrets not fainting for him, while Pappa suggests that they should try to let him give a scare anyhow: soon, they realize that they could call upon the unsuspecting neighborhood to lend the ghost a hand by having him try to scare everyone in the dark one-by-one, with Pappa even giving a spooky, squishy-faced demonstration of how the ghost could jump out and scare the visitors! Thus, Pappa exhorts the ghost table-bangingly to chin up and take on a truly scary face for what could be his last chance to return to the other world; at first, his heart isn’t really in it as he merely stretches out his current gloomy face, but after Moomin objects, he puts in the effort to literally rearrange his face into something a little more uncanny! And when this isn’t enough for Pappa, he remakes his face into something truly menacing, which proves much too scary for Moomin and Sniff as they flinch or cringe in fright—leaving the confused, exasperated ghost to just pull his face all over the place as he asks what the heck he should do!

That night, with light emanating only from the moon and the lantern at the front of the Moominhouse, Nonnon and Snork are the first to arrive as the Moomins and Sniff watch anticipatedly from the top window; they are greeted by Sorry-oo carrying a card of instructions, asking Snork to wait outside while Nonnon comes in earlier, warning her to “prepare for a scare”. Snork’s arrogant vexation over being told to stay outside comes through wonderfully in his character acting, as he rubs his snout so roughly that his whole upper face squishes with his finger movement, then swats his hand back disdainfully in a show of his contempt for the Moomins, and finally lets out his full frustration as he swivels forcefully while stretching himself up scrunchingly so that he can thrust his weight and clenched fists back down in a more powerful show of his anger (and just look at that follow-through as his airier wig floats down after he’s settled into his final pose)! Hirata depicts Nonnon’s entrance in a striking manner that shows just how dark it is inside the Moominhouse: she opens the door from a tiny corner of the pitch-black screen, the moonlight from outside shining diagonally across the screen as her ominous-looking shadow is cast before her. Moomin and Sniff watch from behind the wall, with Moomin taking on a cartoonishly wide-eyed look as he anticipates Nonnon’s reaction to the ghost with dread; meanwhile, Nonnon is stumbling around in the dark, lit only by a dim blue spotlight in the middle to roughly delineate where the ground is, with the animator putting a remarkable amount of care into the way she treads forth uneasily while feeling around for anything that might be in front of her. It is then that the ghost fades in before Nonnon in the form of an ominous, rippling balloon-like presence (an additional blur effect further conveys its ghostliness), with Moomin almost covering his eyes in trepidation as Nonnon steps forth curiously. Believing that Moomin has found her balloon, Nonnon steps forth delightfully to take it—but right as the ghost unfurls himself dramatically and lunges towards Nonnon in a truly terrifying close-up, Moomin is unable to take it anymore and yells for Nonnon not to touch it, distracting her and completely sabotaging the ghost’s attempt to frighten her!

As Nonnon shrieks nevertheless with Moomin running over to console her, Snork runs into the house panickedly as well, almost tumbling over as he forces himself to stop so he can turn to the sides and more thoroughly call out for his dear little sister Nonnon, wherever she may be in the dark. Confronted with the sight of the collapsed, jumbled ghost before him, Snork is indignant at what believes is Moominpappa hiding under a sheet to pull ghostly pranks, stomping furiously in place as he runs over madly and, stopping just short of tackling the ghost, begins trying to pull him apart, much to the ghoul’s embarrassment! In the heat of the moment, Snork continues to believe that this is Pappa even as Moomin tries to explain that this is a real ghost—only to abruptly stop as, realizing the truth, he lets the ghost droop to the ground, with his wide-eyed disbelief quickly turning to scornful amusement at how this “children’s costume-level clichéd white thing” is “a ghost-like—not!—ghost”! (Snork engages in a funny grammatical pun to express the latter: he calls the ghost an obake no you na obake, which on its own simply means a ghost-like ghost as you na is used to express likeness to the preceding words, but he puts a special emphasis on the na, playing up how na also be used as a rather rude way of negating the preceding words.)

The next two guests, Mr. Hemulen and the Police Inspector, are downright oblivious to the ghost’s identity, initially believing him to be relevant to their interests and getting frustrated when he insists on trying to creep them out even so, leaving him quite humiliated and apologetic. Upon reading Sorry-oo’s “prepare for a scare” warning, Mr. Hemulen laughs and assures himself that not even weird bugs can scare him, and so it is with a bug-oriented mindset that he enters: the ghost’s theatrical unfurling as he orders Mr. Hemulen to tremble before him is misinterpreted as the ghost trying to kill his collection of butterflies. And when the ghost tries to resort to his formal expressions, his statement on the howls of the hellhounds results in Mr. Hemulen trying to explain that he’s not that interested in dogs, while his question on whether Mr. Hemulen realizes that a skeleton abandoned at the beach is rattling (just look at the ghost’s creepy hand-waving here and how his whole body moves, with the low frame rate adding to the uncanniness of it all!) outright ends in a sharp rebuke for his own lack of knowledge on how insects don’t have bones! Things go even worse with the Police Inspector, who gets caught up in investigative mode as he believes that the ghost is trying to expound on a serious incident, and is completely unmoved by the ghost’s incredibly exuberant, metamorphic performance as he stretches and thrashes about and wriggles creepily, eventually even threatening him with arrest for obstruction of justice due to his ghostly expressions! (I love how Hirata has the Inspector shove himself in the ghost’s face—overtaking the screen in the process—to emphasize the “arrest” part!)

Last, but not least, comes Mymble and My. The instruction to leave the feisty My outside while Mymble comes in first immediately provokes My (the way she suddenly goes from zero to eleven emphasized by a swift cut to a closer shot of the two!), and the timing between My marching in and the sounds of sheer destruction and the ghost’s yelling and groaning in pain is simply perfect, complemented by how the lantern outside the home actually shakes in a reflection of the sheer chaos inside! Hirata underlines the panic as we see everyone else rushing down the stairs in the dark, and he neatly has the lights brighten up as My demands to know the meaning of this, thereby signaling an end to any further attempts to frighten visitors. As the ghost breaks down in green tears once more, Moomin’s parents decide that they’ll simply welcome him as a permanent guest of the home, much to the opposition of the other adults who maintain that he is a potentially cursed ghost; the ghost, in turn, begins to elaborate that he indeed has various unusual habits that make it difficult for others to live with him, like his insistence on quiet when he sleeps during the day, his perfectionism when it comes to food, and his tendency to move things around noisily at night when he’s feeling energetic. But none of these, on the surface, faze Moomin’s parents, who decide that they’ll gladly deal with these quirks, much to the absolute disbelief of Snork (I love the way he shouts Moominpappa’s name here) and the ghost’s joyful tears!

Some time later, as established by a lovely overhead shot of the area, the kids are sailing their little boats down the river (the fade effect on the boats conveys their slow drifting nicely)—but Moomin sits all alone, clearly troubled. Of course, it’s obvious that the ghost has proven to be much more of a burden than the Moomins anticipated, with Moomin’s parents especially getting the worst of it; so begins a fun triplet of flashbacks, each of them showing how the ghost’s three previously-stated quirks have turned out to be truly overwhelming, with the contrastingly lovely, peaceful, domestic-sounding Seiichirō Uno music used here serving to play up the bizarreness of the events depicted within! To begin with, we see Mamma delivering a cup of milk to Pappa as he busies himself writing, seemingly as usual—only for Pappa to react with shock (just look how his top hat scrunches up and his right eye bulges out with shapes inside!) as he discovers all of the cups have been labeled poisonous, with Hirata rapidly cutting between dramatic zoom-outs and shaky close-ups of the items to emphasize the shock! Their attempt to remark on what unpleasant things the ghost could possibly be up to is then interrupted by the fellow himself, who takes issue with how they are supposedly speaking too loudly for him to sleep; Pappa is then further astounded as Mamma reveals (now in whispers!) that he’s been scribbling from the ceiling down. So, we see the ghost yawning and going back to sleep, clearly satisfied with his day’s work…as we pan up the wall behind him, revealing just how littered it now is with his child-like drawings!

And then comes the ghost’s mealtime. Pappa and Moomin eat dinner contentedly, but are then bewildered to see Mamma coming down from the stairs: drenched in sweat and with her animation initially on threes, she seasons the ghost’s food with pepper, as he purportedly cannot eat without it, then departs, allowing Pappa and Moomin to continue eating as before. But then Mamma comes back, now on slightly more rapid twos, as she adds a bit of salt for the ghost due to how the pepper’s flavor has supposedly overpowered it, even carelessly leaving the salt shaker to spill on the table as she leaves—and then, before Pappa and Moomin can even take another bite, she reappears on ultra-fast ones to spoon in a bunch of sugar, with the two of them outright flinching from the suddenness of her third reappearance in a row and getting all wobbly and worn out from the repetition of it all! But the worst of it comes at midnight, when the Moomins, now forced to sleep together in the same room due to the ghost’s occupancy, find out just how noisy it is when the ghost moves things around: he uses his powers to levitate and shake everything in the room clatteringly, having a grand time of it as he sings and dances while the Moomins desperately try to cover their ears!

Hirata then takes the bizarreness of things up to eleven as Nonnon suggests that Snork could convene a Moominvalley-wide council to figure out how to deal with the ghost. The outstanding scene that immediately follows is a brilliant satire on the nightmares of bureaucracy and legal proceedings that make no sense: Snork begins with a statement of the council’s absurdly long name and purpose, and this leads to the Police Inspector attempting to explain how this difficult issue is one he does not understand very well, causing him to keep prattling endlessly about issues one cannot understand very well as he goes increasingly insane, ending in the entire council erupting in an uproar as no one can understand what he is saying while Moomin observes that this will probably go on forever! As a last resort, the kids go to Snufkin, who, in what will prove to be the ultimate bonkers twist, decides to give them a newly-invented 4-stage jack-in-the-box that he managed to snag in town; perhaps the ghost could use it to scare someone.

The sequence that follows, as we fade to the jack-in-the-box now on the Moomins’ table, is a masterwork in gradual escalation and the power of different frame rates in animation. As Moomin initially whispers (keeping in mind the ghost’s need for almost total silence when sleeping) to Pappa that he thinks the jack-in-the-box is a good idea, Mamma walks down the stairs to let everyone know that the ghost has woken up; in exchange for being able to talk loudly, however, the cycle of trying to serve food to him begins anew, with Mamma starting off on threes as she goes to deliver jam toast in place of the buttered toast she had walked down with. On the subject of the jack-in-the-box, Pappa responds that he also thinks it’s a good idea, but then brings up the question of what the “gentleman” himself will think about it; right on cue, as a reminder of precisely how unsympathetic this ghoul is to begin with, Mamma walks back down to the kitchen and up again to replace the strawberry jam with apple jam, now on somewhat faster twos. Pappa then tries to elaborate at length that it would hurt such a ghostly noble’s pride, and in turn reflect poorly on themselves, to force him to use the jack-in-the-box, with Moomin in turn being almost astonished at Pappa’s unbelievable reticence to proceed with the plan; at that point, Mamma once again goes down and back up to replace the apple jam with lingonberry jam, still walking on twos but now with a markedly more nervous tone in her voice as though she is actively trying to keep herself calm. This now triggers the anger of the other kids, with My in particular banging on the table and screeching that Pappa is simply unwilling to admit defeat, as Pappa attempts to keep them at bay and assure them that the selfish, fickle ghost is no bother at all—and at that moment, in a truly amazing sight, Mamma now makes the rounds on hyperfast ones, barely able to contain her meltdown as she tries to laugh off the ghost’s insistence on pie and then his rejection of that as well!

My has had enough: taking the jack-in-the-box and yelling at Moomin not to stop her, she runs up the stairs (just hear that growl Junko Hori lets out as though a cloud of smoke were steaming out of her!) and barges into the ghost’s room—you gotta love the overly-polite, spoiled way the ghost greets who he assumes to be Mamma, just laying on the bed like the most esteemed guest imaginable as he prepares to deliver his next change of mind (Yasuo Yamada’s delivery makes it especially hilarious), only to be horrified as My shouts at him to hold it! Calling out the ghost for his entitled attitude, the enraged My proceeds to throw the jack-at-the-box at him in an attempt to force him to help everyone out—effectively using it against him in an explosive climax in which the box springs into action: a crazed head practically explodes from the box and, charging towards the screen, unleashes a boxing glove to bonk the ghost repeatedly on the head, which itself blows up to release a missile that twirls around the paralyzed ghost repeatedly while leaving lots more mini-explosions in its wake, the sheer insanity coming through in the way the screen shakes back and forth while the background flashes and we get cuts to the others watching in horror!! Eventually, as the madness comes to an end, the smoke disperses—and the frozen-up ghost, left in complete shock for a few seconds, collapses and seemingly dies for a second time (notice how his figure bends forth before falling back, adding a remarkable sense of weight and finality to his movement), disappearing into thin air!

Just as Moomin begins to chew out My for committing ghost murder, however (I love how My seems genuinely horrified and remorseful at the realization of what she’s apparently done, even getting down on her knees and hanging her head in shame), Pappa shushes Moomin: the ghost’s voice is now laughing all throughout the dark room, the now-haunted atmosphere underlined by the way everyone’s voices echo from this point on! (I wonder if audio director Atsumi Tashiro actually recorded everyone speaking in an echo chamber…) As the kids begin to step uneasily to the bed, the now-invisible ghost begins to gloat about how he can no longer be seen, in turn sending them into a panic as he gives a full demonstration of his furniture-levitating powers! At last, everyone realizes: all along, they could have just scared the ghost himself into fainting to restore his ability to vanish!

As Pappa reassures the ghost that he’s welcome to return any time if he ever needs to disappear, the furniture-wielding spirit thanks everyone and departs for the other world—taking the form of a tornado that sucks up all the Moomins’ furniture, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake! Hirata, in turn, gives us one last excellent gag: Snork is walking along and singing peacefully, only for a massive cabinet to land right behind him, shaking the earth and bouncing him off of his feet! He begins to look around confusedly, with the way he pops from pose to pose (rather than simply being animated turning from place to place) adding to the humor of the situation—and with perfect timing, a can falls right onto his head on ones, knocking him to the ground (and look how he flails his arms in a desperate struggle to stay up too)!

The wind from the tornado continues to blow through the forest amidst the sunset, awakening the Muskrat in his hammock (and causing the top book in his stack to flip through all its pages) and interrupting Snufkin’s fishing—and finally awakening Too-Ticky, the precocious girl responsible for all of this, as she sleeps high in the trees. She gazes towards the direction of the wind as it begins to dissipate—and, perhaps thinking that it’s nothing of any particular significance, returns to her rest. It is then that Hirata brings us back full circle to what started it all, as we pan further up to find My and Nonnon’s balloons, barely hanging onto the tree after all this time; they now float off together into the sky for good, with Moomin taking note of this excitedly as he and the other kids watch from the window! Nonnon sees this as the ghost taking a souvenir with him, as it sinks in that he really is gone for good—and in one last comic revelation, Pappa admits that he’s relieved now, in spite of his earlier claims that the ghost wasn’t a nuisance! And so all the kids share a good laugh, as Hirata closes this wonderfully bizarre episode, easily the best comedy-oriented episode in the series, with a pan from the Moominhouse showing the extent of the wreckage the ghost has left behind…

It is unfortunate that Toshio Hirata did not contribute any further episodes to New Moomin. If I had to guess the reason why, perhaps it has to do with how the studio Jaggard, where he had been working on commercials since the late 1960s while occasionally directing episodes for various shows, closed its doors around this time, possibly making it harder to reach out for his help. The studio’s last major project was Tokyo Movie’s Tensai Bakabon, in which studio head Hiroshi Saitō was chief director of the later episodes alongside TM’s own Eiji Okabe, and for which Jaggard’s main animators by the end were Shunichi Sakai and Michiyo Sakurai. The last episode of Tensai Bakabon aired 24 June 1972, and The Unvanishing Ghost aired over a month later on 30 July 1972; it was presumably soon afterwards that this ex-Jaggard team of Saitō, Hirata, Sakai, and Sakurai regrouped to begin work on Zuiyō’s first independently-produced series Rocky Chuck, destined to be New Moomin’s timeslot successor at the beginning of the next year.

For that matter, this episode is the earliest known involvement of its credited inbetweener, Kōichi Tsuchida, who almost immediately afterwards left Mushi Pro to become one of Madhouse’s founding inbetweeners. He quickly worked his way up to key animation on Tokyo Movie’s classic series Hajime Ningen Gyatoruzu, The Adventures of Ganba, and Ganso Tensai Bakabon, becoming a pillar of the latter for its entire run (by the end of the series, he was key-animating entire segments on his own). He then left Madhouse to go freelance, serving as an animator on Group TAC’s Manga Ijin Monogatari and The 11 Cats, but also doing work for Sanrio and Tezuka Pro during the same period; he was in fact the top-billed assistant animator of Toshio Hirata’s film directorial debut, Unico: Black Cloud, White Feather, which I discussed at length in my old Hirata article.

Two more flawed, outsourced episodes followed The Unvanishing Ghost. Episode 31, A Strange Quarrel, was the second episode to be directed by Masakazu Higuchi, and, unfortunately, it is easily the weakest episode of the series to be written by Yoshiaki Yoshida. Here, My, peeved at how Thingumy and Bob tried making her special shoes their home, challenges them to say different things instead of constantly repeating each other, effectively tricking them into falling out as Bob inadvertently begins saying mean things against Thingumy (e.g. Thingumy starts by saying “Bob is a very good kid”, but Bob, after a bit of thought, ends up responding with “Thingumy is a very…very…uh…very bad kid!”). Their separation, in turn, has dire consequences for their health, with almost everyone showing great concern and distress as Bob begins dying.


While I can appreciate Yoshida’s effort to make these two elven creatures actually worth caring about, especially the underlying message that even the littlest folks in Moominvalley are valuable people in themselves, in the end there just isn’t much that anyone can do with them—no surprise that they rarely show up again after this. Similarly, Higuchi recalled that he put so much effort into his storyboard here that Rintarō approved the first draft without any changes. He really did try—as in Mamma’s Handbag, his odd angles and close-ups emphasize the smallness of Thingumy and Bob, and the sequence in which Moomin and Snufkin row out to the lake to rescue the dying Thingumy has its moments, most notably the beautiful overhead views of the sparkling water and Snufkin leaping out of the boat in front of the sun (with its light in turn flashing amazingly over him!). Alas, Higuchi’s effort was thrown to the no-name animators from The Mysterious Alien and Let’s Make a Clock, in their (thankfully) last work for the show; by now, their work is serviceable, but the overall insipidity of the animation and drawings, along with how Thingumy and Bob just aren’t that interesting in the end, makes for a mediocre episode with hints of brilliance. In short, an episode I really want to like more than I do, especially with the shining moments in its second half like the closing reunion between Thingumy and Bob, but it just doesn’t make it, sadly. (Incidentally, animator Kazuhide Fujiwara is credited in place of the second no-name animator here. Given the similarity of the kanji in his name (藤原万秀) to that animator (黒沢次郎), perhaps that particular person was a pseudonym for Fujiwara all along?)

Finally, episode 32, The Doll That Disappeared, is the last episode by the dreaded combination of screenwriter Junji Tashiro, director Noboru Ishiguro, and animation director Norio Yazawa with animation by Japan Art Bureau. I have to give this one some credit: it is easily the closest that this team got to creating a truly good episode. Ishiguro delivers some remarkably atmospheric, even delicate and poetic direction here, especially in the early scenes that take place in the rain; Yazawa’s animation, too, is slightly less off-model, and even Tashiro’s story, in which Nonnon finds a poor, shabby doll and decides to take care of it, has a humane premise. Of course, there are still some overly mean-spirited moments as expected of Tashiro, like Snork forcing Nonnon out of their mansion for the day just for wanting to keep the dirty-looking doll, and of course the crass scenes involving My and Sniff.


Still, the story continues to be rather nice as Moomin and Nonnon start to find the doll’s missing body parts…until it isn’t. Things start to go off the rails as Snufkin decides to tell Moomin about some Land of Dolls, saying that‘s the reason they should keep searching? And then, once the doll’s parts are all found and sewed back on, it begins to talk (voiced by Katsue Miwa) and declare it will be leaving for the Land of Dolls? (And of course, it won’t speak in front of My and Sniff, who in turn dismiss Moomin and Nonnon as liars.) And finally, the doll gets up tremblingly on its own, summons down lightning (sending the two kids tumbling backwards!), reveals itself as a princess spirit that rises into the heavens, and its leftover corpse disintegrates into golden sparkly dust that Nonnon picks up and blows away in the wind!?

It’s not the premise itself—a doll coming to life thanks to Nonnon’s kindness could have been a lovely episode. But with a writer like Junji Tashiro, especially with that climax that feels like he and Ishiguro were trying way too hard to create a sense of wonder—honestly, I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of it all just like My and Sniff did afterwards, which is sad.


Incidentally, this is the only episode in which Moominpappa and Moominmamma are completely silent, even though they do appear visually. Perhaps Hitoshi Takagi and Akiko Takamura needed a break; for once, their usual places in the end credits are taken by Nonnon and Snork.

With that, we have at last reached the end of the Dark Age of New Moomin! But before we go on, we must discuss one very, very juicy and contentious subject, which makes the show’s sudden upturn in quality from this point on all the more paradoxical—namely, the collapse of Mushi Pro and the departure of all its staffers around this time, including Rintarō himself (!!!).

Episodes 33 to 44: The Silver Age of New Moomin

As was discussed earlier at the end of my write-up on The Door Into Summer, Mushi Pro’s other late series Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai had only 46 episodes, as Fuji TV began delaying new episodes’ premieres to a biweekly basis; accordingly, 14 August 1972, the day after the broadcast of The Doll That Disappeared, was the day that Kunimatsu’s finale would have aired had it not been for the delays. Ergo, Kunimatsu‘s production would have already wrapped by this time—and as its main animation director Akio Sugino recalled, it was right after Kunimatsu‘s end, while New Moomin was still going, that Mushi Pro’s big exodus, and the foundings of its successor studios Madhouse and Sunrise, happened in earnest. While Madhouse’s official founding date would be 17 October 1972, we shall see in due time that the new studio was active well before then; meanwhile, Sunrise’s official founding would be sometime in September—and one of its co-founders was none other than New Moomin‘s producer Masami Iwasaki!

Iwasaki recalled that, as the one Sunrise co-founder who stayed behind at Mushi Pro the latest, life as New Moomin‘s producer had become hell on earth, likening his situation to that of a hostage; he could hardly sleep due to what he referred to as a 24-hour system. For that matter, he was also in the horrid position of having to not pay outside staffers and studios in a timely manner due to Mushi’s increasing bankruptcy: in one harrowing incident, a production assistant went as far as to deliberately provoke and get himself beaten up by an outside staffer in order to “resolve” the dilemma of delayed payments to that subcontractor! Ultimately, not even Iwasaki himself was receiving his salaries from the now-collapsing Mushi Pro; nevertheless, he found himself having to somehow scrounge up the 100,000 yen he was obligated to invest in Sunrise’s founding as a co-founder.

In the end, amidst this chaos and production catastrophe, Rintarō himself would be the very last employee to leave Mushi Pro. The studio was for all practical purposes already bankrupt:

Just from the numbers, we were already going bankrupt for a long time now. From that point on, Mushi Pro collapsed crumblingly…Everyone left one after another, but I stayed at Mushi Pro until the last moment. At Mushi Pro, there were ID cards. Each one was numbered, and as the top folks went out, the numbers moved up. So, when I quit Mushi Pro and returned my ID card, I was No. 2. No. 1 was the company president Eiichi Kawabata.

From here, Rintarō would move to Group TAC, the little studio headed by New Moomin‘s audio director Atsumi Tashiro. This naturally leaves the question: “But wait! New Moomin went on until the end of the year, and the veteran Mushi animators continued to work on it to the very end! Wouldn’t all these departures at this time, culminating in chief director Rintarō himself, have cut the series short?” Well, as it happens, the filmography in the PLUS MADHOUSE 04 book devoted to Rintarō contains one tiny bit of trivia under the New Moomin listing that completely changes the map of New Moomin‘s production: Rintarō indeed finished off the series’ second half as an employee loaned from Group TAC!

rintaro tac

Let that sink in: from around this time on, Mushi Pro was no longer actually producing New Moomin with its own in-house staff. And yet, somehow, even after leaving for new studios, it seems Rintarō and Masami Iwasaki found it in their hearts to stick with the series and finish its 52-episode run at any cost—and that’s to say nothing of the directors like Mitsuo Kaminashi, Wataru Mizusawa, Noboru Ishiguro, and Yū Tachibana and animators like Hiromitsu Morita, Toyoo Ashida, Akihiro Kanayama, Mitsuo Shindō, and Masakazu Higuchi who, amidst all this, also stayed with New Moomin to the bitter end! Indeed, in what can only be seen as a miracle, it’s precisely from this point on that New Moomin begins to pick up massively, as though everyone who was left on the series rallied together and began trying once more to put out a quality series in the face of Mushi Pro’s collapse. To top it off, a few folks who had left earlier in the production—writer Isao Okishima, animator Toshiyasu Okada, and the now-Madhouse animators Ikuo Fudanoki and Yoshiaki Kawajiri—would actually return during this period, contributing significantly to the show’s brief revival; here, at last, is the Silver Age of New Moomin, in which the show was suddenly revitalized with new bursts of creativity and inspiration, and a number of its all-time masterpieces were produced.

The Silver Age begins with what I will refer to as the Late Summer Trilogy: episodes 33 to 35 are unique in that they specifically take place in the very season in which viewers in 1972 would have seen these episodes, and prominently feature the kids engaging in water activities, with episode 35 closing in the end of summer. The first of these episodes, Pappa All Alone, is the second of four special episodes scripted by documentary filmmaker Kunio Kurita, who comes up with a remarkably mature, sensitively-written, and touching story about the ultimate importance of the father in the family: Moominpappa, overly conscious of his role as head of the household, tries to assert himself over Moomin and Moominmamma in unreasonable ways, becoming disgruntled by what he sees as their loss of appreciation for his authority now that they’ve grown older and more independent. Eventually, after trying to step back and see if Moomin can really handle watching over his friends at the lake on his own, he arrives at a more balanced understanding of his crucial role: he is there to keep his family afloat, supporting them in their own endeavors as much as he can, but also directly intervening as times of true need inevitably arise. Kurita’s story is beautifully done justice by Rintarō’s younger brother Masayuki Hayashi, in what would unfortunately be his swan song for the series, and the Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura trio, which again turns in some remarkably lively, well-acted, and convincing animation.


Kurita and Hayashi begin in the most incredible way imaginable: a match is lit amidst the blank screen, and we zoom into the tiny flame such that it quickly consumes the screen, erupting into an apocalyptic fire that engulfs the entire Moominhouse as we see photographic views of Moomin and his parents panicking amidst the all-consuming flames while boards fall around them! Of course, this nightmare turns out to be a hypothetical situation, as we then fade to Pappa’s hand holding up a lit match in the real world: it is an effective illustration of his point that even the smallest, most innocuous flame can rapidly spread out and evolve into a terrifying fire with the potential to burn Moominvalley to the ground, as we see he is lecturing on this to Moomin and Moominmamma. Pappa then moves to the subject of Moominvalley’s moss-covered ground—so focused is he on his lecture that he does not notice the match burning up until the flame actually scorches his fingers, causing him to shake his hand panickedly and flinch in self-awareness of his scatterbrained pain (punctuated by the weird shape his mouth takes on and the way he raises his pinky finger) as he continues talking while rubbing his singed fingers together—and how much of a fire hazard it becomes as it dries up in the summer.

In another hypothetical situation, a villager walks over the ground and carelessly tosses a lit match onto it, and sure enough, as we cut to a panorama of the idyllic, mossy hills flanking the river, the tiny but smoky flame suddenly erupts into another massive fire that quickly spreads out all through the mossy ground, with Hayashi even giving us close-ups of the fire barreling along as though it were a deadly wheel in a metaphorical representation of its speed! Soon, as Seiichirō Uno’s over-the-top dramatic music continues, the fire is engulfing the homes and surroundings of all of the Moomins’ neighbors, and we get a view of Moominvalley’s inhabitants running all over and panicking amidst the hellish flames; this is followed by a pan over the burning forest as we see deer and rabbits fleeing as well (their panic emphasized by the way they run towards the screen!), the ecological destruction hammered home by how a burning tree proceeds to collapse before us, and this terrifying scenario of a moss fire concludes in a map of Moominvalley literally burning away before our eyes (which additionally serves as a striking transition back to Pappa lecturing in the real world!), underlining Pappa’s point that such a fire will reduce the entire valley to ashes.

Pappa reiterates that even such a cataclysmic event may be caused by a single match, indulging in a dramatic pause as he takes up another lit match and uses it to light his pipe, in turn puffing it and letting out a breath of smoke—adding further weight to his dire point that simply handling this ordinary-looking match carelessly will destroy countless lives, in tandem with the way he holds the lit match up dramatically before Moomin and Mamma. Thereupon, he stresses the need for them to feel responsible for looking after everyone‘s lives whenever they use a match, giving a demonstration of how to properly put out a match as he shakes the lit match until the flame is gone, places it in an ashtray, and then pours water into the ashtray, letting out another breather of smoky satisfaction as he does so. Upon confirming that his family understands this, Pappa gets up and walks over to deliver one last warning on how a fire can come about with a momentary lapse in attention, with only a second statement of comprehension from Moomin and Mamma putting his mind at ease enough for him to leave and spend some time outside.

We see that Pappa has placed his rocking chair outside, as he strolls over thoughtfully and settles himself in with quite the relaxed contentment (look how he delays himself a little to get his rear settled onto his seat before hopping up to let himself fall back and rock his chair). He begins to expound to himself on how, by incessantly teaching his family about things like fire safety every once in a while, the entirety of Moominvalley can live safely; during this time, however, he unthinkingly empties his smoking pipe onto the moss, in turn panicking as he realizes what he’s done and takes up from the river with his top hat to douse the smoldering ashes dramatically before things can get bad! Satisfied that danger has been averted, Pappa puts his top hat back onto his head, only realizing afterwards just how wet it is; all of this makes clear from the outset that he himself is far from the perfect authority, even as Seiichirō Uno’s grandiose, majestic music here and in the next sequence perfectly conveys his sense of pride and importance. Meanwhile, Moomin is voicing his dissatisfaction to Mamma over how Pappa always gives them the same lectures about fires every summer; more important to Mamma, however, is whether Moomin has talked to Pappa about his plan to go to the lake tomorrow. Moomin, clearly not keen on confronting Pappa directly about anything, insists that Mamma do the talking for him, especially since she already said she’d do so, and with that, he heads off to Nonnon’s place.

As Moomin runs off, Pappa is busy contemplating his own plans to take his family on a vacation the next day. After some mulling, he concludes that a place named Blacktail Island would be perfect for swimming in the ocean, especially with its wonderful sandy beach. With that, Hayashi gives us a glimpse of the lovely vacation going through Pappa’s mind, indicating as such by trucking in on Pappa as he fades to a close view of the ocean’s beautiful waves flowing onto the beach: as Uno’s majestic music swells once again, we see Moomin swimming through the ocean to reach the proudly-watching Pappa, and then father and son swimming side-by-side to a rock further off, with Mamma observing it all blissfully beneath the shade of her umbrella. A happy dream, but one that further illustrates Pappa’s rather naïve view of his family, as though they were still very much dependent on him for everything from fire-dousing instructions to summer leisure…

Before long, as the sun sets, Pappa is woken up from his idealistic dreaming by Moomin—he has just put out a moss fire, precisely according to Pappa’s previously-taught instructions! But, rather than being proud of Moomin for following his teachings, Pappa becomes frustrated with him and Mamma for not telling him about the fire, especially in light of his earlier lectures. It is here that we begin to see just how much Pappa clings to his long-established role as the head and authority figure of his family: even as Moomin protests that he followed Pappa’s instructions to the letter, Pappa insists on examining the area himself to an excessive degree, feeling around the moss and trees as he claims it could still be smoldering somewhere. Eventually, he orders Mamma to bring his rocking chair over here, declaring that he will keep watching the area for a while; Moomin, for his part, tries to keep the peace in this rather tense situation, running to Mamma’s side as he volunteers to help her bring the chair, while the now-alone Pappa stews over how his family is supposedly disregarding his responsibility to protect their safety.

That night, as established by a pan from the Moominhouse to the area of the fire, Pappa continues to insistently keep a supposed vigil in complete solitude, away from his family, surrounded only by the chirping crickets; Hayashi then trucks out from a close-up of the very peaceful area Pappa is watching over, underlining the needlessness of his presence. At that point, Mamma tries to call him in for dinner, but he, clearly not keen on dismissing her like this as he glances with a worried expression, nevertheless insists that she go ahead and eat first while he keeps watch a little longer. Moomin then steps over to the door, clearly unwilling to eat without Pappa accompanying them, but Mamma gently assures him that Pappa will come in when he finds peace of mind—or, at least, gets really hungry. Left in solitude once again, Pappa now engages in a much longer soliloquy about his present state in life, wondering why they nag him about dinner without acknowledging who makes it possible for them to enjoy it in the first place; from there, he bitterly reaffirms what he sees as his difficult, underappreciated vocation of being a father, as he must not only protect his family but also serve as a role model for his children in different ways depending on the situation, with Hayashi zooming in on his pensive, determined face to emphasize his resolve in this regard.

From there, Hayashi fades to Pappa’s empty chair at the Moomins’ dining table, underlining the unnaturalness of his absence as Hayashi zooms out to a full view of the table to reveal Mamma and Moomin eating silently. Moomin then places down his spoon, unwilling to eat even his favorite food any further; we see how glum he is as he explains to Mamma that he just can’t bring himself to eat without Pappa being perfectly in his now-empty seat. Outside, meanwhile, just as Pappa is musing on how he shouldn’t spoil Moomin by being magnanimous and kind, he is interrupted by the growling of his empty stomach, making clear that he may not last outside much longer; in the meantime, Hayashi trucks out on a back view of Pappa to reveal that Moomin is now impatiently watching him from inside to see if he’ll come in soon, with Mamma attempting to chide him for his rude manners in getting up from his seat during dinner. Now more forcefully, Mamma tries to assure him that things will be alright with Pappa, clearly frustrated herself that he still hasn’t come in.

As Pappa begins looking up at the starry night sky, he sees his visions of a wonderful family vacation at Blacktail Island play out once again, complete with the blissful sounds of everyone laughing as another beautiful, heavenly-sounding Seiichirō Uno music track begins. Realizing that, as Moomin’s role model, he may actually be teaching Moomin the wrong lesson by continuing to stubbornly sit outside, Pappa decides to re-enter the house with the stated intention of discussing his plans for them to visit Blacktail Island. His formal re-entry, as he clears his throat and locks the door meticulously, is greeted with joy and relief by Moomin and Mamma, with Moomin almost immediately declaring he’ll have seconds as his appetite is restored. Moomin then asks Pappa if he got hungry; Pappa, consciously trying to act as a model of masculine resilience for Moomin, responds by saying that a man must not worry about things like his stomach, as he begins to suggest that they all go swimming at Blacktail Island tomorrow. Alas, this moment of renewed familial bonding is quickly torpedoed when Mamma, arriving with more plates of food, brings up Moomin’s already-promised plans to go with Nonnon to the lake, with Pappa in turn having to be there to supervise them—and an awkward silence follows as Moomin, hesitating as he looks down at the table, confirms that it’s true.

This revelation, as Pappa once again finds himself confronted with the reality of Moomin’s ability to make decisions without consulting him, fills him with a renewed sense of stubborn pride in his leaderly role, and an increasingly heated argument between him and Mamma breaks out as poor Moomin watches timidly: repeating his mission as father once again, Pappa begins to accuse Mamma of sidestepping his authority, asking who gave Moomin permission to go to the lake! Mamma tries to explain that she had been planning to talk to him about it over dinner, but Pappa only doubles down on his feelings of unappreciation, claiming she decided on this without even consulting him in spite of everything he continues to do for his family; this leads Mamma, in turn, to openly call him out for his stubborn refusal to come in for dinner! Now standing up in such an infuriated way as to bang on the table, Pappa once again claims he was doing so to keep watch so that the fire wouldn’t start up again, and as Mamma once again tries pointing out that she and Moomin put it out properly, Pappa outright questions whether what they did was enough—now, more than ever, it is clear that Pappa misguidedly looks on his family as though they are still young and incapable of doing anything on their own.

Hayashi climaxes this all-too-realistic depiction of a marital argument with an extreme close-up on Pappa’s angry eyes, showing the fierceness of his resolve as he declares stubbornly that he will go back outside and watch the area for the entire night—and Mamma, fed up and resigned, almost gladly obliges, allowing Pappa to violently and hastily scoop the contents of his plate into his mouth and slam the plate back down onto the table as he storms out of the house! As Moomin worriedly rushes to the door, we see Pappa sitting back on his rocking chair in a downright haughty manner, refusing to open his eyes and maintaining his crossed arms as he hops himself back towards his seat rear-first; Moomin then looks backwards to see that Mamma, too, is angry and estranged. Hayashi then gives us an interesting zoom-out from Moomin as he turns back to the stewing, turned-away Pappa outside, allowing him to underline how Moomin wants no part of this familial drama as he walks away while Pappa begrudges his family’s seeming lack of appreciation for him.

Moomin lets Mamma know that he’s going to bed early; thankfully, Mamma bears no ill will towards Moomin in spite of the situation, seeming quite pleased that he’ll be up early tomorrow. Yet, Moomin cannot help looking out at Pappa all alone as he begins to head towards the stairs, and now that tempers have cooled, Pappa has taken on a rather sad, pensive mood as well, looking up at the starry sky again as he begins to reminisce on the old days of his family: in a montage of beautiful illustrations, we see that he and Mamma built the Moominhouse together, and both of them watched their little Moomin grow up joyfully as he played with his blocks and tottered about with the butterflies in a flower field. This montage is accompanied by a version of the series’ theme song that sounds like it was played back from a run-down, rusty phonograph cylinder, underlining the old-timey nostalgia of it all; for a brief moment, Pappa is happy as he chuckles at the recollection of these wonderful memories, and with that he sighs pitifully, knowing that those days of familial bliss are over as he concludes that things were better back then. Meanwhile, Moomin is looking out at the forlorn, lonesome Pappa from his room, unable to stop worrying and unable to comprehend why he is acting like this…

Hayashi heralds the arrival of the next morning with a beautiful shot of the dock against the sunrise sky. Almost as soon as he awakens, Moomin immediately sits up and leaps out of his bed to look out his window, clearly desperate to see if Pappa is still outside as the issue of him has no doubt weighed on his mind for the entire night—to his shock, Pappa is gone, as emphasized by the dramatic zoom-in on his chair, and Moomin runs down the stairs in a panic to alert Mamma! But Mamma looks at him with an off-puttingly joyous expression; as it turns out, things are alright, as Mamma shows Moomin that Pappa has gone back into the house to sleep, much to Moomin’s joyful relief. Soon, as Mamma and Moomin are eating, Pappa awakens and comes down the stairs; his mood is rather unusually subdued as the two of them greet him, and he tries to hide the awkwardness by feigning some rather meaningless formalities, shifting a portrait on the wall and saying “All right” as though he has actually rearranged the portrait in a meaningful way (he even glances back at his family to check on their reaction), and then inspecting his pipe for any dust, in turn breathing on it to create some condensation and allow himself to wipe it on his hand. From there, he steps over to the entrance and, after stretching (notice how he again briefly glances at his family to see how they’re taking it!), begins his morning exercises. Moomin feels awkward about Pappa’s behavior, while Mamma is clearly endeared by Pappa’s attempts to reinstate a sense of normalcy after yesterday, even helping smooth things over by asking him if it’s okay now as far as a fire, to which he replies in the affirmative. This leads Moomin, now realizing that they’re trying to patch the situation up, to overcompensate by thanking Pappa for his hard work, taking him aback!

With that, Mamma once again broaches the question to Pappa of whether he can be with Moomin and the others at the lake today. Pappa is hesitant: on the one hand, he now realizes that he cannot simply impose his authority to stop Moomin from going, but on the other hand, it still isn’t the kind of idyllic family vacation he had envisioned. But then Moomin himself, in a change from previous submissive demeanor, gets up and runs to Pappa to try and convince him to come purely for his sake—and it is here that Pappa, unwilling to outright say no to his own son and now conscious of Moomin’s growth as a person, comes up with his own idea: what if Moomin watched over the other kids on his own, playing the protective role that Pappa would normally play? This rather extreme acknowledgement of how Moomin has grown up and become capable of making decisions himself immediately draws skepticism from Mamma; but Pappa maintains that Moomin won’t be a child forever, and must truly learn to be a grown-up like him. In the end, Moomin gladly accepts, much to Pappa’s fatherly approval as he latches onto Moomin’s shoulders, while Mamma continues to look on worriedly…

The sun is shining brightly over the woods by the lake, and Moomin, Nonnon, Sniff, and My are all very energetic as they exercise to warm up before swimming, with Hayashi establishing the vastness of the lake by way of a rather fast pan down from the sun that shifts to the left to reach our beloved characters exercising at a more rock-laden area. Fed up with these gymnastics, My jumps into the lake on her own, only to be scolded by Moomin, who points out that the area beyond the rock in the distance is dangerous; of course, given how far off the rock is to begin with (with Hayashi panning from it to My looking on to establish as much), My simply gets frustrated at Moomin acting grown-up, in turn taking the opportunity to dive deeper into the lake and explore. But her boldness quickly evaporates as she is suddenly confronted with the sight of an eerie, much larger fish opening its eyes and staring directly at her (complete with an over-dramatic stinger), causing her to panic cartoonishly and swim back up just to scream for help and flail around, with Moomin in turn diving right in to save her!

…and just like that, Hayashi abruptly cuts away from this exciting action to the peaceful, quiet Moominhouse elsewhere in Moominvalley, as Pappa paces back and forth in the window, clearly pondering something. Sure enough, as he begins looking out at the sky before him, Pappa has further realized that being a father is much harder than he thought: he cannot simply stand back, relax, and leave everything to Moomin, as even a mature child is still a child, and it is his obligation as a parent to protect Moomin while he is still alive. At one extreme is to restrict Moomin and force him to conform entirely to Pappa’s own whims and rules; but at the other extreme is to completely leave him on his own without any real guidance.

Back at the woods, naturally, Moomin has already saved My, who is breathing frightfully and tiredly after her spell in the lake. But when Nonnon tries asking if My is okay, the offended My quickly denies that she’s worn out in any way, getting up haughtily as she stamps and swings her arms assertively and settles into a tough-looking pose! When Sniff tries to tell her not to overdo it, she gets even more gung-ho, declaring she’ll get right back out and swim—from there taking on a wise-guy, crossed-arm posture as she claims she has self-confidence. At this, Sniff reminds her that she just had to be saved by Moomin, whereupon My boastfully claims that she was simply pretending to see how everyone would get serious if she were actually drowning, even resting herself and her elbow on Sniff with her legs crossed over each other and a look of smug, confident contentment as though she was Bugs Bunny. But Moomin begins to undo My’s wise-guy façade when he observes that it really did look like she was drowning—and when she then tries to claim that it’s simply how good her acting is, the not-so-bright Sniff’s own well-intentioned questioning proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as My gets fed up, swipes Sniff off his feet, and unleashes a tirade on how, in spite of being the strongest in the group, Sniff didn’t even bother to go out and save her from drowning! At this, Sniff admits meekly that he can’t swim—all the more reason, to My, why he should have kept his mouth shut.

Things begin to escalate: Moomin tries to calm My down, since what matters is that she’s been saved. But this causes the agitated My, in her wounded pride, to accuse Moomin of not trusting her, in turn stomping back into the lake irascibly as she declares she’ll swim all the way to the rock! Moomin’s attempt to block her with a more specific warning, namely that beyond that rock the water dangerously flows into the river, only fires her reckless need to prove her swimming abilities up even further, and she rejects Nonnon’s desperate assurance that she trusts My, clearly obsessed with Sniff’s supposed lack of trust in her as she contemptuously splashes water on the poor kangaroo-like fellow. She then completely ignores Sniff’s attempt to reason with her, shouting for everyone to take a good look as she begins her fateful swim…

As Nonnon runs to the awe-struck Moomin’s side to let him know how worried she is (of course, her fluid motion is already a telltale sign that Masakazu Higuchi animated this coming sequence), Hayashi gives us a front-facing close-up of My swimming furiously as she grumbles to herself that everyone’s making fun of her, followed by a vast, ominous shot of her little self in the lake swimming closer to the massive rock before her as she mutters derisively for everyone to look at her purported skill, giving us a sense of how truly precarious the situation is. As one of Seiichirō Uno’s most ominous and foreboding music tracks starts up with Moomin and Nonnon looking on fearfully, Hayashi suddenly reveals that a large, raging whirlpool lies right behind the rock, in turn trucking out to show just how dangerous it is as he reveals that it leads directly to a waterfall into the rushing rapids of the river! (Of course, I can’t help pointing out that the whirlpool here is much, much more impressively animated by Higuchi than the one he storyboarded but didn’t animate in A Strange Quarrel.) My, in turn, realizes what she has gotten herself into as she sees the swirling whirlpool—and is quickly sucked in, hurtling towards the screen as her cry for help echoes all through the lake!

Hayashi, in turn, trucks in on a still shot of the other kids looking on with horror in such a strange, rotating way as to zero in on Moomin, as Nonnon’s voice is heard exhorting Moomin to hurry; economical though it may be, it somehow works in creating a remarkable sense of tension, as well as emphasizing that it now falls upon Moomin to save My from this watery death. With that, Moomin dives in and begins to swim over as fast as he can, punctuated by the extreme close-ups on him swimming desperately before our eyes, as My is sucked ever further into the whirlpool; in the meantime, Nonnon runs off to get Moominpappa, while Sniff begins trying to rush to the other side of the lake where the whirlpool empties into the river! And then things go from bad to worse, as it quickly turns out not even Moomin can withstand the strength of the whirlpool—and both My and Moomin find themselves screaming and flailing desperately as they are rushed down the waterfall and into the river!

Nonnon, at last, arrives at the Moominhouse panickedly, and she and the horrified Moominmamma barge into Pappa’s room—only to discover, as shown by a series of quick cuts between different corners of his room, that he is completely gone, at seemingly the worst possible time. Meanwhile, Sniff has finally arrived at the waterfall, calling out in vain for Moomin and My with an almost traumatized look on his face as he begins to conclude they’ve been swept away for good, the seeming futility and fatality of the situation punctuated by the shots of the river just flowing along indifferently; as Nonnon and Mamma run to the woods as well, Sniff begins trying to go further downstream to call out for Moomin and My in a last-ditch effort, ultimately sitting down and crying mournfully as he realizes there’s nothing more he can do. Of course, there’s nothing he can say as Nonnon and Mamma arrive and ask about the two children; Hayashi emphasizes their abject horror at the likelihood of their drowning with a low-angle close-up on their sweating, slightly shadowy faces, followed by another close-up on the river’s flowing…

But then, miraculously, it turns out all is well—Hayashi trucks out from the river to reveal Moomin lying unconscious, but very much intact, by the rushing rapids! As he begins to regain consciousness, his vision slowly but surely clears up, and he quickly realizes that—sure enough—Pappa has saved him! Of course, his initial rush of excitement as he gets up is immediately restrained as he remembers why he ended up in this situation in the first place, wondering with concern where My is; naturally, Pappa tilts his head to point him to the unconscious but saved munchkin lying on the tree behind him. As Moomin rushes over to see if My is okay, Pappa assures him that she simply swallowed a little water; after confirming that he indeed saved Moomin and My, however, Pappa declares he’ll leave in time for Mamma and the others to arrive. When the dismayed Moomin asks why, Pappa simply declares with paternal, shoulder-holding pride that it was Moomin who saved My—and as Moomin tries to object, Pappa reminds him gently that he’s not a child anymore, with Hayashi’s extreme close-ups on their faces emphasizing the intimacy between father and son as Pappa wishes to keep his heroism a secret only for Moomin. As Pappa walks off, Moomin looks on astonishedly, and turns back towards the unconscious My as he realizes just how important his Pappa really is…

As Hayashi cuts to the Moominhouse at sunset, we hear Mamma chewing out Pappa for his supposed unreliability, with Hayashi trucking in to bring us closer to the situation as she demands to know where he was. We then cut to Pappa feigning embarrassment over his alleged neglectfulness at the dinner table, peeking his eyeballs at Moomin to ensure he’s keeping silent, as he claims he was simply walking around a little, punctuating his nonchalance with a puff of pipe smoke; this explanation, no doubt as expected, further annoys Mamma, and he tops it off by simply thanking goodness that the situation turned out alright. He then tries to acknowledge that Moomin, at least, is reliable—and cuts him off from telling the truth as Mamma further scorns Pappa by overly praising how splendid he was, in turn heading out with attempted matter-of-factness for another walk (just hear how Hitoshi Takagi stutters as he hastefully confirms as much to the incredulous Mamma).

As Pappa begins to stroll off from hearing distance, Moomin at last tells Mamma the full truth about how Pappa truly saved both him and My from drowning; this tale of Pappa’s true heroism is the perfect accompaniment to a series of beautiful views of the unassuming Pappa on his sunset walk, as he passes over a bridge, by the hills, and through the woods. At last, as Moomin concludes by assuring Mamma that Pappa was keeping this a secret from her, Pappa’s short but lovely, heaven-affirming theme song starts up; after strolling by the very river where such drama had taken place earlier in the day, Pappa finally rests amidst a flower field in the light of the sunset while puffing smoke high into the air, clearly contented with himself as his theme song closes with a sprightly “do, re, mi, fa, so-la-si, do!” Like all humans, Pappa is not perfect, and he may be overbearing at times in his desire to be a good father—but in the end, he is the one keeping the Moomin family and their friends alive when they need it most.

On the subject of why Masayuki Hayashi did not contribute any further to New Moomin after this beautiful episode: I am not sure if Hayashi stayed with Jaggard to the end as Toshio Hirata apparently did, with the studio’s closure freeing him to find work elsewhere. However, at some point in 1972, he did take over as the main animation director of Tatsunoko’s Mock of the Oak Tree, which aired its 52 episodes over the course of the year as New Moomin did. This would be the beginning of Hayashi’s association mostly with Tatsunoko series, while his older brother Rintarō continued to struggle to find meaningful work for much of the remainder of the decade; ultimately, Hayashi died tragically young in 1985, after storyboarding episode 17 of Studio Pierrot’s Magical Emi, the Magic Star.

The Late Summer trilogy continues with I Am King!, another memorable comedic episode key-animated by Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi under Hiromitsu Morita’s animation direction, but written by Keisuke Fujikawa and directed by Mitsuo Kaminashi, in a rare instance of Kaminashi being given a more purely entertaining story to work with. In a scenario that could very well have been inspired by Břetislav Pojar’s classic film To See or Not to See, an order-weary Moomin finds a pair of tiny glasses that cause him to see everything around him as smaller—enabling him to begin acting like a ruthless, powerful tyrant, bossing everyone around and attacking anyone who dares get in his way! Of course, Moomin’s behavior is ludicrous enough, and Kaminashi’s more showy, subjective direction does such an outstanding job of depicting Moomin’s warped vision, that the overt violence that results is actually hilarious; for that matter, Kanayama and his team have reached the height of their powers, with some truly brilliant animation of the sea on Kanayama’s part in addition to the very satisfying character acting.


We begin by slowly fading into a shot of a screeching cicada on a tree, and Kaminashi pans from there to showcase the verdant, flower-dotted, gently hilly fields surrounding the Moominhouse, the river running through them, as the cicada’s screeching continues: the lazy, idyllic summer has reached its peak in Moominvalley. Kaminashi then begins slowly trucking in on the Moominhouse, fading to a closer view as we see Moomin finishing his meal in a rush; he halts the zoom-in at just the point where, with the out-of-focus window still framing the scene inside, we understand that Moomin is in a hurry to play outside in this wonderful summer day. Just as he is about to run off with his lifebuoy, however, Mamma stops him: he had promised to clean the storehouse today, and he cannot go out and play with everyone in the sea until he makes good on this promise. As Moomin’s parents continue to dine leisurely, Moomin cannot help looking out at the lovely, forest-flanked green hills and teal sky beckoning him just outside the door…

Meanwhile, we see schools of fish swimming by in the sea, as Nonnon suddenly dips her hand in and scares them off; Kaminashi swiftly zooms out as he cuts to her face to reveal that she and the others are on a boat in the middle of the sea, with Sniff fishing and My relaxing. As Nonnon continues to dabble her hand boredly, My gets up and remarks on how late Moomin is, with Sniff finding it especially strange given that Moomin invited them in the first place; Kaminashi gives us a great shot from their perspective as we see the hilly shore far off in the distance while the sea churns before them, the shaky camera conveying the rocking of the boat in the waves. Unable to bear waiting any longer, My jumps into the sea to try swimming back so she can get Moomin—and winds up being humiliated in this regard as a massive wave overtakes her, crashing onto the beach grandly and leaving her washed-up, ballooned self spouting water out like a fountain!

Soon, the leisurely Moominpappa is jolted by the door practically crashing open, as My loudly skips in and screams good morning to him energetically! She takes on a more inquisitive, thoughtful demeanor as she begins looking around for Moomin; Pappa’s reply that he’s busy cleaning the storehouse, in turn, shocks My so much that she actually stands in place silently for a few seconds, clearly unable to comprehend why Moomin would do such a thing after inviting them to play! She begins to charge down the basement fitfully, even lashing out and punching her fists into the air against Moominmamma as she tries to stop her from disturbing Moomin; Mamma then worries that My will end up causing Moomin to break his promise, with the rather indifferent, newspaper-focused Pappa, in turn, simply assuring her with a rather instinctual hand gesture (not even looking at her) that they’ll give Moomin a real talking-to if that happens.

Kaminashi shows us just how vast the storeroom is as Little My begins looking around and calling for Moomin; Moomin, in turn, is clearly so bored and discontented that he doesn’t even bother coming out to greet My, preferring to just stay where he is, lying down and slacking off on one of the shelves and even complaining when My scolds him for his apparent indecision. But even My realizes how dirty it is as she looks around at the messy storeroom; soon, she proves to be a much harder, more spirited worker than Moomin, pulling her sleeves up and doing all the work as she begins tossing things around and reorganizing them with all the strength of her little arms and legs. It is here that we fittingly hear Little My’s sassy theme song for the first time, albeit in an instrumental version; this will replace “Moomin is Yesterday” as the end credits theme starting in the next episode.

As My cleans the storeroom, the lazy Moomin, still unwilling to commit to his errand, begins wishing he could grow up so he can order everyone around himself, only to be goaded by the hard-working, feistily-rummaging My to actually work so they can play. Before Moomin can clean much of anything, however, he discovers a little locked chest—in turn resolving to dig out the key, as My’s scolding reminds him he’d better at least keep moving things around. In the meantime, Kaminashi fades to Sniff all alone in the sea, lying asleep in his boat as the seagulls fly overhead and wake him up. Just as he boredly wonders what Moomin and My could be up to, however—a massive wave is approaching, sending Sniff into a panic as he screams for the swimming Nonnon to get back in the boat so they can escape, with Nonnon going from completely carefree to splashing desperately towards the boat in a matter of seconds! The sheer immensity of the tsunami-like wave, topped off by the striking amount of care and detail with which Akihiro Kanayama animates it as it rises and eventually consumes the shrieking, futilely-escaping Nonnon and Sniff in multiple intricately-gushing layers of waves that crash towards us and appear to wreck their boat, makes for an incredible scene that is breathtaking and funny, complete with Kaminashi lingering on the view as, just like that, the laboriously-animated sea is back to normal—and the last we see of Nonnon and Sniff for now is the two kids seemingly dead on the beach as a crab crawls past them nonchalantly, with Seiichirō Uno’s ironic-sounding stinger, and the way that Kaminashi sardonically transitions out of the scene by having it go blurry while zooming in on it (very needlessly cinematic!), adding to the amusement of the sight.

Back at the storeroom, Moomin is now rummaging inside a barrel to no avail (I like how Kanayama or Asato or I. Kaminashi actually bothered to animate it going slightly from one side to another in three dimensions), climbing out tiredly as he sighs with a visible puff of breath. It is then, though, that he notices a giant bag before him; sure enough, the key to the little chest is right underneath, and he opens the chest up to find a pair of tiny glasses. Kaminashi emphasizes their little stature with an extremely close close-up on Moomin’s eyes as he brings the glasses towards them to test them out, with his surprise in turn coming through in how his eyes suddenly blink and begin trembling; from there, we get a spectacular look from Moomin’s point-of-view at just how dramatically the glasses seem to reduce everything in size, as we see the red line of the top of the glasses sliding down over Moomin’s bizarrely distant view of the chest to reveal the larger-looking close-up that he would actually see with his vision!

Rubbing his eyes to make sure he isn’t seeing things, Moomin puts the glasses on again, confirming that they really are making the things around him look smaller; in a portent of just how magical they are, they turn invisible as Moomin lets go of them. As Moomin turns to his right, he finds the storeroom junk in general now looks much smaller, breaking out in laughter as he remarks that it’s like he’s in a world of dwarves—and with that, he begins to act like a tyrannical giant, calling for My in a much more aggressive tone than before, and even stepping towards her with an awkward-looking gait as though he were really a giant stomping through the tiny land below him. Amazed by the view of the tiny, sleeping My before him, and with his newfound feelings of bigness visualized by our low-angle view of him, Moomin urges My to get up, with the still-loud My in turn feeling quite comfy and satisfied at how much cleaner the room has gotten; just as she casually yawns and asks if they can go play now, though, Moomin aggressively orders her seemingly dwarfed self to tidy this place up even more, his vision distorted such that his own pointing hand looks much bigger now! Stammering at Moomin’s sudden change, My refuses—and that’s when Moomin outright attempts to stomp on her, with Kaminashi ludicrously cutting from the frightful view of him about to stomp on the screen to the “real-life” view of him stomping towards My such that she is taken aback and, flailing desperately to keep herself up, falls back on her chair anyhow! Believing he has indeed punished My, Moomin marches off haughtily.

And so begins Moomin’s reign of terror, continually accompanied henceforth by a fittingly authoritarian-sounding march-like music track from Seiichirō Uno, as he marches up the seemingly tiny stairs, now completely convinced that he has become the king of Moominvalley. Barging the storeroom door open, he orders Pappa to let My finish cleaning, looking fearfully upon Pappa as he threatens trouble, and then tries to thrash him away as he marches out of the house, with the way he plays limbo with the actually-quite-tall doorway all the more bewildering Pappa. He then goes ballistic as he trips over what he sees as Mamma’s tiny yet overly heavy basket of sheets, stomping on it repeatedly in rage and even threatening Mamma as he marches off once again! Kaminashi repeatedly makes use of incredible low-angle views and extreme close-ups of Moomin, in tandem with exaggeratedly distant, high-angle views of Moomin’s surroundings and the folks he interacts with, to convey just how Moomin sees himself and the world around him, while cutting back to normal views at just the right time to show just how over-the-top and bonkers his behavior really is; it is in this way that he proceeds for the next several scenes of Moomin’s rampage.

Soon, as the seemingly giant Moomin marches along merrily, with Kaminashi panning down a very close front view of him and then through a panorama of the passing Moominvalley at large to mockingly showcase his alleged stature, the other villagers find themselves confronting his irascible, moody tyranny as well. The elderly Mr. Hemulen is shoved to the ground right as he is running to catch a rare butterfly, enraging the gentlemanly Snork who sees this from far off; soon, the initially-unbelieving Police Inspector is called up to arrest Moomin while he is busy eating a watermelon, in turn spitting out his seeds in shock as he hears about Mr. Hemulen being attacked as well! But his attempt to drag Moomin to jail ends in him being resisted and ultimately knocked down by the all-too-confident Moomin: his perceived size now allows him to unleash youthful strength that no one ever realized he had, as the Inspector suddenly finds himself in pain over his aging bones!

My now runs down to the bathhouse to warn Too-Ticky about Moomin as well, her extremely panicked demeanor a sharp contrast with the initially calm, nonchalant, casual Too-Ticky (I love the way My repeatedly stamps on the ground at an increasingly rapid speed to show both Moomin’s behavior and her own agitation); Sniff and Nonnon then come running up as well, having no idea what exactly is going on. Before My can say anything, however, the new Moomin begins to approach them all, with the horrified My shoving Too-Ticky into the bathhouse and hurrying the other two to run for cover as well! At first, as the four kids watch worriedly, Moomin attempts to invite them out to play, albeit in a much more loud and unpleasant manner than before; as no one is willing to come out, he quickly loses it and begins ramming himself repeatedly into the bathhouse to destroy it for good, with even Too-Ticky crying out in fright as the house shakes and rattles violently! This continuous onslaught is then interrupted by the fortuitous arrival of Mymble, who tries to remind Moomin that these are his friends—only to practically be punched away as she tries to lay her hands on him, falling to the ground in a rather painful-looking manner with her basket of apples strewn all over the place! Everyone can only look on with awe, fright, or pity at what Moomin has become as he marches off in the sand—and to top it all off, as Moomin once again swaggers along, he becomes so annoyed at the cicadas screeching in the nearby woods that he successfully shouts them into silence, and at last stands at the top of a hill to yell out that he’s the one who’ll order everyone around, in turn looking quite satisfied as his ominous reminder echoes all through the intimidated, silenced valley!

As the sun sets, Moomin’s friends and Mymble make their way to the Moominhouse, finding Snork right in the middle of a forceful lecture to Moomin’s parents with the Inspector and Mr. Hemulen present as well; none of them know how Moomin ended up this way, aside from My recalling Moomin’s dissatisfaction over being ordered to clean the storeroom at the expense of playing, with the impatiently leg-bending Snork and Mr. Hemulen countering that this is irrelevant to the problem of what actually made Moomin change (note how Snork simply didn’t feel like going in My’s direction at first, and then hastily concurred with Mr. Hemulen as he pointed out the real problem!). Luckily for them, Pappa is busy investigating in the storeroom—and, upon finding the empty chest, quickly realizes what’s going on. Explaining to everyone that Moomin is wearing the magic glasses from their ancestors, Pappa comes up with a plan to teach Moomin a lesson: all are to gather here tomorrow with anything that’ll make a loud sound, saying so just in time for everyone to hurry out quickly as Moomin is now returning to the house! As Pappa and Mamma get settled in at the table (note how Pappa, in haste, seems to feign reading his newspaper upside-down), Moomin barges in, his forcefulness and the tension of his arrival such that Seiichirō Uno’s leitmotif for him suddenly stops; eyeing around suspiciously for any unwanted intruders as his parents greet him like usual, he yawns and declares in rude and abrupt language that he’s off to bed (note how he knocks on the left side of his body as though he’s had a long day), even lashing out threateningly as Mamma tries to remind him to wash his hands. Of course, Mamma and Pappa can only giggle now that they know what’s come over him—especially as Pappa, in the most crucial part of his plan, intends to sneakily turn the glasses upside-down for Moomin later that night, which will cause him to see everything around him as bigger.

Kaminashi now fades to the moon overlooking the Moominhouse, panning down to the second-floor window so he can begin slowly trucking towards Moomin’s room—all seems quiet and peaceful for now, as Moomin lies tiredly on his bed without even a blanket. His door then opens quietly, as his parents peek in; with a wink as Mamma whispers that it’s all clear, Pappa carefully begins sneaking over to Moomin…in turn fleeing for his life as the tyrannical Moomin suddenly thrashes and shouts in his sleep, falling onto the ground! As Mamma quietly laughs, the semi-conscious Moomin crawls back into bed; of course, this has all proven extremely convenient, as it turns out the glasses were rocked off of his eyes, and now lie there on the ground. With that, Pappa carefully places the glasses back onto Moomin’s eyes, making sure to flip them upside-down as he does so—and once again, they disappear into his vision, as Pappa and Mamma quietly step out. Kaminashi closes this pivotal scene by trucking out on Moomin’s room as he turns in his bed, enclosing the view with the surrounding window, and from there fading to a further zoom-out on the Moominhouse as we see the fireflies flying by and hear the crickets chirping—a lovely, atmospheric reminder that, in the end, Moomin is no giant, and lives in a fairly small, cozy dwelling like anyone else…

The next morning, the birds are chirping vibrantly, in turn flying off as they notice the large crowd of villagers with instruments approaching over the bridge. Moominpappa goes out to thank everyone personally, with Snork still not sure what exactly Pappa is trying to accomplish as he orders them to simply begin playing all at once on his cue—and so a loud cacophony starts up, with Kaminashi cutting between the various strange instruments and players to highlight them all as Pappa literally conducts the madness! As it turns out, they are giving Moomin the rudest awakening imaginable—and his initial arrogant, head-shakingly disgruntled fury quickly turns to leg-kicking horror as he is confronted with the sight of a giant Mamma at his door, her terrible size emphasized by a low-angle pan up her body complete with a horrible, thunder-like rumbling sound from Mitsuru Kashiwabara! Moomin cowers in his bed, not knowing what has happened and then fleeing as Mamma begins to close in on him—from this point on, Kaminashi inverts the direction of the first half, as Moomin is now seen mostly in high-angle views showing how small he now perceives himself to be, while everyone and everything else is often seen from his point of view as towering giants and structures!

Sure enough, Moomin is horrified at what he finds upon running down the stairs: all the furnishings are now towering over him, his increasing fear punctuated by how Kaminashi cuts back and forth between his reactions and the humongous objects themselves, as well as the unsettling Kashiwabara sound effects that accompany each further view of this frightful new world! And the kicker, as Moomin finds himself all alone and tiny in the midst of a lone spotlight, is how giant his friends have apparently become as they come in to greet him—the extreme, almost demented close-ups of My, Nonnon, and Sniff and Too-Ticky practically overtake the screen, with Too-Ticky in particular even giggling as she closes in and asks Moomin what’s wrong! Moomin is thus sent cowering in terror, repeatedly tripping over in his haste as he runs off and screams for help, much to the confusion of everyone but Moomin’s very amused parents.

As Seiichirō Uno’s frenetic, panicked chase theme starts up, the seemingly tiny Moomin is fleeing and begging for someone to help—only to be immediately confronted by what seems to be a gigantic butterfly charging right towards him, with the sudden cut to a normal shot showing just how absurd Moomin’s glasses-induced delusion is as he ducks and covers in the face of a little butterfly! He concludes that everyone is coming for revenge against him as he then sees his giant friends running towards him, with the big My being especially threatening as she speeds right over the screen and laughs with an almost sinister glee while beckoning Moomin to wait; soon, as his friends continue to chase after him, Moomin finds himself in the all-too-vast woods, where every last one of the giant-looking insects (even a head-shaking, arm-bending mantis!) stares down on him menacingly! At last, Moomin is stopped at the very edge of a cliff, with only the precarious sea below him as his apparently vengeful friends draw ever-closer; sure enough, he is sent plunging into the sea as he unthinkingly tries to back away—and with that, the glasses are removed for good, falling to the ocean floor as it becomes Moomin’s turn to be washed onto the beach by the massive waves!

As Moomin recovers consciousness, the sight of all his friends looking down at him initially terrorizes him, making him believe he’s still tiny as he cowers behind the rocks tremblingly and promises he won’t act big anymore! As he looks out in response to My’s confusion, however, he realizes that all is back to normal now, and crawls out as everyone explains to him that he was simply wearing the now-washed-away glasses. Apologetically, Moomin admits that this all came about because he wanted to become someone who’d give orders; but it’s alright now, as everyone is back to normal, much to his twirling elation! With that, Too-Ticky proposes that they play together now that they’re all here, with Sniff certainly agreeing—but My, still miffed over the whole affair, decides that she’ll go out and look for the glasses in the sea, even shoving Moomin away when he tries to stop her. Of course, My’s old enemy the sea has other ideas, as another wave quickly arrives and overtakes her, sending her into a desperate panic as Sniff snarkily remarks (much to Nonnon’s and Too-Ticky’s laughter) that even she needs to be watched over!

With that, all is well with Moomin and his friends again, as Moomin, Nonnon, and Too-Ticky swim over to help the flailing My only for them to be quickly rebuffed by her usual haughty self, clearly embarrassed by such a show of support; meanwhile, the unable-to-swim Sniff arrives with his boat, much to My’s scorn as she and everyone else begin swimming around carefreely. As the episode winds down with this lovely affirmation of Moomin’s friendships, the world-weary Sniff wonders if he, generally the meek one in the group, should try giving out orders for once, in turn lying down resignedly like before as everyone else plays—and so we end this comic opus on a pan down the sea as schools of fish continue to swim past, showing that the magical, sparkling glasses will probably continue to lay there for years to come, waiting for someone to pick them back up as Kaminashi slowly trucks in on them before fading out…

At last, the Late Summer trilogy concludes with a truly special episode aired on 3 September 1972: Pappa’s Old Shoes, a remarkably pensive, quiet, yet wondrous opus which Rintarō himself considered his personal favorite Moomin episode. This masterwork of slow-burn filmmaking marks Isao Okishima’s return to the series, and in a truly exceptional case, he not only wrote but even directed this episode himself, exerting auteur-like control to ensure that his story would unfold with just the right pacing and contemplativeness. As if that wasn’t extraordinary enough, this is one of the only episodes of New Moomin to feature a considerable amount of intricate animation from the great Toshiyasu Okada, in his first appearance on the series since My is Kind? all the way back in April. The other credited animator on the episode is Kazuhide Fujiwara; of course, Fujiwara had been the animation director of Mushi Pro’s very first Moomin episode back in 1970, and it truly warms my heart to see him again here, on the episode that is arguably the pinnacle of what Rintarō sought to do with Moomin.


Okishima begins with a remarkable shot looking down from the trees high above the Moominhouse, serving as the perfect backdrop for the title to appear. The trees then move aside like a curtain as we begin to descend upon the Moomins’ world, and our blurred, out-of-focus view gradually clears up as we start to hear the cicadas screeching and Moomin laughing. It feels as though Okishima is personally introducing us outsiders to this bucolic, idyllic land of Moominvalley, bringing us down to spend a lovely little day with the Moomins, as though it were a special experience that he wishes to share with others.

On this hot summer day, Moomin and Nonnon are playing ball, with Nonnon looking quite ready to catch as Moomin prepares to throw. But the ball ends up slamming right into Nonnon’s snout, knocking her violently to the ground as Moomin is overcome with horror at the sight and runs over to her with great concern. As Nonnon moans in pain with her hands pressed against her snout and even leans upwards in a show of how badly hurt she seems to be, Moomin delicately steps closer and ducks down to her level to examine her, in turn apologizing as he places his hand over the back of his head embarrassedly; of course, Moomin’s kindness is more than enough for Nonnon, as she shakes her head no and sweetly assures him that it’s nothing. As Moomin is relieved, he realizes that the ball has gone missing and looks around for it; sure enough, it seems to have ended up inside the shed, its open door creaking back and forth in such a way that anything could pass through the entrance.

Just as Moomin is running towards the shed amidst the summery, sunlit grassland, however, he abruptly halts himself just before the entrance, the suddenness conveyed by how his upper body bends over in his lingering momentum: someone is approaching from his left. He turns to find, to his pleasure, that it is Moominmamma, her gradual arrival heralded by the patterned umbrella bumping back and forth (a brilliant indication of her overall walking movement!) from beneath the hill on which the Moominhouse stands. It is here that we began to hear one of Seiichirō Uno’s most beautiful and melancholic music tracks, beginning with a celesta solo and continuing with sections dominated by strings and woodwinds, perfectly conveying the wistfully bucolic and idyllic atmosphere; soon, Mamma arrives home (just look at her apron fluttering intricately and realistically in the wind!), closing her umbrella as she reaches the much-needed shade of the Moominhouse and receives the warm welcome of her son. We see her profuse sweat from the summer heat as she greets the polite Nonnon, inviting her and Moomin to come into the house later for cold refreshments.

In the meantime, Moomin has some searching to do in the shed: we watch from inside as he opens the door, letting in a spectacular flash of bright sunlight that illuminates the completely dark shed! At first, the ball remains missing as he looks around and begins rummaging through the many old items, seemingly to no avail; soon, though, as Nonnon comes in from the sunlight to find Moomin, he finds it right below a pile of junk that he has climbed! With great effort, he tries to reach for it from the top of the pile—and winds up falling to the ground violently, his earth-shaking impact causing just about everything in the vicinity to collapse and crash down on him in some truly stunning mass destruction! Nonnon looks on at this giant pile of wreckage with some astonishment; after a stunned silence of a few seconds, she quietly calls for Moomin, no doubt rather unsettled by what has transpired and wondering if he’s okay. In some perfect comic timing, an awkward, motionless silence follows—and then a bucket just impulsively tumbles down the pile with a reckless clatter, as Moomin climbs out of the mess, looking quite dirty as he brazenly shoves a chair out of his way. At the sight of the dirtied Moomin, Nonnon is awe-struck, and then starts giggling at how silly he looks, much to his annoyance—but soon, even he cannot stifle his amusement at the silliness of the situation, and succumbs to laughter as well!

By now, Mamma has finished preparing her refreshments, and she goes outside to look for Moomin and Nonnon in the summer heat, wondering where they could have gone as the cicadas continue chirping their seasonal song. She initially passes by the shed, clearly not expecting the kids to have gone in there, and is surprised when Moomin emerges from there to respond to her calls; still, she is not at all worried about what the two might be doing, feeling satisfied enough as Moomin assures her that they’ll come into the house shortly. As it happens, the two of them are almost done cleaning the mess inside; just as Moomin hands a box to Nonnon so she can dutifully place it on the shelves, however, he suddenly takes notice of some curious-looking objects that now lie before him. Picking one of them up, he realizes that they are Pappa’s shoes—and in his curiosity, he begins sniffing the one shoe, finding that it has a good smell! Nonnon, naturally, becomes curious about what Moomin is doing, in turn wondering if it’s okay for her to smell the shoe as well—sure enough, as Moomin eagerly hands the shoe to her, she concurs that it indeed smells lovely. From there, Moomin tries wearing the shoe, even stretching it over his leg as much as he can as he remarks on how big the shoes are; he then repeatedly tips himself over onto his left leg to test the shoe’s durability, finding that it’s worn-out—and right on cue, much to his dismay, the top part of the oversized shoe droops down. Nonnon, holding the other shoe, then suggests that these are shoes that Pappa greatly cherishes if he’s kept them around for this long, and Moomin agrees as he slowly looks back down at the one he is wearing, no doubt wondering what interesting backstory these shoes may have…

In the house, as Moomin and Nonnon wait at the table, Mamma is cutting a cake up; the blissful summer idyll continues to come through in how the curtains blow gently before us in the wind. As Mamma serves some hefty slices of cake to the two kids, she reveals the truth behind the cherished shoes: they are a valuable memento of Pappa’s early days in Moominvalley, and the immense hardships he faced at the time. “People are like that. They won’t forget the enjoyable times either, but their memories of hard times…those are valuable to them.” With that, as Moomin turns to stare at the shoes with awe, we truck in on these humble-looking shoes, clearly far more extraordinary than they seem at first sight—and from there, we see Pappa sleeping soundly in his rocking chair, as the curtains continue to blow oneirically in the wind. Clearly, he has been through a lot in order to finally be able to enjoy quiet, restful days like these…

As the series’ theme song begins to be heard, we slowly pan down the serene, cloud-covered sky to the outskirts of the woods, underlining what a peaceful summer day it is in the valley as we start to see Moomin and his friends running down the hill. We get extended views of the kids running further down the path, alternatively straight and winding, amidst the verdant, flower-dotted fields, perfectly illustrating how wonderfully carefree they are on this seemingly ordinary summer day. Soon, they arrive at a raft, which visibly rocks in the water in response to Moomin, Nonnon, and My jumping on board in some remarkable attention to detail from animator Toshiyasu Okada, and Moomin unties it so they can go rafting in the river—leaving Sniff, ever the slowpoke, to have to plunge desperately for it as it begins to drift away! Still, even this faux pas on Moomin’s part is quickly forgotten, as the kids have a wonderful time drifting down the river and feeling the nice breeze blowing on them, with My’s excited, celebratory hopping especially standing out for how intricately-animated it is.

As the children are having the time of their lives, however, we slowly pan back to the path on the hill, as it turns out that Mymble is taking a little stroll of her own; the series’ theme song, which perfectly underscored the kids’ fun, fades away at this time, leaving only the harsh screeching of the cicadas to convey the very different mood Mymble must be feeling. Okada’s obsessively detailed, refined animation helps to convey the reality of her presence as a human creature suffering from the summer heat: just look at the very intricate way her elegant umbrella continuously jerks back and forth and even rotates slightly in accordance with the movements of her walking, or the astoundingly real way she stops to take a breather, visibly raising her head and even her umbrella as she takes a much-needed deep breath while gradually slowing to a stop. As she begins wiping some sweat from her face with her handkerchief, she is suddenly greeted by her love, the sign-carrying Police Inspector, who wipes his own sweat as he remarks on how hot it is today: his tight, full-body uniform certainly does not help matters one bit, as we pan down his sweating body to the ground, revealing the ever-increasing puddle of sweat that now surrounds him as he stands here. Understandably, he has come to hate summer, and Mymble cannot help but concur.

It is here, though, that, in what they see as a silver lining, we find out that this seemingly ordinary summer day is not so ordinary after all: tonight will be the star festival, and with it, the end of summer. As Mymble looks up and muses that it’d be nice if there were a lot of stars, a bright flash of light shines down on her, representing both the sunlight physically coming down on her and the wonder of the stars high above, and we begin to hear a particularly beautiful, otherworldly-sounding music track that conveys the strange, wondrous, yet peaceful atmosphere of Moominvalley at this time; the impression of the stars’ magic being reflected in the sunlight is furthered by the glimmering twinkle of light that briefly appears on the Inspector’s hat. With that, the Inspector must head off to begin placing his signs down, prohibiting the kids from their water activities now that summer is ending, and so too does Mymble continue her dainty little stroll down the vast, bucolic, yet somehow mystical countryside, flanked by flowers on both sides of her path as she begins to ascend a hill.

In the meantime, Moomin, Nonnon, and Sniff are now hard at work dragging the raft upstream, with My leading them spiritedly and even chiding Sniff for supposedly not trying hard enough; the distant overhead shot certainly conveys the magnitude of their strange task, as well as showing just how little they are amidst this greenery and the large river passing through it. Before they know it, however, they stumble upon one of the Inspector’s signs, prohibiting them from further swimming. Just as My is about to get mad, however, she is suddenly called upon by Mymble who has arrived; I love the way My just impulsively flinches and shields herself in fright as though she has just been caught red-handed planning to rebel against the law, before realizing it’s just her big sister! Mymble orders her to hurry and come home, as the star festival is tonight, and reminds her that summer will be ending soon as she walks off. With that, we truck in on the now-dismayed kids, as the realization that summer is ending slowly sinks in for them; Moomin’s friends then all turn to him, and he in turn to them, as they all perhaps wonder what they should do now. From there, Moomin looks up towards the sky, wondering if summer is really ending as he anticipates the stars that will overtake the skies tonight, symbolizing the end of the idyllic season…

Fittingly, we now cut right to the starry night sky, as a single star in the middle shines brightly. As the two of them look out at the stars from the Moominhouse (notice how no lights are lit, in deference to the radiance of the stars on this night), Mamma tells Moomin that the star festival is the day of the year when the stars are at their prettiest, and its passing will indeed mark the end of summer. At the same time, lots of stardust will rain down upon the Lonely Mountain from these stars of good fortune—and thereupon, as mother and son relocate to the table for a more serious talk, we learn that the festival has a dark side: the men of the village must go out to get branches with the fallen stardust and burn them to properly bid summer farewell. It is said that something bad may happen to a family that fails to do so—and the stars of good fortune may not come down plentifully enough for every family to obtain a branch. Moomin and Mamma cannot help looking out towards the sky once again, the beautiful stars twinkling almost cruelly as the Moomins’ very lives now depend on how much they are willing to come down—and at that point, Moomin turns to find that Pappa’s old, treasured shoes are still lying before them in the room. As he goes to pick them up, Mamma reveals with a certain loving melancholiness that, in a symbolic gesture, Pappa will once again wear these old shoes of hard times to go out and search for stars—and so, we end the first half of the episode with a cinematic rotation around Moomin that in turn trucks in on these special, well-worn, trustworthy shoes, underlining their renewed importance as a new time of hardship begins for the Moomins…

Soon, we pan down from the star-surrounded crescent moon to the high, wooded cliffs as Pappa begins walking up the Lonely Mountain, with the serene night ambience coming through in the grand scale of the rocky scenery and the chirping of the crickets. As he arrives at the edge of a cliff, Pappa cannot help but take some time to gaze at the hauntingly beautiful view of Moominvalley beneath the starry sky, even remarking, in what could be seen as a tacit acknowledgement of the unnerving fate that lies behind the potential failure of his mission, that it’s almost beautiful enough as to be scary. At that point, one star suddenly twinkles especially vividly—heralding its sudden descent through the sky, whereupon it explodes brightly, raining sparkly, glistening stardust down all through the valley! Pappa is struck with awe as the stardust descends upon the trees; with that, he sets off into the woods to obtain one of these blessed branches, as some strange, unknown bird cries out repeatedly, underlining the untamed ambience of the wilderness.

As Pappa trudges through the dark woods, accompanied only by the relentless plodding of his shoes against the grass, we suddenly hear some excited, distant voices: sure enough, Pappa discovers that a group of villagers has already found a branch, its bright stardust illuminating them in the darkness. These three folks continue to stare with awe at the sparkling branch (conveyed by actual twinkling lights!) as Pappa comes over to take a look for himself, and we see how much of a respected figure Moominpappa is amongst the villagers as they greet him warmly, genuinely surprised and pleased that he has seen fit to come over to them. We share in Pappa’s awe as he takes a good look at the branch, with a beautiful close-up of the stellarly twinkling branch and its glowing, red and yellow lights; with that, Pappa thanks the villagers for the look, even congratulating them as he tips his hat slightly in a gentlemanly farewell, and heads back into the darkness as two more stars fall and release stardust overhead. For the moment, all seems well, as Pappa encounters a group of youngsters walking back with their own starry branches, and likewise congratulates them as they head off.

Yet this easygoing, leisurely spirit of camaraderie that Pappa feels with the other villagers cannot last long. As Pappa continues to trudge along, he suddenly encounters a panicking Snork, grunting and vocalizing rhythmically as he rushes down the path, and almost falling over in his hasteful momentum as, with just one foot on the ground, he forces himself to a stop after Pappa calls out for him—surprised at meeting Pappa here, Snork begins to blurt out in his hysteria that it’s already the height of the star shower, and as though proving his point, another star in turn falls and lights the area up brightly, much to Snork’s and Pappa’s awe! As Snork watches the stardust raining down before him, he excuses himself and runs off in a loud panic once more.

From this point on, as Pappa sets off once again, the atmosphere in the forest grows considerably less friendly and more ominous: now that the stars have begun to decrease, the true nature of this mission, namely that of a desperate, almost primal struggle to stave off misfortune, has become increasingly evident. We get a long take on the dark, deserted, hilly path as we hear only the now-much more unsettling sounds of the night woods, with strange tapping noises and intermittent squawks, and as Pappa arrives over the hill and takes a breather to wipe the sweat off of his brow, we suddenly hear another distant voice: as underlined by the long pan up, a villager has gone as far as to climb to the very top of a tall tree to obtain his starry branch. Perhaps realizing how desperate the situation has become, Pappa heads off, and we linger on this view long enough to see the intrepid villager actually slide down the tree with his branch, hammering home how much of a competition for survival this excursion has become.

The increasing desperation of the participants becomes all the more obvious as Pappa slowly approaches another brightly-lit area amidst the darkness, with angry voices ringing out in the ambience of the night woods. As it turns out, two villagers are arguing over who saw this starry branch first, and their struggle quickly gets physical as one of them jumps the other who has the branch. Pappa can only look on with contempt at the pettiness of these two squabbling, wrestling villagers as the light of their starry branch darts back and forth amidst the dark trees, and this turns to disappointment at being reminded just how selfish mankind can be as he leaves this pathetic scene behind to continue searching for his own branch. Rather unnervingly, the woods now seem even darker than before as he trudges away…

Soon, Pappa finds himself having to cross thick mud, taking large, overt steps in such a way as to avoid dirtying himself more than necessary; in a stroke of misfortune, however, he winds up stepping into a particularly thick, deep area, such that his shoe gets stuck. The sweat-drenched Pappa struggles and strains visibly to remove his foot from the mud—only to end up pulling his foot from the mud-stuck shoe, the sheer force exerted in turn causing Pappa to fly forth and land on the ground violently! One can almost feel the pain in the way he lies there with clenched teeth for an extended period of time; eventually, he manages to get himself back on his feet, using the ground and his left knee as crutches, and walks back to pull his shoes out of the thick mud, once again finding himself almost overwhelmed by the amount of force needed to pull it out when it finally breaks free. With that, he dumps all the mud out of the shoe, even shaking it a little more to ensure all the mud that can be removed is out, and puts his foot back into it—and then turns to find, to his great astonishment, what seems to be a starry branch glowing in the bush before him!

As Pappa runs over to the brightly glowing bush before him, the introduction to one of Seiichirō Uno’s most dramatic tracks starts up, perfectly expressing the awe-struck, solemn sense of hard-earned triumph that Pappa must be feeling at this time; the apparent significance of this moment is underlined by how we zoom out on this scene, emphasizing the bright flashing of this bush amidst the other dark trees and bushes. But just as Pappa reaches to grab the branch, he clumsily trips and falls onto the bush—and the music stingingly halts as it turns out the light was just coming from fireflies, the ambient, indifferent noises of the woods taking over once again as the fireflies disperse and fly away in the darkness. We linger on the view of the fireflies making their way through the trees as Pappa is overcome with defeat, as though his hopes and illusions of having obtained a starry branch have been utterly shattered, their bright, stardust-like pieces blowing away in the wind…

By now, with almost no star-blessed branches left, darkness seems to have completely overtaken the woods: we get an extended view on the pitch-black silhouettes of a giant tree and the ground on which it rests, with the comparatively-tiny Pappa nearly indiscernible as he walks past. All of a sudden, though, a bright flash shines out from within the woods—and Pappa immediately realizes that this is a real starry branch, rushing over hastily in his excitement, albeit stopping briefly along the way to make sure! But then—in the ultimate unintentional betrayal, as we slowly and suspensefully pan up to his surprised face, it turns out that Snork has ended up obtaining this glistening branch before Pappa. As Snork, finding himself in this awkward situation, haltingly tries to apologize, Pappa resigns himself to this unfortunate development and walks off forlornly—and Snork, in vain, tries to call Pappa back, perhaps intending to graciously offer Pappa this branch as he is overcome with more than a tinge of guilt and regret.

More and more, as tense and foreboding music begins to take over, the situation is dire. Soon, as Pappa is walking along, he is suddenly taken aback by the awful sound of a tear: the front of the shoe that had gotten stuck in the mud is now torn from its sole. After examining just how bad the break is, Pappa resolves to simply carry it in his hand from now on—and he walks towards the horizon as dawn begins to break beneath the starry sky, heralded by the sound of a crowing rooster…

As we pan down from the fleetingly starry sky to the outskirts of the dark Lonely Mountain, Nonnon, Moomin, and Mamma are waiting. It is then that Moomin and Nonnon notice someone approaching with stardust—naturally, it is Snork, as Nonnon runs over and embraces him adoringly, with Moomin following behind to ask Snork where Pappa is. Of course, Snork knows far too much as he replies that Pappa is still on the foothill, unusually and tellingly feeling no sense of triumph over his bringing back a starry branch: the circumstances behind it continue to weigh heavily on his mind, even if Nonnon does not notice his uncharacteristically subdued demeanor. As the rooster continues to crow, one-by-one the remaining stars in the sky fade away, and we pan down to find Moomin and Mamma gazing up at this unnerving spectacle, after which they turn to the Snorks walking off with what could very well be the last starry branch; we get a brief close-up on the departing Snorks as Nonnon briefly looks back at Moomin, emphasizing that she, too, seems to be worried whether Pappa will indeed return in time with the Moomins’ own stardust.

As the morning birds begin to chirp, the worried Moomin resolves that he is going to check on Pappa. Just as he tries to assure Mamma that it’ll be okay, though, there is no further need: Pappa emerges at last from the darkness—and in a close-up that conveys what seems to be his utter defeat, as his half-barefoot legs trudge along the rock-dotted dirt path, we see he is carrying only a paltry branch, in addition to his worn-out left shoe. A slow, climactic-sounding rendition of the series’ theme song begins to build up, at first earshot conveying the unspeakably sorrowful devastation of Pappa’s inability to obtain stardust: the horrified Mamma is on the verge of breaking down in tears as her eyes begin to quiver, and Moomin, as the horrifying reality of it all begins to sink in, finds himself calling out for Pappa and running over to him, clearly worried about what will happen from this point on. This is followed by an extended glimpse of the sky as only two stars remain, and at first, it seems all hope truly is lost, as one of them fades away and the other seems set to do the same…but then, in a true miracle, the very last star begins to shine and sparkle all the more brilliantly, heralding its incredible, dramatic, direly-needed fall from the sky as Moomin, and then Pappa, take notice and look up! The immense, powerful significance of this moment is emphasized by the incredible use of dramatic slow-motion dissolves for the star’s movement, making the trail of enchanted, sparkling dust it leaves behind as it falls all the more awe-inspiring and even touching, as well as by Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s truly powerful sound effects, which convey both the sparkling beauty and the sheer cosmic significance of this last star falling. And so it explodes, raining down one last shower of stardust upon Moominvalley—and in a downright stunning occurrence, as heralded by the sudden emergence of an especially brilliant, shining light from it, Pappa’s lone branch is directly given fresh, sparkling stardust, its bright light illuminating the entire area as Moomin and Pappa look on with awe! With that, Moomin now runs over to his Pappa with a renewed excitement, his calls for Pappa seemingly echoing out all through the valley; clearly, this is an important moment of a kind that will forever go down in the Moomins’ memory…

And so, in accordance with Moominvalley tradition, Pappa lights a match and begins burning the starry branch in the yard of the Moominhouse; we get a remarkably distant overhead shot of the Moomins and their home with the dawn sky above them, underlining just how small and seemingly insignificant they are amidst this vast, grand, exhilarating world in which they live, beneath the great cosmos that has imparted this blessing upon them. As Moomin is awe-struck at the brilliant fire that results and warms himself with it, Mamma remarks that they really were able to bid summer farewell safely in the end, and Pappa can only concur as the beautifully-animated fire burns before him. As one of Seiichrō Uno’s fittingly wondrous music tracks begins, we watch as the branch is slowly consumed by the fire, its stellar sparkles gradually disappearing flickeringly—and as Moomin watches this sight, he turns to Pappa’s shoes, one still being worn and the other completely torn up. As underlined by the zoom-in on the torn one, Pappa’s shoes are even worse for the wear than before—but perhaps they are all the more valuable now, as a memento of all the hardships Pappa has been through in Moominvalley, up to this very moment. So, Moomin turns back to the fire, the ultimate result of these final hardships, as it dies down and begins releasing smoke—and in a remarkable final transition, as this smoke fills the screen, we fade to a beautiful, painterly view of this starry smoke billowing from homes all over Moominvalley, reminding us that the Moomins, in the end, are just as much members of a wider community as anyone else, for all that they may seem to be isolated and unusual. And so, our time in this strange and beautiful world comes to a close, at least for now…

In all, a minor masterpiece from Isao Okishima, and easily one of New Moomin‘s most profound highlights. Behind the idylls of summer, the beauty of the stars, and the enchantment of the night woods lurks the unsettling possibility of grave misfortune; still, nature’s ways are capricious enough that wonderful things can happen when you least expect them. Of course, audio director Atsumi Tashiro surely deserves credit as well for the remarkable, impactful soundscape of this episode: even aside from the extensive use of diegetic, ambient sound to convey the hot, idyllic summer and the untamed night woods alike, I presume he was also responsible for choosing some of Seiichirō Uno’s best music tracks to underscore both the wistfully ethereal atmosphere of Moominvalley as summer ends and the unsettling, low-key yet powerful drama that unfolds in the second half of the episode.

Fittingly, this is the first episode to use a new, more upbeat end credits theme in which Little My sings about herself (already heard as an instrumental in the previous episode), signifying a new beginning for the series as we have officially entered a surprising new stretch of worthwhile episodes; this song will last until the end of the Silver Age. To conclude my thoughts on this outstanding episode, allow me to reprint what Rintarō himself had to say about it:

I especially like the episode “Pappa’s Old Shoes”. Moomin discovers worn-out shoes in the storeroom. Moomin tries smelling the shoes. Those shoes are shoes that Moominpappa cherishes. It was an episode that started from that kind of place. The aim was interesting and refreshing. I had [Isao Okishima and Kunio Kurita] write one out of several until the end. That sort of thing was also an experiment, speaking of experiments [in my earlier shows].

Quite fortuitously, it just so happens that our very next episode is another Kunio Kurita-written, family-focused opus animated by Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, and Masateru Yoshimura, just three episodes after Pappa All Alone! Grandpa Is the Best In the World, directed by Wataru Mizusawa, is the first episode animated by Shindō’s team in quite a while to be character-designed and animation-directed by Hiromitsu Morita, and it takes a much more comedic tack as Kurita satirizes how venerable elders, with their strong senses of pride and honor, can wind up kindling family feuds not shared by the youngsters: here, the Moomins’ Ancestor drops in to fulfill Moomin’s desire for a cool grandpa like Snork’s, quickly proving to be an aged enfant terrible as he seeks to outdo Snork’s grandfather in every way imaginable. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the tight three-week turnaround, the episode does suffer in parts from rougher, choppier animation than usual; still, the very charming story and characters, along with the exuberant animation where it counts, make for an indelible little pearl.


We begin as we find Moomin staring out at the night sky beneath the eaves of the Moominhouse, clearly immersed in wistful thinking of some kind. As Mizusawa undertakes an unusual rotating pan through the starry sky, we suddenly get a vision of an elegantly-dressed elderly gentleman riding in towards us on a horse—a remarkable way of introducing Snork’s grandfather in all his grandeur, while simultaneously transitioning into a flashback as the night sky fades to the bright blue sky of the Snork mansion’s fields! Snork cannot help but praise his grandfather’s top-notch horse-riding skills, with both My and Sniff, naturally, agreeing as Moomin looks on with a not-altogether-pleased look. With that, Snork’s grandfather rides off once again: his magnificence in Moomin’s eyes is such that we even see him riding away into the starry night sky as we fade back to the present-day, his location in turn shining brightly as though he was one of the stars.

As Moomin continues to look out with a dreamy look on his face, Mamma has to call him repeatedly before he notices; it is obvious that something is bothering him, even as he tries denying as much. It is then that Pappa, in the midst of cleaning his telescope, decides to ask Moomin about Snork’s visiting grandfather, thinking it to be a merely incidental subject as he begins smoking his pipe as usual; this excites Moomin, who runs over to begin telling him and Mamma about the grandfather’s horse-riding skills, and how he wishes they were at the Snork mansion earlier today to see him too. But as Moomin claims blissfully that he’s never seen a grandfather as cool as him, we pan up to see none other than the Ancestor making his explosive, magical entrance on the chandelier, clearly prodded by Moomin’s remark—but nevertheless biding his time, listening in with a certain questioning suspicion as Moomin goes on about how Snork’s grandfather is apparently the best in the world at fencing and chess. Pappa replies that Snork must be proud to have such a grandfather—but then he and Mamma go on with their own activities, paying no further heed to what they probably dismiss as just Moomin’s boyish excitement over another new stranger, let alone mentioning any grandfathers of their own. Saddened by this indifference, Moomin begins to walk away forlornly, causing Moomin’s parents to finally realize that something is indeed wrong: as the Ancestor above begins to look on the troubled Moomin with greater interest, Moomin reveals that he’s been thinking how nice it would be to have a cool grandpa like Snork’s.

Right on cue, the Ancestor loses his footing on the chandelier, desperately and cartoonishly trying to maintain himself in the air as he falls onto the table dustily, much to the shock of the Moomins as conveyed by rapid cuts between their reactions! As the dust clears up, the initially-humiliated Ancestor quickly takes on a self-important crossed-arms posture, with the surprised Pappa getting up to greet him with such haste as to accidentally shove his chair to the ground; the Ancestor, in turn, more specifically introduces himself as the grandpa, making clear that he has come to cheer Moomin up! He begins to assure Moomin cockily that he won’t lose to “that Snork family geezer” at being the best grandpa in the world—and gets fired up as Moominpappa tries to voice his hesitance over this mission to outdo the Snorks’ patriarch, reminding him that he was the one who won the National Horse Riding Competition and got awarded an order by the Queen! Suffice to say, Moomin is truly elated at the prospect of having the best grandpa in the world, even going as far as to ask for another assurance that the Ancestor will win against Snork’s grandfather, and with that, the two of them spin wonderfully and balletically up the stairs, clearly delighted to be grandpa and grandson with each other as Moomin’s parents look at each other astonishedly.

Early the next morning, the Ancestor is calling for Moomin, declaring he’s late as Moomin opens the window tiredly—but Moomin immediately perks up as Mizusawa trucks out to reveal that the Ancestor is already on his horse, with a breathtakingly cinematic sense of space coming through in the way Moomin and his house go out of focus while the Ancestor and his horse come into view on a separate layer. As Moomin rushes down excitedly, the jovial Ancestor begins to expound loudly on the importance of getting up early—and the awakened Pappa makes the careless mistake of wondering who’s making a racket so early in the morning, much to his chagrin and the Ancestor’s less-than-amused reaction! With that, the Ancestor tries to set off for a practice horse ride: his short stature and light weight proving quite disadvantageous as the agitated horse speeds off with such force as to leave him behind, forcing him to run after the horse hot-temperedly! Even as Pappa remains skeptical that he’ll win against Snork’s grandfather, though, the trusting Moomin assures him that it’ll be fine.

Later, the Snorks, My, and Sniff are all gathered around Snork’s grandfather outside, having quite the fun time as the grandfather, sitting quite venerably on his throne, praises and flatters them all. It is then that Moomin arrives with the Ancestor and his horse; the Ancestor is so short, however, that the front-facing horse completely obscures the others’ view of him at first, so that Snork and My initially amuse themselves over what they believe to be Moomin’s horsey grandpa—causing the Ancestor to deliver a sharp rebuke as he turns the horse around to reveal himself more properly! Of course, his manikin-like look only causes the others to break out in laughter, and things start to get serious as the offended Ancestor then marches over to Snork’s grandfather, bluntly calling him a geezer and insulting him as he challenges him to a horse-riding match! Mizusawa emphasizes the difference in stature between the two elders with a high-angle shot on the Ancestor and a low-angle shot on Snork’s grandfather, as the two of them wage their families’ honor; Kurita, in turn, emphasizes the class difference as Snork’s grandfather orders Snork to get the horse in more formal language, while the Ancestor simply demands the horse from Moomin.

The two elders’ horses are now lined up in the field, and most of the kids think Snork’s grandfather has it in the bag, with only Moomin vouching for his grandpa. Snork, of course, is the steward—and ducks for his life as the horses begin charging forth after he declares “go”, in turn being spun around as he is caught right between them! We watch as the tense, indecisive, fluidly-animated race ensues, with the two riders repeatedly catching up to each other as they make their way over the hills. After a while, as Snork paces along the ground impatiently and wonders how his grandfather is doing, he decides to try listening in on the ground—and notices some vibrations, indicating that the two competitors are returning! As he makes his way back to his stump to look out, the horses begin to re-emerge on the horizon, neck-and-neck—and as the kids begin cheering, Mizusawa noticeably does not cut to any shots where the Ancestor could be in view, instead focusing on the horses themselves as they struggle to break the tie. This sets up the twist as the horses pass by Snork in what appears to be a draw (you gotta love the way he desperately struggles to keep his footing as the horses speed past him)—the Ancestor is not on his horse, and the smug, jauntily-hopping Snork declares it’s a win by default for the Snork family as it seems the Ancestor has fallen off, much to his haughty high-class chortling! But then it turns out—the Ancestor simply got lodged in his horse’s tail, much to the displeasure of the horse who kicks him up such that he lands back on the saddle, and Snork is horrified as he realizes the two elders have indeed tied with each other! With that, Snork’s grandfather decides they will next settle this in a fencing match, calling on Snork to fetch “our venerable Snork family’s ancestral sword”—and the two dismounted elders stare menacingly at each other, symbolizing the dawn of a new family feud as Moomin looks on worriedly.

As the noon sun shines intensely over them, the Snork and Moomin patriarchs are set to begin their fencing duel, the feisty Ancestor swinging his sword fearlessly as he calls on Snork’s grandfather to come at him with all he’s got. The two of them clink their swords together, the connection of their sharp weapons emphasized by the twinkling, as Mizusawa pans over the worried children—and an intense duel begins as their swords clash flashingly and violently! Snork’s grandfather tries to stab at the seemingly retreating Ancestor with great exertion, and the Ancestor, in turn, puts up a valiant, exuberant struggle, his hair waving in the air as he begins to fight back! But eventually, Snork’s grandfather manages to shove the Ancestor’s sword away, using the opening to unleash a series of harrowing, barely-dodged jabs that leave the Ancestor cornered and breathing tiredly against a tree! As Snork’s grandfather chuckles evilly, Moomin looks on with fear—and we get a frightfully direct view of Snork’s grandfather as he appears to deliver the killing jab, with Moomin swiftly turning away as we hear the Ancestor’s apparent death grunt! But then it’s suspiciously silent…and Moomin peeks out to find, much to his joyous relief, that the Ancestor has somehow dodged and is now on the Snork family’s tree-embedded ancestral sword! From there, Snork’s grandfather pulls the sword out only for the Ancestor to keep dangling on it—and he swings the sword around to try and get the Ancestor off, causing him to land safely on the tree above as he laughs heartily! As he mocks Snork’s grandfather by telling him to climb up if he wants to continue the duel, the insulted grandfather declares that this nonsense is unworthy of the Queen’s chivalry—and with that, the Ancestor challenges Snork’s grandfather at last to a game of chess, throwing his sword down in a rejection of this match’s outcome. Snork’s grandfather responds in kind, calling on Snork to bring out the chess set as he throws his sword away such that—in another fun gag—it lands right before Snork, frightening him into a scramble as he dashes off for the set! And Moomin is now even more unsure of what to make of all this…

The chess match starts off well enough, as My starts to laugh at how silly the short Ancestor looks in his chair only to be intimidated away by his very unamused reaction. But as this match begins, with the Ancestor now sitting directly on the table, the kids quickly realize—chess has none of the excitement of horse races or fencing, and a typical match between two master players will take a long, long time. By the time sunset arrives (as heralded by the light visibly illuminating everyone through the open window), Snork has gone to sleep in his chair, and the bored, hungry My and Sniff decide to bail, with My’s dissatisfaction especially coming through in her demeanor as she bids everyone goodbye without much of a care. As the match continues without much excitement beyond the two of them chiding each other for attempted takebacks, night quickly falls—and Moomin returns home very late, extremely tired and, as it turns out, unwilling to wait any longer for the chess match to end. The next morning, Moomin awakens energetically to find out that the match is apparently still going, and that even his parents tried staying up late to wait for the Ancestor; just as he is about to head off to the Snork mansion to check on the situation, though, the Ancestor’s voice pipes up and says there is no need—and he magically poofs in and drops from the chandelier once more, his exhaustion coming through in both his look and how slowly he falls. As soon as Moomin tries asking him about the match, though, he immediately warns Moomin not to interact with the Snork family from now on, launching into a tirade against them as he reveals that the match ended only because tensions between him and Snork’s grandfather had reached an untenable point—supposedly, Snork’s grandfather began hiding his king (the piece in chess that one’s opponent must capture in order to win), and in response he began hiding his own king, as the two of them began accusing each other of cheating! As amusing as this situation is, the prideful Ancestor’s anger is very real, and he is very strident in his demand for Moomin to avoid the Snorks from now on as part of a wider family feud—even snapping at Pappa to shut his trap as he tries to object that the children don’t have any part in this feud!

With that, the Ancestor restricts Moomin to playing only with him from now on, assuring him that there’s nothing to worry about in his sincere belief that he is doing good for his grandson. But Moomin is clearly downtrodden at this arrangement, his sadness well-conveyed by the distant shot of him sitting depressedly beneath the dark, gloomy shade of the tree as the oblivious Ancestor calls out and throws the ball to him. His brooding, pensive self is taken aback by the ball’s apparently-sudden arrival, as the Ancestor gets frustrated over how he has apparently spaced out, and he throws it back without much enthusiasm, the ball nevertheless flying right over the short Ancestor even so. As the Ancestor runs to grab the ball, he notices My and Sniff playing with Nonnon in the presence of Snork’s grandfather—and, believing he has found the solution to this conundrum, looks back at Moomin cunningly as he waits for My to drop by.

As My runs to pick up Nonnon’s ball, the Ancestor takes advantage of her love for sweets to lure her over to play with Moomin, promising chocolate and candy in return. Slapping the Ancestor’s nose approvingly, the excited My in turn invites Sniff to come over with her, clearly having no qualms about abandoning Nonnon as long as they can get some candies out of it! Moomin is clearly not pleased with this arrangement, again throwing the ball without much enthusiasm, and naturally, Nonnon becomes saddened by this feud-induced abandonment as well. As the clumsy My goes to grab the ball again, Snork’s grandfather confronts her, with My in turn displaying the full extent of her self-interest as she shamelessly feigns forgetting she was even playing with Nonnon (just look at her self-satisfied face as she bounces the ball in her hand); after admitting that she was simply bribed by the Ancestor for candy, Snork’s grandfather begins to play dirty himself, offering My three chocolates if she comes back to Nonnon! And so a bidding war for the cynical, purely candy-interested My begins—in the midst of which Moomin and Nonnon disappear, causing the screwed-over My to be left flailing angrily in the lurch as the two elders head off to search for their beloved grandchildren! With that, Mizusawa closes this sequence on a close-up of Moomin’s and Nonnon’s balls together, symbolizing their close friendship amidst their grandfathers’ feud as we fade to an almost matching shot of the sunset…and truck out to find Moomin and Nonnon sitting together, looking out at the romantic, beautifully shimmering sea as the sunset lights them vividly and redly. Both are clearly displeased with the direction things have taken…

Just behind them, in the darkening, silhouetted woods, the two grandfathers literally bump into each other as they search around for their grandchildren from opposite directions. For a brief moment, their genuine concern for their grandchildren shines through, only for their mutual dislike to return as they part ways—but then they dash back as they start to hear Moomin and Nonnon talking to each other! As the grandfathers creep closer, what they find out astounds them: Nonnon admits that she really likes Moomin’s grandpa, and Moomin says he feels the same way about her grandfather! The two elders look at each other with increasing discomfort, clearly overcome with guilt for stoking such a feud, and then quickly dive beneath the hill to hide as they notice their two grandchildren getting up to leave. So the Ancestor and Snork’s grandfather alike look on dumbfoundedly, realizing at last that they miiiiiiight have taken things a little too far…

We suddenly cut into the next morning as My arrives at the Moominhouse in a panic, dragging the tired Moomin to come with her—something strange has happened! Mizusawa gives us a cinematic, first-person shot of the ground passing us as though we were running over as well, building our anticipation as the tree slowly comes into view, eventually revealing that a lovely, flower-strung swing has been built beneath it! As Moomin admires the swing now hanging right before our eyes, its romantic beauty underlined by how slightly blurred and out-of-focus it is, the other kids mention how no one knows who made this; the subject then turns to how the grandfathers are now missing, as Nonnon reveals that her grandfather has slept in late, and Moomin likewise reveals that the Ancestor won’t come down from the chandelier. And it is then that, as he steps onto the swing, Moomin realizes: the two grandfathers stayed up late to make this swing together for Moomin and Nonnon, as a way of showing their true love for their grandchildren and making up for their little feud!

And so, we end this fun, charming, and very relatable story of a needless, antiquated family feud on a beautiful note, as Moomin and Nonnon play together on the swing. Mizusawa underlines the loveliness of it all by having layers of painted light fade into view, shining down on the two young children of the Moomin and Snork families as they swing happily and carefreely in the midst of the verdant field (and My and Sniff are left to just look on at this sight, aha)…


Cover page of Kunio Kurita’s script for episode 36, Grandpa Is the Best In the World.

Episode 37, The Bell That Rings On Moonlit Nights, is a unique episode in a number of ways. It is the first of Noboru Ishiguro’s atmospheric episodes in a while not to be ruined by bad writing or animation: in this case, Yoshiaki Yoshida comes up with a lovely sequel to his earlier The Hattifatteners Got Angry, filled with his trademark lovely, communitarian interactions between the characters (and lots more moments of Snork losing it), as the Hattifatteners squirm their way into Moominvalley once again, this time with more specific and troublesome yet nevertheless elusive ends in mind. Even more unusually, the episode was animated by a young Madhouse, before it officially existed, in what must have been its very first involvement as a studio: the credited animators are none other than its founding animators Nobuyoshi Sasakado, Ikuo Fudanoki, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Toshio Nitta! Fudanoki and Kawajiri, of course, had previously been part of New Moomin’s animation staff proper before leaving in the midst of the Dark Age, and this episode marks their brief but welcome return to the series; Sasakado and Nitta, meanwhile, had previously been the animation directors (alongside Akio Sugino) of Mushi Pro’s other late series Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai, and this episode is valuable insofar as it was their only involvement with New Moomin. Sasakado, in particular, would go on to distinguish himself later on as a powerhouse animator for various Sunrise and Tōei shows, often key-animating entire episodes himself on a monthly basis to keep the production flowing smoothly; at this early stage of his career, however, he was still an animator who stood out for not only his speed but also his ability to create well-drawn, fluid, often energetic-looking animation on a regular basis.


We open on a nice view of what seems to be a peaceful night, the air filled with the sounds of crickets chirping. But then a church bell mysteriously begins tolling, and this is the cue for Noboru Ishiguro to truck out and pan over to the church in question (note the multiplane effect as the moon continues to hang overhead during the pan, adding to the night atmosphere), in turn trucking in on the clanging tower tensely; this is followed by a close-up on the moon and the cross at the very top of the tower as Ishiguro trucks out once again, revealing the tower in all its glory. We then pan across a bird’s-eye view of the dark, sleeping Moominvalley, showing just how loudly the bell is reverberating throughout the area and disturbing the peace. Everyone in Moominvalley has his or her own reaction: Snufkin, resting pensively by his brightly burning campfire, is aroused by the tolling and looks out with curiosity towards this strange noise, while the Police Inspector, sleeping at his desk, finds himself much more rudely awakened, his irritated reaction making clear that this is not the first time this has happened. So too is old Mr. Hemulen woken up, turning his lights on as he looks out from his window, and for that matter, even the Moomins look out from their windows: Moomin is unsettled by the noise, while his Pappa below finds the thought of a bell that tolls on moonlit nights quite romantic. And then we suddenly cut to a pillow being thrown at the wall in frustration: Snork is losing it at how the bell has been tolling nightly, scratching and ruining his wig and trembling with fury as he shouts for the Inspector to do something! At this, Nonnon cannot help coming in to complain that Snork’s voice is louder than the bell’s tolling—which Snork does not take well, to say the least!

By now, the Police Inspector is indeed running off to the church, determined to find out once and for all who this bell-tolling mischief-maker is. By the time he arrives, the bell has gone silent, taking this to be a sign that the culprit is trying to get away as he rushes in. Ishiguro gives us a great shot looking up at the open ceiling below the bell tower as the Inspector marches into view and calls for the culprit to come out, with the tilted low-angle view of the Inspector emphasizing his fierce sense of authority; just as he begins to step up the stairs, however, he is suddenly caught in a cobweb, the surprise in turn causing him to tumble down the stairs! (Notice the incredibly sketchy, gekiga-like look of the cobweb, very uncharacteristic of the series’ animation, as the Inspector runs afoul of it, and the exuberant manner in which he tries to swat it away as he falls backwards; I’m almost certain that this is Nobuyoshi Sasakado’s animation!) As he realizes, based on the cobweb’s presence, that no one has actually climbed the stairs in quite some time, Ishiguro uses a repetition of the earlier upward-looking shot of the Inspector beneath the bell tower to convey an even more fascinating development: right before the Inspector’s eyes, a dayflower leaf floats down from on high, its odd presence intriguing the Inspector as he picks it up and begins examining it.

The next day, everyone is crowding the Police Inspector’s station, desperate to know more about the bell: Yoshida, as usual, gives us a good sense of the differing personalities and viewpoints within this little community. The Inspector expounds that the bell-tolling is an affair beyond his control, ultimately being at a loss with only two dayflower leaves as possible clues; the frustrated Snork rejoins that, more than him, it is all of the people who are truly at a loss (notice how his reprimanding finger is much more realistically-drawn than usual, almost uncannily so). The more matter-of-fact Mymble (looking much creepier than usual due to an eye-coloring error!) then suggests that it couldn’t be the wind, with the Inspector concurring as he relays his findings on the wind speeds recently. Finally, after some thought, old Mr. Hemulen comes to a seemingly perfect realization (quickly smacking Snork on the back in his excitement): the gods are worried about the bell rusting after almost a year of disuse since Christmas Eve, and are sending a signal to alert the villagers! Of course, My steps up and objects that if it were a god, the bell should be clanging over and over again—only for Mr. Hemulen to snap back that she’ll see what real punishment looks like if she were to ring the sacred bell for no good reason, much to her unnerved reticence! In the end, the Inspector suggests that they take the bell down to investigate it, with the other men voicing their approval.

As Moomin and the fishing Snufkin wonder what will happen next (the serenity of their location conveyed by a slow pan up from the lake as the bobber ripples in the quiet water), the Police Inspector is having a contrastingly hectic time trying to get the others to place the ladder in just the right spot on the bell tower, watching from a distance as he shouts directions and tramples in place when they prove especially off; once the ladder is set properly, he begins climbing up himself, charging the other men to hold the ladder tight. At that moment, however, Moomin notices an unexpected occurrence: the Hattifatteners are beginning to squirm around the corner of the church, in turn making their way onto Snork—who, initially oblivious as he calls for an end to this tickling, flies into a flailing panic as he turns and realizes who’s doing it! Soon, they have come around from the other side to bother Mr. Hemulen and Moominpappa as well, as the unsteady Police Inspector above is gradually unhinged, and we get another comic delayed realization as he finds himself standing straight up on the ladder, looks down—and begins flailing and crying out for help, causing the ladder to twirl in the air even more unstably! It all culminates in a spectacular shot of the Police Inspector crashing to the ground as the ladder inevitably collapses—and Snork is trapped beneath it as he continues to shoo the Hattifatteners away with his arms and legs!

The Hattifatteners begin to surround our beloved characters, all of whom have no idea what is going on as they try to keep the creatures away or panic (I love the very intricate, fluidly-animated way My turns around and runs away as they draw closer, her right arm bending forth in a show of her unsteadiness as she steps back and begins to turn). Soon, though, it becomes clear that the Hattifatteners are simply trying to prevent the attempted maintenance work on the bell: another cadre begins to take the ladder away, the strange wonder of it all underscored by the romantic music that starts up, all while Snork jumps furiously at this insolence and the Police Inspector fruitlessly threaten arrests! With this done, as everyone begins to debate whether the Hattifatteners are really trying to interfere with their work (it really can’t be underestimated how much Yoshida tries to emphasize the different worldviews within this little group, besieged as they may all be at the moment), the wormy creatures disperse—and Snork is further infuriated, ruining his wig once again (just look how he throws his arms and left leg up with rage as he begins to do so) and gesturing furiously to the Inspector to drive home his point that they’ve been made fools of by the Hattifatteners! We then cut back to Snufkin as he learns the Hattifatteners appeared; the other kids all believe there’s a reason they came by, and Snufkin seems to concur as he finds himself deep in thought, his quiet pensiveness underlined by the shot of his bobber floating almost motionlessly in the water.

That night, we hear the crickets chirping beneath the full moon and the Lonely Mountain once again, as Ishiguro trucks back to reveal we are simply watching the view from the Moomins’ window, creating a nice sense of the adventure that lies just outside their house. Yoshida gives us another nice, personality-driven conversation scene as Pappa initially tells the daring Moomin that he can’t forbid him from going out and seeing just what will happen with the bell tonight, much to his jubilation; at the same time, however, Pappa’s romanticism is such that he also wants this mysterious combination of moonlit nights, the bell, and the Hattifatteners to be left alone if possible—but when Moomin, deferring to his Pappa’s apparent wishes, responds by saying that he can’t go, Pappa then admits that by the same token, he’d also greedily like to know all of it! The gentle and frank Mamma, meanwhile, would simply like to know the underlying cause of these unsettling occurrences no matter what—and this maternal unease, ultimately, is what fires the dutiful Moomin up to go out after all.

As Moomin, Snufkin, My, and Sniff begin to head out, they soon encounter precisely what they’re looking for: the Hattifatteners have also begun squirming their way through the hills. Snufkin decides to follow them, and in due time, they see the Hattifatteners picking dayflower leaves by the moonlit lake, with the impatient My having to be stopped from running out prematurely as Snufkin assures them all that he knows where they’re going; in the meantime, Pappa can’t sit still, and decides to go out as well as he looks out the window. Ishiguro’s measured, atmospheric direction especially shines as the Hattifatteners go about their business: we see them squirming past us diagonally, carrying the leaves in their little anemone-like hands, and we pan up as, sure enough, they head towards the church, where Snufkin and the others are already waiting. Soon, as Pappa joins them (we get some more charming banter from Yoshida as his sudden presence startles the kids and he exchanges pleasantries with Snufkin over how both of them came out here), the endless Hattifatteners make their way into the dark church, up the stairs, and into the bell itself, with Ishiguro giving us an abundance of cinematic, often unusually-angled views of it all (complete with the Hattifatteners’ large shadows following them against the wall!) to create a sense of fascination over this strange spectacle. Soon, the bell is indeed tolling as the Hattifatteners begin to rub their leaves on it, much to the awe of the onlookers as Ishiguro slowly trucks out further and further from the scene, bringing this important night to a close…

The next morning, we truck in on the church as it seems things are back to normal—that is, outside of the dayflower leaves scattered on the tower, which make their way wavingly to the ground in the wind. This lyrical scene, of course, is a stark contrast with the anger and belligerence that the alleged Hattifattener mischief behind it has provoked, as we begin to hear Snork ranting to everyone in the Moominhouse about it and laughing scornfully—Mr. Hemulen, in turn, is even more enraged, standing right up and banging on the table (just look how high he raises his arm!) as he declares that he finds the Hattifatteners’ behavior absolutely intolerable, calling on everyone to protect the bell from their hands! Moominpappa’s initially hesitant objection that even the Hattifatteners have the right to use the bell becomes much more irritated as Snork pours scorn on him and accuses him of trying to overlook the Hattifatteners’ mischief; all the while, Snufkin is listening outside, as Snork goes further and declares that he believes everyone wants to protect the church’s bell even if it means going to war with the Hattifatteners—much to almost everyone’s rapturous applause! But that’s when Moomin, the more cool-headed and humane of them all, declares that he is going off to the Hattifatteners’ Island to find out more, urging them all to wait until then—this, naturally, is the cue for the nodding Snufkin to set off first.

As Moomin prepares to set off on his boat, he is joined not only by the loyal Nonnon but by My and Sniff; of course, Nonnon’s departure drives Snork into a fury as he tries running over the beach in vain to forbid her from going, even tripping over into the sand and jumping back up with a furious mid-air trembling as he does so, all while Nonnon coyly assures him that it’s alright! As Ishiguro commences their journey with a high overhead shot showing the little boat amidst the big blue sea, Yoshida gives us a great conversation between the kids showing just how independent, risk-taking, and tired of the adults’ needless squabbling and overdramatizing they really are: even Nonnon complains about how all they’re saying is “blah-blah-blah-blah”! Back home, meanwhile, as Pappa once again hopes that a lovely secret is behind it all, he discovers to his surprise that the Hattifatteners are beginning to swarm Moominvalley. Naturally, this is a golden opportunity for another hilarious Snork meltdown: we see him so worked up over Nonnon leaving that he absent-mindedly flips his sunny-side-up egg onto his eyes, causing him to SCREAM as comic strip-like red wiggly lines of scorching agony pop up around him and he thrashes his hands and legs in pain! And just as he pulls the egg from his burnt red eyes, the Hattifatteners begin to squirm right before him in a line—sending him into yet another rage as he swats at them with his frying pan and drives them all panicking out of his mansion! Of course, the situation is a tad more serious than this, as the Police Inspector witnesses multiple lines of Hattifatteners passing over the hills…

On the Hattifatteners’ Island, meanwhile, the kids have found, much to their disappointment, that there isn’t a single Hattifattener around. In a sort of amusing reprise of when Pappa scared them the previous night, they are then startled by the previously-arrived Snufkin, who consoles them by pointing out that even the lack of Hattifatteners is in itself a great discovery—and as Ishiguro gives us a distant shot of everyone’s silhouettes at the top of the hill to underline the Hattifatteners’ mysterious absence, we fade to an equally distant shot of Snufkin’s and Moomin’s boats heading back to Moominvalley amidst the sunset-lit, pink-lavender sea. Ishiguro evokes the sublime atmosphere of the sunset by way of the distinctive lighting and coloring as the kids return, as well as the distant shot of the beach as they arrive, with the onlookers’ shadows being cast magnificently beyond their actual positions; he also shows the sea’s waves continuing to head towards us in an almost subdued spectacle as Snufkin steps down from the boat—and finds out that, in tandem with their departure from the island, the Hattifatteners have literally occupied Moominvalley!

As Ishiguro pans down from the moon once again, we find that swarms of Hattifatteners have seemingly taken over Moominvalley—this is hammered on home as Ishiguro pans down the Moominhouse, showing the Hattifatteners swarming the roof and walls and windows, and then zooms out to reveal there are yet more swarms arriving and surrounding it! Once again, they are gathering dayflower leaves, and we get an incredible shot of them squirming in a massive line by the lake, their reflections visible right below them. In the meantime, Snork continues to rant to the Police Inspector about how they should have driven the Hattifatteners away earlier, with Pappa naturally pointing out that driving out this swarm is literally impossible—and drawing further scorn as he advises Snork to simply pray with all their hearts that the Hattifatteners will leave, his enchantment and faith shown in the close-up on his eyes. Soon, we find that, far from descending into rageful anarchy over being driven out of their homes, the villagers of Moominvalley are all very much enjoying themselves like a true community, using the occasion as a splendid opportunity for a big campout as they gather around fires by the sea while Mymble scoops out free soup for everyone. Of course, the pampered Snork refuses to take part, stomping around angrily as he finds it unbearable to be driven out in such an outstrangeous manner (the sheer high-class fury in Taichirō Hirokawa’s voice here is simply brilliant), in turn putting his hands over his face in theatrical agony at the thought that he has been reduced to taking meals like a freeloader (the precise term he uses is ルンペン, derived from the German “Lumpen”)—only to be overtaken with unusually wide-eyed horror, emphasized by the rapid zoom-in on his face, as the bell begins tolling once again!

As everyone looks on at where the bell is tolling, the cliff-standing Snufkin alerts everyone that the Hattifatteners are starting down the main road. Ishiguro gives us more cinematic, breathtaking views of the endless swarms of Hattifatteners as they move along in several lines (with one line even jumping over a rock in its way!), follow the edges of cliffs, and head down the hills, all while the villagers watch and wonder what they’re up to. Snufkin points out that, naturally, they’re heading towards the church once again—and Pappa concludes that they’re witnessing the finale of the Hattifatteners’ drama, as Nonnon excitedly remarks that her heart is throbbing somehow.

And so, pure, poetic visual storytelling takes over. We see various Hattifatteners floating down the river on logs while others continue to go by land, and Ishiguro gives us several different views of this to make clear that this phenomenon is happening all over Moominvalley, in turn panning up towards the silhouetted church against the full moon to make clear that this is their ultimate destination. As the bell tolls on, thousands upon thousands of Hattifatteners begin to arrive in droves, and they all begin to undertake a strange ritual, in which multiple rings of them surround and swirl around each other: it soon becomes clear that they are all centered on two Hattifatteners in particular, who emerge from the crowd as the rest of them back away—and begin curling themselves before everyone else in a sort of mesmerizing mirror of each other’s moves, even moving towards each other at times! The bell begins to toll with increased intensity as this ritual comes to a close—and all the other Hattifatteners swarm around them and carry them away, their immense numbers evident as they all head towards us and then swarm over the dark ground as we watch overhead! We then see the two Hattifatteners and those who are directly carrying them squirming happily, as they all squirm off for good…

As everyone remarks on the mysterious, exhilarating spectacle they have just witnessed, unsure of what on earth it was, Pappa suggests that they could use their imagination to fill it in: for instance, what if it was a Hattifattener wedding? Mymble, Nonnon, and My all swoon over this romantic idea, and as the Police Inspector asks what the dayflower leaves could have been for in that regard, Moomin realizes: perhaps the Hattifatteners were using them to polish the bell all along! In the end, though, as both Pappa and Snufkin conclude, one can never be sure with the mysterious Hattifatteners—as Pappa says, “Perhaps it’d be better for an eternal mystery to remain an eternal mystery.” And so, as Seiichirō Uno’s romantic, wondrous music from earlier starts up again, we close on stunning views of the Hattifatteners drifting down the river, with the two Hattifatteners at the center of it all cuddling each other affectionately, complemented by a moonlit pan across Moomin and his friends looking out warmly at it all…sometimes, the wonders of our world really are beyond human comprehension, and any attempts to explain them in our own terms can never truly do them justice.

On the subject of Madhouse’s involvement with this beautiful little episode—easily one of Noboru Ishiguro’s strongest for New Moomin—this aired on 17 September 1972, exactly a month before the studio’s official founding. But the group was already separate from Mushi Pro: less than three weeks later, its leaders Osamu Dezaki and Masao Maruyama were heading Hazedon, the very first series produced by the other Mushi splinter studio Sunrise. By Dezaki’s own admission, he took Hazedon on simply to bide his time while waiting for Tokyo Movie, with which Dezaki had a long relationship, to decide what Madhouse could work on as a subcontracting studio; as Hazedon must have begun production some time before October, this would further confirm that Madhouse already existed by then. Ergo, it seems that The Bell That Rings On Moonlit Nights was similarly a way of tiding Madhouse’s animators over before they were ultimately assigned to animate several early episodes of Tokyo Movie’s cult classic gag comedy The Gutsy Frog. (According to animation director Akio Sugino, the original plan was for Madhouse to spearhead an adaptation of Tetsuya Chiba’s manga Yuki’s Sun, in keeping with their long experience on the Chiba adaptations Ashita no Joe and Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai, but this never got past the pilot stage; the pilot is mainly remembered because it was the directorial debut of Hayao Miyazaki, who was then working at Tokyo Movie’s partner A Production.) On that note, it has often been claimed that chief director Rintarō himself was a Madhouse cofounder; perhaps, if this episode is any indication, he did have some ties with the studio early on?

Now, at last, we come to episode 38, The Curse of the Red Moon, one of the series’ most powerful classics. In an unusually dramatic and gritty scenario, Yoshiaki Yoshida revisits the basic plot behind the dreadful With White Horse and Full Moon, namely superstitions against certain kinds of animals, and subverts it so that Moomin’s extraordinary, touching bond with the humane Snufkin ultimately succeeds in overturning a long-held belief that the bats that emerge with Moominvalley’s lunar eclipses are vampires. The stakes are never higher, as society threatens to tear Moomin apart from his dearest friend over their refusal to believe in the superstition—and the full impact of the story is brought out by Yū Tachibana, who in only his second directorial effort already distinguishes himself as a maestro filmmaker, and animation director Hiromitsu Morita with star animators Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi. The result is at turns slow, tense, frightening, emotional, grandiose, beautiful—and always intensely-focused, atmospheric, and impeccably crafted.


We open on a foreboding shot of the cloudy sunset sky above the mountains, framed by a barren tree on the left, as squawking birds of prey fly past; right from the start, Tachibana conveys how primal and untamed the nature of Moominvalley can be. He pans down to reveal the silhouettes of Moomin and his friends on the hill, bidding each other farewell for the night and running their separate ways; the way they are dwarfed by the mountains before them and the tree behind them, along with their silhouetted appearances, further underline just how seemingly minor and impotent they are amidst this vast, wild, rather frightful world, the ways and rhythms of which remain more than a little inscrutable…

Tachibana then cuts to the full moon shining behind the Lonely Mountain, making clear that night has arrived. We get an overhead view of Moominvalley as the houses begin to light up throughout the village, looking almost as though it were a community ritual to stave off the darkness, and Tachibana slowly trucks us into this little community as Moominpappa begins narrating that a truly momentous event is set to happen tonight: for the first time in 50 years, Moominvalley is approaching a lunar eclipse. As we pan over the dark, quiet hills and their barren trees, with only a lone owl perched on top, we eventually arrive at Pappa, sitting at the top window of the Moominhouse where he can get a good view of the moon as he writes his observations down. He takes one last look out at the full, brightly-shining moon, knowing that it is soon to wane…

We then make our way over to the Snork mansion, as the Police Inspector suddenly runs up, silhouetted in the dark night; as it turns out, Snork is busy trying to point his telescope at the moon on his balcony, with the Inspector demanding to know how the situation is. Tachibana takes us right into Snork’s unusual point of view at the moment as we see the purple iris of the telescope fumbling around for a centered, up-close view of the moon, finally settling into place right as the eclipse begins—with that, as he looks up at the now-waning moon to see for himself, the Police Inspector realizes he has no time to waste, running back into the hills as he begins shouting into the night to alert any remaining villagers outside to lock down! Meanwhile, the curious and easygoing My is busy looking out at this rare eclipse from a window on her roof, as the much more frightened Mymble snaps at her to come down; Mymble proves so desperate to force My down that she goes as far as to pull out the stick holding up the door of the roof window, causing the door to slam violently and rattlingly onto the flustered My’s head!

More and more, as Snork rushes to bring his telescope in and close the balcony doors, and Moominpappa too closes his shutters at the sight of the waning moon, it is clear that a lunar eclipse in Moominvalley is no laughing matter. Tachibana begins cross-cutting between Snork’s mansion and the Moominhouse as Snork and Pappa, two of Moominvalley’s brightest authorities, begin to explain to the quizzical Nonnon and Moomin precisely what will happen: as passed down in legend, an eclipse in Moominvalley heralds the arrival of vampiric bats! We cut right from Pappa’s frightful, dramatic emphasis on “vampires” to Nonnon’s book dropping on the floor as she cowers, and we see that Snork is hamming it up even more, gesturing like a theatrical supervillain as he gnarls his suddenly sharp-nailed hands (with the background behind him fading into a surreal, hellish swirl!) and moves in towards the screen with an evil grin and raised claws, emphasizing his point that those bitten by these bats will become vampires themselves! And the much more cool-headed Pappa, meanwhile, explains that this is why the villagers shut their windows and pray that they won’t encounter the bats; Moomin, however, remains skeptical about their victims becoming vampires, to which Pappa simply replies that there are things in this world that cannot be explained by reason. His point that even unscientific-sounding things can’t just be dismissed as lies is the perfect segue into the academic Snork’s attempts to deny that he himself believes the legend of the vampiric bats, hastily claiming to Nonnon as he rolls his eyes nervously that he is simply closing his window curtains in solidarity with the rest of the village. Already, amidst the tense situation of the lunar eclipse and the soon-to-come onslaught of bats, the differences in temperament between these characters—the skeptical and daring Moomin, the cool-headed and curious Pappa willing to give both sides a chance, the overdramatic Snork trying to hide his true fears beneath his high-class veneer of scientific credentials and social leadership, and the easily-frightened Nonnon who represents the villagers at large—is established, and the stage is set for the episode’s eventual conflict over whether the bats are really vampires…

We return to the overhead view of Moominvalley as the lights begin to go out all over in anticipation of the bats—all except one, which Tachibana trucks in on as we begin to hear Snufkin playing his guitar. Yes, it is Snufkin alone, the bravest person in the valley, who keeps his campfire lit as he continues to strum his theme peacefully, clearly seeing nothing to be afraid of. Behind him, a mysterious creature scurries into his tent for cover, and it turns out to be the vagrant Sorry-oo, wondering why Snufkin is just sitting there as he tries to grab his attention—only to be scared back into the tent at the sight of the ever-decreasing moon, now turning red as the Earth’s shadow is halfway through! As Snufkin continues strumming away, Tachibana gives us a brief double exposure of the reddening moon literally looming forebodingly over the otherwise quiet and now-deserted hills of Moominvalley; we then get a series of zooms and pans over various inhabitants of the valley as they look out at the moon cautiously from their closed windows, their motionless waiting amidst the relentless camera movement furthering the sense of tension in the air. It is only as we pan back to Snufkin that, with one look at the moon as it now stands, he at last stops strumming: by now, it has been reduced to a thin red crescent—and with that, the bats begin to arrive as though they were literally emerging from this nightmarish red moon, with Moomin and Pappa, the two most curious villagers, closing their shutters practically at the last second as the bats reach the Moominhouse! We watch as seemingly endless bats fly chaotically from the moon and through various locations in the valley, filling them with the loud sounds of their squeaking and wing-flapping, with the few brave outsiders like the owl and Snufkin simply standing by calmly.

In the meantime, as one of Seiichirō Uno’s most quietly eerie music tracks starts up, we see one bat in particular crashing into a lamppost and falling to the ground, and the moon is completely eclipsed as Tachibana shows the overhead view of Moominvalley going completely dark. He maintains a strong sense of tension as we begin slowly fading between dimly-lit views of the Moomins, the Snorks, Sniff, My and Mymble, and Mr. Hemulen and his tuba, all holding onto each other or cowering in fright as the onslaught continues outside their very windows, with the Police Inspector meanwhile waiting patiently. Eventually, the squeaking and flapping begin to subside, and Pappa and Moomin look up to find that moonlight has begun shining through the shutters once again; soon, the Moomins open the window to find that the eclipse is indeed over, as the bats seemingly all fly off into the re-emerging moon, much to their relief. In a sleight-of-hand transition reminding us that the sky is not limited to any single household, Tachibana then trucks out from the moon to reveal Snufkin’s tent below, making clear that at least one other person has been watching the bats’ retreat as well: seeing that the bats have flown off, Snufkin turns back from the moon and begins strumming once more, bringing a much-needed sense of normalcy back to the valley as Tachibana pans over the hills once again, from there moving back up to the full moon and all the beautiful stars surrounding it as this haunting night draws to a strikingly ordinary, idyllic close…

The next morning, however, things are anything but normal: we are abruptly hurtled into an emergency town meeting called by the Police Inspector, who declares a bat hunt! The townsfolk are stunned, to say the least, as Tachibana pans over their surprised reactions; the easily-infuriated Snork, in particular, steps forth from the crowd finger-waggingly as he chides the Inspector for even suggesting such a thing, reminding everyone that the bats were supposed to have all gone away without a single trace last night (even shoving his hand outwardly in a curving motion to convey how the bats are all supposed to have fled)! Just as the crowd begins to grow rowdy, however, the Inspector begins to elaborate, raising the possibility that the bats may still be hiding in attics and chimneys; Tachibana gives us an interesting multiplane pan through the crowd with the stump-placed Inspector at the foreground overlooking them all, conveying his authority over everyone at this time. This explanation satisfies Mr. Hemulen, and moreover draws additional support from the rather paranoid Mymble, who steps forth to assure everyone that the safest thing to do is search the bats out no matter what; with that, the villagers all agree, as Tachibana gives us a wide shot of them shouting and raising their hands approvingly before the Inspector, who in turn points his hand almost jingoistically towards us as he declares the bat hunt open!

And so Yoshida and Tachibana give us a few suspenseful yet amusing vignettes, showing just how fruitless this bat hunt is, with everyone even dressed in hazmat suits in the unlikely event that any feral vampiric bats pounce on them; naturally, this is a good opportunity for Jirō Kōno’s backgrounds to shine. We begin as the Police Inspector and Mr. Hemulen tread uneasily through the gorgeous woods, framed ominously by the tall trees towering above them; shaking with fear as he encounters a hole in the tree before him, the paranoid Mr. Hemulen tries to bang on the tree with his stick to bring out any possible creatures—causing a nut to fall onto his head, with the terrifiedly ring-eyed old man rocking far more violently than he reasonably should in response as he is knocked out in a downright petrified form, reminding the Inspector why he didn’t want to be paired up with Mr. Hemulen! Tachibana then gives us a view of a rather unsettlingly-destroyed tree (clearly there are far graver issues for the village to be dealing with) as Mymble and another villager pass by obliviously, their attention focused on the possibility that there are bats in the forest, followed by Moomin’s parents emerging from the hill in the distance; it is here, as they walk along in their hazmat suits, that Pappa (his suit covering even his trademark pipe!) reveals his skepticism over the needless paranoia surrounding the legend of the vampiric bats for the first time.

At last, we pan over the rocky cliffs where Moomin and his friends are searching, the contrastingly serene beach just a short way off; Sorry-oo then pops out to bring their attention to a dark, eerie-looking cave. After some thought, Moomin takes the lead in heading over to this suspicious place to search, with Tachibana giving us an overhead shot of the kids as they approach cautiously to show just how little they are in the face of the ominous, threatening cave. He then brings us into Moomin’s point-of-view as we truck into the darkness—and suddenly, against the pitch-black screen, a pair of menacing eyes opens up, with Moomin and the others screaming and fleeing from the giant cave in terror! Sniff, in particular, ducks to the ground in fright, as the unsettled My reminds him that this apparent attack is why they’re completely covered, and Moomin, having regained his nerves a bit, decides to step back into the cave bravely, holding his stick backward in preparation to strike as he treads further and further in. At that point, the menacing eyes begin to bounce towards him, and a familiar voice starts up as Moomin is crushed—it was just Stinky all along, much to his amusement as he outright pulls off the top of his suit in relief!

As the sun begins to set behind the Lonely Mountain, everyone has gathered once again, framed by a tree on the left in another reminder of their backwoods setting. The Police Inspector, stepping onto his stump again, begins to acknowledge everyone’s efforts in confirming that the bloodsucking bats have indeed all left—but all of a sudden, Snork emerges from the woods panickedly, rushing up to the stump-podium as he alerts everyone that he has indeed found someone who is actually harboring a bat! Tachibana pans over the stunned crowd once again to make their dismay clear, and as the Police Inspector demands to know who this miscreant is, Snork, pulling the top of his suit off to make his voice and conviction clearer, dramatically turns and reveals the terrible truth—it is Snufkin! As Tachibana, beginning with an especially extreme close-up on the shocked Police Inspector, cuts dramatically between the astonished villagers, a dramatic stinger starts up—and it all culminates in a close-up on the incredulous Moomin as the background behind him fades to black, symbolizing the existential crisis he begins to undergo as his best friend has been formally accused of a grave crime. Viewers in 1972 were left on this cliffhanger for a few agonizing minutes, as the episode would have gone to a commercial break at this time…

Returning from the commercials, we see poor Moomin deep in thought, the cruel words of the Police Inspector and Snork echoing in his head. As the background begins to fade back in, signaling his mental re-entry into the world around him, Moomin concludes that it must be a lie that Snufkin is keeping a bat: valiantly, he runs up and confronts Snork, only to be rebuffed as the haughty Snork begins to stir up mob outrage, with Tachibana panning over the large crowd of agitated villagers as Snork demands to know if they shall kill the bat and arrest Snufkin! As the Police Inspector looks down in sad resignation to the will of the mob, the troubled Moomin is clearly wondering what he is supposed to do now, as emphasized by Tachibana’s slow zoom-in on him—and as the camera stops, Moomin looks up with renewed determination: he must personally seek out Snufkin. His complete loneliness in doing so, as the only one who still trusts Snufkin, is emphasized by the shot of him running along the flat, desolate ground and casting a large shadow amidst the empty sunset sky behind him, and underscored by the sorrowful harmonica-led music throughout. As he begins to approach Snufkin’s tent amidst the barren, lonely trees, however, he is suddenly shocked (punctuated by the music abruptly going silent): Snufkin is indeed harboring a bat in his picnic basket, as hammered home by the rapid zoom-in on the bat and its twitching ears, and in spite of this terrible discovery, Snufkin greets Moomin as though nothing of any significance is happening!

Moomin haltingly tries to ask about the bat, clearly unable to say anything; his uncertainty and hesitation in the face of this discovery is made all the more palpable by the way Tachibana then shows him standing in the foreground before Snufkin, his reached-out hand hanging awkwardly in the air. For a brief moment, his hand relaxes as Snufkin explains that this is a baby bat, even tucking it in warmly as he remarks on how cute it is—only for Moomin to suddenly begin shouting for Snufkin to run away before he gets arrested, his passionate urgency now that he has realized the gravity of the situation heightened by the extreme close-up on his face! Snufkin initially laughs this off, clearly unaware of the extreme anti-bat sentiment that has overtaken the villagers as he turns away from Moomin’s bewildered face with a gentle smile—but right on cue, as Moomin tries to plead with Snufkin even more, the angry Snork barges in with the Police Inspector and Mr. Hemulen! As Pappa begins to arrive as well, Snufkin comes out of his tent, pleasantly greeting everyone with an acknowledgement of their collective presence as he remains oblivious to their intentions; he even cordially reveals that the bat is injured as the Inspector sternly demands that he let go of it, planning to take care of it until its injury is completely healed. But this concern for the bat’s welfare only further agitates Snork and Mr. Hemulen, the mob-like obstinacy of their superstition-fueled outrage furthered by the pan over the extreme close-up on them—and so, in an even more shocking revelation for the four men, Snufkin is forced to make it clear that he does not believe in the old vampire bat legend, in turn closing himself off for the night as he realizes that there is no point in trying to reason with this irrational crowd.

As the men look on astonishedly at Snufkin’s behavior, Snork begins to demand that the Inspector arrest Snufkin; Tachibana, in turn, zooms in on the Inspector’s face to an extreme degree as he takes on a more frustrated, determined expression, emphasizing the misguided renewal of his sense of duty. Walking over to Snufkin’s tent, the Inspector warns Snufkin that he’ll only be given one day to make up his mind, reminding him that the job of a police officer isn’t to make criminals for the fun of it as he and the others head off for the night; once again, Moomin is left all alone, seemingly helpless to try and alleviate the situation in any way, underscored by a slow, melancholic, pensive-sounding version of Snufkin’s theme. That night, while trudging home forlornly, Moomin decides to sit meditatively for a while on the bridge over the river, the giant moon behind him obscured by hazy, smoky clouds as though they represented the dark, poisonous superstition in the air. As he looks down at his silhouetted reflection in the rippling river, however, it appears Snufkin suddenly shows up as well, his silhouette in the river placing a comforting hand on Moomin’s back. For a moment, it really does seem like he is there, as Moomin turns to his side and sees Snufkin’s striking, mysterious silhouette against the moon, and he stares with sparkly-eyed, child-like fondness at this familiar sight who it seems will always be there for him no matter what—but it turns out to be little more than his imagination as it fades away from his view, and the teary-eyed Moomin, left with this heartbreaking realization of how lonely he truly is, can do no more than to continue wandering away depressedly into the night. Tachibana then brings us to see what Snufkin is really doing right now in his tent: strumming away as usual, looking on fondly at the sleeping baby bat he has charged himself to take care of, even as he is fully aware of the trouble he is putting himself and Moomin through for its sake.

As Snufkin’s guitar continues to strum quietly in a constant reminder of the lad at the center of it all, Tachibana now brings us to the Moominhouse, just in time to see Moomin, looking out his window as he perhaps wonders what the world has in store for him next, sadly closing his shutters for the night. He then conveys the bedtime conversation between Mamma and Pappa in a cinematically fascinating way, conveying its progression and the understated momentousness of it all. We start on a side-facing close-up of Mamma, looking up at the ceiling, as Tachibana begins to slowly truck out; as she begins to ask Pappa what they should say to comfort Moomin, the out-of-focus, closed-eyed Pappa is gradually brought into view, in time for him to reply that he was just thinking the same thing. As Mamma closes her eyes while pointing out that they cannot simply say the bat legend is a lie, the camera focus shifts to Pappa, as though the burden of figuring out what to do has been transferred to his more capable self; Tachibana then cuts to an overhead view of Pappa and Mamma, the moonlight shining dimly from the window high above their beds, further underlining their sleeplessness even amidst the darkness as Pappa opens his eyes in wakeful thought. Finally, as Tachibana fades slowly to a distant shot of the Moominhouse in the dark night, we hear Pappa hoping for Moomin’s sake that everyone can somehow believe Snufkin, with Mamma agreeing as we fade out for the night; this seemingly minor conversation, confined as it is within their little home in the midst of the wider world, may in fact be the single most important conversation of their lives, as they realize that very happiness of their only child is now at stake in the face of a cruel, superstitious society.

The next morning, we immediately find Mamma placing a pie on the table, encouraging Moomin to eat up, and as we hear the birds continue to chirp merrily, Pappa suddenly realizes that Moomin loves raspberry jam as well, encouraging her to bring it in: clearly they are trying to distract Moomin from the subject of Snufkin with tasty pleasures. But at that very moment, trouble comes knocking on the door: it is Snork, and Pappa’s warm welcome turns to disbelief as Snork reveals he has come to solicit Pappa’s signature for a petition to banish Snufkin from Moominvalley over the bat. Even now, as Pappa and Snork begin to argue with Moomin literally at the center of it all, Snork arrogantly denies that he himself believes in the legend, trying to stress its status as an important social convention passed down by their ancestors to protect the villagers from danger, much to Pappa’s grave disappointment; we see even Mamma listening distressfully from the kitchen as the self-appointed democratic rabble-rouser Snork coldly asks if a non-conformist like Snufkin is qualified to live in Moominvalley.

It is here that Pappa at last takes a stand for the truth, declaring as he walks to the window with its view of Moominvalley’s nature that he would like to find out the extent to which Snork’s opinion is true; we even get a close-up on Pappa lighting his pipe up in a bold show of his true independence of mind and resolution, and this is followed by a cut to his look of relaxed, considerate wisdom as he points out that if the legend is not true, he could end up accusing an innocent person, with Tachibana trucking out in time to show Snork’s contrastingly flustered, shrill incredulity. Almost paternally, the older, more mature and easygoing Pappa tries to assuage Snork by adding that they won’t know the truth for sure if he doesn’t try to find out, much to Moomin’s amazement as he realizes Pappa is indeed refusing to side with the mob—and with that, the defeated Snork haughtily leaves to obtain others’ signatures, dismissing the nature-observing Pappa’s concern for the truths of this world in his clear preference for social order and conformity. Pappa then confirms to the grateful Moomin that he indeed more or less believes Snufkin—and so, filled with a new burst of confidence just as Mamma comes back in with the raspberry jam, Moomin runs off to try and convince others to believe Snufkin, with Tachibana panning over the sparse thicket where Snufkin and his tent still sit as a lush, anxious and uncertain-sounding yet uplifting stinger is heard, expressing that there is yet time and hope to ensure that he can stay!

Alas, Moomin quickly realizes that societal paranoia and the pressure to conform is far stronger than he could have previously anticipated: My and Sniff have both signed the petition, and Mr. Hemulen, meanwhile, was the very first to do so, even blowing an almost mocking downward sequence of notes on his tuba as Moomin walks off in failure and defeat. As Moomin walks along the hills forlornly, he pivotally stops just short of the bridge (emphasized by the sudden view of his lower body as he does so!) to gaze on at Snufkin’s tent; he has done all he can for him, at least as far as he knows, but to no avail. As he continues to trudge away sadly, we see that Snufkin is fishing in the river as usual, seemingly indifferent to everything going on as he watches his bobber rippling in the water; at that point, however, the bat begins stirring and chirping rather worriedly, and Snufkin, noticing this, begins to look out solemnly, well aware that his time in Moominvalley will soon be over as things stand. At last, Tachibana slowly fades to a view of Snufkin staring down pensively, conveying that some more time has passed…and at that point, Snufkin suddenly stands up with his bat-carrying basket, making clear that he has resolved to leave.

Meanwhile, Pappa is cooped up within his little ivory tower of the Moominhouse, as Tachibana closes into the window to give us a clearer view of what he is doing: his search for detailed information on lunar eclipses, vampires, and bats is quickly proving fruitless. It is then that Moomin arrives, with Tachibana putting the stress on the arrival itself as we briefly see the bottom of the door opening to reveal Moomin’s lower body, the lack of excitement already making clear that he has no good news; as he explains to Pappa, just about everyone has already signed the petition, and of course, Pappa himself has been unable to grasp the truth of the matter. As Moomin reminds him desperately that Snufkin will be driven out at this rate, Pappa can only find himself caught in pensive thought over what to do; Moomin, in turn, walks to the window sadly to look out from this ivory tower for inspiration as he elaborates that what they need to do is somehow prove that Snufkin’s bat is not a vampire, with Pappa, perking up as he realizes this is precisely the solution, nevertheless remaining unsure exactly how he will find that out. Just then, the Police Inspector has arrived: Pappa and Moomin come down to find him pacing the floor restlessly, clearly troubled about something. Greeting Moomin cordially, the Inspector wonders if he’s seen Snufkin—as it turns out, much to his chagrin as expressed by his eyes half-closing, Snufkin has already departed, causing Moomin to react in absolute horror as shown by the extreme close-up on his shocked eyes! His ensuing desperation to stop Snufkin is heightened by the way he runs towards us and overtakes the screen, literally shoving Pappa aside as he does so, and from there prances panickedly away from our view as he heads out the door.

Moomin once again traverses the bucolic hills, now in a much more frantic state than his previous melancholic spells as he runs through the flower-dotted grasses, and arrives at Snufkin’s area to find that—sure enough, much to his terrible surprise as he is literally taken aback upon beholding the sight—Snufkin’s tent is now completely gone, its awful disappearance underlined by the imprint it has left behind on the grass owing to its longevity in Moominvalley! As the slow version of Snufkin’s theme starts up once again, Tachibana gives us an extended close-up on Moomin’s saddened, soulful eyes, underlining the pain he must be feeling inside as it sinks in that his dearest friend really is gone for good—and from there, we watch distantly from behind as Moomin collapses to his knees and lowers his head, his quiet devastation coming through clearly in his very posture as Pappa and the Police Inspector catch up to him. Tachibana then gives us a direct view of his pensive yet grief-stricken face as he wonders aloud why Snufkin didn’t say anything before leaving, barely holding back his tears as his closed eyes tremble—but then suddenly, Sorry-oo arrives at the scene, barking enthusiastically as he alerts Moomin to a miraculous glimmer of hope and runs off to get him to follow along: Snufkin is still in the area, and Moomin can barely contain his rush of renewed joy as Tachibana gives us quite the close-up on his newly-smiling, delighted face!

And so, as the full instrumental of Snufkin’s theme song starts up in all its glory, Moomin runs off with Sorry-oo leading the way, and Pappa and the Inspector look on as they wonder what will come of this. As the sun begins to set, Tachibana gives us grand views of Moomin’s incredible race against time: we watch as he climbs over a fence (jumping off to keep his momentum going!), runs intensely towards us and over the hills (and past a tree where Thingumy and Bob are sleeping peacefully in their shoe!), swims through a raging river with a rock in his way, and at last climbs and dashes up the rocky cliffs on the outskirts of the valley, the sheer majesty of his mad, glorious, incredible pursuit of Snufkin powerfully expressed in the climactic shot of him and Sorry-oo running before us as the rocky terrain passes endlessly beneath them! At last, Sorry-oo has arrived at the edge of the cliff, with Tachibana swiftly cutting to an emphatic close-up on him as he begins barking excitedly at what lies below him, the camera even following him as he turns back to Moomin to let him know. We get an extremely distant shot of the cliff showing how high it is as Moomin arrives, panting heavily—and Tachibana rapidly zooms in on Moomin as he gasps with shock, the abruptness of the zoom making us feel the intensity of his sudden rush of emotion: there, amidst the beautiful view overlooking the high, precarious outskirts of Moominvalley, is Snufkin walking away! (Background artist Jirō Kōno is once again worthy of special mention here.)

Moomin calls out loudly for Snufkin, the emotion of the moment furthered by the glimmer in his eyes and the way his head visibly rotates and pulls back in exertion as he yells. As we see Snufkin continuing to walk away beneath Moomin even as his call echoes all through the mountains, it is clear that he does not yet notice—and so Moomin calls out a second time as we watch the seemingly emotionless Snufkin continuing to trudge on with the out-of-focus Moomin high above him, the echo of this second call at last catching Snufkin’s attention as he notices and turns back, with Tachibana accordingly shifting the camera’s focus to the distant Moomin! Hastily fumbling for a way to reach Snufkin as soon as possible as he steps from side to side in an attempt to start running, Moomin decides to risk it all in the heat of the moment by plunging off the cliff—and we cut repeatedly to Snufkin’s horrified face as Moomin’s attempt to slide down the cliff devolves into a horrific disaster, the brash young lad tumbling violently and incessantly down the rocks before landing in a painful wreck at the bottom of the cliff!! But just as Snufkin rushes over with extreme concern, with one last boulder falling and breaking apart theatrically to hammer on home just how destructive and injurious Moomin’s fall was, Moomin forces himself up and runs on furiously ahead of Snufkin—and we zoom out as Snufkin looks on tensely at the determined Moomin before him, revealing that the bruised, battered, scarred Moomin is now blocking him from going any further away from the valley. As the wind blows loudly, Tachibana gives us a prolonged stage-like shot of Moomin on the left and Snufkin on the right, underlining the tense situation between them; this leads, in turn, to a series of cuts between direct views of the two, both of them clearly determined to get his way at the expense of the other’s.

As the dramatic, climactic rendition of Snufkin’s theme starts up, Snufkin begins walking forth nevertheless, with Moomin initially trying to keep his ground as Tachibana gives us another brief close-up of his determined face—but he quickly loses his composure and runs over to Snufkin outright, grabbing onto him desperately as he breaks down and begs him not to go! Tachibana’s focus is exclusively on the powerful drama and not on Moomin’s emotional histrionics as he maintains the distant stage-like shot, in turn cutting to a view behind the seemingly cold, distant Snufkin and trucking out to reveal the wider dramatic landscape where this is taking place as Snufkin admits that, if he had gone to say goodbye to Moomin before leaving, his resolve would have inevitably wavered, assuring him emphatically nevertheless that he will never forget him. As Moomin begins to object to the very idea of parting from Snufkin, Tachibana reveals that the Inspector, Pappa, and Sorry-oo have caught up to them—valuable eyewitnesses of what is to ensue shortly.

Snufkin continues to look down at the sobbing Moomin, his scarf blowing in the wind as he remains seemingly unmoved by his tears. But just as Moomin, perhaps realizing this, gets up and panickedly shouts “NO!!” in a last-ditch effort to stop him, he begins to elaborate: looking on at the path ahead of him with renewed determination, he makes it clear that the bat’s life is much more important than for him to stay in the beautiful but superstition-blinded Moominvalley, with Tachibana visually conveying this by way of a grand pan from the fog-covered trees below the cliff to the bat in the basket, the camera’s focus in turn shifting to the latter. At last, Moomin realizes what he must do as Tachibana focuses intensely on his gentle, soulful, yet knowing eyes, staring at the bat as it awakens and begins chirping—in a truly pivotal slow-motion moment, Moomin begins to draw his hand ever-closer to the bat, whispering that it’s not a vampire at all…allowing it to bite him, much to the extreme shock of the Inspector, Pappa, and the cowering Sorry-oo as conveyed by rapid cuts between their horrified selves, with Seiichirō Uno’s over-the-top dramatic horror music starting up in a perfect expression of their belief that Moomin is now transforming into a vampire!

Yet, as he trembles in pain from the bat’s prolonged bite, nothing of the sort is happening to Moomin—and Snufkin, looking on with understated awe at Moomin’s courageous act of self-sacrifice, cannot help remarking on what a one-of-a-kind fellow he is. As he gently puts the basket down, he delicately frees Moomin’s now-bleeding finger from the bat’s teeth, in turn tearing some cloth ruggedly with his teeth and wrapping it as a bandage around the finger, alleviating Moomin’s pain. Moomin cannot help looking bewilderedly at how his bandaged finger no longer hurts, warming up with a gentle smile as he assures Snufkin as much—at last, as Snufkin smiles back at him, we have seen both of these wonderful lads shine in their true, unrelenting humanity and love and care for nature, and for each other.

A sense of normalcy begins to return from this point on, as Uno’s gentler rendition of the series’ theme song starts up. Looking out from behind Pappa to find that Moomin is okay after all, Sorry-oo happily rushes out and pounces into Moomin’s arms, licking him lovingly on his snout as Moomin laughs tickledly; he is followed by the Police Inspector and Pappa, who, playing their respective roles, ask if Moomin is okay and express amazement that he would go as far as to get himself bitten by the bat. It is then, with all these other folks now present, that Snufkin stands up with the bat: Tachibana perfectly portrays the reversion to his usual elusive, mysterious, even distrustful demeanor in the way he stares ahead blankly with a shadow covering his face, as behind him Pappa tries to ask if he’ll indeed return to Moominvalley—and at this, the Inspector interjects that he certainly will, nodding solemnly in a decisive show of his approval now that he has seen the truth behind the bat with his own eyes. And so, Moomin and Sorry-oo prance around in jubilation, with Tachibana giving us an especially beautiful, pivotally slow-motion view of Moomin’s extraordinary bliss as he jumps happily amidst the gorgeous light of the setting sun, his still-visible bruises reminding us of the valiant struggle it took to reach this happy ending. Meanwhile, Snufkin looks on pensively, no doubt struck by Moomin’s joy deep down as Tachibana trucks in on him slowly; soon, he raises his head up, perhaps quietly acknowledging that things are beginning to look up after all…

Finally, we see the stars twinkling beautifully in the night sky, symbolizing that all is well in Moominvalley again, as Tachibana pans down to reveal Moomin at the top of a hill against the bright yellow moon, holding Snufkin’s guitar as he earnestly calls on him to come and set his tent back up and all. With his still-bandaged hand, he strums the guitar for Snufkin’s pleasure, chuckling at the wonderful sound that comes out as he continues to wait eagerly for him—and as the slow version of Snufkin’s theme starts back up once more, no longer underscoring Moomin’s sadness but instead his and Snufkin’s profound sense of inner peace, we see the hitherto-enigmatic Snufkin look up at last with a truly touched, emotional expression, shedding tears as he realizes just how truly blessed he is to have a friend like Moomin. And so, Tachibana trucks out on the brightly-glowing yellow moon, showing the silhouettes of Snufkin, Moomin, and Sorry-oo walking together towards the horizon in the night…bringing this masterpiece of an episode, in which we see just how much Snufkin is willing to risk ostracization and banishment for the sake of a fellow living creature, and just how much Moomin in turn is willing to risk his very life for Snufkin to stay, to a beautiful close.

Fittingly for the month, and following on the heels of The Curse of the Red Moon, October 1972 began with two more horror-themed, supernatural episodes, both written by Eiichi Taji. Episode 39, The Laughter Mask, was directed by Wataru Mizusawa, and it is particularly notable as the first of only two episodes to be dominated entirely by the unique character animation of Toshiyasu Okada, who is credited as the animation director. It would seem that Okada had returned to working from Ad 5 by this time, as the animation is credited to an “Okada Group”, just as it was in his few credited involvements on Andersen Monogatari; Ad 5 leader Minoru Tajima’s known involvements on that series, too, initially credited the animation to a “Tajima Group” before eventually crediting Ad 5’s junior animators like Minoru Nakamura and Hidemi Maeda. Okada’s animation, with its natural timing and understated attention to detail in the acting and movement, certainly gives a distinctive flavor and weight to this very creepy story, in which Sniff, finding that a “laughter mask” with special powers has made him a hit at the annual Mask Festival, continues to wear it against the warnings of the old mask-maker, with dire consequences for himself and Moominvalley at large.


We begin on what seems to be another lovely early-autumn day in Moominvalley, the birds chirping as a strange old man sets up shop on the edge of town: it is obvious that this is no ordinary traveling merchant, as he sets up a display of bizarre, freaky masks, their decorative exoticism underlined as Mizusawa pans over the completed display. As the mask-maker then gets back to work on a particularly intriguing mask of his own (notice the elderly exertion with which he pulls out the mask and his little hammer), Mizusawa brings us into the village itself, where the Police Inspector is having a difficult time trying to set up some special festival lanterns amidst the barking Snork’s commands. As Moomin and his pals watch these preparations amusedly, it all culminates in the Inspector climbing onto the tree-based column and standing up on it with guarantees from Snork that it is safe—and quickly losing his balance as the kids panic, with most of them bracing for the inevitable impact—all except for Moomin, who instead looks on with even greater horror, and visibly flinches as the Inspector crashes to the ground! (Note the realism with which Okada animates Moomin’s flinch, as he briefly throws his arms up in reflexive shock while drawing back slightly before actually scrunching up!) Of course, the punchline is that the misguided Snork is now completely humbled, crushed beneath the weight of the portly Inspector as the kids break out in laughter over his utter humiliation; with that, they head off to obtain their masks for the upcoming festival.

Mizusawa pans over the mask display once again as most of the kids enthusiastically take the masks for themselves and their families. But Sniff does not seem to find any of these masks to his liking, looking back and forth over the display indecisively as we see the old mask-maker is now polishing his special mask from earlier, taking an occasional glance to check on the kids from time to time. As the masked My, playfully scaring her pal Sniff, then tries to coerce him to choose a mask faster, the mask-maker (voiced by Tamio Ōki) speaks up to calm My down, assuring her that Sniff will choose the mask he likes with particularly great care—and it is then that Sniff takes notice of the maker’s own mask, his ensuing intrigue conveyed by Mizusawa’s zooms-in on the mask and Sniff himself, with the polished mask even gleaming attractively in the sunlight (some more careful animation from Okada and his team) as Mizusawa gives us an especially close look. No doubt realizing that its pointy-nosed structure is a perfect fit with his own face, Sniff enthusiastically decides: this is the mask he’ll take! But as anyone could expect, he is sternly refused by the old mask-maker: this laughter mask is his pride and joy, and was not made to be worn with costumes. For the time being, Sniff has no choice but to choose another mask, with the encouragement of his friends doing little to assuage his renewed hesitance in this regard.

Soon, as My, Moomin, and Nonnon happily march off with their stash of masks, Sniff lags behind, clearly unsatisfied with his current choice. Sneakily, with the others no longer keeping an eye on him, he takes the opportunity to run back to the mask-maker: for the rest of the afternoon, he just sits there and watches the old man polish his truly-coveted mask, pining for it unrelentingly. As the evening begins to arrive, the mask-maker glances back to find that Sniff is still sitting behind him, and finally, as the sun is setting, he glances once more to find that Sniff is still there—and with that, he suddenly pounds his pipe against his case, ritually symbolizing his change of mind as he resigns himself to Sniff’s desire for this laughter mask. But the old mask-maker warns the elated lad ominously before handing it to him: masks that are used in the Mask Festival must be burnt on the same night, and Sniff is to be especially wary of this laughter mask in this regard. By no means should he even think of holding onto it for later—a warning that Sniff will, alas, inevitably disregard as he runs off with the mask of his dreams…

At the Moominhouse, Mizusawa gives us a glimpse of how the other villagers are preparing for the Mask Festival. As Mamma finishes making Moomin’s costume, Pappa steps down the stairs in his own creepy getup, making bizarre noises and spreading the left side of his cape out dramatically; clearly this is a masquerade where the kids and adults alike will be able to let loose, as Pappa remarks to Mamma that it’s a swell thing regardless of how old they are, much to Moomin’s surprise. Mamma begins to put on her own costume as she wishes the mask-maker well—just look at the intricate animation of her hands as she ties around herself!—while Pappa explains to the rather confused Moomin that this night of self-indulgence is quite necessary even for the adults, so that they’ll all be able to live their lives more fully from then on. (I love his affected, archaic language, in keeping with the Gothic spirit of it all, as he declares his family’s departure for the festival!)

And so, Mizusawa takes us to the Mask Festival, beginning with a grand view of all the strung-up lanterns as he brings us into the very heart of the celebration: the masked Snork is conducting the rustic festival music from Fire Festival To Usher In Spring as we see all the dressed-up, bizarrely-masked villagers dance around joyously in a two-ringed circle! The dance continues as My, holding onto the enthusiastic Sorry-oo, wonders where Sniff is; soon, we pan over the lively banquet table as all the villagers enjoy themselves, with Snork amusingly toasting to the health of the festival only to spill his glass of wine onto his mask, not realizing that he is still wearing it. At that point, however, everyone suddenly goes silent: a mysterious, elegantly-dancing masked figure is approaching them all, laughing deeply and ominously as he prances onto the stage and pulls off some dance steps. The kids quickly realize that it is none other than Sniff, clearly possessed by his mask as they marvel at his expert moves: with that, the creepily-masked Sniff jumps down from the stage and takes Nonnon by her hand, beginning a skillful dance with her as the excited Snork starts the music back up! The expertise with which Okada and his team animates Sniff and Nonnon’s little dance, with all its understatedly exuberant twirls and steps, perfectly conveys how impressive Sniff’s newfound skills are to all present.

Later that night, as the festival comes to an end with only the moon still lighting the sky amidst the darkened lanterns, all the masks are thrown into the fire. Everyone looks on sadly at this sight, symbolizing as it does the end of their revelry, with Pappa underlining the finality of it all as he solemnly announces that they shall return to their usual selves beginning tomorrow. Soon, the fire is reduced to smoldering ashes, and everyone departs for the night—all except My, who has noticed that Sniff has gone missing, with Moomin dismissing her worries by suggesting he has simply gone home before everyone else. Eventually, she gets fed up and leaves as well—and that’s when it turns out that Sniff, still masked, has been hiding the whole time. He takes the mask off to look at it admiringly, knowing full well that he has become everyone’s favorite person thanks to it—and it becomes clear that he will not burn it for love of his newfound fame, putting it back on as he laughs mischievously while the ashes continue to smolder…

The next morning, things seem to be back to normal as Pappa yawns and stretches out the window of the Moominhouse, and Snork busies himself singing and admiring his face in the mirror as he shaves outside. Just as he turns away to wipe himself, however, the masked Sniff takes out the mirror glass and sticks his own face through the frame—surprising the vain Snork with what he perceives to be his uglified face, to the point where he tries calling on Nonnon to become flustered with him at the alleged trick mirror! When Nonnon simply laughs at his amusing attempt to demonstrate the distortion of his face, he then tries dragging her over, only to find that the mirror is back to normal—which proves to be the setup for another scare as Sniff suddenly pulls the glass off, horrifying the two siblings with his stark, eerie masked face! So begins the mask-possessed Sniff’s frightful rampage, as he successively jumpscares Mr. Hemulen (just look at the way he stumbles around on the ground dazedly afterwards), the Police Inspector, and Mymble—and from there goes all around town to frighten the villagers, as symbolized by an extended, unsettling shot of him wandering and twirling like a madman towards us against a dark blue background while images of terrified villagers zoom past us, the horror of it all punctuated by his sporadic laughs. It is clear that Sniff enjoys his new role as the town’s worst nightmare, as he darts into the forest and hides behind a tree, chuckling puckishly even after he removes the mask.

That evening, in the midst of what seems to be another typical evening for the Moomins, Sorry-oo notices an unusual commotion outside: Moomin follows him as My and Nonnon come running up to their door at that moment, alerting him to Sniff’s frightful misdeeds! Sure enough, the masked Sniff is now making his way to the Moominhouse, pursued by an angry mob with torches; all his friends are horrified at his behavior as he is cornered, with My, in particular, shaking her fists frustratedly and wagging her finger at Sniff as she demands that he burn the laughter mask already. But as everyone begins to realize, it is too late now: no matter how much he tries, Sniff physically cannot pull the mask from his face! As a particularly unsettling Seiichirō Uno track starts up, the disbelieving Snork gets fed up and tries to pull it off himself, only to find even he can’t do it—and even his frustration quickly turns to genuine unsettlement as it sinks in for him and the others that the mask has become physically stuck to Sniff’s face. The horror of it all becomes evident, underscored by the dramatically-pounding timpanis, as Sniff begins to openly despair over how the mask can no longer come off—and it all comes to a harrowing climax as Sniff gradually breaks down into an unsettling fit of creepy, trembling laughter completely at odds with his true feelings, with Okada’s strikingly realistic movements and poses as he bends himself to the ground and giggles like a madman, clutching his head as though he were trying to futilely resist the mask’s possession, adding to the disturbance of it all!

As night falls, Sniff has been put to bed in the Moominhouse, continuing to giggle convulsively and uncontrollably as though he has gone insane. Soon, as Mamma and the other worried kids are walking down the stairs to leave the mad Sniff alone for the time being—we abruptly cut to Snork banging his hand on the table, immediately establishing his frustration as he chews everyone out for their inability to come up with any good ideas to help Sniff! It is not as though they aren’t trying, as Mizusawa pans over the troubled and pensive villagers, clearly racking their brains for a solution—and as Mamma goes to deliver milk to Sniff, Snork begins calling the Police Inspector and Mr. Hemulen out by name, whereupon they remind him that he certainly hasn’t come up with any good ideas either. Just as things start to get heated, though, Mamma comes back down and alerts everyone—Sniff has gone missing, much to everyone’s horror!

Mizusawa then abruptly cuts to the old mask-maker pounding his pipe on his case once again, signaling another turn of events as he gets up, cracks his hunched back, and begins packing his mask display up, polishing at least one of the masks before putting it back for good measure. His careful departure—notice how he takes a step towards his case and lowers himself as he takes the strap up, allowing him to put it over his shoulder and carry the case up more easily—is observed by Snufkin; in the meantime, the villagers have split up into groups to search for Sniff, carrying their torches all through the dark valley and calling out for him, as an unnerving audio track consisting only of deep piano drones interspersed with ominous creaking sounds plays up the suspense. Fortunately, the sniffing Sorry-oo soon discovers Sniff’s scent, and quickly leads the kids to Snufkin’s tent, where he is now lying asleep! But before they can rejoice at finding him, Snufkin suddenly returns and explains that he is no longer Sniff: the laughter mask has now completely possessed his body, and only the now-departed mask-maker, perhaps, knows to bring the real Sniff back. And so the kids rush off to the very outskirts of Moominvalley, dragging Sniff along with them, in a desperate pursuit to catch up to the old mask man—I really can’t help pointing out the unusually well-drawn-and-animated rocky terrain that zooms beneath us in the pivotal shot of the mask man coming into sight, thanks to Okada!

As Mizusawa atmospherically establishes the dark, densely forested setting in which the kids meet the old mask man by having the trees part to reveal them, the old man insists that there is nothing more he himself can do, regardless of Moomin and the others’ earnest pleas as the possessed Sniff begins laughing once more. However, there is one very risky solution: he can bring them to ask the Mask Queen herself. The old mask-maker begins setting his masks up all through the surrounding trees to prepare for the ritual to summon her: once this is done, he begins uttering some incomprehensible, increasingly grueling incantations, as the forest and the man himself gradually fade away, with the masks in turn transforming into faceless, shadowy, halberd-wielding guards as their heads rearrange themselves into lines before us! Before we know it, we and the kids are in the throne room of the Mask Queen, as the sound of ominous laughing heralds the appearance of the Queen’s raised platform, her majesty symbolized by the giant mask overlooking it, followed by the Queen herself rising up from the ground.

As the emotionless, mask-faced Mask Queen (voiced by Reiko Senō) calls the children forth, confirming their difficult desire to restore Sniff’s true self as told to her by the old mask-maker, she challenges them to prove that their friendships are powerful enough to win against the supernatural powers of the laughter mask: more specifically, they must steal laughter from the mask and bring tears to its eyes instead. The kids, however, take this the wrong way, thinking that they simply must make Sniff cry. My attempts to punch Sniff, but even her flurry of desperate punches only winds up making him laugh even more intensely; in another great example of the intricacy of Okada’s animation, the very way Sniff throws his hands back to bring them down to the floor in a show of his desperate laughter causes her to lose her footing and fall—and just look at how My’s rage comes through in her very stepping afterwards as she threatens to inflict more violence before Moomin stops, with her emphatic stomps and how she swings and bends her clenched-fist arms threateningly with each step! Nonnon and Moomin, meanwhile, try to tell an extremely heartbreaking story about a little girl named Bibi whose loving mother died, leaving her to have to make a living on her own while suffering under her abusive, drinking father—but Nonnon is unable to go as she breaks down in tears herself, and all the while the possessed Sniff is laughing even more heartily than before, underlining the horrible callousness of the laughter mask!

With these futile attempts, the Mask Queen concludes that it is hopeless, and decides that Sniff has no choice but to be taken away to the Land of Masks—for all eternity. As two of the faceless guards step forth to lift Sniff up and take him away, their bizarre, uncanny presence emphasized by the warped, gloppy burbling sounds that accompany their movements, the kids say their tearful farewells. Moomin assures Sniff that he’ll never be forgotten, and Nonnon regrets that they couldn’t help him; just look at the detailed, heartrending way in which Okada animates Nonnon’s tear streaming down her cheek, ultimately dripping from her chin as it leaves little droplets in its wake. Most touching of all, however, is the reaction of his best friend My: she now regrets that she was always bad with Sniff, as it now sinks in that she’ll be lonely without him—and she breaks down in loud sobs, calling out desperately for Sniff! And miraculously—as the masked Sniff turns around towards My, with Mizusawa closing in on his face to emphasize just what is about to happen, a single tear streams down from the mask’s right eye…

With that, the Mask Queen orders her guards to stop! As they stand down and disappear, she unleashes a burst of magic from her rod, releasing the cursed mask from the crying Sniff’s face at last. As the mask bounces down the steps and lands clatteringly before My, emphasizing how completely powerless it has become, the kids gasp with amazement—and with that, they all run up to Sniff rejoicingly as the Mask Queen fittingly declares that the power of their friendships has won, encouraging them to live happily with each other as she returns them to Moominvalley! Just like that, the Queen’s hall has faded away, and the kids find themselves back in the forest—and before they can thank the old mask-maker who made this possible, they discover that he has been reduced to a mask of his face hanging on a tree, its mysteriousness underlined by the soft iris that Mizusawa surrounds it with. It yields over slightly (look how its eyebrows and mustache actually flutter slightly as it does so, as though it was his real face!), emphasizing how completely lifeless it is now—and with that, it fades away as well…

At last, we see smoke rising up into the air in a subdued spectacle, as Mizusawa pans down to reveal that Sniff and his friends are at last burning the laughter mask by the lake, the flames reflected vaguely in the water. As Sniff watches his once-beloved mask burning as it should, he apologizes remorsefully for the trouble he caused everyone; the other kids noticeably look regretful too as they watch the fire, perhaps feeling that they should have been better friends to Sniff. Soon, the fire dies down, and Sniff’s friends all say goodbye and leave for the night (I find it amusing how all the other folks who were worried about Sniff were completely forgotten after a certain point, which admittedly made for a better, more emotional focus on the kids’ own friendships with the lad), with Sniff, still taking one last long look at this pivotal fire as its death symbolizes the end of a dark time he will never forget, eventually getting up and running off as well. And so another eventful day in Moominvalley comes to a strikingly ordinary end, as all seems to be well again—Sniff may not be the most talented or brave or incredible person in Moominvalley, but to his friends, he is Sniff, and that is what matters most in the end.

The other Eiichi Taji-written episode 40, The Torn Picture Book, is the last New Moomin episode to be directed by Masakazu Higuchi, and in a succinct illustration of the old adage that the third time’s the charm, it is easily his best for the series. While Taji’s script here is admittedly a retread of his earlier episodes in various aspects, the creative plot—in which Moomin and his friends try to create a new ending for a mysterious picture book that is missing its crucial final page, only to be seized and confronted by the book’s witch—allows Higuchi to indulge for the first time in his penchant for fascinating, even stellar visual experimentation that would come to define his best work later in the decade at Group TAC. It helps greatly that, thanks to the animator rotation, Higuchi also got to animate part of his own episode this time, with Mitsuo Shindō and Masateru Yoshimura, naturally, handling the rest.


Higuchi opens with a lyrical view of leaves being blown fancifully from a tree, signifying that autumn has arrived in Moominvalley as we come to the Moominhouse. Moomin is in a very good mood, as Nonnon has just recovered from her illness, but he wants to give her a very special and unusual present to congratulate her; Pappa, for his part, is in an unusually pensive and seemingly indifferent mood lately, giving only the tersest responses to everything Moomin says (most notably “indeed”) as he sits in his rocking chair without even looking at Moomin. Certainly, My’s and Sniff’s respective presents of a hand-knitted scarf and a sewing box are the last kinds of things he wants to give; as he sits on the dock and throws rocks into the churning sea (introduced by a cinematic shot showing Moomin’s point of view as he looks down at the sea), clearly at a loss, he notes that Nonnon already has seven scarves and four sewing boxes.

As in the earlier Taji-written The Unvanishing Ghost, Too-Ticky is in an unusually poetic mood, and sets off the plot by giving a strange item to Moomin. In this case, though, the cause is inverted: Moomin actually praises her lovely poetry relating to the awfully blue sky (I just love the way she paces back and forth pensively, ultimately ending on a soulful, melancholic look at the sky as she declares her heart ended up falling into it), and she, in turn, bequeaths a “childish” picture book she found at the beach to Moomin practically as a token of her gratitude. Suffice to say, it seems to be the perfect gift for Nonnon, as she swoons over its old-world-style fairy tale illustrations; she then dances her way to the stairs and twirls enchantedly as she skips back up to her room, singing how she can’t wait to read it! (Very wonderful animation here…)

The next morning, as the autumn leaves continue twirling in the air, Moomin wakes up and stretches out the window as usual, with Higuchi giving us another of his interesting cinematic camera angles as he looks down and asks the waiting Sorry-oo what they’ll do today. But then, the far-off My and Sniff call for him—Nonnon has been laid up in bed once again! We get an instant cut to an extreme close-up of Snork, hurtling us abruptly into his unexpected rage as he begins scolding Moomin for giving Nonnon the book: as it turns out, her gentle self has been troubled since last night over the ultimate fate of the book’s princess, as the very last page has been torn off right as she is about to be stabbed by a witch! So, Moomin and his friends decide to ask Too-Ticky if she knows about the last page, with Nonnon sneaking off as well right as the overly-concerned Snork is finishing up an ice pack—resulting in another epic Snork fit as he screams and unthinkingly slams the ice pack on his head in his rage, in turn shivering and trembling violently (just look how he bends his hands out in his flinching over his freezing head) as he realizes how cold it is!

Higuchi then bides his time as we get some pure exposition. Too-Ticky says that the book was always torn like that, her brief interaction with Moomin and the others shown in a distant shot of the dock underlining how no progress has been made in their search for answers; this is then followed by a slow, gradual zoom-in on the Moominhouse as we hear Moomin relating to Pappa how the Police Inspector and Mr. Hemulen didn’t have any answers either, further conveying how the kids have ultimately gone nowhere of any real interest. As Mamma begins assuring the downtrodden kids that she’ll bake a pie later (just like in the Taji-written Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror!), Moomin asks Pappa what they should do—only for him to respond once again with just “indeed”, much to Moomin’s fed-up anger! This, along with Mamma’s own discontent, forces Pappa to reveal he actually was thinking of a solution: the kids can draw their own pictures and come up with their own ending to the book! Mamma, in turn, adds that she can then bind the new pages to the book—and with that, the kids all run up the stairs to begin creating their own ending, their excitement restored.

So, Higuchi gives us an extended interlude of the kids being kids, having fun as they show off their creative chops. They begin by drawing straws to decide who’ll draw what, with Nonnon delightedly getting the princess, My being dissatisfied with her role as the witch, Moomin announcing that he’s the backgrounds and text, and the confidence-lacking Sniff hesitating to admit that he’s the prince who’ll rescue the princess. Soon, they have decent crayon drawings of the witch and the princess—but as My goes to check on Sniff, it turns out he’s drawn a childish, crude-looking prince and horse! He then tries to evade the reckoning of his bad prince-drawing skills by suggesting that they just leave the prince out of the story and let the princess get killed after all—an idea that horrifies even My, in addition to saddening Nonnon and angering Moomin! And so, Sniff is forced to redraw the prince—and winds up with an ingenious idea as he inserts his easy-to-draw self as the heroic prince, in turn convincing the others that they should make themselves princes in the story as well!

Soon, as Higuchi reminds us of the autumnal setting with another view of leaves falling outside the window, the kids have completed their handiwork. We get a fun slideshow of their crayon drawings: the five princes Moomin, Nonnon, Sniff, My, and Sorry-oo rush in to save the princess, beating the witch up spectacularly and earning a grand feast as they live with the princess in her castle happily ever after! The kids all applaud and cheer, but just as they are about to finalize it all, Sorry-oo begins panicking and drawing everyone’s attention to the book: it has begun lifting itself up on its own, in turn sliding down to the ground as everything around it goes black, and from there zooms up to a frightening degree as it effectively sucks the kids up, their supernatural capture conveyed by how the screen closes in on their terrified selves as it twirls around faster and faster!

Mamma begins knocking on the door to let the kids know that her pie is finished; hearing no response, she comes in to find the room mysteriously abandoned, underlined by the window curtains blowing in the wind. As Pappa amusedly assumes that the kids simply went out to play, he flips through their finished pictures of themselves barging into the story, finding them rather crude; it is then that Mamma looks through the book and points him to what appears to be a much better illustration of the kids lying right over the witch on the last non-torn page, nevertheless finding their placement weird—and not realizing that these are the trapped kids as Pappa brushes it off as simply their odd ideas! Higuchi gives us some especially impressive shots from the kids’ point-of-view, beginning with an actively-distorting extreme close-up on the faces of Moomin’s parents staring at the book; this is followed by some additional stretched-out, diagonal views as they leave the room, while Moomin’s muffled voice tries to call out to them. We then get a slow, tense close-up on the picture book that contrasts the tranquil outside world with the commotion inside as the kids clamor over their uncomfortably trapped selves, and this leads to a shot of the ceiling from their spectacularly distorting point of view as Moomin begins to encourage them all to break free—and with that, after a prolonged struggle, they all fall to the book’s ground, with Higuchi’s unusually-angled views of their falls conveying a real sense of space as they officially enter the picture book’s world!

As the witch (voiced by Terue Nunami) cackles at the kids’ misfortune, she reveals that she personally trapped them in the picture book to prevent them from adding their new ending: according to her, the princess is in fact another witch in disguise, and she herself is the true hero, trying to prevent this witch from taking her castle. The princess (voiced by Michiko Hirai) emphatically denies this, claiming that she was indeed going to be saved by a prince before the last page of the book was torn off, and a dilemma ensues as the witch berates her statements as lies: both of the women go on to claim that she is the only way the kids will be able to return to the real world, encouraging them to help her out at the expense of the other. At this time, the conflict between the women is depicted by way of their motionless, illustrated selves, serving as a sort of predecessor to the art-and-illustration-based episodes of Group TAC’s Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi, the series in which Higuchi truly began to shine; incidentally, while the excellent picture-book crayon backgrounds here would seem to be the work of Naoshi Yokose, Higuchi also once recalled that they might have actually been his own artwork!

In the end, Moomin leaves the decision up to Nonnon, as it was for her sake that this all began: naturally, she chooses to help the princess, much to the witch’s anger! And so the amazing climax of the episode, beginning with a struggle to distract the witch as the princess is freed and then turning into a full-on chase and battle, commences—and just like the climactic chase of Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror, it appears Masakazu Higuchi animated most of it himself, imparting the sequence with impressive fluidity and energy. As Moomin, Sniff, and My charge towards the giant witch, she comes alive in a series of cross-dissolves—and her picture-book self continues to come through in her strikingly painterly coloring as she begins trying to stab Moomin and the others with her giant sword, her larger-than-life stature conveyed by more of Higuchi’s unusual angles and close-ups and his mobile camera as he follows the witch’s moves! Eventually, Moomin and pals climb onto the sword, allowing them to fall right onto the witch’s face and bash it as she raises her sword up once again! In the meantime, Nonnon and Sorry-oo free the disappointingly unpainterly princess, and as they begin escaping, Moomin and the others slide down the witch’s cloak and tumble along the ground to join them in another impressively-angled, mobile shot; the witch then turns to find everyone escaping, with the background changing in a reflection of her powerful, world-bending agitation, and begins pursuing them, charging right towards us and overtaking the screen frighteningly as she does so!

Everyone heads into the cabin—its darkness conveyed by how the screen goes pitch-black for a while as all the kids panic, before a light begins shining towards the top-right corner of the screen to symbolize that they are nearing the other side—and emerges from a giant tree to find that they are now on the previous page, in which the princess is getting caught by the witch. Realizing that they can go back to the very beginning of the story to confront the witch directly, Moomin and pals begin rushing forth, with Higuchi giving us an incredible double-exposure montage of the kids running in place as pages flip past them while the actual illustrations and text in the book scroll by. Finally, they arrive right where the witch is just starting to trick the princess, shouting for the princess to run away—whereupon the witch gradually comes alive once again, raising her crook up in slow-motion as she berates the kids, and in turn trying to slam it right onto them, the drama played up by the brief shot of the princess drawing back in fright and then the sudden cut to the massive crook landing screen-shakingly on the ground! So, Moomin and pals begin to run off once again as the painterly witch pursues them (just look at the intense graphic novel-like shading on her face as she turns towards them! perhaps some Ashita no Joe influence on animation director Hiromitsu Morita’s part, given he had worked on that show just prior to New Moomin?) into the impressionistic forest, with Higuchi giving us an especially iconic shot of the witch looming over the kids as they run right towards us.

Soon, they are cornered at a well—and the cackling, gloating witch makes one last-ditch effort to crush them, going as far as to completely obliterate the roof of the well as she swings her crook horizontally in another staggeringly mobile shot that pans over all the incredible action as it happens! (Major kudos to cameraman Kenichi Yoshizaka.) Finding that her crook is now tangled in the ropes of the well—and that, as shown in a dramatically brief shot, the rope is now stopped from going any further by the pail on the other side as it is barred by the pulley—the witch tosses away her crook and directly closes in for the kill with sadistic glee—and it is then that Sorry-oo, in a remarkable moment of bravery, runs up the well and bites her nose, causing her panicked self to fall twirlingly down the deep well in a gloriously dramatic end, zooming right through us and bringing some rocks down with her! We get a brief tear-jerker moment as the kids assume Sorry-oo has fallen in with her, calling desperately for him down the well in vain—but then it turns out he’s hiding in fear right beneath Moomin, and they all rejoice as Moomin tosses him into the air and twirls him around for his amazing near-sacrifice!

But as this abridged but no less spectacular version of a classic Disney film climax winds down, with all the kids thinking about either going home or staying behind to tour the castle and have a grand feast like in their ending, the princess reveals—she really is a witch in disguise, breaking poor Nonnon’s heart and angering Moomin as he realizes they’ve been deceived! Nevertheless, this witch will keep her promise to return them to the real world: she now zooms up to the kids in a series of cross-dissolves, emphasizing her truly supernatural, uncanny nature, as she begins to admit that she was very happy that Nonnon worried about her, in turn resolving that she will remain a kind princess from now on as she accepts the children’s invented ending. Urging them to finish the book and continue thinking of her as a true princess from now on, she bids them goodbye and fades back to her illustrated self—and the shining light that emanates from her suddenly flashes, the brightness conveyed with a strikingly monochromatic shot in which only the unlit areas on the sides of Moomin and Nonnon are visible, as they are brought back to the real world! The tension and mysteriousness of their return is conveyed by the cuts between different parts of Moomin’s room as one of Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s unnerving whirring sounds drones on, culminating in a disorienting overhead view looking down directly upon the kids as they suddenly find themselves back in the room, not quite knowing how they got here. Running over to the picture book and looking at the last page once again, My and Sniff carelessly begin to remark on how the princess was the witch all along—but Moomin chides them, reminding them that she’s a genuine princess now, with Nonnon happily confirming as much. Even the most wicked witches, perhaps, are not beyond redemption, if they are shown just how kind and caring others can be even to them…

With that, Mamma binds the kids’ new ending onto the picture book, re-gifting it to Nonnon as a complete present to celebrate her full recovery. But as she, My, and Sniff begin to run off to play, Moomin is still bothered: just like in Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror, Pappa does not seem very willing to believe Moomin’s story of what happened with the picture book, even in spite of his own fantastical experiences. In the end, as Moomin looks back at the seated, pensive Pappa in the window in the midst of rushing off with Sorry-oo to join the other kids, he can only accept that Pappa is a rather enigmatic man, whose true thoughts on a given matter may not be immediately revealed as he perhaps encourages Moomin to reach his own conclusions and beliefs; with that, he continues to run off with his friends, as we end this fun and visually stunning episode on a repeat of the lyrical opening pan with the autumn leaves. Even as things seem to have ended as normally as always, winter is now approaching ever more closely, and with it the end of all these adventures…

We now come, alas, to two flawed classics in episodes 41 and 42. Both feature rather unusual stories, and were respectively directed by Yū Tachibana and Mitsuo Kobayashi, the two up-and-coming directors who had already distinguished themselves with some of New Moomin’s most outstanding episodes. More crucially, though, both had their animation outsourced to lower-quality studios, after a whole streak of eight episodes from Pappa All Alone to The Torn Picture Book in which the series had managed to avoid just that. Perhaps it was inevitable that the show’s adverse production would catch up to it, and maybe Rintarō handed these two doomed episodes to Tachibana and Kobayashi for precisely that reason—their exceptional direction certainly elevates them beyond the throwaway episodes they could have been. But in a way, that’s also why the dilapidated results are so frustrating: had their storyboards been followed through with actual good drawings and animation, they could have easily been some of the series’ absolute finest episodes.

Episode 41, Language Is Disappearing?, has a very interesting high-concept story from Ariyoshi Katō to begin with: for some reason, letters and numbers, sounds, and then language itself begin to disappear in Moominvalley! Unfortunately, the animation was thrown to Studio Look, which months earlier had been working on Mushi Pro’s Kunimatsu-sama no Otōridai; while Toyoo Ashida’s animation direction ensures that the character drawings are at least relatively on-model, the actual animation is very uneven, ranging from decent in some shots to downright primitive in others. Naturally, this leaves Yū Tachibana’s fascinating slow-burn direction as the primary highlight: by now, he has settled upon a distinctive approach, even more than in The Curse of the Red Moon. He is often intimately focused on the characters and what they do, feel, or are themselves focused on at a given time—witness the scene of Moomin idly kicking a rock ever further along in his restlessness over how he has seemingly nothing to do after letters and numbers disappear, his relentlessness emphasized by the repeated cuts to the rock’s new position; or the rapid-fire cutting between Moomin and Snufkin that emphasizes their jolt as the concert in the Snork mansion suddenly goes silent, heralding the disappearance of sounds; or the quiet scene towards the climax of Snufkin trying to fix the broken clock that has turned out to be responsible for the disappearances, the tension as it seems to be feasible with extra care underlined by the cuts between extreme close-ups of him and Moomin and his various actions as he takes up screws and tries to screw them into the machinery of the clock, as well as the complete silence save the diegetic clinking of the pieces.


To be sure, Tachibana also demonstrates a penchant for comedy as well, in the scenes depicting the increasingly ludicrous chaos and disorder that come about as a result of the disappearances. The most outstanding sequence in this regard is when what should be another ordinary day in Moominvalley goes horribly wrong as a result of the disappearance of sounds: Mamma does not notice the pot burning until she begins to actually smell it, and by the time she arrives, it has begun flaring up! On Moomin’s hasty suggestion, she throws it out the window—and so begins a chain reaction of disaster as Pappa’s ladder flares up, causing him to panickedly throw his paint bucket onto Sorry-oo, who in turn blindly bounces around and sabotages not only Snork’s attempt to paint Nonnon but also Sniff’s cart, which barrels down the mountain and sends Mr. Hemulen flying all the way to the sleeping Muskrat! There’s also the ludicrous sequence of the villagers trying to practice language in the town square: Tachibana trucks in and out on everyone’s mouths, emphasizing the nonsensical, gradual disappearance of their voices as they are more and more reduced to making bizarre munching and grunting sounds! In addition, Tachibana can also be quite theatrical where needed: before this, when Snufkin attempts to strum his guitar only for no sound to come out to confirm that sounds have disappeared, the environment fades to darkness save some spotlights shining down on everyone, symbolizing that their world has become that much more of a strange, sinister, and frightening place to them.

For that matter, the episode’s story is also a marvelous opportunity for audio director Atsumi Tashiro and sound designer Mitsuru Kashiwabara to shine. Early in the episode, as Snork and Mr. Hemulen are losing it over their wiped-out books and stamps, Tashiro actually plays the music track here in reverse, adding to the warped absurdity of the situation. Later, once it becomes clear that sounds have disappeared, Kashiwabara underscores how seemingly deaf the entire valley has become save the characters’ voices as he accompanies bucolic shots of a beautiful new day in Moominvalley with nothing but a static-like whirring sound, making the complete lack of sounds as we see the birds flying around and chirping, the Police Inspector’s cuckoo clock in action, the waves flowing onto the beach, and Too-Ticky trying to use her barrel organ in vain all the more frustrating and troubling.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this episode, however, is how Tachibana’s direction is at times strangely distant, in a way that seems to specifically emphasize that the characters are doing what they’re doing amidst the surroundings of their dwellings or Moominvalley at large, often using this to create remarkably strong senses of space and atmosphere. This approach is most obviously exemplified in his treatment of the repairman (voiced by Sanji Hase) who wanders about idly throughout the episode, repeatedly advertising himself in the midst of a Moominvalley that at first seems too bucolic and peaceful to have any technology in need of repairs, and then is too concerned with other pressing issues to notice him: his constant, bizarrely ordinary presence as an outsider unaffected by the changes plays up the insanity of everything else happening around him. But it reaches its height towards the very end, as Moomin and Snufkin decide to give the irreparable clock a proper, less ignominious resting place away from the villagers’ wrath: we get a grand view of the sunset sky above a slope as a squawking flock of birds flies back to their nests, creating a thrilling sense of adventure as the silhouetted Snufkin and Moomin begin making their way up the slope, heading out to a place far beyond the village. Soon, we see that the two lads are leaving the clock inside a large tree—and in a move that impresses Snufkin, Moomin goes as far as to memorialize the clock, setting up a sort of shrine around it. And so, as the leaves begin to blow from the tree in the oncoming wind, making clear that autumn is ever more drawing to a close, the music box beneath the clock begins chiming a melancholic F-minor version of Beethoven’s “Für Elise”—and Tachibana’s distant views take on an especially elevated purpose as we begin flashing back to all the scenes of the Moomins’ lives that the old clock has seen over its lifetime, culminating in this very moment as it watches Moomin and Snufkin walk away into the cold, chilly night amidst the whirling autumn leaves, the two of them observing how winter is coming soon. So we end this strange experiment in filmmaking on a surprisingly touching note, as we hear the last chimes of the little music box twinkling in the night…

The Keisuke Fujikawa-written episode 42, Flap Your Wings! Pegasus, involves the vindication of Mr. Hemulen’s longtime devotion to a fantastical tale of two pegasuses who were separated after an ancient earthquake in Moominvalley, as their remains miraculously re-emerge and eventually come back to life to reunite with each other in a show of their eternal love. Arguably even more than in The Door Into Summer, Mitsuo Kobayashi displays a mastery of atmospheric, detail-oriented, pensive filmmaking here. Unusual, scenic views of the characters and their surroundings abound, often in tandem with Kobayashi paying special attention to the wondrous natural phenomena we tend to take for granted like the shower of leaves falling from the trees in the forest or the rays of sunlight shining from Mr. Hemulen’s window like a spotlight, and that’s to say nothing of the extreme close-ups emphasizing the characters’ senses of wonder or awe; the latter are evident right from the brilliant first scene, in which Pappa watches closely as the very last leaf on the tree outside the Moominhouse breaks loose from its branch and flutters gently to the ground—the end of autumn is nigh, even as it strangely feels warm on this day. The extreme close-ups are put to especially good use in the extended interlude of Mr. Hemulen excavating the re-emerged white pegasus fossil all through the night: we not only see but feel his intense concentration, the care with which he extracts the bones, all the sweat coming down his face, and the rays of light shining from the lantern and illuminating his view as he begins reassembling the bones, his painstaking, laborious effort underlined by the slow fades between all these views…


Animation-wise, however, this episode marks the return of Japan Art Bureau to New Moomin, and it suffers the inverse of episode 41’s problems in that respect. In a remarkable feat, it was key-animated entirely by Tōru Tanaka, and his movement can be quite fluid for what it is, especially in the incredible sequence of the destructive earthquake that heralds the pegasuses’ return, with all the rocks and boulders that collapse onto the Police Inspector at the Lonely Mountain (and all the dust clouds that result!) and the surprisingly intricate stormy seas as the old sunken island rises back up; for that matter, the white and pink pegasuses are remarkably well-animated, with a sound knowledge of horses’ movements on display. Unfortunately, the actual off-model drawings of the characters themselves, by animation director Norio Yazawa, are frankly repulsive and hard to look at, with poor Too-Ticky and Mymble especially suffering in this respect. There are also a few scenes where the poor production sabotages the ambition in Kobayashi’s storyboards: witness the botched execution, for instance, of the close-up on Moomin rubbing his finger on his hand flusteredly as he tries to figure out how to comfort Nonnon when she begins crying over the pegasuses’ continued separation, or the extremely jittery attempt to have the camera follow the white pegasus as it flies over the hills and the dock on its way to the island in the sea!

Still, there are more than a few shining moments that make this episode very worthwhile, in particular the entire climax as Mr. Hemulen, Moomin, and Nonnon make their way onto the island to witness the now-living pegasuses first-hand. Upon discovering the white pegasus at the top of a cliff, its magical presence emphasized by the numerous rays of painted light emanating from it, the three are suddenly struck by a blinding flash of light from behind them, as a pink flame makes its way onto the cliff to join the white pegasus—it is the pink pegasus, as heralded by another brilliant flash of light! (As in The Door Into Summer, Kobayashi achieves these shining effects with actual light, in a testament to his know-how as an ex-cameraman.) As Moomin, Nonnon, and above all Mr. Hemulen look on at the wonderful sight of the two reunited pegasuses caressing each other, we get a beautiful vision of the two pegasuses now flying through the sky together for real (instead of just as models as seen in Mr. Hemulen’s earlier retelling of their tale), the romanticism of it all underlined by the close-ups on their loving faces and the cinematic views of them galloping along, as well as the lovely bubbles surrounding them, reminiscent of sparkling, unfocused light…

In the end, as the pegasuses have flown off into eternity and the island has sunk back into the sea, Mr. Hemulen is unsure if he really saw the pegasuses, similar to Moomin and Nonnon at the end of The Door Into Summer. But Moomin and Nonnon themselves, this time, are absolutely certain that they did: Kobayashi enchantingly gives us two consecutive, slow pans over to the two children individually, emphasizing how they are now sitting side-by-side as they romantically look out at where the island once was. Once again, they (and Mr. Hemulen) are the only ones to have been blessed with the sight of something truly beautiful, and their shared experience of the two loving pegasuses has in turn brought them that much closer together; with that, Moomin places his arm around Nonnon lovingly, and the two of them walk off together, carrying this special memory in their hearts as Too-Ticky continues to grind her barrel organ like it were any other day in Moominvalley…

In the end, it would seem that outsourcing episodes 41 and 42 was a necessary sacrifice in order to allow the late masterpieces of episodes 43 and 44—which are perhaps the outstanding highlights of New Moomin, if not of 1972 TV animation in general—to be produced under the dire circumstances of the series and Mushi Pro itself. At last, we come to episode 43, Arion’s Lyre, the sole episode of New Moomin to be directed by the legendary auteur Osamu Dezaki, and easily one of the most unsung gems in Dezaki’s extensive oeuvre. It is clear that chief director Rintarō gave Dezaki carte blanche to create the kind of episode he wanted: in a truly emotional, visually stunning masterwork, Moominpappa realizes that his ultimate calling as a poet is to inculcate in Moomin and his friends a sense of awe and wonder about the world around them, in particular the sea in all its vast, majestic glory. Of course, it is rather ironic, given how magnificent this episode is, that the screenplay is credited to none other than Junji Tashiro: it seems obvious that, as would be the case in his various classic series like The Adventures of Ganba and Ashita no Joe 2, Dezaki heavily reworked Tashiro’s screenplay to fit with his own powerful vision, so that even the characters’ more aggressive behavior here naturally arises out of Dezaki’s much more impassioned characterizations of Moominpappa and all, in keeping with the passionate theme of what it means to be an artist. For that matter, the character animation, courtesy once again of the series’ A-team of animation director Hiromitsu Morita and animators Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi, is even more playful and exuberant than usual thanks to Dezaki’s strong influence; this would be the last time that Kanayama, who had been one of the animation directors of Dezaki’s seminal Ashita no Joe, worked under Dezaki until the 1990s.


We open on the episode title superimposed on a beautiful view of the stars in the dark night sky; Dezaki then pans down this incredible sky to reveal the Moominhouse below as we begin to hear Pappa waxing lyrically over the stars. Already, Dezaki conveys the vast darkness of the night much more impressionistically than the other directors in this distant view of the Moominhouse, as the dimly-lit hill on which it stands almost seems to fade away into the pitch-black darkness; the yellow light that emanates from within the house as Moomin heads out to bring a poncho to Pappa, in turn, glows all the more luminously. As Moomin calls out quietly to Pappa from behind, Pappa is so caught up in his poetic musings over the stars shining brightly above them that his noticing of Moomin’s call is delayed for several seconds; as he puts on the poncho, he cannot help lyrically comparing even its tender warmth to the smiles of the stars. Soon, as Moomin begins to run back towards his house, even he cannot help noticing the incredible beauty of the stars above him; ultimately, he resolves to stay outside with the poetic Pappa as Dezaki gives us an especially distant shot of the two beneath the vast starry sky, underlining just how little they are in the face of the immense celestial beauty of the entire cosmos.

Soon, as the dreamy Pappa asks if Moomin understands this beauty too, Moomin notices a shooting star streaking through the sky, with Dezaki notably fading rapidly from Moomin to the starry sky as the shooting star streaks across rather than simply cutting between them; this unique transition underlines that we are being shown a sight that is already filling Moomin with awe, and which we ought to marvel at with him. As Dezaki slowly trucks back from the starry sky, allowing us to further behold the stars in all their beauty, Pappa suggests that Moomin try talking with the stars, and the wind and the sea for that matter—as he puts it, they can speak with just about anyone and be true friends. He begins pointing out certain stars in the sky, as Moomin goes further on ahead to gaze out at them: as it turns out, the diamond-shaped constellation that four stars in particular form, along with another star further off, form the figure of a dolphin! (In a subtle but beautiful detail, these five stars actually twinkle amidst the rest of the stars in the sky, underlining how special they are.) And there exists a legend about this particular dolphin: Dezaki heralds our transition to the ancient world by having the sea fade in wondrously beneath the dolphin, as we begin to learn precisely how this dolphin was immortalized in the skies…

So begins a beautiful, incredible illustrated flashback, retelling the tale of Arion and his lyre: Dezaki’s visual style comes through especially clearly in the way the characters are drawn, to say nothing of the bright, psychedelic, yet painterly pastel-like colors, heightening the passionate emotion and drama within (I assume the final paintings were created by background artist Tomie Inaba), and it is also a perfect example of how Dezaki could create powerful visual storytelling purely through his impeccable storyboarding, even with very little animation. We watch as the enchantment of the crowds watching Arion play his lyre turns to rapturous applause, as conveyed by a fade to a veritable forest of raised, clapping hands amidst the bright yellow-brown sunlight, and we see Arion’s almost melancholic soulfulness as he bows down beneath the spotlight amidst the coins being thrown at him in praise; we then see his hopeful gaze as he looks out at the horizon, his homeland waiting for him out there. But this bliss is terribly interrupted as Dezaki suddenly cuts away to a dark, ominous hand aggressively grabbing one of his bags of prize money: the abrupt and dramatic change in the situation is emphasized not only by the sudden cut in itself but also by the awful crunching, coin-jingling sound that cuts into the lavish harp music and the fast zoom-out on the act, the latter an effective way of conveying of how, when it comes to terrible surprises like these, we often hear or feel the action in itself first and only then realize its full significance. As it turns out, the sailors on the ship are trying to steal Arion’s prize money away, with Dezaki zooming out to reveal just how wicked and consumed by demonic greed most of the sailors are with the ominous grins and pupilless eyes on their faces; the successive, dramatic cuts as Arion tries and fails to stop the sailors, in turn, emphasize the shock, intense turmoil, and inhumanity as this gentle poet is kicked away and brought violently to the floor, charged at, and thrown overboard, with the main sailor smashing Arion’s lyre along the way in a symbolic show of the darkness and total disdain for beauty in his heart.

We hear only the sailors’ deep, muffled, wicked laughs resounding frightfully as Arion begins to drown and drift away in the now-blackened, sharp-edged sea, signifying the apparent triumph of evil and black-hearted greed. But then, the wicked sailors are suddenly overcome with fear as they begin to witness something marvelous, heralded by a rotational zoom-out on Arion’s ruined harp in a symbolic reminder of who is ultimately behind it all: as shown in some cut-out animation, a dolphin has saved Arion, and he begins to swim away into the sea with the other dolphins as the repentant sailors run away to the cabin and prostrate themselves before God for three days and nights, with a golden heavenly light shining upon the cross they bow down to in a symbol of their newly-awakened religious devotion! With that, Dezaki gives us a beautiful, fully-animated view of Arion riding the dolphin as it soars through the air, the awe-inspiring romanticism of it all magnified by the glorious sunset coloring, the sparkling of the dolphin, the streaks of water that flow in its wake, and the mobile camera as we follow the dolphin in such a way as to behold its entire figure: as Pappa narrates, Arion’s beautiful poetry had deeply moved the dolphins even as they listened from beneath the sea. So we end this retelling of the tale of Arion, a valuable reminder of the power of beautiful, heartfelt poetry and how it can move our entire world, on a wonderful sunset view of the majestic sea, its pink and yellow colors reflecting the glorious, shimmering sunset as the dolphins continue to leap away with Arion…

Naturally, as we fade back to the starry night and pan down to rejoin the Moomins, Moomin is quite surprised: how would dolphins, as animals, understand human words? But Pappa assures him that they can indeed understand, as we truck out to behold the spectacular and apparently listening stars of our grand cosmos looming over father and son once again: “Beautiful words, soulful words can communicate with anyone, even the stars, even the wind! We call those beautiful, soulful words true poetry.” So we fade out solemnly for the night, as Pappa’s poncho begins to blow in the wind…

Dezaki then abruptly hurtles us into the excitement of the next day, making clear our shift to the very different and more manic world of Moomin’s friends, as we see My, Sniff, and Nonnon running laughingly and elatedly along the sea with their little boats, followed by Moomin himself yelling excitedly as he runs with his own boat in hand! We see the waves of the sea crashing violently against the cliff, establishing its turbulence on this day, as Moomin and his pals arrive, and this is followed by a series of cuts as their boats are thrown one-by-one into the sea, highlighting the spectacle of how at least three different kids with their own identities (as reflected in the boats!) have come together to participate in this exciting game. As My counts to three, we see the boats continuing to stand by—it turns out that they are waiting for an oncoming wave to really set the boats in motion, with My at last reaching five as Dezaki makes a point of cutting to a more dramatic view of the wave crashing down, signaling the start of the race!

We watch as the boats ride the waves while the kids run along with them rowdily: immediately, it becomes obvious that the two biggest rivals are Moomin and My, both of whom zealously goad their own boats along while insulting the other’s! Naturally, their zeal proves to be their undoing, as their neck-and-neck boats, continuing to ride at the very top of the wave, wind up collapsing with it—and Dezaki once again cuts abruptly to a dramatic shot of the sea crashing down, spectacularly establishing the two rivals’ loss as they find their boats wrecked and beached on the rocks! Nonnon cannot help gloating as she looks down at this sight, from there continuing her race with Sniff; Moomin and My, in turn, begin to argue about whose fault it was that they lost, clearly unwilling to take responsibility for their own selves as we get a first glimpse of how their rivalry and ill-will is not limited to the game itself.

It is then that Moominpappa arrives at the cliffs, and Dezaki initially only shows his legs walking in, reflecting how Moomin and My, in the midst of their argument, would not immediately realize that it was Pappa approaching before he spoke up; he has quite the smile on his face as he carries a large mini-ship of his own from when he was a lad, much to the kids’ amazement! Soon, as the waves of the sea continue to flow beautifully onto the beach (a shot reused from Pappa All Alone), we see My running through the vast, sandy hills, their deep blue color a lovely reflection of the uneven daylight; she is still in a very competitive mood as she tries to exhort everyone to come over and start the second round, growing impatient as everyone else keeps staring at Pappa’s ship. As it turns out, Pappa has written a lovely poem on the boat’s sail, with My, amusingly enough, visibly struggling to read it in her childish lack of advanced vocabulary. So, as Pappa begins to recite his loving tribute to the sea, Dezaki commences a lovely montage of lyrical, often impressively-animated views of the sea, complete with a message-in-a-bottle bobbing in the water (with butterflies perched on them as well!) and a vast expanse of gentle waves flowing endlessly towards us (it is worth pointing out that this particular view of the sea, along with several other shots of the sea throughout this episode, almost seem to be a predecessor to how Dezaki deliberately depicted the sea with animated painted backgrounds in The Adventures of Ganba to better convey its impressiveness: in these particular shots, only the waves are actually animated, flowing over the textured body of the sea as painted by background artist Tomie Inaba), and the continuous fades between these views add to the impression that we are receiving a complete, wide-ranging picture of this single entity that is the sea; it all culminates in a downright magical view as we see the moonlit silhouettes of Pappa and the kids looking out at the dark sea while brightly-colored, blurred lights and sparkles begin to hover romantically over the screen, underlining Pappa’s fantasy that there exists a flower garden at the very edge of the sea—and this segues into a wonderful view of the single red rose that Pappa imagines is in that garden, surrounded by brightly-shining lights that underline just how extraordinary it is.

We now slowly fade to Pappa and the others looking out at the sea silently, their pensive and awe-stricken mood evident as the seagulls continue to cry out above them; this leads to a much more distant view showing them sitting before the big blue sky, once again emphasizing how little they are in the face of the grand world out there. As Pappa walks down and solemnly places his boat in the water, we find out that My does not really understand anything going on, somehow believing that all of this still has to do with their boat races as she chides Pappa for casting his ship down before everyone else’s; the old and mellow Pappa simply responds that his ship is a derelict unfit to race with the other boats, encouraging the kids to instead observe how it is sailing back into the sea after all these years. As Moomin, in turn, begins panicking over how it is speeding away from them, Pappa assures him that it is going back to the flower garden, where it may obtain a red rose: the lovely poem on his sail is his gift to the sea, as Dezaki ends this sequence on another beautiful, semi-silhouetted view of everyone looking out at the shimmering sea, the boat bobbing ever further off amidst the beautifully out-of-focus sparkles of light that look more like twinkling pearls. That night, as Moomin looks up at the starry sky once again, he asks Pappa if writing a poem is difficult; they are then interrupted by Mamma, who coaxes them to sleep, remarking—almost forebodingly, as we shall see—that it is not good for them to stay up late over poetry…

The next morning, Mymble and My are taking a morning stroll along the beach; Dezaki imbues My with some extra carefree childishness as she prances gaily along the shore, even taking up a long branch of washed-up seaweed and carrying it along as she sings a little song about the times of the day and their meals and “la-la-la”ing! It is then that she notices Pappa’s old ship, now washed up on a rock and continuing to be thrashed by the waves. Gloating over how it has come back after all (just look her cocky attitude as she leans in towards the ship while tilting her head with one eye open glancing at it, then settles back into a sort of wiseguy arms-akimbo pose), she goes over and begins to carry it off with the intention of showing everyone and humiliating Pappa—but it is then that she notices that, mysteriously, the ship is now carrying a red rose, and what’s more, the poem on the sail has completely disappeared!

We now relocate to the Moominhouse as Dezaki fades in on the ship, sitting on the table as he trucks backs and fades to reveal the kids (and Mymble) all staring with awe at this profound discovery; in the meantime, Moomin is trying to coax Pappa downstairs. Dezaki again adds some extra personality and flavor of his own to Pappa as the tired father keeps mumbling about his attempts to write even slightly good poetry, in turn trying to continue his rest as he reaches the bottom of the stairs and even confusedly asking what the issue with the table is as Moomin urges him to look at what’s on it; we see how blurry his vision is as he initially tries taking a look, barely able to register the ship and the red rose on it—only to be suddenly overcome with shocked realization right in the middle of his yawn, taking a closer look as he confirms that, yes, there is indeed a red rose on his ship now! A lengthy, uncomfortable silence follows as he continues to stare in half-asleep disbelief at the sight for several seconds—and then he suddenly jolts up in fright, concluding that he must still be half-asleep and dreaming as he tries to bolt back up the stairs!

With that, the kids all begin calling for him to come back down: the way that they run to the stairs one-by-one, each of them saying something different in relation to the issue of the ship, is exactly the kind of quirky behavior that wouldn’t be out of place in the more comedic moments of Dezaki’s series (especially The Adventures of Ganba)—and this is compounded by how Pappa stops and outright walks down the stairs backwards in response, still unwilling to take another look at the unbelievable ship behind him in his lingering anxiety! As he continues facing away, he asks Moomin for assurances that his ship really came back and the poem on the sail is gone; this finally leads to him turning back nervously, the sweat on his face all too visible, as he asks if the single red rose is there as well…finding, sure enough, that it is.

Dezaki then suddenly relocates the action to the seashore as, having perhaps moved the ship back there to get a clearer picture of what has transpired, it at last sinks in for the awe-struck Pappa that there is indeed a rose on the ship; choking for a moment as though he still can’t believe it, he proceeds to reach out tremblingly for the rose, picking it up and sniffing it as he exclaims with joy how truly wonderful this is! This sends the disbelieving My, flustered by Pappa’s repeated expressions of awe, into a rage: pouting and clenching her fists as she bubbles up inside, she begins stomping violently on the ground as she yells for Pappa to speak clearly, even jumping into the air at one point in her frustration! Of course, she only ends up even more confused by Pappa’s response that the sea answered his call, with the way that Dezaki just fades My to her confused look making her reaction even more hilarious; in turn, she jumps out to a better view of sea to begin pointing out how ridiculous it is for such a “flat, splishy-splashy puddle” to come up with a response, her whole body bobbing up and down with her widely-opening, ranting mouth in a show of just how intense her scorn is! More than ever, it is obvious how much leeway Dezaki was given to remold even New Moomin’s character animation in his own vision; My’s acting here has a uniquely frisky, pliable, emphatic quality largely unseen in the rest of the series.

Even as My outright crosses her arms and asks point-blank if Pappa has lost his mind, though, Pappa remains adamant at first that the sea has indeed spoken to him, taking the time and courtesy to read his amateurish poem in spite of being itself a poet without equal—just like how Arion befriended the dolphins, as Moomin points out. But just as Pappa is pontificating once more on the power of beautiful poetry, Dezaki abruptly cuts away to reveal My’s legs are now stamping in the water—once again reflecting how Moomin and Pappa would initially perceive this sudden new development, as it quickly turns out My is now insulting Pappa’s beliefs in an even more rude and contemptible way, jumping up and down on the sea in a mockery of Pappa’s talking to it and declaring she’ll set a boat adrift herself to find out the truth (just look at the way she cocks her head mockingly as she says Pappa’s name) as she cackles sneeringly! As Pappa looks on with bewilderment at My’s relentless contempt for him, Moomin begins to call out My, declaring he believes Pappa—but this only causes her to double down on her mocking skepticism as she begins giggling even more insultingly at Moomin, causing Moomin to nearly go after her in rage before Pappa pulls him back, the vehemence of his anger magnified by how Dezaki has the camera actually follow Moomin in his barely-stopped rampage!

Now much more reserved and hesitant, Pappa begins to admit that he doesn’t feel that the sea’s potential responses to their boats are the kind of thing to experiment with; as he declares that he will nevertheless leave the kids to do as they see fit, it becomes evident that sweat is dripping down his head, an early forewarning that something is not right about Pappa’s claims regarding the sea. As Dezaki cuts to a distant shot of everyone on the beach, making clear the distance that the troubled Pappa is now putting between himself and the kids, Pappa reminds them to write a poem on each of their boats; My, for her part, now rubs her scorn towards Pappa in with a new, triumphant intensity, loudly forcing him to further clarify that the poems must be beautiful and then responding to this sarcastically with boisterous mock-enthusiasm! Still trying to see the best even in My as he assures them all with a weak smile that he’s counting on them, Pappa walks away forlornly.

By now, even Nonnon notices Pappa is troubled, with My giggling and sneering almost victoriously that Pappa clearly has no confidence in his own beliefs. Tensions then flare up briefly as, in a moment of hilarious passion that would not be out of place in Ganba or Dezaki’s episodes of Ganso Tensai Bakabon, Moomin outright screams at My that he believes Pappa no matter what anyone says, with My in turn screeching back that they get it already—and just like that, My reverts to her semi-usual self as she declares it’s time to begin the experiment, practically reveling in her self-appointed leadership as she re-shouts the rules and even jumps up zealously in her demand to know if they all get it, from there declaring that they’ll meet up again in the evening as the kids all run their separate ways for the time being! The cherry on top: Dezaki ends this sequence on a crazed freeze-frame of My running towards the screen, in what can only be described as a prototype of his trademark postcard memories.

As My rushes back to her home, she immediately plants herself in her chair, swiping a quill as she immediately tries to think of a poem in her vehement enthusiasm to get this over with and humiliate Pappa, in turn quickly scribbling down what proves to an insulting drawing of Pappa as she excitedly takes a look at her finished handiwork—and realizes this is not a poem, her hair bun literally withering in dissatisfaction at the drawing. (Naturally, Dezaki gives us a full view of the drawing in all its glorious crudity as she tosses it out.) Meanwhile, Sniff has just gone to sleep on the floor, surrounded by his numerous crumpled-up failed attempts at poems, and Nonnon simply has no idea how to write a poem at all—and neither does Snork, who simply reacts with amused befuddlement when asked about it. As for Moomin, we see him looking out the window above his desk pensively, clearly trying to take Pappa’s directives of a heartfelt, beautiful poem seriously; Dezaki then trucks out behind him to reveal Mamma is watching, in turn going down to tell Pappa.

It is here that we find Pappa in despair, reflected in the very lighting of the room where he now sits, with its sparse spotlight on Pappa amidst the indigo-hued darkness. He does not respond at all as Mamma tries to let him know that Moomin is working hard to create a poem, and when she tries to ask him what’s wrong, Pappa begins to admit that all his tales of the sea speaking to him really were just his own fantasies: he wanted to give dreams to the children, who after all seemed to sincerely believe his tales early on. He then goes on to admit that he was even the one who placed the rose on the ship, purely out of pity and whimsy: as shown in a flashback with beautiful views of the sea and the beach amidst the sunrise, he had in fact taken a stroll early that morning, and found the boat washed up on the beach in bad shape with his poem already wiped off. Delighted that the unknowing kids were afterwards genuinely mystified by the rose and the vanished poem, he thought it was his duty as a poet to take his tales even further—but now, as the kids plan to put it all to the test, he realizes that his attempt to give the children dreams may in fact end up destroying their innocence. Just as his agonizing reaches a height as he desperately tries asking Mamma what he should do, however, he finally discovers—Mamma is no longer even listening to his woes, clearly far too busy with her kitchen duties to listen to Pappa’s venting.

The final straw comes as Pappa again sits all alone in the dark, lonely living room, lit only by the barest minimum of interior lighting as well as the light shining from the sunset outside. At that moment, Nonnon drops by, letting the window-gazing Moomin know that it’s almost time to send the boats off, jolting the sulking Pappa unpleasantly; Moomin then runs out of the house with his boat, as Pappa, listening to it all, continues to sit there in horror. Now reminded of what his fantasies will lead to, the tormented artist Pappa cannot take it any longer—he rushes all the way back to his room crying out in pain, barging the door open! Breathing heavily and anxiously as he stares at the cursed poems on his desk, with sound designer Mitsuru Kashiwabara ensuring we can hear the frustration and mental instability rapidly building up inside him, Pappa proceeds to have a complete breakdown—he charges towards us screaming amidst the Dutch angle of the screen, as Dezaki intensifies the feeling of rampant destruction by giving us rapid cuts to close-ups of all the objects and papers being destroyed and thrown off and stamped upon, culminating in the inkwell spilling all over the screen and turning it almost entirely pitch-black in a striking representation of the darkness that Pappa now finds himself in!!

As we slowly fade to a view of Pappa staring down at his desk amidst his destroyed room, his curtain blowing dramatically in the wind, Pappa concludes that he cannot give the children dreams; this is followed by a close-up revealing he is crying, as he declares that he is not qualified to be a poet. Outside, meanwhile, as the wind also blows the weathervane on top of the Moominhouse, we hear My singing; Dezaki gives us an especially beautiful view of the sunset, its light turning the sea, the sand, and even the silhouettes of the kids some lovely pink-purple hues, as My and the others arrive at the beach. However, as My draws a line in the sand by the sea, indicating where everyone is to stand and release their boats, the others slowly begin to admit one-by-one that they could not even come up with a poem—enraging My, as heralded by the dramatic cut to her stick being thrown on the ground and snapping in turn! But her intense, finger-pointing, arm-flailing castigation of her pals completely falls apart when they try to point out that she could set her own poem adrift, and it becomes clear from her shocked reaction that she doesn’t even have a boat, let alone a poem—caught red-handed, My can only gulp, and admit as much with amused embarrassment.

That night, as shown by the weathervane, the wind has died down, almost in tandem with how Pappa’s reputation is miraculously saved for now; Pappa’s bizarrely relieved disbelief upon hearing from Moomin what happened at the beach is underlined by how completely still he is for a few seconds, to the point that the dumpling dangling awkwardly from his fork eventually falls off from pure gravity. For a brief moment, he is able to wipe the sweat from his brow, still looking very much on edge as though this failure on the kids’ part is too good to be true—and sure enough, it ultimately is: Moomin and his pals will stay up overnight to try and come up with poems in time for tomorrow morning. We see Pappa try to hide his true despair at this news as he chuckles forcedly, slices another dumpling with subtle agitation, and tries to stick the piece into his mouth with a contented look—only for the latter façade to melt as he droops down depressedly, while Moomin, stretching energetically and spiritedly, rushes back upstairs to get to writing.

Another view of the motionless weathervane, making clear that it is still nighttime, leads to another series of views of the kids trying to come up with poems, underscored by the start of Seiichirō Uno’s pensively depressing, quietly devastating music; all are clearly deep in thought and much more committed than usual amidst their darkened settings, with Nonnon in particular even pacing around in front of the snoring Snork. But Pappa, meanwhile, is unable to sleep at all for very different reasons, and in his sleeplessness, he decides to go out to the beach, simply watching the waves flow forth in the beautiful sea; we even get a pan showing all the footprints Pappa has left behind in the sand, underlining how desperate he must be deep down if he would go all the way out here in the middle of the night.

It is then that Pappa hears My, of all people, approaching over the sandy hills, clearly trying to figure out if her sea-related poetry is any good as she loudly recites it; already, this is a stark contrast with her scornful attitude earlier in the episode. Dissatisfied with her current poem, she begins trying to improvise an increasingly agitated and autobiographical poem about how she came to the sea, eventually throwing her paper away in frustration—whereupon it is washed away into the painterly sea pathetically. As she sits down before the sea and begins to tear up, it becomes clear that deep down, she, too, has believed in Pappa’s tales of the sea reading good poetry, and genuinely wants the sea to read her poem—ultimately breaking down crying over how she can’t come up with anything good, as Dezaki gives us a poignant view of the sea’s indifferently rolling waves beneath the moon…

Dezaki then cuts to Pappa’s pipe falling to the sand dramatically, underlining his unspeakable horror as he is now confronted directly with the anguish that his tales have led to. We get a series of increasingly distant views of Pappa as he begins to call for My ever more loudly, the last of them finally revealing the crying My before him as she hears Pappa’s call and looks up. With that, Pappa runs over to try comforting her, attempting to explain the truth behind the ship, only to stammer as he is unable to come up with the right words…and My, looking up at him with the most gentle, trusting, needy look as tears stream down her cheeks, can only ask him how she can write her poem so that it can be read by the sea. The two of them, against all odds, share a moment of bonding against the backdrop of the night sea as they stare at each other for an almost endless time—and Pappa, at last, realizes his true calling as a poet, as he assures My that, even more than teaching her, he’ll write such a wonderful poem together with her that a response will come from the sea, even taking her hands in his! Clearly, his role as a poet is to be there to help the children cultivate their senses of awe and wonder about the lovely, beautiful, magical world around them—and only by bonding with them more strongly can he truly do so.

The beauty of this new bond between Pappa and My is underlined by the incredible shot showing the two of them amidst the vast beach, almost surrounded by the heaven-like sea; with that, the two of them begin to stroll merrily along the beach, singing the melody of the series’ theme song. Soon, they are joined by Moomin himself, clearly excited to see the two here; sure enough, he, too, is having issues writing a good poem, with Pappa confidently assuring him that he could tell because he himself is a poet. And then two more “lost, devoted poets” come by: Sniff and Nonnon, who, in another very Dezakian gag, wind up crashing into each other as they try to recite their poems! All break out into laughter at the silliness of it all, even Sniff and Nonnon themselves—and so, they all begin skipping along the beach and singing joyously together, as they all set out to write a beautiful poem together…

With that, Dezaki slowly trucks out on an especially stunning view of the shimmering, glistening sea amidst the light of the sunrise, as it is gradually revealed that all five friends have set their boats adrift—and, per Moomin’s narration, all of them bear the same heartfelt poem that they all created together. Soon, as the boats completely disappear into the sea, something marvelous happens: a dolphin jumps out, with none other than Arion riding on it! At this glorious sign of apparent approval, the awe-struck Pappa solemnly concludes that the boats will certainly return with a single red rose. And so we end this fantastic episode, a stellar tribute to the wonders and beauties of our world and the hard lives of artists who work to convey them to others, on a gorgeous, blissful painting of what happened on these unforgettable days, as Arion rode a dolphin amidst the heavenly, starry, sparkling seas while Moominpappa, Moomin, Nonnon, My, and Sniff gazed on enchantedly…

Of course, it is worth noting that, when Arion’s Lyre aired on 29 October 1972, Dezaki was already being credited as the chief director of Sunrise’s Hazedon, under the very same “Makura Saki” (崎枕) pseudonym he used for this episode, in addition to churning storyboards out for Tokyo Movie’s Akado Suzunosuke under the pseudonym “Kuyo Sai” (斉九洋). Clearly, this episode was what Dezaki truly cared about even as he phoned it in elsewhere, and ironically so, perhaps, given that New Moomin was the series being produced by a dying studio; then again, maybe Dezaki knew full well that this episode would be his swan song for Mushi Pro, and accordingly wanted to give the studio that had helped nurture his career a worthy send-off, even if it meant skimping on seemingly more important jobs. When it comes to Dezaki’s involvement with Hazedon, in fact, none other than Masakazu Higuchi, who began storyboarding for that series while he was still animating on the final episodes of New Moomin, recalled that Dezaki only showed up for a single meeting before quitting. (His chief director credit lasts until episode 10, aired 7 December 1972, but he likely left well before then.)

The Silver Age of New Moomin concludes with Let’s Play With the Clouds, the only other episode of the series to be written and directed by Isao Okishima, and the last episode of the series to feature animation by Toshiyasu Okada, whose style once again dominates the entire episode as it did in The Laughter Mask. Even more than Pappa’s Old Shoes, this is a strange and unusual, yet fascinating little masterwork: essentially an esoteric illustration of the common childhood pastime of gazing at the clouds and discovering wondrous things in them, Okishima gives us a pensive, slow-burn look at a baseball game in the clouds on an idyllic autumn day, and how one little cloud kid named Tonio, in particular, struggles to play well for his team. Of course, there is no way that this story could have been pulled off without Okada’s grounded, realistic animation: he does a stellar job making the cloud folks and their objects convincing not only as an incredibly well-animated baseball game in themselves, but as clouds.


We open on a pleasant, peaceful autumn day. The glorious foliage of the trees is now on full display, in all their glorious yellow, orange, brown, and red hues, and the fruits are in full bloom, as shown by a brief scene of a yellow bird pecking at the cherries; one cherry falls to the ground, joining the many leaves that have fallen over the course of the season. Amidst this autumnal idyll, Mamma walks out of the Moominhouse, clearly focused on her domestic chores at the moment as she carries baskets of laundry out to the clothesline; we watch from a distance as, amidst the leaves continuing to flutter down gently and the chirping of the birds, she meticulously wipes down the clothesline to ensure its cleanliness for the laundry, humming a little song to herself as she does so. Soon, as she begins shaking the laundry out and hanging it on the clothesline, even she cannot help noticing the sound of a squirrel squeaking above her, its presence indicated by another falling leaf; we see her understated awe as she stops right in the middle of her laundry-hanging to gaze at the sight…

We then fade to sometime later as the laundry is almost all nicely hung; the camera trucks in as Mamma carefully finishes up the last sheet, in time for us to get a close view of her surprise as she hears the shutters suddenly open up. Sure enough, it is Pappa, pandiculating out the window as he has just woken up, his lingering tiredness evident in his squiggly mouth as he finishes yawning; he is quite pleased to find that the weather is nice today, but then looks down questioningly as he realizes Mamma is staring at him from below. We see just how high the Moominhouse is, and how vast and peaceful the surrounding landscape is, as Mamma encourages him to go out for a little walk, even as he seems to have other pressing matters to attend to: “If you’re too engrossed in your work, it’s not good for your health!” Smiling with pleasure at this little reminder, Pappa decides to go out after all, closing the shutters of his window; soon, he is out of the house, initially walking along with a little jaunt.

As Pappa makes his way over to her, Mamma assures him that if he can take even a little walk, good ideas will come to mind. The leaves continue to fall as he then asks where Moomin is, with Mamma responding that he seems to have gone towards the hill; naturally, she wants Pappa to get him so that the two of them can rake the fallen leaves. As she continues to deal with the laundry, Pappa cannot help looking down and observing that the leaves are piling up terribly, with a brief breeze of wind underlining just how much of a scattered mess they are; he then looks up at the sky, observing how high it is amidst this nice weather, as streams of clouds float past.

With that, Pappa begins to head off into the verdant hills, the chirps of birds continuing to underline what a quiet day it is. He passes by a thicket of tall grasses, underlining just how wild and bucolic the countryside remains, and we see a large cloud hovering over the hills as he trudges up the path. In the meantime, Moomin is indeed lying idly beneath a tall tree on a hill, gazing up with subdued, idyllic awe at the blue sky, with the one large cloud standing out conspicuously amidst the clear sky; he muses that he would like to try going up to such a high place too, as he begins to fall asleep.

Pappa, having reached the top of another hill, begins to call out for the now-sleeping Moomin, with no response forthcoming; suffice to say, as he begins looking around at the wonderful hilly landscape before him, with forests and flower fields here and there and the mountains not very far off in the distance, he concludes that Moomin is not here. With that, he begins walking the longer, more scenic way back home; there’s a sudden, intriguing jump cut to him being further down the path, underlining the overly leisurely speed at which he is walking.

It is then, as we cut back to the large cloud in the sky and truck in on it for a closer view, that something amazing begins to happen: the cloud begins morphing into weird shapes and configurations, as though something is stirring inside it, and sure enough, a boy-like figure molds itself away from the cloud, calling out to the sleeping Moomin below in such a way that his voice reverberates all through the area repeatedly! This bizarre call from the sky, while awakening Moomin, only confuses him given how no one is actually around; thinking nothing of it at first, he drops back down to sleep. The cloud boy then repeats the call, causing Moomin to get up and start searching aggressively for the culprit amidst the desolate hill; suffice to say, he is flabbergasted when he discovers that the one calling out to him is indeed a cloud!

The cloud boy (voiced by Masako Nozawa) then exhorts him to pick up “the ball”, as some ominous-sounding trombone music starts up, underscoring Moomin’s unsettled bewilderment at this strange phenomenon. After some searching, Moomin indeed discovers a cloud-like ball, and tosses it back up to the boy, the sheer impressive height of its flight into the sky coming across in how we get two consecutive shots of it flying ever higher up; Moomin is then further astonished as he sees the boy reach out to take it with what he notices is a big glove of some kind. As the boy thanks him, he merges back into the cloud—and as Moomin continues to watch the cloud curiously, he begins to notice other strange things happening within it, like a layer of puffy clouds drifting along inside and the layer above it molding into a bumping set of hills, accompanied by bizarre sounds like the bumpy hills cheering.

Just as Moomin wonders what they are doing, however, he notices something amazing: the ball is flying out of the cloud! As it begins to descend in his direction, he runs to catch it, accompanied by increasingly tense music—and it all comes to a head right as he jumps for the ball, its speed such that he is sent flying backwards to the ground! He pants heavily, nevertheless fascinated by this strange ball he now holds in his hands—and as the cloud boy, not realizing that he has already caught it, returns to demand that Moomin fetch the ball for him again, the irritated Moomin decides he must find out what the clouds are up to, hiding the ball behind his back as he declares he won’t give it back if he isn’t allowed into the clouds.

Realizing that Moomin is serious, the little cloud boy begins to elaborate: they are playing a game of baseball, a sport that Moomin has never heard of. He gives Moomin a demonstration by swinging his arms as though he were the batter, as tense music starts up; Moomin, clearly bewildered at this strange new game but nevertheless desirous of entering the clouds as soon as possible, proceeds to simply yell back that he doesn’t care about that kind of stuff. As the dilemma of Moomin holding the ball remains, the cloud boy begins to think—and he decides that he’ll go and ask his coach about letting Moomin in, in turn zooming off on his little cloud platform, the strange fascination of this sight emphasized by how we fade to two repeats of it (the last one noticeably slower!).

In jubilation, now that he has the ball to himself or now that he is going to be allowed into the clouds, Moomin begins playing with the little ball, bouncing it along the ground repeatedly as he runs to catch it. Before he knows it, however, the cloud boy is zooming back towards him (note the momentum as he bends forth even after his platform comes to a halt): if Moomin doesn’t mind being a substitute on the boy’s team, he can come in, much to Moomin’s delight. However, as the boy begins to bide his time waiting for Moomin to join him by practicing his pitches, there is one little logistical problem: Moomin cannot fly in the first place, even jumping up strugglingly before the boy to demonstrate how gravity is keeping him down, so how exactly will he get up there on his own?

This amuses the boy, who, in a classic fantasy motif, begins to encourage Moomin to simply believe he can fly into the sky, assuring him that he’ll be able to rise as high as he likes if he does so. We slowly truck in on a close-up of Moomin, emphasizing his thoughtful fascination over this revelation as he closes his eyes; his intense concentration as he begins to convince himself that he can fly is further underlined by the extreme close-up on his closed eyes as he visibly begins to strain—and sure enough, all of a sudden his body feels lighter, and with just one bounce, he sails through the air, the strange plausibility of it all coming through in Toshiyasu Okada’s typically intricate animation as Moomin flaps his arms panickedly while turning a whole 360° and then extending his legs downward as he prepares to land floatily, in turn crouching down in anticipation for bouncing up once again! Slowly, he gets the hang of it, as he realizes he can even flap himself ever higher into the air; soon, he is floating up like a balloon as he laughs and squeals in delight, and we get a vast, spacious shot of the sky as Moomin proceeds to literally skip up to the cloud boy’s level, looking as though he were jumping up a series of invisible stairs!

And so, Moomin and the cloud boy speed off to the giant cloud. Moomin is, naturally, enchanted as he sees the verdant valley zooming by below him, and we get a close-up on his face, emphasizing his starry-eyed state as he remarks how dream-like it all is. As we arrive at the cloud, we see that a baseball game played by cloud people is very much in progress. Okada’s remarkable designs for these rugged, blobby players are just realistic enough that it is impressive to see them move around with such energy as they pitch balls, run around the field, and slide along the ground; of course, there are some remarkable touches reminding us of their fundamentally cloudy nature as well, like the profuse dust-like clouds that emanate as the blue player slides along the ground to reach the base.

In the midst of this remarkable game, the cloud boy introduces Moomin to his coach (voiced by Ryūji Saikachi), who directs Moomin to practice swinging the bat. At first, Moomin sincerely does not know what to do as the boy hands a bat to him; upon observing a batter, however (look at the cloud puffs he leaves behind as he runs off!), he quickly gets the hang of things, swinging the bat around forcefully as it becomes clear he just might be a natural. (Note the feeling of weight that comes through in how the bat curves downward towards us during his swings, as well as the way Moomin lifts his right leg to shift his weight whenever he swings the bat to the left.) At that point, none other than the little boy, whose name is Tonio, is called up to bat; already, we see his anxiety and lack of confidence in the hesitant, downward-looking way he steps up even amidst the cheers and encouragements of own team members, holding the bat in such a way as to almost drag it along the ground. As Tonio steps up to his position, we then see the mocking jeers of the orange team’s crowd, which certainly cannot help his self-esteem as he prepares himself to bat.

It is here, as Moomin watches the game from a distance, that we find out just how different cloud baseball is: the orange player pitches a unique sort of slow ball that, midway through, begins sputtering along like a little puffing ball of smoke! As Moomin looks on with awe, Tonio fails to bat this distinctively cloudy ball, his noticeably sluggish movement compared to the other players and the way he ends up falling over from the weight of his swung bat making clear his lack of expertise. While the orange crowd makes fun of Tonio even more mercilessly in the lead-up to the second pitch, Moomin himself notices how slow this ball was; soon, as the game is interrupted for a brief period of team chants, he concludes that the cloud people must simply see these balls as fast balls. In the meantime, we pan through the clouds repeatedly as the chants echo seemingly out of nowhere, as it gradually becomes obvious that the clouds themselves must be chanting; clearly, this baseball game is a matter of considerable interest for the clouds.

The second pitch, likewise, proves to be a slow ball, with the inept Tonio once again failing to bat it as he earns a second strike; the orange team’s loud taunting continues with a renewed fervor as the blue team looks visibly downtrodden at their junior player’s shoddy performance, while Moomin once again concludes with a certain thrill that he could hit this ball too. In a last-ditch effort to save this bad turn, the coach shouts at Tonio to watch the next ball well and hit it; one can feel the pressure on the poor lad as he begins trembling in place anxiously, all while the orange team’s jeers become especially intense and malicious, their vehemence now coming through in how their pliable mouths practically overtake their faces and distort in all kinds of frightful shapes as they yell vitriol against Tonio! Alas, as the orange pitcher throws the third ball (note the wispy smear as we see him do so in a close-up this time, another great reminder of his cloudy nature!), it is all for naught: once again, Tonio fails to bat the puffing, sputtering ball, his miserable failure made all the more sensational by the way he twirls around from his failed swing before falling to the ground, and with that, he has struck out. We get a distant, out-of-focus view of the field with clouds in the foreground as cheers erupt, once again reminding us that the seemingly motionless clouds are indeed the spectators of this game…

As forlorn music begins, we then see that Tonio is scarcely any better as a baseman: the initial distant shot of him all alone, placed further out from everyone else, underlines his loneliness and low status as the weakest player in the team. Just as Moomin is gazing towards him pitifully, the ball is batted—and Tonio not only runs out to the wrong place in an attempt to catch the ball, but winds up failing to catch it anyhow, allowing the orange players to keep running past the bases! As the orange team cheers and jeers, the coach cannot help reflecting on how badly his team is doing, fearing that they may not be able to turn this around before the day is over. Things only seem to go further downhill from there: we get two successive shots of different orange players successfully batting, followed by Tonio outright tripping as he tries to catch the ball (and to add insult to injury, it even bounces off his fallen head), illustrating the orange team’s seemingly unstoppable charge towards victory.

As even one of the players begins to worry and ask what they’ll do, with the coach only able to sit there pensively in his uncertainty, a sudden glimmer of hope appears: Moomin is up to bat for the first time. With no trouble whatsoever, he manages to bat the sputtering slow-ball away with such speed that none of the orange basemen are able to catch it, allowing his fellow blue player to keep running past the bases as the referee declares he is safe! Things begin to look up for the blue team from here, as another player successfully bats the ball away high enough that the orange baseman practically falls over in his desperate attempt to jump for it; with that, there are safe players at three of the bases, as the blue team’s fans cheer raucously and wave their flag!

Briefly, the coach’s confidence is restored as he stands up, the low-angle view emphasizing his proud and dominant attitude—only to be jolted unpleasantly as he realizes that Tonio is the next scheduled batter! Knowing all too well of his potentially ruinous weaknesses as he looks towards the poor lad ponderingly, clearly questioning whether it would be a good idea to have him come up again, the coach then tries asking another player if they might have a pinch hitter: sure enough, Moomin is called in once again, on the heels of his earlier success, and he accepts the role without hesitation! As the coach makes the change in batters clear to the game’s officials, he gives Moomin some interesting, suspenseful instructions: let the first and second balls go by, and then hit the third as hard as possible.

And so the climax of the game begins: we watch as Moomin deliberately allows the first and second pitches to sputter past him slowly, watching closely as he confirms that these are indeed slow balls. Then comes the third ball: we cut to shots of the coach, the other team members, and Tonio watching tensely as Moomin takes on a more determined posture, the suspense underscored by how audio director Atsumi Tashiro has almost everything go silent outside of Mitsuru Kashiwabara’s unsettling, static-like buzzing. This buzzing gradually gets louder, playing up the increasing tension, as we begin cutting between the orange pitcher throwing the ball and an extreme close-up on Moomin’s eyes watching this determinedly, and sure enough, as we get a nail-bitingly suspenseful series of sequential, abrupt close-ups highlighting every single little movement that will crucially determine the outcome—as the ball sputters along, Moomin begins to draw back, his eyes follow the ball, and at last he dares to swing the bat forth—Moomin ends up scoring an incredible home run, the ball flying far beyond the scoreboard as he runs past all the bases, laughing delightedly and raising his hands up with all the fun he’s having as the crowd cheers uproariously! (The animation of his top half running and laughing, by the way, is reused from the earlier Isao Okishima-written episode Gramps is a Magician?, which is why he looks completely different here compared to the rest of the episode.)

Moomin shakes hands with the coach and receives praise from the other team members, placing his hand behind his head humbly as he walks past them, and little Tonio steps forth to personally compliment him as well. Just then, however, the energetic game is interrupted: ominous rain clouds are fast approaching, their violent thunder already echoing through the air, with fades to increasingly close views of them underlining just how dark and dangerous they are! Thus, just like that, the scoreboard melts away into formless cloudy matter: baseball no longer matters in the face of a common threat to all the clouds gathered here.

As some cleaners begin to head out to tidy everything up as fast as they can, the coach laments that the game must end at such an opportune time for them to score; clearly, not even cloud baseball games are safe from nature’s caprices. Nevertheless, he encourages Moomin to come back next time, welcoming him as his team’s cleanup batter; with that, he asks Tonio to escort Moomin back, assuring him that he’ll have some special training afterwards—and, in a bit of possessiveness, also makes Moomin promise that he will never join another team, not that this should be ever be a problem given that he had never even heard of baseball before today anyhow. With that, as we see the blue and orange teams run off together side-by-side, further underlining their common clouddom in the face of the storm, Tonio and Moomin set off—and the clouds billow up and overtake the screen, serving as an excellent scene transition as they clear up to reveal Tonio and Moomin floating down on a cloudy platform amidst the dark sky.

As the two lads float down amidst the dark, thundering clouds now surrounding them, they begin to discuss their abilities at baseball: Tonio had no idea Moomin was such a skillful batter, and Moomin denies this, as he simply thought that the ball coming looked slow. But Tonio then reveals that seemingly all the skillful batters see it that way, not just Moomin himself, in turn concluding resignedly that he won’t get better at baseball by any means. Naturally, Moomin encourages him not to give up, confidently assuring the poor lad that he will get better if he practices—and we get the most wonderful close-up on Tonio’s minimalistic face, his newfound happiness clearly coming through in his upwardly-squinted eyes…

Soon, Tonio and Moomin are hovering above the very hill where they met earlier today. They exchange the usual goodbye pleasantries—and Tonio adds that he’ll put up even with being a substitute, just as Moomin had been at first, if it’s for the team’s sake, making clear his selfless acceptance of Moomin’s newfound stardom. With that, they shake hands, and Tonio zooms off into the sky as the two say goodbye; at that point, Moomin’s cloud platform suddenly disappears beneath his feet, sending him seemingly plunging to his death on the hill below!

…but all of a sudden, we cut to Moomin’s eyes opening up, as he finds himself lying on the hill, with no one nearby. Just as he is ready to brush it all off as a dream, however, he looks up—right before his eyes, Tonio is zooming ever further away into the clouds! As he yells a last fond farewell to Tonio, the storm officially begins, heralded by some impressive animation of the bright electricity rumbling inside the clouds—lightning strikes violently, and the raindrops begin to sprinkle down, gradually becoming bigger and more numerous until they’re all but pouring down upon Moominvalley! So, Moomin begins to run all the way back home; in the meantime, as we see that puddles have already formed from the heavy rain, Pappa and Mamma are waiting by the door of the Moominhouse. Soon, they at last see Moomin emerging from the horizon, covering his head in vain, encouraging him to hurry as he continues to run desperately towards his home on this unexpectedly rainy day…

It is unfortunate that Isao Okishima did not have the opportunity to personally direct any other animated films outside of New Moomin. His two episodes for the series may very well be the earliest examples in studio anime of arthouse-inspired slow-burn filmmaking, of a kind that would not really take off until Mamoru Oshii came to the fore in the 1980s (incidentally, Oshii collaborated with Toshiyasu Okada on his first OVA Dallos), and we have his friend Rintarō to thank for trusting him to spearhead these gems for what was ostensibly a prime-time children’s series. Even if they were the only worthwhile episodes in New Moomin, the fact that they were allowed to be made would justify the series’ existence.

As for why Toshiyasu Okada stopped working on New Moomin, he would be credited as the character designer of Sunrise’s Hazedon beginning with episode 11, aired 14 December 1972—over a month after Let’s Play With the Clouds aired on 5 November. It is uncertain if he was already working on Hazedon uncredited before then, or if he indeed only joined the series after he had finished his New Moomin work (and after Osamu Dezaki had already abandoned his chief director role); in any case, his studio Ad 5 was already involved more or less from the start, with its main leader Minoru Tajima animating on the series as early as episode 4 and then becoming a regular animator from episode 13 onwards.

For that matter, this is the last episode with backgrounds by Jirō Kōno, one of the series’ best and most frequent background artists. Similar to Okada, he would focus full-time on Hazedon from this point on; like New Moomin, it was art-directed by Katsumi Handō, and Kōno was at the time part of Handō’s Studio Uni. Years later, in a truly stunning commonality, Kōno would be appointed as art director for the much more famous and beloved Delightful Moomin Family: perhaps it was precisely on the merit of his work for New Moomin that he was brought on board to define the scenery of this newer Moomin adaptation.

Additionally, in a reflection of the series’ decaying production, this is the first of three episodes to credit Yasumichi Ide as the production manager. Ide had previously been part of Mushi Pro’s general affairs department, only to resign in 1971 so that he could work as a production assistant on Tezuka’s Marvelous Melmo, after which he moved to the studio Animation Staff Room to play the same role on Melmo’s semi-successor Triton of the Sea (of which there is more to say towards the end of this article). It seems he was recalled to Mushi Pro around this time to help finish up New Moomin, relieving at least some of the burden on the other three remaining managers (Ken Fujita, Norio Yamakawa, Naoto Hashimoto), all of whom had been with the series’ production from the very beginning and were no doubt exhausted by this time.

Lastly, this is the final episode to use Little My’s theme as the end credits song. How poignant, really, that the presence of Junko Hori’s sassy singing in the credits—symbolic of New Moomin’s short-lived creative renaissance—was bookended by the two Isao Okishima-Toshiyasu Okada masterpieces of the series…

Episodes 45 to 50: The Downfall of New Moomin

With episode 45, Want To Sleep, Cannot Sleep, we are back to business as usual, so to speak. Here is New Moomin‘s take on that most time-tested of cartoon plots: Snork cannot sleep, no matter his earnest attempts to do so, whether he surrounds himself with books in bed or counts sheep. Naturally, the fun, movemented, and at times intricate character animation, as expected of Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, and Masateru Yoshimura, manages to sell this iteration fairly well; still, I think this episode is kind of a misfire, as it seems writer Keisuke Fujikawa and director Wataru Mizusawa couldn’t decide whether to play up the comedy or to take a more realistic, slow-burn tack. On the one hand, Snork’s exasperation and fatigue, culminating in him falling off of his balcony as he begins walking on his rails mindlessly while counting sheep, is certainly played for laughs, and there’s an extended and hilarious scene of Snork fighting with ducks slipped into his room by Moomin to exhaust him. But on the other hand, Nonnon’s anguish at the sight of her poor older brother continuing to count sheep almost catatonically is very real, and later, when Snork’s saber-rattling with the ducks finally puts him to sleep, we get a lengthy, bucolic dream sequence of Snork idyllically cutting trees down in the forest. The remainder of the episode is essentially Snork going out merrily and doing just that, amidst the peaceful, bucolic countryside of Moominvalley, as everyone looks on and then listens pensively to the echoes of his tree-cutting. (And notice the complete lack of continuity with the previous episodes, as it seems to be spring or summer again!) Still, it’s an amusing enough diversion to watch purely as entertainment; fittingly, this Snork-based episode is the first of only four episodes to use a song about the Snork family’s discipline as the end credits theme.


Meanwhile, episode 46, Don’t Be Defeated By the Hobgoblin!, is the second of the Hobgoblin’s three unpleasant appearances in New Moomin, and the series’ last botched attempt at a “life is unfair” episode, written by Ariyoshi Katō. It is notable mainly because it was the directorial debut of animator Sumiko Asato, who manages to come up with some interesting camera angles and visual tricks and nice shot compositions. Ultimately, though, its poorly-conceived, sadistic story, in which a water sprite proposes an item-grabbing competition to decide whether Moomin or the Hobgoblin will get a ruby after the two of them reach it at the same time, is simply an excuse for Moomin and his pals to be smacked around by the domineering, ugly Hobgoblin, his magic flying panther, and nature itself for 15 minutes (and their injuries actually stick with them over the course of the episode, making it all the more mean-spirited), and Studio Look’s generally anemic animation, for all that animation director Hiromitsu Morita tried to make the drawings look good, is the poisoned icing on the cake. It all tries to end on a note, via the water sprite and Snufkin, that Moomin’s friendships are more beautiful than any ruby—but this does little to alleviate the foul taste left by how the mocking Hobgoblin clearly comes out as the very satisfied winner of the ruby, leaving Moomin and his pals physically and emotionally injured in the wake of a futile competition in which absolutely nothing worked out.

In all honesty, I generally find Katō’s writing to be second only to Junji Tashiro’s as far as the arbitrary cruelty and rough edges of the stories and characters. It is mostly by virtue of the exceptional direction—by Toshio Hirata in The Star Child That Came Down and The Pinwheel of the Sea, and by Yū Tachibana in Language Is Disappearing?—that the majority of the episodes he scripted are nevertheless some of the most memorable and effective works in the series. In the absence of truly outstanding direction to highlight the wondrous and even touching aspects of his stories, as demonstrated by I’m Not Afraid of Wolves and Don’t Be Defeated By the Hobgoblin!, Katō’s unpalatable view of life in Moominvalley is all the more pronounced and hard to swallow. As for Sumiko Asato, she would continue to work almost entirely as a key animator for the rest of her career, mostly on Nippon Animation shows; her only other storyboard credits would be episodes 9A and 11B of Sunrise’s Robokko Beeton in 1976.


Then we have episode 47, Slip Out Of the Land of Ice, the last episode written by Kunio Kurita. It provides an enchanting, somewhat creepy change of pace as, perhaps inspired by his acquaintance Isao Okishima’s last episode Let’s Play With the Clouds, Kurita comes up with his own esoteric alternate world: after an ice-skating accident, Moomin and his pals find themselves in a stunningly gleaming icy wonderland (special props must go to background artist Tomie Inaba), ruled over by a seemingly benevolent King who gives them a warm, spectacular welcome. Kurita’s fascinating scenario is done justice by Noboru Ishiguro’s careful, measured direction: right from the start, in one of the series’ finest moments of slow-burn filmmaking, he sets the stage with a series of quiet, slow, atmospheric pans through Moominvalley at night, culminating in a lengthy zoom-out on a lone swan as we see the vast lake starting to freeze up around it, making clear that winter is approaching…

While animation director Norio Yazawa and his team at Japan Art Bureau, unfortunately, do as poor a job handling the main characters as ever—the extended ice-skating sequence especially suffers from the cringe-inducing drawings and crude animation, even with Ishiguro’s breathtaking views of the ice-covered lake—they excel at animating the other characters in the episode. The procession of the icy knights is simply awe-inspiring, bolstered by Ishiguro’s striking compositions as we see them walk in multiple overlapping rows and circles and eventually assemble in the form of a giant snowflake; for that matter, there’s the excellent, energetic duel between two of the icy knights put on for the guests’ entertainment—which is then abruptly halted by the Queen, who, as the two knights disappear in a marvelous swirl of snowflakes, demands the eviction of a little feather that has been hovering in the air for some time! Already, we see that this strange feather has a consciousness of its own, as it glides off wavingly and playfully, even stopping for a bit to check on the approaching guards before it blows off as we get the bizarre spectacle of multiple icy knights chasing after this little feather.

Things get even stranger as the King insists that the kids stay for the night, claiming he has sent messengers to their families to let them know as much: as they arrive at their icy rooms, they begin to realize that, in spite of being an ice castle, things don’t seem cold at all. And then the little feather turns out to be a whistleblower, awakening Moomin and provoking him to give chase such that he is led to the truth: Moomin and pals will be packed in ice and added to the covetous Queen’s collection! Already, the preparations have commenced, as Moomin’s pals are then woken up to find that they have begun freezing…with that, they try to escape, only for Sniff to slip and yell loudly in his fear, arousing the icy guards!

After a exciting chase, Moomin and his pals find themselves completely surrounded: the sheer uncanny horror of the icy knights, as Ishiguro slowly pans through a crowd of them to show just how screwed the kids are, is underscored by the combination of ominous, thunder-like rumbling and electronic chirping from sound designer Mitsuru Kashiwabara that accompanies this frightful view. But then, just as the knights are marching towards the doomed kids—everything suddenly starts melting, and the entire icy palace begins to collapse dramatically as Moomin and his pals hang onto each in fright! The screen, in turn, begins spinning increasingly violently, as it all turns out—it was just a nightmare that Moomin and pals had after plunging into the icy lake, as they find themselves saved and surrounded by loved ones! Or, at least, it seems that way at first: as the swan in the lake flies away, it releases a feather just like the one that saved them from freezing in the icy land, with Seiichirō Uno’s music continuing to convey an unsettling feeling of mystery as we pan up to the now-snow-covered Lonely Mountain, ending this strange little episode on a reminder of the ever-closer winter…

Part of me wonders, given Kunio Kurita’s background, if there isn’t some esoteric political subtext—we see how even the tiniest things like a feather can bring an end to a seemingly unbreakable tyranny. Whatever the case may be, Slip Out Of the Land of Ice is another rare example in New Moomin of how, when given good story material, Noboru Ishiguro could deliver eminently credible results, even with the subpar character drawings and animation.


Now we come to episode 48, The Broken Necklace, the second-to-last episode written by Yoshiaki Yoshida, directed by Mitsuo Kaminashi, and key-animated by Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi. It is certainly the most ambitious episode of this stretch; but in that sense, it is also the one that most clearly shows how tired the series and its staffers had become, as Yoshida essentially cobbles together and retreads various themes and elements he had already explored in his previous scripts for the series. The overall story is a more dramatic and socially-conscious revisit of the plot of My is Kind?, in which we found out that beneath My’s rough, mean personality is a heart of gold: this time, My runs away from home precisely after a fallout with Moomin and the others over her reckless behavior against Nonnon—breaking the necklace she had worked so hard to craft—and her refusal to apologize for it in the heat of the moment. Then, the villagers’ superstitious side from The Curse of the Red Moon resurfaces as they set out to rescue My at the Lonely Mountain only to be confronted by a mysterious fog (conveyed by a brilliant spray-painted, hazy-looking texture, to be sure), with Mr. Hemulen—in the midst of the kind of gathering-around-the-Moomins’-table-and-arguing all too familiar from A Strange Quarrel and The Bell That Rings On Moonlit Nights—suggesting it could be a terrible man-eating fog. Things begin to further escalate when Mymble discovers her home has apparently been robbed, not unlike Pappa in The Mysterious Spoon—and she succumbs to a terrible fever from all the stress, similar to Bob in A Strange Quarrel. Eventually, Moomin and Snufkin set out alone in the middle of the night to discover the truth of all these matters, just as they did in The Hattifatteners Got Angry. As far as the animation goes, Kanayama and all’s acting here is, for the most part, not nearly as fun and exuberant as it was in their episodes prior to this; it does not help either that, unusually, Toyoo Ashida was the animation director here instead of Hiromitsu Morita, resulting in many of the drawings looking rather off as his drawing style visibly clashes with those of Kanayama’s team.

Nevertheless, Mitsuo Kaminashi manages to come up with enough moments of great direction to tide this story over. As the villagers set off for the Lonely Mountain, we get a series of pans through vast, desolate views of Moominvalley’s mountainous wilderness beneath the gray, overcast sky, conveying a foreboding, chilly atmosphere as the snowstorms draw ever-closer; in the meantime, we hear some dark comic relief as Sniff tactlessly remarks that My must be “freezing to death”, much to Mymble’s anguish and Snork’s colorful frustration! Later, as Mymble succumbs to her fever, everyone begins rushing to care for her, with the dramatic views of everyone’s feet scurrying desperately around the floor and their shadows on the wall conveying their panic and fright over this dire new development; this is soon followed by an incredible, well-drawn and intricately-animated close-up on Mamma wringing a wet towel to place it on Mymble’s burning head. The beginning of the scene of Moomin meeting with Snufkin is remarkable in how it contrasts Snufkin’s relaxation with Moomin’s nervousness, as we truck out relievedly from Snufkin playing his guitar pensively and then truck in tensely on Moomin fiddling nervously with the twig; the scene then ends with an excellent show of fearlessness from Moomin as, after Snufkin asks him to confirm that he doesn’t believe in the alleged man-eating fog before leading him to the Lonely Mountain, Moomin outright throws the twig towards the ground and clenches his fist, emphasizing his strong, almost scornful assertion that he doesn’t! Soon, as the mysterious fog begins to emerge and envelop the two lads at the mountain, Snufkin encourages the hesitantly hiding Moomin to be brave, and the two of them hold each other’s hands tightly as they cross the bridge together, the precariousness of the situation underlined by the shot of the fog passing by above them and then the brief zoom-out on the two crossing the high, rocky bridge against the starry sky.

It all builds up to a rather tragic revelation: Stinky and the Groke, the latter of whom we haven’t seen since episode 4, have come up with their own “Outcast Valley”, where they can live together free from the social ostracization of Moominvalley. The Groke’s fog, like the lepers of old shouting “unclean” and ringing bells, is intended precisely to warn people to stay away, with the rocking of the suspension bridge from anyone stepping onto it serving as a cue for her to blow. This, of course, is in spite of their fundamentally kind nature, especially as we discover that they are the ones sheltering the similarly-ostracized My from the cold; she is safe as Stinky additionally reveals he was the one who took My’s winter clothes from her home so she could warm up—and clearly hiding something as she immediately swipes it behind her back at the sound of Moomin approaching, with Snufkin taking a closer look to find it’s a necklace of some kind! My proceeds to yell at Stinky for saying too much about how pitiful she was when he found her, as Moomin realizes she really is remorseful about what she did to Nonnon and trying to make it up to her—and she refuses to come home with Moomin and Snufkin for the time being, continuing to hold her ground even as Snufkin, on his way out, reveals to her how Mymble has been laid up from worrying about her. And so, Snufkin and Moomin head out amidst the sunrise, its luminous glow well-conveyed by the slight blurring of the wider shots, as Stinky assures them that My will return soon; in the meantime, a ludicrous rescue party has been on its way from the village, only to be told by the two lads that all is well—forcing the zealously-thrusting Snork, in particular, to re-sheath his fencing sword, clearly disappointed at not being able to shine!

The wonderful ending, ultimately, justifies this episode’s existence. Later that night, as the first snows of winter begin falling and everyone is waiting tensely at My’s house, Stinky arrives triumphantly with My—and what a lovely reunion, as My runs over to the unconscious Mymble and begs her to hang in there, in turn revitalizing her! As the two sisters embrace tenderly, the Police Inspector happily declares the case closed, and My goes on to present Nonnon with newer, even more beautiful necklaces, even self-effacingly denying Nonnon’s gratitude as she points out that it was Stinky who gathered the nuts for her. The warm, delighted reception that everyone has for My’s return, and for her and Stinky’s good deeds, is topped off by a great surprise: as a get-well gift for Mymble, the Groke has come down to put on a special performance of her skills! Everyone watches with awe as, in Akihiro Kanayama’s final masterpiece of effects animation for the series (save what he may have done in the series finale), the Groke blows on the snowflakes such that they expand out to greater sizes, revealing their intricate beauty for all to see as they begin fluttering and twirling balletically in the Groke’s wind; the show then becomes especially amazing as the giant snowflakes begin colliding with each other, generating spectacular flashes of light!

And so, everyone bids a fond farewell to Stinky and the Groke for the night, with Snufkin—who suggests that they change the name of their new dwelling to Kindheart Valley, in a reflection of their true selves—joining them as well as they head off into the snow. Above all, My runs out and continues saying goodbye as well, even tearing up in a show of just how much she has grown fond of these odd-looking, yet fundamentally good creatures. So we end on a last reminder of what a wonderful and loving community Moominvalley is, a place where the strangest outcasts have, perhaps, the kindest hearts of all. While far from a perfect episode, The Broken Necklace nonetheless works very well as a sort of climactic episode for the series, with one last major incident troubling Moomin and the others and ultimately being resolved in a beautiful way as the year winds down.


Given how much The Broken Necklace feels like an episode of a series that is coming to an end, ideally it should have been aired closer to the end of 1972. With four Sundays still left in the year, New Moomin now had to keep going somehow, in spite of seemingly all the major conflicts, troubles, and tensions over the course of the year being resolved and wrapped up by now. And so we get one last Japan Art Bureau-outsourced episode in 49, The Disappeared Winter, once again directed by Noboru Ishiguro and animation-directed by Norio Yazawa just two weeks after Slip Out Of the Land of Ice—and an utterly inane and useless story from Keisuke Fujikawa, in which winter suddenly stops. The Groke is unable to do anything about it, so Moomin is sent to call upon the Hobgoblin (who he’s somehow apparently on cordial terms with now—and who looks especially wretched here thanks to Yazawa) to bring the snow back; in return, the Hobgoblin demands all of Moominvalley’s rubies.

At this, even Snork gives up almost all his rubies, except one—and angered by this single omission, the Hobgoblin takes the snow away and replaces the fallen snow with literal flakes. Suffice to say, everyone gets mad at Snork for his greed—and then things start to take an even more questionable left turn as, while Moomin tries negotiating with the Hobgoblin, Snufkin comes in and starts questioning his black magic, saying that trying to make him bring the snow back is…futilely resisting natural climate change? Thus, out of sheer spite against Snufkin’s doubt, the Hobgoblin goes off to bring the snow back—and in the meantime, Moomin is taken in by Snufkin’s climate change acceptance and goes to defend Snork, more or less stating that they should just start getting used to the warmer weather?? And finally, the Hobgoblin arrives back with the snow while rubbing it in that Snufkin and Snork underestimated him, winter is restored, no one learns anything of value…

I guess this episode is supposed to condemn rich Snorks who refuse to give their wealth up, even if it’d avert a climate crisis. But even if the Hobgoblin wasn’t himself a jerk too, the whole conflict over Snork’s greed—and the awful climate change acceptance angle—is just a pointless time-waster because Snufkin’s disparagement of the arrogant Hobgoblin would have made him bring the snow back anyhow, so…

Part of me wants to feel sorry for the Hobgoblin in New Moomin—all three of his appearances here (The Mysterious Alien, Don’t Be Defeated By the Hobgoblin!, The Disappeared Winter) were poorly-written, outsourced, thrown-to-the-dogs episodes. But maybe he deserves it for what a thoroughly unlikable character he is in this iteration. More than anything, I feel sorry for director Noboru Ishiguro: literally from the start of the series, he distinguished himself as one of the regular episode directors who excelled at conveying a sense of atmosphere—but far too often, as we have seen, he was saddled with bad scripts and/or animation. In short, this is easily the worst of New Moomin’s late episodes, and I’d honestly love for it not to be considered part of the series’ continuity: it really is just filler to tide the show over for another week. And as we draw ever-closer to the end, the melancholic “Moomin is Yesterday” returns as the closing credits theme song from now on…


Lastly, we have episode 50, Pappa’s Adventures, the last to be written by Eiichi Taji and directed by Wataru Mizusawa. Even more than The Disappeared Winter, this is a “filler” episode—but unlike that episode, this one is actually fun to watch. After it turns out that Pappa has still not completed his great novel, he decides to make it up to Moomin, Nonnon, My, Snork, Sniff, and Too-Ticky by retelling his past adventures to them—but things take strange turns from there as the all-too-imaginative kids begin derailing these tales with their own additions, culminating in a bizarre climax featuring pirates Snork, My, and Sniff, the Roman soldier Moomin, and the goddess Too-Ticky! Clearly, the staffers at this point just wanted to let loose and have a little fun with these characters before the series was over; animation director Toyoo Ashida, in his swan song for the series, and Akihiro Kanayama’s team certainly put in a valiant effort to create the episode’s many action-packed setpieces, especially considering this was just 2 weeks after they had done The Broken Necklace. (Of course, there are now obvious signs of strain, like the blatant layout error as Snork tries to step up the stairs towards the beginning only to find himself more or less in mid-air, or the overly chonky character drawings in several shots, or the static talking heads in some of the dialogue scenes between young Pappa and Mr. Hemulen.) The episode ends on a nice note, as Mr. Hemulen arrives with the old souvenir of friendship that Pappa had carved on their old journey; thus, the kids realize that the real adventures we have—and the relationships we form through them—can be far more meaningful than any made-up fantasies.


And so, we finally arrive at the last two episodes of New Moomin. Taken together, they are a masterpiece of a two-part series finale that brings the saga of Moomin’s relationship with Snufkin to an incredible, poignant end as Moominvalley prepares to hibernate for the winter—and in a way, they represent the perfect farewell to the turbulent saga of the series’ production, and Mushi Pro itself

Episodes 51 and 52: The End of Mushi Pro

The second-to-last episode of New Moomin, originally aired on Christmas Eve, is I Hate You, Snufkin. Here at last is the pinnacle of New Moomin‘s proclivity for realist, slice-of-life filmmaking: a slow-burn masterpiece, simultaneously low-key and emotional, intimately focused on the characters’ activities yet also distant and atmospheric, that explores the intense passion and, ultimately, permanence of Moomin’s deep friendship with Snufkin amidst the coming hibernation. In a truly exceptional case, the story was co-written by the series’ head writer Hiroyuki Hoshiyama and the episode’s director, Yū Tachibana, who had already shown with The Curse of the Red Moon that he had a far greater understanding of the special bond between Moomin and Snufkin than any of the other episode directors. For that matter, the character drawings and acting, by animation director Hiromitsu Morita and key animators Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, and Masateru Yoshimura, have arguably never looked more polished and perfected than they do in this episode, furthering the sense that extra thought and care went into this episode on every level.


We open on Snufkin, playing his guitar by the river as usual, amidst the yellowed, dying early-winter greenery of Moominvalley. We then see Moomin, sitting back against the wall within his warm, comfy home, reading a book—and it is then that Tachibana begins cutting back and forth between Snufkin and Moomin, drawing ever-closer to their intensely-concentrated faces with each cut, emphasizing the spiritual connection between these two lads as, right at this very moment, in their own unique ways and in very different places, both are deeply focused on spending this quiet day peacefully and idly. It all culminates in a slow truck-in on Snufkin’s hand strumming his guitar, highlighting the almost magnetic serenity of his playing…and with that, we cut away to a blurred view of the now-blue Lonely Mountain behind a snow-covered branch as it beautifully, almost poetically comes into focus, making clear that winter is arriving…

We now cut to a series of close views of Mamma scraping the ceiling of the fireplace, scooping ashes up, and then dumping the ashes into a bucket, with Tachibana lingering on the latter view as one more scoop of ashes goes in before Mamma takes the bucket by the handle to pick it up; the way that Tachibana abruptly cuts between the close-ups of Mamma’s individual actions before it becomes clear she is cleaning the fireplace conveys a certain sense of hectic, methodical activity with a specific end in mind, in contrast to how Moomin continues to sit there idly reading. Tachibana then gives us a remarkably distant shot of the living room, underlining just how quiet and peaceful it is in the Moominhouse, and how Moomin and Mamma are taking advantage of this idyll in very different ways: Mamma calls upon Moomin to bring her a chair as she walks into the kitchen busily, only for Moomin to continue sitting there almost motionlessly as he focuses on his book (emphasized by a brief cut back to the close-up of Moomin’s concentrated face as he turns a page), much to her mild annoyance as she walks back into the room to chide him for not paying attention. The contrast between her relentless activity and Moomin’s insistent idleness amidst it is then portrayed in an even more striking manner: we get another close shot of Moomin reading as Mamma proceeds to walk back and forth right in front of us, completely blocking our view of Moomin, to fetch a chair herself.

We then cut back to the distant, idyllic shot of the living room as Pappa, having just been told by Mamma that the string for binding manuscripts is in the basement, begins to walk down the stairs jauntily. The sense of domestic peace that this shot creates as we linger on it for a while, especially as it seems Pappa will reach the bottom of the stairs without any trouble, makes it all the more sudden and funny when Pappa suddenly slips and tumbles down the stairs, his papers flying all over the area! Moomin, annoyed at all this hustle and bustle as a paper comes flying into our view of him to underline the loud destruction that has just taken place, growls and gets up, snapping at Pappa to be quiet as he moves away from this disaster scene to keep reading his book in peace at the table. Pappa, in turn, begins lecturing Moomin on how each and every page of this manuscript is as important to him as picture books are to Moomin, his point underlined by the close-up on the strewn papers as he begins picking them all up from the floor; he continues to follow the trail of papers behind the idly-reading Moomin as he begins to explain that all this increased busyness lately is essentially a household tradition, in order that they may arrive at hibernation with a feeling of relief. At this time, Tachibana gives us a layered shot in which we see Mamma doing the dishes in the kitchen as Moomin and Pappa continue to go about their business in the living room behind her, further underlining how busy Moomin’s parents are within this little Moominhouse while he continues to quietly read the day away; indeed, Mamma goes on to ask Pappa to explain the importance of all this activity a little more forcefully to the stubbornly-reading Moomin.

As Pappa places the gathered papers down on the table where Moomin is sitting, in turn patting them and jogging them on the table (notice how Moomin briefly glances at him uncomfortably as he does this, clearly bothered by the noise) to neatly align them before heading off towards the basement (along the way stopping to take a look at what exactly Moomin is so focused on—one can never be sure what kids are reading at this age), he begins to elaborate on how everyone is busy at this time of year: not only must Mamma put away the various utensils and whatnot, but even after he sorts his manuscript, Pappa must repair the roof before the snow comes down. Moomin, in turn, objects that he too is technically busy, trying his hardest to read knowing that he can’t do so once hibernation begins. By now, Mamma is clearly concerned about Moomin’s unwillingness to help, as she stops washing dishes and heads out into the living room to suggest that it’d be better if he worked together with his parents to prepare for hibernation—but this only causes Moomin to admit very childishly, as he continues to focus on his book, that he really doesn’t like hibernation given that he can’t even read books or play with Nonnon, much to his parents’ amusement.

With that, as they continue to invite Moomin to help out, Mamma heads back into the kitchen, and Pappa goes to look for the manuscript-binding string. It is then that, in the midst of his apparent reading, Moomin peeks off to his side to find that Mamma is now very busy in the kitchen—and sure enough, as Pappa arrives back from the basement with his string, he discovers that Moomin has taken the opportunity of his and Mamma’s distraction to go play outside, the impulsiveness and haste of his escape evident in how he has left his book wide open on the table and the front door blowing in the wind!

As the lovely opening bars of the piano-based farewell version of the series’ theme song start up, we see Moomin running almost prancingly through the hills of Moominvalley, with the way he moves ever-closer to us as he runs along amidst the white mountains, followed by the succession of distant and close tracking shots of him running along the grass excitedly, perfectly conveying his feeling of refreshment and exhilaration amidst the wide, open, grassy fields and crisp, mountainous air of Moominvalley. Along the way, he unexpectedly runs into the reliable Police Inspector making his rounds, letting him know that he is simply going out to play with his friends as he continues his sprint through the speckled, semi-forested hills. Soon, he stops as he begins to hear the sound of Snufkin’s guitar-playing; looking around, Moomin is delighted to find that Snufkin is indeed at the bottom of the hill by the river. He begins to descend the hill in a rush, in turn slipping and sliding down the precarious slope into a tree; of course, this proves convenient as it turns out Moomin is trying to surprise Snufkin in a friendly, playful way, carefully tiptoeing to the tree in front of him to draw closer to his best friend sneakily. Finding he is still completely engrossed in his strumming, Moomin tiptoes ever-closer—and covers his eyes!

To Moomin’s astonishment, however, Snufkin immediately knows it is him; only Moomin, after all, is close enough to him as a friend that he would even dare play such a trick on him. As Snufkin continues fishing in earnest, Moomin takes the time to sit with him before the river, his youthfulness coming through in the way he hops over the log to do so; of course, it is no use, as the fish have all swum to the warmer seas by now, leaving Snufkin’s bobber to simply rock along aimlessly in the flowing river. When Moomin asks why he is fishing in spite of this, Snufkin simply responds that there is nothing else to do; naturally, Moomin is bewildered, but for the time being sees no reason to doubt his words, as he continues to look down at the idly-rocking bobber with a certain thoughtfulness, perhaps wondering if this is really all there is to do right now. Just as he is turning his gaze up towards the woods, however, he finds Sniff running past him on the other side of the river; realizing that a game of some kind is starting up, Moomin heads off excitedly, bidding Snufkin farewell for the time being! Just as he leaves, Snufkin finally pulls his rod out of the river, perhaps feeling a tug of some kind—only to find, sure enough, that there is nothing on his hook.

As Tachibana gives us a multiplane pan across the woods, underlining the blissfully idyllic, sylvan ambience of this corner of Moominvalley, we find Nonnon, My, and Sniff engaged in a word game: each person must come up with a word that begins with the last syllable of the previous word. Soon, as Nonnon is struggling to come up with a word that starts with “gi”, she hears Moomin whisper a valuable hint: “the thing that Snufkin always plays”, the guitar! With that, Moomin pops out from behind a tree to reveal himself, as My and Sniff get all pouty over his cheating; nevertheless, the game continues with Moomin now joining as a fourth player. For the first time, we get to see these kids spend their entire day simply playing and having fun as normal kids would, without any specific aim in mind or any plot getting in the way; of course, the game eventually circles back to the difficult “gi”, with Sniff once again trying to solve the dilemma with “guitar”, only to be laughed at given it has already been used! Sure enough, none of the other kids can come up with any other word that starts with “gi”, as they all wind up lying down on the ground or on the tree pensively.

As they continue to mull over how guitar is the only “gi” word they know of, the kids begin to speculate on why Snufkin has a guitar, underscored by the start of a more exciting version of Snufkin’s theme, with Nonnon, in particular, suggesting that maybe he has good memories with his guitar; in the meantime, Tachibana continues to highlight just how tranquil their environment is that they can even dwell on this subject, as he has the kids’ conversation play out over an extended shot of the wispy blue sky, followed by a diagonal pan down to the trees overlooking them, as one of the last leaves on the tallest and most barren tree begins floating down delicately. This leads to an extreme close-up on Moomin’s eyes as he closes them pensively, clearly wondering what kinds of good memories Snufkin must have with his guitar. With that, in perfect sync with how climactic-sounding strings start to take the lead in the music, we fade to a truck-out on the pensive kids at the outskirts of the woods, symbolizing the end of our look at their playtime; Tachibana trucks out all the way to a beautifully out-of-focus tree branch overlooking the area as its leaves continue to fall, lyrically underlining the beauty of the nature that surrounds these kids on a daily basis.

Evening then arrives, as heralded by the beautiful sunset sky with its streaks of purple, orange, and yellow and a flock of birds returning to their nests. Moomin waves goodbye to all his friends, and for a moment they all seem to make their way home for the day, with Moomin crossing the bridge…but then, as we continue to linger on the shot of the path, Moomin suddenly runs back into frame and heads further down the path, making his way to Snufkin’s tent! Clearly his lingering curiosity about why Snufkin has a guitar has gotten the better of him: the best way to find out, naturally, is to ask the man himself. But as Moomin stops in front of the tent and calls for Snufkin, he receives no answer: sure enough, as he heads in and lights up the lantern inside the tent, he discovers that Snufkin is out for some reason, leaving his belongings behind.

As Moomin takes a seat to wait for Snufkin to return, he begins to examine the fishing rod next to him. It is certainly interesting, but Moomin cannot help feeling a certain twinge of disappointment as he puts it back down, knowing that it’s not the most special item in Snufkin’s collection. It is then, however, that he looks up—and discovers, to his excitement, that the guitar is indeed here as well! He steps over to it, and—noticeably halting himself for a bit right as he reaches out to it, perhaps realizing that he should treat his best friend’s most precious possession with extra-special care—begins gently strumming it; enchanted by its mellow sound, he decides to take the guitar up outright, sitting down and placing it on his lap as he continues strumming the strings and savoring their pretty sound, as well as feeling delicately around the guitar’s fingerboard and its wooden body, clearly intrigued by the unique structure of it all.

Just as he begins awkwardly trying to place his fingers on the strings, however, a familiar yellow-sleeved hand suddenly comes in and grabs the guitar. Obviously, Snufkin is back, as evidenced by the shadow looming ominously over Moomin, who happily greets him—but something feels different, as Snufkin simply takes the guitar away from Moomin without even saying a word, and indeed Tachibana ingeniously abstains from giving us any real glimpse of how Snufkin looks or feels as he does this, leaving us only with a strong sense of off-putting, cold, mysterious indifference towards his own best friend.

As Snufkin places the guitar next to his other items like the fishing rod, he begins sorting the firewood he has just brought back, his emotions once again hidden from our view—and we cut to close views of Snufkin taking the chunks of wood from the pile and placing them down on the ground in a row, his disconcertingly exclusive focus on them undergirded by the audible, monotonous rattling of the wood, and the feeling of unsettlement furthered by the uneven, diagonal light emanating from the lantern. The tension is only furthered by the overhead shot as Moomin begins to ask Snufkin why he always has a guitar and what good memories he may have with it, with the foregrounded and slightly out-of-focus lantern hovering right over the scene in a deliberately intrusive, foreboding manner and even completely covering Moomin’s head as he walks closer to the wood-sorting Snufkin; something just feels ominous about its blatant, slightly blurry, yet glowing presence over these two lads. More and more, it becomes clear that Snufkin is simply ignoring or even shunning Moomin, as we see him continuing to sort the wood without any trace of a response; this is only further underlined by a repetition of the earlier shots of the wood as the now-unsettled Moomin attempts to say something more forcefully (look as his body language as he starts to raise his arms as well), only to hold back and lower his whole body to a subdued posture as he realizes Snufkin is not going to respond no matter what he does, his hands clasped anxiously.

As Moomin continues to look on distressedly at his dearest friend ignoring him, we at last get a close view of Snufkin’s face as he sorts the wood chunks—but this only furthers the enigma of exactly what he is feeling at this time, as he has a completely blank expression, and the way that he repeatedly, almost symbolically moves in and out of the lantern’s light in his sorting does not help matters one bit. And as we move back to a more distant shot of him sorting…all of a sudden, we see Moomin’s shadow rise up over him dramatically, holding the guitar over his head and trembling with rage as he loudly berates it—and we cut to an abrupt close-up on Snufkin finally turning around with shock as we hear the sickening sound of the guitar being thrown to the ground!! The sheer force with which Moomin has thrown and wrecked the guitar is conveyed visually by the lantern swinging back and forth as a result, and its terrible catharsis likewise conveyed aurally by a fizzing sound from Mitsuru Kashiwabara; the feeling of the sudden violence that has just transpired is in turn amplified by Moomin’s shadow looming over the smashed guitar as it sways in tandem with the swinging light of the lantern—and from there we can feel the incredible tension as Moomin just stands there staring at what he has just done, his face quivering with bewilderment and angst at both Snufkin’s refusal to tell him why this guitar was so special and the terrible sight of the destroyed instrument in itself, while the lantern itself gradually stops swinging amidst the silence, its swings getting ever-shorter and faster until it comes to a complete halt. And Moomin cannot take it anymore—with one final, cathartic scream of “I HATE YOU, SNUFKIN!!”, and leaving the wrecked guitar behind as Snufkin looks on astonishedly, Moomin sprints violently from the tent, his intense, unbalanced rage underlined by the tilted views of him sprinting down the very path he had come from.

After he has gone far away enough, Moomin stops to catch his breath…and it is here that the full impact of his sudden falling-out with Snufkin begins to sink in, as tears come to his eyes, and he looks back towards the tent he has just left behind in a terrible mess. Just earlier today, they were the best of friends—but now, it seems, their close relationship has been irreparably smashed to pieces, just like Snufkin’s guitar. Wiping his tears, Moomin begins to sprint away with a renewed intensity—but this time not in rage, but in sorrow. (In a very unusual move, the usual funny sound effects that accompany Moomin’s running are completely muted in this sequence, ensuring that they will not get in the way of this serious, emotional drama.)

We now cut to a strikingly silhouetted shot of the Moominhouse in the night, underlining just how dark it is both physically and spiritually tonight, save the lights emanating from two of its windows; Tachibana trucks in on the lower of these windows to bring us towards Moomin’s parents as they wonder about their son’s misery, even as (in a brilliant bit of realism from audio director Atsumi Tashiro) we can hear Moomin’s quiet sobbing from the higher window. Mamma wonders if he is really that upset about having to go into hibernation, while Pappa, noting that he isn’t that obstinate, believes he must have simply gotten into a fight with Nonnon; whatever the case may be, what is certain to Mamma is that Moomin is not feeling a normal kind of sorrow tonight. And so, as the more dramatic rendition of Snufkin’s theme starts up, we fade to a pan through the Moomin’s dark, lonely room, with only the moonlight shining down on the poor lad forlornly as we hear him crying; this is followed by a direct view looking down on Moomin crying himself to sleep in his bed as Tachibana proceeds to bring us to what Snufkin is up to at this same time, heralded by a diagonal pan towards the window that fades to a view of the Lonely Mountain. At the outskirts of the woods beneath this mountain, Snufkin is now sitting lonesomely before the campfire, his own depressed state evident in his slumped posture as he seems to stare down at the burning fire before him—and lying by his feet is the now-broken guitar that he had cherished, glowing brightly in the light of the fire…

We now get two lovely, newly-conceived-and-animated flashbacks showing how close Moomin and Snufkin truly were, accompanied by an instrumental version of the series’ blissful theme song. In the first flashback, Moomin runs up to a tree behind the guitar-playing Snufkin and begins playing his own harmonica, as though he were actually playing the melody in the theme song; this catches Snufkin’s attention as he turns back fondly, and soon, as Moomin laughs, the two of them are playing their instruments side-by-side. In the second flashback, we see Moomin running through the woods in pain, crying as he seeks out Snufkin to comfort him; naturally, Snufkin pours him a cup of his hot soup, his care evident in the warm look he gives Moomin as he asks if it’s delicious, with Moomin clearly feeling more comforted by Snufkin’s concern than by the soup itself. This sweet, tender, loving Snufkin is a stark contrast with the cold, distant Snufkin who Moomin encountered yesterday, as Tachibana now fades to the terrible memory of this Snufkin walking away indifferently with his guitar, trucking out to give us a fuller view of it as we once again hear the awful sound of the guitar being smashed; this Snufkin, in turns, fades away into a whited-out, unknown silhouette, perfectly conveying Moomin’s state of mind as we hear him quietly deny that this strange, cold, unfeeling man was the Snufkin he knew and loved.

Tachibana then cuts to a swift zoom-out on Moomin suddenly sitting up amidst a large cavern, the zoom-out emphasizing the jolt he feels as he suddenly realizes what he has said—and with a switch to a direct, front-facing view of Moomin to make his passionate emotions clearer, he begins all the more vehemently denying that the man he encountered last night was Snufkin, shaking his head “no” violently and even moving in towards the screen while clenching his fists to shout his denial all the more loudly and ragefully! Of course, it immediately becomes obvious that Moomin is simply venting into a void, as Tachibana cuts to a distant shot revealing that Moomin is sitting all alone in some kind of rounded, cavernous area; seeing that, naturally, there is no response, the forlorn Moomin gets up and walks over to the front of this secret little area, looking out at the beautiful, panoramic view of Moominvalley that can be seen from here as he perhaps wonders if there is anyone out there who will listen. In turn, he moves back depressedly to a more high-walled, isolated corner, taking a seat as he looks up boredly; with Snufkin gone from his life, he has no other real friends, and all he can do now is throw pebbles hoping that they end up somewhere—not that he expects them to, as Tachibana cuts back to the distant view to reveal that the first two pebbles simply end up on the other side of this place, further underlining Moomin’s lonely isolation.

We now pan up from the third, unthrown pebble to find that Moomin has very quickly given up on this fruitless activity; once again, he is simply looking up at the sky, and it turns out that, once again, he is thinking about Snufkin, finally throwing the third pebble in rage as he denies even more vigorously that the man yesterday was Snufkin—whereupon it lands right below where a rabbit is standing, scaring it off! As the rabbit peeks back up from the rocks to see if Moomin is still angry, we find that Moomin, realizing what he has accidentally done, has taken on a much friendlier demeanor: he even walks over and apologizes to the rabbit, holding his hands out as he offers to play with it. At first, the rabbit is skeptical, hopping away and then peeking back up from a more distant part of the rocky rim; but as the gentler rendition of the series’ theme song starts up, Moomin assures it that he won’t act up again, and that this place is his own secret hideout. With that, the rabbit begins to warm up—and as Moomin further encourages it to play with him, it hops right into his hands! And so, amidst this isolated, secret hideout, Moomin has made a new friend of his own, as the two of them begin happily running around together…

As evening falls, we get a beautiful view of the snow-capped mountains glowing pinkly in the sunset, followed by a peaceful fade to the mailbox of the Moominhouse against the beautiful sunset sky as we hear Moomin calling Pappa to come down from the roof for dinner; clearly, this day is coming to a wonderful end for Moomin, his love for life restored, as we get a distant but beautiful shot showing him reentering the Moominhouse amidst the bucolic, varied landscape of Moominvalley, with forests off to the left, mountains off to the right, the hills and (as indicated by the bridge) river in the foreground, and the sunset sky in all its gorgeous purple, orange, and pink hues hanging above it all. (Really, special thanks must go once again to background artist Tomie Inaba!) Inside, Moomin tells Mamma all about his day with the rabbit as she brings the food to the dinner table, his earnest, boyish joy and enthusiasm such that he insists on Mamma hearing every word of it, even as he simultaneously gets carried away in his retelling of everything—at one point, he does not even notice Mamma has left for the kitchen, in turn running over to the doorway connecting it to the dining room so he can keep telling her about how the rabbit didn’t want him to leave at first! Soon, Pappa comes in, remarking on what a lively conversation Moomin is having as he begins dressing out of his work clothes; of course, as he tries to ask Moomin where he found the rabbit, Moomin naturally refuses to tell even his own Pappa about his secret hideout, even smirking with amused, humble-looking secrecy when the mellow Pappa tries asking outright where it is, all while Pappa meticulously takes off his overalls. In all, this lovely scene seems to be the perfect picture of a comfy, relaxed household, with parents and children all getting along and talking about what they did today as they prepare to have dinner; similar to the kids playing their word game earlier in the episode, it is an endearing portrait of pure, ordinary domestic life that was rarely seen in the episodes prior to this.

As Pappa looks out at the cloud-covered Lonely Mountain amidst the twilight sky from his window, however, he begins to observe that winter is coming: soon, Moominvalley will be covered in snow, and everyone will go into hibernation. More importantly, Snufkin will leave for the southern countries: as Pappa, casually reading his newspaper, elaborates that Snufkin will have to put up with endless solitude as a result, Tachibana begins trucking further in on a close-up of Moomin and his rather perturbed look, making clear that he has not forgotten about Snufkin and is listening closely even as he keeps rocking his chair relentlessly in seeming idleness and indifference. Soon, as Pappa adds that the kind of migration Snufkin will undertake can’t be done without true courage, Moomin’s expression suddenly becomes a tad more determined—and he decides he cannot any wait longer to see Snufkin at least once more, as he announces that he’s off for a bit and runs out of the house, even as Pappa warns him about the oncoming snow and Mamma tries alerting him that he’s missing out on dinner!

As Moomin makes his way over to Snufkin’s area, Tachibana cuts back and forth between the tracking shot of Moomin running and a view of Snufkin’s campfire burning, building suspense as to what Snufkin could be up to at this very moment and conveying Moomin’s anxiety over this very matter; in the second view of the fire, we see bits of wood flying in, foreshadowing the revelation that Snufkin is busy carving something. As Moomin arrives at the outskirts of the woods, he refrains from going any further, looking on at Snufkin from a distance; once again, Snufkin seems cold and distant, focusing almost numbly on his handiwork without the slightest impulse to look anywhere else, and the sight of the wrecked guitar sitting by Snufkin’s feet only serves as a stark reminder that Moomin is, if not the one ultimately to blame for it, then certainly the one who made this situation even worse than it should have been, as the series’ forlorn music track starts up. Hanging his head in guilt and sadness over how their relationship is surely broken for good, Moomin walks off depressedly for good—but unbeknownst to him, Snufkin then notices that someone is there, looking off to his side only to find that Moomin is already gone. Clearly intrigued by this fleeting presence, Snufkin looks back down as he picks up the body of his broken guitar—and it becomes clear that he is carving a new fingerboard for his guitar, testing out how well it fits with the rest of the instrument and finding that it is still pointing in the wrong direction. Putting his guitar down, he picks his knife back up and resumes shaving slices off until it is structured just right; just as he is once again deep in concentration, however, snowflakes begin to fall into our intimate view of his work, and he looks up at the sky to find that it has indeed begun snowing in Moominvalley. And so, Tachibana gives us a distant view of the dark, wooded area, with Snufkin and his tent relegated to the lower left corner and the mountains in the background, as the bright snow continues to flutter down twinklingly and lyrically, perfectly accompanied by the music as it is overcome by a wistful-sounding swell of strings backed with a series of repetitive, fluttery piano notes…

The next morning, Moominvalley is covered in snow and ice, as shown in some poetic, stunning views of a narrow stream surrounded by snow-covered plants and trunks, icicles hanging down sparklingly from the Police Inspector’s hut, and finally the snow-covered branches overlooking the forested hills—and an intriguing trail of footprints left behind in the snow, which My, Nonnon, and Sniff are following out of pure curiosity. The trail goes on and on, as the kids begin to wonder where Moomin went—sure enough, it turns out to be a trail leading directly to Moomin’s secret hideout! Clearly, in his eager rush to spend another day with the rabbit, Moomin failed to realize that he was leaving his footprints in the snow; and so the kids are bewildered as they start to hear Moomin engaged in a loud, playful struggle of some kind, in turn climbing over the snow-covered rocks to find Moomin having a wonderful time with the rabbit, chasing it around and then tossing it up into the air and even swinging it up as he nestles it in his lap like his own little child.

It is then that My hops in, unpleasantly surprising Moomin as she asks what he’s doing; Nonnon, in turn, remarks on what a cute rabbit he has, and Sniff asks why he’s with the rabbit. Of course, Moomin’s attempt to evade Sniff’s question matters little, as they all proceed to take the rabbit for themselves, squealing over how cute it is. As with earlier in the episode, we find the kids in an unusually carefree, playful mood, with Sniff rather daftly trying to greet the rabbit in a formal manner and Nonnon and My wondering if they’ll be able to take the rabbit with them; from there, Sniff points out the bathhouse as he begins looking out at this hideout’s panoramic view of Moominvalley, effectively encouraging the other two kids and even the rabbit itself to take a look and point out other places they can see! In the midst of all this child-like wonder and amazement, however, Moomin is clearly dissatisfied at how his special hideout has been barged in upon by these rascals, glancing back and forth between them with rolled eyes as they speak up. Soon, their rambling reaches truly unbearable levels as Sniff begins enthusiastically raving and gesturing about how they should build a hut of some kind here, with the other two kids agreeing as they begin fantasizing about various details like where to put the entrance and window—unable to take this talk of turning his former secret into another of their play areas any longer as his closed eyes begin quivering with rising anger, Moomin suddenly shouts at the kids to cut it out, much to their shock!

But at this, Moomin himself suddenly becomes shocked, as he begins to realize—conveyed by an intensely pink-tinted flashback to when Snufkin took the guitar away from Moomin in a seemingly cold, distant, and evasive manner, accompanied by ominous, punctuating sound effects, most notably a replay of the smashing sound as the guitar comes down into view—that this is surely how Snufkin himself must have felt when Moomin tried taking his guitar and asking about it, his astonishment at this realization and renewed regret over his terrible behavior evident in his open-mouthed look with its trembling, watery eyes. As the others continue to look on dumbfoundedly at his unexpectedly impassioned self, Moomin continues to stand there in astonishment—and suddenly takes off, realizing what he must do as he begins to rush towards Snufkin with far greater alarm than he did yesterday amidst the snow-covered countryside; his rush is such that he doesn’t even notice the snow-covered branches hanging over him as he brushes his head beneath one of them, the disturbance causing the rest of the snow to fall from the branch. His ultimate purpose is underlined by the sound of Snufkin’s guitar-playing throughout this climactic dash…

As Moomin arrives at the bridge, he stops: Snufkin’s tent is now in view, and he simply looks on at it for a bit, no doubt uncertain as to whether it would really be a good idea for him to meet Snufkin again after everything that’s happened, now that he is actually here. In the end, he overcomes this last bit of uncertainty and charges forth, to find Snufkin now playing the slower, more pensive and relaxed version of his theme. Hesitating for a bit, Moomin eventually works up the nerve to ask if the guitar is fixed, doing so right as Snufkin stops playing in clear awareness of Moomin’s presence behind him—and Snufkin turns around with a gentle smile, as he confirms that it is indeed fixed. Realizing that Snufkin has no hard feelings whatsoever, Moomin breaks out into a wide smile, and rushes over to Snufkin’s side as he apologizes; Snufkin immediately replies that he himself is the one who should apologize, recognizing that he was in the wrong for not replying to Moomin in the first place. He has no bitterness or anger or reprimands against Moomin for smashing his guitar at all, even as Moomin declares that he’ll never do anything like that again; he knows full well that Moomin can be a very impulsive boy, as we ourselves saw in earlier scenes of this episode even before he lost it over the guitar.

Now sitting by Snufkin’s side, Moomin begins to explain that he let his extreme curiosity about why Snufkin has a guitar, and what secrets he has, get the better of him—but it’s okay now, as he has come to understand that Snufkin’s own secrets are his own things. At this, however, Snufkin can only admit that there is no real secret, beyond that he simply likes the guitar—the close-up on his sparkly-eyed look of awe as he looks down to his guitar, while admitting as much almost haltingly, makes clear his understated yet deep passion for this humble little instrument. With that, Moomin runs over to the front of Snufkin as he implores him to play the guitar some more, sitting down adoringly before Snufkin as he gladly obliges: we truck into the guitar as he begins strumming his theme once again, emphasizing that this beloved guitar is what is now making Moomin so happy as we see him listening contentedly, and this is followed by a shot of Snufkin himself as he opens his eyes with a slightly-widened smile, taking on a sort of knowing look as he understands that this is exactly what Moomin has been waiting for. As Snufkin continues strumming, Moomin decides to sit back by Snufkin’s side, allowing them to enjoy the glorious view of the Lonely Mountain and its foothills as the sun gradually begins to set: in the midst of it all, Moomin attempts to ask Snufkin when he is heading off to the southern countries, only to decide not to bother when Snufkin doesn’t quite get it the first time. What matters at the moment is not the separation that is to come, but the wonderful time that they are spending together right now, as Snufkin strums his guitar with Moomin by his side while they look out at the grand, impressive hills and mountains and skies before them, as though they were the only people in this vast, incredible, somewhat frightful world of ours…

Later that evening, Moomin returns to his house—and in a curious turn of events, he now proclaims that he has nothing to do, wishing to help his parents prepare for hibernation. With that, Mamma directs him to Pappa’s study, where, upon seeing just how enthusiastic Moomin is, Pappa orders him to put something in the basement, which he gladly accepts. Now that he has realized just how much of a friend Snufkin always will be, Moomin is truly satisfied with all that he has accomplished over these past several months, and is prepared to enter hibernation to finally bring this turbulent year to a close. Tachibana conveys this entire final scene through a long take on the Moominhouse, with Moomin, Mamma, and Pappa showing up in the windows as he begins trucking out to reveal its placement amidst the forested hills of Moominvalley and the Lonely Mountain further off in the distance, underlining one final time the fascinating domesticity of the Moomins amidst the wondrous, yet bucolic Moominvalley; with that, the snow begins to fall enchantingly once again, making clear that winter is now in full swing as the resting Sorry-oo outside the house wakes up and begins looking up at the sky in response…

Unusually, two inbetweeners are credited this time, making clear the extra effort that was put into this episode. The first is Yūichi Endō, in his earliest known animation credit; by mid-1973, he would be an inbetweener at Madhouse, eventually becoming one of its top key animators on Osamu Dezaki’s classic 1970s works like Nobody’s Boy Remi, Treasure Island, and the 1979 Aim for the Ace! film. The second, meanwhile, is none other than animator Masakazu Higuchi’s wife Michiko, who I presume we previously saw on episodes 21 and 38 as Michiko Senju; she would help her husband as an inbetweener on the episodes he directed of Vicky the Viking and New Hutch the Honeybee shortly afterwards, so I presume she may have been specially asked by Masakazu Higuchi to help out with this episode, hence her special credit, rather than it simply going to her and the other uncredited inbetweeners based on the rotation. I must add that it is surely one of Japanese animation’s great tragedies that, for some reason, Yū Tachibana never became a major director after New Moomin, instead fading into obscurity as he contented himself with minor roles as an assistant director or storyboarder on various other projects that are largely forgotten nowadays. His few episodes of New Moomin are all the more valuable in this sense, as a rare glimpse into an enormously promising filmmaker who could have evolved into an outstanding visionary in his own right.

And finally, with episode 52, aired on New Year’s Eve, we say Farewell, Moominvalley: all of the major characters we have met over the course of New Moomin return for some final memorable appearances here as they begin to hibernate for the winter, and it all culminates in one last impactful affirmation of the special friendship between Moomin and Snufkin as they separate for the winter. This emotional finale, very appropriately given their track records on the series, was written by Yoshiaki Yoshida with direction credited to Mitsuo Kaminashi, and similar to the last two episodes of Ashita no Joe over a year earlier, the animation for this single episode was split between the series’ two A-teams, consisting by now of Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, and Masateru Yoshimura and Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, and Ichiya Kaminashi, all working under Hiromitsu Morita’s animation direction. The drawings and animation here reach a new level of polish and quality, with an abundance of scenes so impressively animated that they could have easily been right out of Rintarō’s later epics—clearly everyone involved tried to go out with a bang, perhaps believing at the time that this was the very last film they would make for Mushi Pro—and naturally, as in episode 2 which saw Moominvalley awaken from hibernation, Rintarō’s own directorial hand is much more prominent than usual in several of the most pivotal scenes, elevating the dramatic events that transpire to unusual, towering levels of sheer breathtaking spectacle and emotional power.


We open on Stinky and the Groke, now living together as established in The Broken Necklace, sighing as they look out boredly and depressedly over Moominvalley from atop a mountain; perhaps they are disappointed that they cannot participate in the pre-hibernatory festivities in the village below as the two outcasts of Moominvalley, or maybe they are sad that everyone will go into hibernation or, in Snufkin’s case, even leave the valley soon, leaving them without any companions. We then pan and truck out diagonally from them, revealing the snow-covered, blue-hued valley in all its wintery splendor, serving as the perfect backdrop for the title to fade in; at this time, the villagers are still awake, as evidenced by the yellow lights glowing from the few houses in sight.

We now fade to one particular little house in particular, namely the Moominhouse, where it seems a gathering of some kind is wrapping up. The camera slowly trucks in as we hear Snork announcing that it would be prudent to bring the festivities to an end now that it is fairly late at night, assuring everyone that the memories of their splendid time together will last forever; we then fade to a close view of one of the snow-covered windows with its many familiar silhouettes amidst the warm orange lighting, conveying the snug, warm ambience of this lively gathering sheltered from the cold winter outside by the sturdy bricks of the Moominhouse, as Pappa officially declares that it is time to say good night until spring. With that, the guests begin to depart from the glow of the warmth Moominhouse, saying their farewells to the Moomins along the way: first is Mr. Hemulen, followed by Mymble, who bows as she graciously declares that she will escort Mr. Hemulen home. Then, naturally, comes Mymble’s giggling little sister My, who gives Moomin a fond, exuberant pat on the shoulder as she runs off after Mymble while twirling back around hoppingly in her playfulness, in turn holding on to Mymble’s hand like a good girl as Mamma encourages her to be good; she, in turn, is followed by the panicking Sniff, clearly afraid of the dark as he tries to catch up to his friend My so he can have her by his side, nevertheless pausing his mad pursuit for a moment to bid the Moomins good night.

Next comes the high-class Snork and his little sister Nonnon, with Nonnon suggesting sweetly that she and Moomin meet again in their dreams, while Snork, in his fanciness, bids the Moomins “good night” in English! The Police Inspector, meanwhile, is initially much more hurried and flustered, seeing as how he hasn’t done a thing to prepare for hibernation yet—but then remembers that he must escort the little elves Thingumy and Bob home first at any rate, carrying them paternally in his arms as they, too, bid the Moomins good night. (Note how they suddenly look much bigger once the Inspector begins carrying them!) Too-Ticky, of course, is filled with sparkly-eyed romanticism at the thought of being able to spend the cold season slowly while having pleasant dreams, while the Muskrat, naturally, remarks on how useless hibernating is, nevertheless planning to do so on the grounds that not hibernating is even more useless. As he trudges off into the night while continuing to read his book on uselessness, Sorry-oo for some reason tries to follow him excitedly (perhaps because he is the very last guest to walk out), only to be scolded by Moomin, much to his whimpering disappointment.

It is then that one last guest announces his sudden appearance: Snufkin, standing over the Moomins on one of the massive hills of snow that have piled up by the Moominhouse, his clothes blowing dramatically in the wind as he looks out at the horizons beyond Moominvalley. With an unusually fond and somewhat abashed look, he admits that he has come by to say farewell to the Moomins as well, as he must soon leave the valley for the winter. As Moomin begins to step towards him questioningly, clearly not understanding why he must do this—his feeling of being left behind in the lurch comes through brilliantly in the shot of him looking on and saying Snufkin’s name discontentedly, in the midst of the dark, shadowy crevice created by the hills of snow—Snufkin assures him that they’ll meet again someday; but this only further saddens the now-quivery-eyed Moomin, who looks down depressedly as Pappa then comes over and tries to lighten the mood by assuring Moomin with an upbeat, fist-pumping attitude that he’ll also try to have his own great novel completed by that time. Moomin’s feeling of being helplessly forsaken by his dearest friend is then furthered by the succeeding shot of him in the foreground, taking up the entire left edge of the screen as he looks on at Snufkin from beneath the hill of snow: as Snufkin wishes Pappa success and looks forward to reading his work, he tips his hat down in farewell and begins to walk off—and Pappa’s hand grabs Moomin’s shoulder just as he is bending towards Snufkin, preventing him from possibly getting too carried away in his desperation. But as Snufkin heads further and further away, Moomin cannot bear restraining his true emotions any longer: he breaks free from Pappa’s firm hand and begins trying to run after Snufkin, even climbing up the hill of snow (briefly stumbling in his desperation!) and calling out for him as he reaches the top—but it is too late, as the pan through the desolate, windblown snowy landscape surrounding the Moominhouse makes clear.

The frosty winds are now so loud and intense that even Snufkin’s tent is now blowing violently as Snufkin returns, struggling to hold itself down even as it is tied to some stakes; with an impressively serene demeanor, Snufkin bends down and pulls one stake out of the ground, allowing the tent to collapse in the wind so that he can roll it all up and tie it, remaining intensely focused and determined amidst the fierce, swirling winds. It is then that Stinky shakes himself out of the piling snow, clearly seeing an opportunity for some food as he hops out enthusiastically and, after exchanging some pleasantries, offers his services to Snufkin while rubbing his hands covetously: naturally, Snufkin directs him to the massive pile of garbage he has left behind, and Stinky hops over delightedly, settling himself down in the trash as he begins consuming it all with gusto!

We see that the river has begun to freeze up as the swirling, snowy winds continue to blow through the valley relentlessly, the impressive detail with which they are drawn and animated conveying the chilling ferocity of this blizzard. In the meantime, Snufkin has finished packing, the heaviness of his load conveyed by the way he crouches down, puts his arms through the straps, and only then lifts the load with the entire strength of his body, and turns back to thank Stinky right as he is finishing up a fish skeleton; now fully satiated, Stinky gets up and prances back and forth enthusiastically, declaring ingratiatingly that he will now see Snufkin off on his journey. Lifting his load further up to make it a little easier to carry, Snufkin takes a last look at the relatively barren area left behind by his now-packed tent as the remains of the campfire within it begin to blow away, symbolizing the end of any warm, living habitation on this spot. But as the hazy, wavy, snow-carrying winds begin to blow with increased ferocity, Snufkin begins walking back towards the village: he is determined to take one last good look at Moominvalley with his own eyes.

It is then that the winds suddenly shift direction: now, as underlined by an impressively distant shot of Snufkin’s and Stinky’s lonesome silhouettes amidst the fierce, obscuring, swirling blizzard, the winds are blowing away from the village, and it is difficult for Snufkin to keep going on as they begin to pile snow onto him, the struggle further underlined by the shot from his point-of-view in which the streams of snow are being blown directly towards us. Just as he begins to conclude that it’d be better for him to leave, however, Stinky, himself struggling to move forth in the wind and grabbing onto Snufkin’s leg to keep himself in place, assures him that the blizzard will indeed subside; as the winds begin getting so strong that he even gets blown away at one point and has to struggle to reach Snufkin’s leg all over again, Stinky explains that he has asked his pal the Groke to lend a hand in case something like this happened, precisely out of his belief that Snufkin deserves to spend his last hours in Moominvalley in peace. Sure enough, as Snufkin looks out towards the mountains, there indeed is the Groke, perched on a clifftop as she begins sucking up the fierce, frigid, snowy winds of the blizzard with all her might! More and more, the gusts of snow taper off, becoming gentle waves and then just a few lovely, glowing snowflakes floating along poetically like fireflies, until at last even the storm clouds themselves have disappeared into the Groke’s belly, leaving only the snowy hills of Moominvalley sparkling beautifully in the light of the full moon on this quiet winter night. As Snufkin calls out to thank the Groke, we see in a bit of comic relief that the Groke is now ill at ease, lamenting that she overate the blizzard as she sends her best wishes to Snufkin.

As Snufkin and Stinky, walking or hopping along together in the snow, begin to arrive at the village once more—the momentousness of their arrival is conveyed by a tracking shot of them from behind as the out-of-focus village before them draws nearer, with an impeccable attention to detail as we see their footprints and Snufkin’s shadow in the snow—we begin to get a series of final reminders of precisely who the many strange, interesting inhabitants of Moominvalley are, with three newly-animated vignettes presented as flashbacks, in particular, serving as brilliant summations of the most major characters in the series. Snufkin’s first stop is Mymble and My’s house: we see Mymble ordering My to sleep, with My in turn bouncing on the bed like the playful little gremlin she is as the lights go out.

We then slowly zoom in on Snufkin’s solemn face, as he begins to recall how My isn’t always this carefree—and we are abruptly hurtled into one of My’s most powerful temper tantrums, the impulsiveness of the sheer uncontainable destruction and chaos magnified by the rapid cutting as we get views of plates being thrown at the floor and at the wall and an entire table coming down as My swiftly pulls its cloth away! As she begins crying and thrashing on the floor and screaming how much she hates her big sis amidst the wreckage, Mymble comes in and, horrified, begins trying to restrain My as another round of plate-smashing starts up, the frightening strength of the angered My coming through as she begins pouncing around to force Mymble’s hands off and ultimately swings her arms furiously to do so—and she begins screaming at Mymble for seemingly doing nothing but scolding her, in turn staring with trembling, sparkly-eyed rage at the valuable plate she is holding as she gets fed up with its clean, unshattered presence and flings it into the ground—causing her to scream in pain as one of the shattered pieces thrown up from the impact cuts her leg!! As she begins crying, Mymble takes out her first aid kit and begins dutifully wrapping a bandage around My’s bleeding cut, assuring her little sister that she doesn’t scold her out of hatred at all. With that, the comforted and calmed My, realizing how much Mymble cares for her, proceeds to jump onto her big sis tenderly, hugging and nuzzling her and even sticking her tongue out playfully in response to Mymble’s remark on what an impossible child she is as she apologizes for her bad behavior; Mymble, in turn, affectionately nudges her impossible little sister on her forehead, as the two contentious but ultimately loving sisters giggle…

Reflecting on this first memory, Snufkin bids My good night, and begins to head off; the oblivious Stinky, in turn, realizes a little late that Snufkin is leaving, and struggles to keep up accordingly as he scrambles in the snow. Their next stop is the Snork mansion, where Nonnon is still playing the piano as Snork comes into view and, clearly wearing a nightgown as he stretches his arms out to finish putting it on, beseeches that she give it a good rest; as Nonnon obliges, he closes the curtains for the winter, and we once again truck in on Snufkin’s face as he begins recalling a fun anecdote related to these two siblings. We open on a view of Snork’s complicated scientific setup as the lad himself, dressed in a lab coat and monocle, steps in reading his book of protocols, in turn shaking a test tube of blue liquid with satisfied determination and, after inspecting it to see if it is well-mixed, pours a single drop into his ongoing experiment; he swiftly pulls the tube away as the bubbling solution flares up in response, clearly fearing what would happen if he were to accidentally pour more than necessary.

As Snork begins grinning with a mad scientist’s glee at how the drop has been successfully added (indicated by the receding of the bubbling solution), however, we hear Moomin suddenly ask him what experiment this is—causing him to shake his head furiously at what he perceives as Moomin’s casual rudeness! He begins lecturing Moomin with extreme, theatrical, ambitious passion over how his new experiment could lead to a groundbreaking invention, repeatedly pointing at him and looking up towards the sky with his arms outstretched and even twirling around to point out what a legitimate great invention it will assuredly be; this leads to an amazing shot of him spinning around while repeatedly curving his arms out gloriously as though he were revealing and showing off an amazing new invention, in turn opening his book up (just look at the elegance with which he brings his right arm down to do so!) and throwing it away, as he elaborates that his elixir of youth is about to succeed! As Moomin is mildly astonished, Snork piles on by hypothesizing grandiosely that, as a result of this success, the name of Snork will be written on a page of history: he symbolizes his potential success by hunching over with his fingers protruding as though he were holding success in his very hands, then spreads his arms out as he declares his name, finally curving his right hand towards Moomin gradually while pointing it upward as though encouraging him to wait for something really exciting! With that, he rolls up his sleeves as he continues his experiment with zest, taking up his round-bottom flask and another blue liquid-containing tube with exquisite, arm-overreaching flair, and looking back and forth between the two with additional mad scientist-like smirks and grins; adding to the over-the-top atmosphere of this entire sequence is the fact that it is quietly accompanied by Snork’s theme song about his family’s discipline!

Just as Moomin is staring at all this bewilderedly, however, Nonnon suddenly opens the door right behind him—shoving Moomin right into Snork, causing the red liquid of his round-bottom flask to be spilled all over him! As Nonnon realizes what she has done, she hesitantly tries to let Snork know that the tea is ready—but this causes Snork to turn around with mad, teeth-gritting fury, his wig now terribly disheveled in a reflection of his intense frustration, as he begins screaming at Nonnon for even thinking that he has the free time to carefreely drink tea, his ferocity as he overtakes the screen intensified by the blood-red liquid on his face! With that, he repeatedly shoves the stumbling, panicked Moomin to force him and his little sister out of the room, in turn slamming the door with such force that it visibly wobbles! Outside, Nonnon apologizes to Moomin over tea, noting that Snork is always like this when he does science—and just as Moomin expresses his fascination with Snork’s proposed elixir of youth, a loud explosion suddenly rocks the mansion! Sure enough, a major accident has completely ravaged Snork’s room, with a leftover round-bottom flask somehow surviving on top of a broken beam amidst the destruction—and then falling over and breaking as well, the ultimate hilarious cherry on top. Moomin and Nonnon rush over to rescue Snork from the debris—and as they pull him up, it turns out that his wig is now completely frizzled! Shoving the two kids away as he tears both sides of his ruined wig in frustration, the charred Snork admits ruefully that the experiment was an utter failure—and breaks down into a leg-kicking, wig-tearing tantrum over his humiliation, bringing this vignette, the only other time in New Moomin besides episode 22 in which we see Snork’s inventor side in action, to a memorable end…

When Snork’s voice actor Taichirō Hirokawa passed away in 2008, animator Masakazu Higuchi noted that, thanks to Hirokawa’s brilliantly theatrical, exaggeratedly fussy portrayal, Snork quickly turned into an overacted character, and it became a challenge for the animators to match Hirokawa’s over-the-top aural acting with equally over-the-top animated acting. With this vignette—the very last time we see Snork in the series—the animators at last achieved the most perfect expression of Snork’s extravagant personality, with his many exuberant gestures and movements arguably even surpassing Hirokawa’s hilarious vocal performance here.

So, we return to the present-day, as Snufkin beautifully concludes that Snork and Nonnon are the two most wonderful siblings in the world. Continuing his farewell tour, Snufkin then finds himself stopping to look towards Mr. Hemulen’s home—with the hopping Stinky in turn crashing right into his leg—as the old Hemulen looks forward to the butterflies that will come in spring, in turn kissing his current collection good night as he heads off to sleep; beseeching him to stay in good health, Snufkin heads off once more. We then get a brief poetic interlude as Snufkin and Stinky encounter the now-frozen lake, with Stinky excitedly hopping in and skating around for a bit only to slip and fall; decidedly unamused at this sight, Snufkin walks further off into the woods, with Stinky skating through the ice to catch up.

We now begin hearing the sound of Too-Ticky’s barrel organ as we make our way through the forested, snowy hills near the coast to arrive at the bathhouse, where Too-Ticky is still awake; however, she turns out the lights right as Snufkin arrives. Snufkin continues to stand before the bathhouse as he begins recalling some of the various questions the ever-curious, bookish Too-Ticky asked him about loneliness, fate, love, and traveling (perhaps this is part of the barrage of questions Too-Ticky asked him at the end of Useless Scandals are Useless), all of which are a little too pertinent at this time; her seemingly incessant rambling, and yet Snufkin’s pensive acknowledgement of it all, is underlined by the long take on this distant shot of the bathhouse. As it turns out that he has been remembering it all with a gentle smile, he solemnly bids this curious young lady good night—and with that, he heads off to the Police Inspector’s station, where the Inspector is just about to sleep himself as he remarks on what a busy year it’s been. Snufkin nods with a warm, thoughtful smile as he thanks the Inspector for his hard work, and encourages him to have a restful good night; as he and Stinky depart from the presence of the station, we linger long enough to witness some snow falling from its roof, underlining just how quiet and peaceful the valley has become otherwise.

Last, but not least, is the Moominhouse, where it seems the Moomins have already gone to sleep. So we zoom in on Snufkin for the final time, as he begins recalling one very typical day in the Moomins’ life: Moomin is balancing himself on a ball, showing off for the delighted, clapping Nonnon as he even begins hopping on it—only for the ball to completely slip out from his feet as a result, causing him to fall in a downright slapsticky manner as Nonnon laughs! At that moment, Pappa is jaunting his way back to the Moominhouse, clearly in high spirits as he twirls his cane around with each step while singing his optimistic theme song. As Moomin gets up and brushes the dust off, Pappa even swings his cane into the ball playfully as though he were playing golf, sending it flying right into Moomin’s hands: he has come upon a wonderful idea for a great novel, continuing to jaunt and hop along in a very satisfied, happy-go-lucky manner as he makes his way up to his study. Just as Nonnon is enchanted and glad for Pappa, however, she is bewildered by the amused, incredulous reactions of Moomin and even Mamma—and with that, Moomin drags her up the stairs to check out what’s really happening, as Mamma tries exhorting them not very seriously to stop, clearly entertained by how Moomin is now giving Nonnon a direct glimpse at a Moomin family secret!

As it turns out, while an instrumental of his theme song plays quietly in the background, Pappa has begun questioning his idea now that he is actually trying to get it down in writing, ultimately dismissing it as no good as he furiously crumples his paper and tosses it away to join the various other scraps at the foot of his desk; he then invokes the names of the great authors Victor Hugo, Goethe, and Schiller in his desperate search for inspiration, ultimately turning and leaning back in his chair in resigned defeat as he admits his envy for them! As Nonnon and Moomin giggle at this sight, Mamma comes by to let Pappa know that tea has been made—and Pappa, perking up, slaps his knee in his realization that, since Mamma’s tea is the best in the world, he’ll get the best idea in the world as a result of drinking it! With that, they all have a delightful time together at the table as Mamma begins pouring tea for all of them, with Moomin remarking that Pappa always says that—and we truck out on this lovely family scene such that it is framed by the open window of the Moominhouse, making way for a symbolic match fade back to the present-day showing that this literal window into the Moomins’ wonderful, inspiring lives is now closed for the winter; there are no more warm, happy scenes to witness now that they have gone into hibernation. With that, Snufkin bids the Moomins good night, assuring them that they are a warm and kind family like rays of spring sunshine—and he heads back over the bridge for what could very well be the final time, the obsequious Stinky in tow. These vignettes, showcasing our beloved characters’ unique, colorful personalities at their strongest and most quintessential, are a valuable final reminder as we leave this series that it is not simply for the fascinating visuals that New Moomin is worth watching: no, just as important are the wonderful, endearing characters in themselves.

It seems that this night will end on a serene, quiet, peacefully melancholic note, as we linger on the shot of the dark Moominhouse amidst the white wintery landscape for quite some time, the wind blowing quietly. But suddenly, the windows light up, making clear that something has gone wrong as we begin to hear Moomin shouting: he has forgotten to give a final gift of some kind to Snufkin! We continue to linger on the shot as everyone in the house starts to panic, underlining how this little family drama is erupting amidst the seeming tranquility of the hibernating Moominvalley—and with that, Moomin rushes out of the house, the fading borders around the door almost conveying a sense that Moomin is running out into his hibernatory dreams…

And so begins one final climactic chase, set poignantly to an instrumental version of the series’ theme song, as Moomin runs through the wintry night in a last-ditch effort to catch up to Snufkin and give him one final gift; we watch as he continues to charge forth relentlessly, letting no obstacles hinder him, whether they be his own stumbling, a tree root sticking out of the ground, or a precarious bridge hovering high over a chasm. More than ever, Rintarō’s own penchant for striking visual spectacle comes to the fore as the landscapes surrounding Moomin are completely whited out, reduced to little more than the abstract, haunting setting against which Moomin undertakes his desperate struggle to reach Snufkin. At one point, Moomin winds up tripping and falling dramatically into the snow, his desperation not to be stopped in this way underlined by the incredible use of slow-motion; as he looks out at the snowy landscape before him, he imagines the specter of Snufkin heading off and disappearing into the night with every further second he just lies here, a vision that provokes him to force himself back up valiantly and keep running! With that, as Moomin’s theme song swells closer and closer to its conclusion, we begin to truck out impressively on the overhead shot of Moomin as he runs along and calls out for Snufkin, making clear just how vast and seemingly endless the snow is, and underlining in an almost touching manner just how daring and devoted Moomin is to keep charging on in spite of the apparent futility of it all…of course, a special round of applause must go to Mitsue Imazeki, the background artist for this finale.

In the meantime, Stinky is tired out from all this walking; nevertheless, he must stay true to his pledge to be with Snufkin until the very end, as Snufkin treads up the hill to a fence where Moomin and his pals often played. He brushes against its rail—and the snow that is blown from it glistens magnificently as we hear the faint sound of Moomin and his pals having fun, as though the old fence itself were still echoing with the memories of the joyous times it has witnessed. With that, he walks off—and it is just then that Moomin arrives in the vicinity, calling out for Snufkin and frantically charging up the hill even as he begins stumbling more often. As he stops to take a breather at the signpost, he looks all over the whited-out, wintry landscape for any indications of where Snufkin might have gone—sure enough, Snufkin’s fresh footprints are right behind him, relieving him greatly as he begins sprinting down the trail!

We now come to a dramatic spectacle taking place in Moominvalley’s natural world: the Hattifatteners are all drifting along on glaciers amidst the stormy seas. This provides the splendid opportunity for a final philosophical conversation from Yoshiaki Yoshida: as Stinky, looking out at this sight, wonders if the Hattifatteners are also going somewhere, Snufkin reminds us that the Hattifatteners’ ways are mysterious to the villagers, elaborating that every living creature has its own way of life. It is just then, however, that we begin to hear Moomin calling for Snufkin—and sure enough, Snufkin looks out to find Moomin now approaching from the distance, waving for him in his desperation! We see that Snufkin has a solemn, somehow intense and conflicted look as he watches his dearest friend approaching him once more amidst this frigid winter landscape, as though a flood of emotions is welling up deep in his heart.

As Moomin rejoicingly falls on his knees before Snufkin, he reveals breathlessly through his delayed, cathartic panting (clearly only setting in now that he has made it and is able to relax at last) that he had forgotten to give Snufkin an amulet; Snufkin, in turn, bends down to receive the little present Moomin has been carrying with him, undoing the ribbon and opening the tiny box to find a special nut with the likenesses of the Moomins carved into it! This is the Amulet of Reunions: it is said that the person who makes such an amulet and the person who wears it will certainly be able to meet again. It is then, as his eyes are shrouded beneath the shadow of his hat, that Snufkin is suddenly overcome with emotion, an unseen tear sparkling as, with a cracking voice, he observes that this is certainly an amazing amulet—as he looks up at Moomin with a more assured yet astonished look, he points out that it has already caused them to reunite even though they just parted ways! Realizing this, Moomin can only prance around and scream and even twirl in joy, while Snufkin, standing back up, ties the amulet around his neck as he declares that he will gratefully accept it—a declaration that puts an end to Moomin’s rejoicing, reminding him as it does that, for all the joy of their reunion at the moment, Snufkin is still on his way out of Moominvalley at the time.

As Snufkin reaches his hand out for a final handshake, Moomin begins to tear up sorrowfully, clearly not wanting Snufkin to leave—nevertheless, he manages to reach his own hand out as well, accepting that this is how things must be. Even after the subdued handshake, however, the two lads leave their hands held together for a while, clearly wishing to savor this last intimate moment for as long as possible as the snow begins to fall once more; it is then that Snufkin even invites Stinky to join in as well, and for a while, the three of them leave their hands held together in pensive meditation, no doubt reflecting on the special bond they share as perhaps the most adventurous and, surprisingly, close friends in Moominvalley. Their tranquility as they share one final embrace of sorts is underlined by the truck-out revealing the quiet, snowy landscape around them, followed by the slow fade back to the close-up on the tightly-held hands, revealing that the snow has piled up on them in a mark of the time they have spent together like this, as Snufkin at last bids the two friends good night and lets his hand go. As the tearful Moomin says Snufkin’s name in a final quiet, futile protest against his departure, Snufkin solemnly assures him that he believes in Moomin’s amulet from the bottom of his heart—and with that, he turns to begin leaving Moominvalley for good.

We now get an impressively distant, cinematic shot of Snufkin trudging along in the snow, amidst the loud, raging sea to his left. He is then followed from a distance by the forlorn Moomin and Stinky, both of whom are clearly depressed about having to accept his departure, even stopping for a moment to look down in sad resignation; yet, at the same time, they wish to accompany him for as long and as far as they possibly can. The stunning manner in which the frightful chaos in the background is kept out of focus emphasizes that this seemingly momentous event taking place in Moominvalley’s natural world is merely the backdrop against which Moomin’s own quiet, but incredibly important personal drama is playing out, similar to how many important moments in one’s life may take place against the background of far more dramatic and supposedly important events in history; indeed, it is only as Moomin and Stinky begin to exit the screen that the camera refocuses to give us a clearer view of the Hattifatteners drifting along on the glaciers.

At last, amidst the falling snow, we return to the signpost marking the end of Moominvalley. As Snufkin arrives, he clears the snow away, revealing the arrow pointing away from the valley: with that, as his theme song quietly starts up one last time, and fully aware that Moomin and Stinky have followed him this far, Snufkin solemnly declares that this is the real farewell. As the wind begins to pick up, Moomin and Stinky can only look or droop down in sadness, realizing that this really is the end; with that, as Snufkin bids Moomin good night one last time, he jerks his load up and departs the valley, the finality of the moment emphasized by a close view of the footsteps he leaves behind in the snow. We then see just how high this glowing white hill is, the mountains not that far off, as Moomin begins to run towards Snufkin’s direction a little, if only to get a better view of him leaving; as the gusts of wind further underline the solemnity of Snufkin’s departure, we truck in on Moomin tearing up once again, conveying his inability to contain the sorrow welling up inside him as he now witnesses his earlier vision of Snufkin disappearing into the night playing out for real.

In one last bit of comic relief, not even Stinky can resist breaking down in tears now—after all that hopping and walking, he is hungry. In turn, Moomin wipes his tears away as he begins smiling joyfully in the midst of his sadness, no doubt taking solace in the likelihood that he and Snufkin will meet again next spring, as well as the fact that they got to share one last special farewell for the year. With that, he says good night to Snufkin, and we truck out on Snufkin heading further away towards the mountains as Moomin looks on—and this is followed, as Toshiko Fujita gently calls on Moomin to look her way for the final time, by one last long zoom-out on Moominvalley as a whole, marking the end of our year-long visit to this wonderful place…


In the end, I can only commend animation director Hiromitsu Morita, the animators led by Akihiro Kanayama, Mitsuo Shindō, Masakazu Higuchi, writers Hiroyuki Hoshiyama and Yoshiaki Yoshida, episode directors Yū Tachibana and Mitsuo Kaminashi, and above all Rintarō himself for sticking it out all the way to the very end of New Moomin and trying their hardest to maintain a high standard of quality, even as Mushi Pro more or less actively began sabotaging the series and itself. If the series consisted only of its absolute worst components—scripts by the likes of Junji Tashiro, low-quality animation by studios like Japan Art Bureau and Look or the no-names—then yes, it absolutely would deserve the obscurity it has fallen into. But as it stands, far too many truly amazing and talented people got started doing great work on this series, or even did some of their best work here—Morita, Kanayama, Shindō, Higuchi, Toyoo Ashida, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Toshio Hirata, Toshiyasu Okada, Yoshiaki Yoshida, Mitsuo Kobayashi, and Isao Okishima, among others!—for it to just be buried the way it has for decades, even if it might not be the most faithful adaptation of Tove Jansson’s world.

Around the same time as New Moomin‘s final episodes were airing, Mushi Pro’s long-gestating final film, Belladonna of Sadness, was at last reaching its final, completed state. The film, created largely by a barebones team consisting of illustrator Kuni Fukai, animation director Gisaburō Sugii, lead animators Tsuneo Maeda and Shinichi Tsuji, and a few helpers like background painter Mihoko Magōri and special animators Takao Kodama (who created the pop art sequence) and Seiichi Hayashi (who created the paint-on-glass sequence), was originally supposed to have been delivered to distributor Nippon Herald Films in February 1972. As they were already overdue, a separate team consisting of various other animators (including Osamu Dezaki!) was set up by producer Tadami Watanabe to rush out the hitherto-unfinished scenes for a dummy version that was delivered in August 1972, convincing Nippon Herald to provide some extra funding; the original team, in turn, continued creating what would be the final versions of these scenes under the pretense of retakes. (It is likely that most of the credited animators on the final film, including Dezaki, were in fact only involved with this WIP version. Another notable animator credited on the film is Toshiyasu Okada, though it is uncertain whether he was an animator for the final version of the film or if he, too, was only involved with the WIP version; if the latter was the case, it would logically explain why he disappears from New Moomin between My is Kind? (aired 23 April) and Pappa’s Old Shoes (aired 3 September), but at the same time, Gisaburō Sugii could not help wondering in an interview if Okada was also part of the film’s main staff along with Maeda and Tsuji, and Okada actually made a personal painting of the film’s main character Jeanne, which would imply that the film was special to him in some way. Incidentally, Maeda actually took some time to animate on episode 6 of Sunrise’s repeatedly-aforementioned Hazedon, aired 9 November 1972, as Belladonna‘s production drew to a close.)

Meanwhile, another team working for Mushi Pro, likely consisting (and this is purely speculative) at least of ex-Moomin animators Yukio Ebisawa, Kazuko Hirose, Takao Ogawa, and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, had finished (or was finishing) its work up for Rankin-Bass’s Festival of Family Classics series. The last episode of the series aired as late as 4 March 1973; given that these animators had disappeared from New Moomin at least three months before the series began airing on 10 September 1972, however, to say nothing of the complications inherent to international co-productions at the time (what with materials having to be shipped between two different countries) and the fact that the series aired on a semi-weekly basis, it would be reasonable to conclude that the series’ production also wrapped at least a few months before March. (Certainly Ebisawa had stopped working for Mushi Pro by this time: he returned to his old nest TCJ to animate on the series Onbu Obake, which began airing on 7 October 1972.)

Henceforth, many of the staffers who had stuck with Mushi Pro to finish these last projects began to move on in earnest. From Belladonna‘s strange production, animation director Gisaburō Sugii had been one of Group TAC’s cofounders in 1968 to begin with, and with lead animator Tsuneo Maeda would continue to spearhead several of the studio’s major projects for the entirety of its existence: as early as 1970, Sugii had directed a promotional film for the Yamaha Electone School, Misuke in the Land of Ice, that was co-produced by Tezuka Productions (before Tezuka had officially left Mushi Pro, in fact) and TAC with animation by Maeda among others, and in 1972, while Belladonna was still being finished, Sugii again directed a fire safety film produced by Group TAC with some animation by Maeda, The Firefighter of Animal Village. Meanwhile, lead animator Shinichi Tsuji, animators Chikao Katsui (who had actually been the top-billed animator on The Firefighter of Animal Village)2, Kiyomu Fukuda, and Shūichi Seki, inbetweener Takashi Yoshihashi, art assistant Yoshishige Kosako, and producer Tadami Watanabe would depart for New Moomin‘s planner Zuiyō Enterprise to produce the first 26 episodes of the studio’s new West German-commissioned series Vicky the Viking. Over the course of these episodes’ production, they would be joined by ex-Kunimatsu-sama episode directors Takeyuki Kanda and Masatoshi Suzuki and various ex-New Moomin staffers like director-animator Masakazu Higuchi, storyboarder-directors Noboru Ishiguro, Mitsuo Kobayashi, Wataru Mizusawa, and Mitsuo Kaminashi, animators Sumiko Asato, Takao Ogawa, and Akihiro Kanayama, cel painter Masako Fukunaga, and production manager Ken Fujita, and Toyoo Ashida and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko purportedly worked on these early episodes uncredited as well. It has been claimed at times, even by yours truly in the past, that these early episodes actually were produced under Mushi Pro (and Yas remembered it being that way as well), which would cease to exist by the time these 26 episodes began airing in West Germany on 31 January 1974; in any case, after a long hiatus in the series’ production (the Japanese premiere would not come until 3 April 1974), from episode 27 onwards Chikao Katsui would be replaced as chief director by Zuiyō’s own Hiroshi Saitō, and producers Tadami Watanabe and Ken Fujita were replaced as well, with most of the ex-Mushi staffers, too, opting not to return to the series.3

With the studio all but abandoned, no more TV series in production, and only Belladonna of Sadness waiting in the wings to become yet another commercial failure, it seemed as though Mushi Production, which in its heyday had revolutionized TV animation and nurtured an army of future talents who would carry Japanese animation to new heights, was destined for a bittersweet and quiet collapse. New Moomin was perhaps the ultimate expression of the studio’s two faces: while undoubtedly a children’s series, its fascinating world proved to be a perfect foundation for frequent bursts of budding artistic creativity and self-expression, especially in the episodes that deal with the more mysterious phenomena in Moominvalley. Had Mushi Pro indeed gone out on New Moomin—the studio’s last series to prominently feature several of the best directors and animators who cut their teeth at the studio at once, at a time when they were already starting to come into their own—it might have been a poignant end.

In a stroke of (mis)fortune, however, the practically-bankrupt Mushi Pro would end up producing one final series before collapsing for good at the beginning of November 1973. The musical Wansa-kun, although based on an Osamu Tezuka creation like many of the studio’s older shows, was in fact the brainchild of the notorious renegade producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who had practically stolen the rights to Wansa-kun and also Blue Triton by signing his name in the copyright registration documents in place of Tezuka’s when he was still serving as Tezuka’s manager and the tyrannical de facto president of Mushi Pro’s business subsidiary (which Tezuka was nominally still in charge of even after leaving Mushi Pro proper). Having already taken control of the adaptation of Blue Triton as Triton of the Sea through a new studio named Animation Staff Room (initially introduced to Tezuka and his staff by Nishizaki as a potential co-producer with Tezuka Productions) in 1972—according to Tezuka loyalist Jun Masami (née Hiroshi Shimozaki)Triton‘s director, a young Yoshiyuki Tomino, had been entrusted with the role by Tezuka himself when his studio was still co-producing the series’ early episodes before it turned out that Nishizaki had stolen the rights, and the name change to Triton of the Sea took place under Tezuka’s watch as well—and having joined New Moomin‘s planner Zuiyō that same year (among other things, he served as a producer for the early episodes of Rocky Chuck, which succeeded New Moomin in its proto-WMT timeslot and was the first series by Zuiyō’s new animation division), Nishizaki proceeded to hijack and reanimate the desiccated corpse of Mushi Pro itself to produce Wansa-kun, bringing back as many ex-New Moomin staffers as he could, including directors Noboru Ishiguro and Mitsuo Kobayashi, animation directors Hiromitsu Morita, Toyoo Ashida, and Norio Yazawa (now serving as a director), and animators Akihiro Kanayama, Sumiko Asato, Ichiya Kaminashi, Takao Ogawa, Mitsuo Shindō (now serving as an animation director), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Yukio Ebisawa, Masatoshi Suzuki (now serving as a director), Kazuko Hirose, and Masateru Yoshimura. Nishizaki also managed to bring on a number of ex-Mushi folks who had not worked on New Moomin or left the studio years before, like directors Masami Hata (now loaned out from Madhouse) and Yoshiyuki Tomino (under his pseudonym Minami Asa) and production manager Tatsuo Shibayama, as well as various outside studios like Tama Production (a longtime subcontractor for Tatsunoko that had animated on Marvelous Melmo), Kazuhiko Udagawa’s Anime Room (where legendary animator Takashi Nakamura cut his teeth in the late 1970s), and Sadayoshi Tominaga’s Tomi Production (which would play an integral role in the Doraemon franchise). He was supported in this endeavor by his new friend and former Tezuka collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, who, having completed Belladonna of Sadness, now served as the series’ chief director.

Rintarō recalled that Nishizaki showed up at Group TAC in a bid to get him and others to work on Wansa-kun as well. Ultimately, while then-TAC staffer Susumu Aketagawa would serve as the show’s audio director, Rintarō himself refused to work on the series, and seemed uncomfortable with how TAC head Atsumi Tashiro was indulging Nishizaki (and would continue to do so thereafter as audio director on Space Battleship Yamato and the like):

Atsumi Tashiro is my friend, but while listening to him talk, as expected I felt that his way of thinking was different from mine. So, I didn’t take on the job of “Wansa-kun”. Since I won’t do “Wansa-kun”, I can’t stay long at Group TAC.

In the end, Rintarō’s only work as a proper member of Group TAC would be a 5-minute pilot film based on the short story “Zenta and Sanpei”, by children’s author Jōji Tsubota (who wrote a number of other stories featuring these two titular brothers). Produced in spring 1973, it was Rintarō’s first collaboration with the famed art director Takamura Mukuo, and featured character designs by Seiichi Hayashi. By the end of the year, he had left the studio to continue working sporadically as a freelancer on various shows, his big break as the director of Space Pirate Captain Harlock and the Galaxy Express 999 films still a number of years away.

In any case, what is clear from both Wansa-kun‘s troublesome production—which allegedly included the use of rotoscoping and lectures on dog ecology, and which culminated in folks like Yoshikazu Yasuhiko not receiving their final salaries in spite of their hard work due to the impending bankruptcy—and the fascinating train wreck of the series itself—it is the very epitome of extremely well-done aggressive kitsch and bad taste, as viewers who tuned in were subject to scenes of Wansa being musically drenched in urine by a gang of dogs, a West Side Story-esque dance battle between dogs and cats complete with nude-looking furries, a dog with massive genitals tango-dancing with his owner and being abused in all sorts of ludicrous ways, Wansa completely losing it and undergoing surreal transformations at the sight of the moon, and other such excesses—is that its production studio was essentially Mushi Pro in name only. At this point, it was little more than Nishizaki’s maltreated plaything, just like his various successor studios (e.g. Office Academy) which produced the Yamato franchise.

Ergo, in a sense, New Moomin can be considered Mushi Pro’s true final series, and a worthy, if compromised send-off to the studio. Even aside from its historical significance and its talented staff roster, at its best it presented surprising opportunities for both charming, philosophical slice-of-life shenanigans and unusual, often beautiful experiments with visuals and storytelling alike, no doubt a result of Rintarō’s gifted supervision. For this reason alone, New Moomin deserves far more than to simply be dismissed as a footnote in animation history.

Episode recommendations and credits

To sum up my observations above, here are the episodes of New Moomin I would most recommend, arranged according to the staffers who most defined them:

All episodes directed by Mitsuo Kaminashi:
2 (Junji Tashiro, Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas)
8 (Yoshiaki Yoshida, Kanayama-Asato-Kikuta)
17 (Yoshitake Suzuki, Ogawa-Fudanoki-Higuchi)
27 (Yoshida, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)
34 (Keisuke Fujikawa, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)
48 (Yoshida, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)
52 (Yoshida, Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura + Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)

All episodes directed by Kazunori Tanahashi:
4 (Yoshiaki Yoshida, Kanayama-Asato-Kikuta)
12 (Eiichi Taji, Ogawa-Fudanoki-Higuchi)

All episodes directed by Toshio Hirata:
6 (Ariyoshi Katō, Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas)
18 (Katō, Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose)
30 (Eiichi Taji, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)

All episodes written and/or directed by Isao Okishima:
9 (Nobuo Kosugi, Ogawa-Fudanoki-Higuchi)
35 (Okada + Fujiwara)
44 (Okada)

All episodes directed by Yū Tachibana:
22 (Kunio Kurita, Ogawa-Fudanoki-Higuchi)
38 (Yoshiaki Yoshida, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)
41 (Ariyoshi Katō, Look)
51 (Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura)

All episodes directed by Mitsuo Kobayashi:
25 (Yoshiaki Yoshida, Shindō-Higuchi-Kawajiri)
42 (Keisuke Fujikawa, Yazawa w/JAB)

Other episodes written by Yoshiaki Yoshida:
10 (dir. Wataru Mizusawa, Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas)
14 (Noboru Ishiguro, Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose)
15 (Masayuki Hayashi, Shindō-Kawajiri-Yas)
16 (Wataru Mizusawa, Kanayama-Asato + Okada)
37 (Noboru Ishiguro, Madhouse feat. Sasakado-Fudanoki-Kawajiri-Nitta)

All other episodes written by Kunio Kurita:
33 (Masayuki Hayashi, Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura)
36 (Wataru Mizusawa, Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura)
47 (Noboru Ishiguro, Yazawa w/JAB)

Other individual highlights:
11 (the only other episode besides 17 written by Yoshitake Suzuki; dir. Hiroshi Minamikawa, Ebisawa-Suzuki-Hirose)
13 (scr. Keisuke Fujikawa, dir. Wataru Mizusawa, great animation by Kanayama-Asato-Kikuta)
39 (scr. Eiichi Taji, dir. Wataru Mizusawa, creepy story and quality animation from Toshiyasu Okada)
40 (Masakazu Higuchi’s best and most creative episode; scr. Eiichi Taji, Shindō-Higuchi-Yoshimura)
43 (the only episode directed by Osamu Dezaki; scr. Junji Tashiro, Kanayama-Asato-Kaminashi)

In short, this list corresponds to episodes 2, 4, 6, 8-18, 22, 25, 27, 30, 33-44, 47-48, and 51-52. Unsurprisingly, these are the episodes I chose to have translated and/or reuploaded to YouTube last year, and I have since made my VHS transfers of these episodes available to download with soft-subtitles as well, so viewers can watch them offline and without YouTube’s compression. For that matter, you can also watch and download my transfers of the other, non-recommended episodes here; while not subtitled, they are still higher in quality than the versions of these episodes that circulated for several years, and I would encourage more intrepid fans who would like to translate the remainder of the series to use these files.

With that, here are complete credits for the series, along with my individual ratings for the episodes. The rating system below is derived from the one used for the episode guide at the end of Thad Komorowski’s very fine book Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story, itself based on the system in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide:

**** Masterpiece
***1/2 Excellent
*** Great
**1/2 Good
** Mediocre
*1/2 Not Good
* Poor
BOMB Awful

Series-wide credits:

Original Work: Tove Jansson
Planning: Zuiyo Enterprise (瑞鷹エンタープライズ) (Shigeto Takahashi (高橋茂人))
Music: Seiichirō Uno (宇野誠一郎)
Theme Song: lyrics by Hisashi Inoue (井上ひさし), composition by Seiichirō Uno (宇野誠一郎), sung by Toshiko Fujita (藤田淑子)
Main Character Designs: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光) (uncredited)
Chief Director: Rintarō (りん・たろう)
Art Director: Katsumi Handō (半藤克美)
Photography Director: Tateo Haraya (原屋楯男)
Audio Director: Atsumi Tashiro (田代敦巳)
Sound Effects: Mitsuru Kashiwabara (柏原満)
Recording: Tōkyō Studio Center (東京スタジオセンター) (Ryōbei Kumagai (熊谷良兵衛))
Setting: Hiroyuki Hoshiyama (星山博之)
Film Development: Tōkyō Laboratory (東京現像所)
Main Cast: Moomin – Kyōko Kishida (岸田今日子); Pappa – Hitoshi Takagi (高木均), Mamma – Akiko Takamura (高村章子)
Production Chief: Yōichi Kunii (国井よういち)
Assistant Producer: Yoshihiro Nozaki (野崎欣宏)
Producer: Masami Iwasaki (岩崎正美)
Ending Songs: lyrics by Hisashi Inoue (井上ひさし), composition by Seiichirō Uno (宇野誠一郎); “Moomin is Yesterday” sung by Eiko Masuyama (増山江威子), “Little My” sung by Junko Hori (堀絢子), “The Snork Family’s Discipline” sung by Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎)
Production: Mushi Production (虫プロダクション)

1. Dream, Dream, Dream **1/2

Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Takekatsu Kikuta (菊田武勝)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Imamura Production (今村プロダクション), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Masuji Harada (原田益次)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児)
The Groke – Junpei Takiguchi (滝口順平), Tapir – Shinsuke Chikaishi (近石真介)

2. Fire Festival To Usher In Spring ***

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Mitsuo Kaminashi (上梨満雄)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Studio M (スタジオ・M), Akane Production (アカネプロダクション)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Masaaki Sakurai (桜井正明)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), Elisa – Yoshiko Matsuo (松尾佳子)

3. Hello, Too-Ticky **1/2

Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介)
Director: Wataru Mizusawa (水沢わたる)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸夫), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Imamura Production (今村プロダクション), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Masuji Harada (原田益次)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子)

4. Snufkin Is Back ***

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Kazunori Tanahashi (棚橋一徳)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Takekatsu Kikuta (菊田武勝)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Kazuo Miyagawa (宮川一男)
Finish: Hatsumi Wakatsuki (若月初美), Motomi Yashima (八嶌素美)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Shōzō Nakagi (中木證蔵)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児)
The Groke – Junpei Takiguchi (滝口順平), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行)

5. I’m Not Afraid of Wolves **

Screenplay: Ariyoshi Katō (加藤有芳)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Takao Ogawa (小川隆雄 miscredited as 小川隆男), Ikuo Fudanoki (札木幾夫 miscredited as 礼木幾夫), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Kazuko Yokota (横田加寿子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Masuji Harada (原田益次)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Hunter – Kunihiko Kitagawa (北川国彦) (now Yonehiko Kitagawa (北川米彦)), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

6. The Star Child That Came Down ***1/2

Screenplay: Ariyoshi Katō (加藤有芳)
Director: Toshio Hirata (平田敏夫)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Kazuo Miyagawa (宮川一男)
Finish: Etsuko Nishiyama (西山悦子), Reiko Hashimoto (橋本礼子)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Masaaki Sakurai (桜井正明)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

7. With White Horse and Full Moon *

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Masayuki Hayashi (林政行)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸夫), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Kiyomi Hiruma (比留間清美), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)

8. The Marvelous Spoon **1/2

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Mitsuo Kaminashi (上梨満雄)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Takekatsu Kikuta (菊田武勝)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Tomie Inaba (稲場富恵)
Finish: Hatsumi Wakatsuki (若月初美), Motomi Yashima (八嶌素美)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

9. Gramps is a Magician? ***

Screenplay: Isao Okishima (沖島勲)
Director: Nobuo Kosugi (小杉信雄)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Takao Ogawa (小川隆雄), Ikuo Fudanoki (札木幾夫 miscredited as 礼木幾夫), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Sachiyo Itō (伊藤幸世), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Frederickson – Ryūji Saikachi (槐柳二)

10. The Police Inspector Goes Away ***

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Wataru Mizusawa (水沢わたる)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Masako Iguchi (井口真佐子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Masaaki Sakurai (桜井正明)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)
Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

11. Moominvalley Is Full of Holes ***

Screenplay: Yoshitake Suzuki (鈴木良武)
Director: Hiroshi Minamikawa (南川博)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸雄), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Shōji Masuyama (増山省二)
Finish: Etsuko Nishiyama (西山悦子), Reiko Hashimoto (橋本礼子)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)
The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Diggyouty – Keiko Yamamoto (山本圭子)

12. Mimi-Mimics in the Mirror ***

Screenplay: Eiichi Taji (多地映一)
Director: Kazunori Tanahashi (棚橋一徳)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Takao Ogawa (小川隆雄), Ikuo Fudanoki (札木幾夫), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Naoshi Yokose (横瀬直士)
Finish: Hatsumi Wakatsuki (若月初美), Motomi Yashima (八嶌素美)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Shōzō Nakagi (中木證蔵)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司)
The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児) (no actual appearance here), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

13. Mr. Hemulen’s Promise ***

Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介)
Director: Wataru Mizusawa (水沢わたる)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Takekatsu Kikuta (菊田武勝)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Michiko Nara, Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生),
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)
Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

14. Sorry-oo’s Own Home ***

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸雄), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Megumi Tanabe (田辺めぐみ)
Finish: Etsuko Nishiyama (西山悦子), Reiko Hashimoto (橋本礼子)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

15. Useless Scandals are Useless ***1/2

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Masayuki Hayashi (林政行)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Fumiko Sekine (関根史子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Shōzō Nakagi (中木證蔵)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行 miscredited as 西本礼子), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児), Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子)

16. My is Kind? ***1/2

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Wataru Mizusawa (水沢わたる)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Toshiyasu Okada (岡田敏靖)
Inbetweens: Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Backgrounds: Tomie Inaba (稲場富恵)
Finish: Hatsumi Wakatsuki (若月初美), Motomi Yashima (八嶌素美)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

17. Nonnon’s Wish ***1/2

Screenplay: Yoshitake Suzuki (鈴木良武)
Director: Mitsuo Kaminashi (上梨満雄)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Takao Ogawa (小川隆雄), Ikuo Fudanoki (札木幾夫), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Inbetweens: Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Backgrounds: Mitsue Imazeki (今関光枝)
Finish: Mikako Saiki (斉木美香子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司)
The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

18. The Pinwheel of the Sea ***1/2

Screenplay: Ariyoshi Katō (加藤有芳)
Director: Toshio Hirata (平田敏夫)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸雄), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Etsuko Nishiyama (西山悦子), Reiko Hashimoto (橋本礼子)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

19. The Mysterious Alien *

Screenplay: Mutsuaki Saegusa (三枝睦明)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Animation: Mamoru Kiyama (木山守), Jirō Kurosawa (黒沢次郎), Katsuo Hososhima (細島勝男)
Backgrounds: Shōji Masuyama (増山省二)
Finish: Kimie Kodaka (小高喜美恵), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Tofslan – Takako Sasuga (貴家堂子), Vifslan – Yoneko Matsukane (松金よね子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子), Herax – Ryūji Saikachi (槐柳二), The Hobgoblin – Takuzō Kamiyama (神山卓三)

20. Mamma’s Handbag **

Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介)
Director: Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭), Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (安彦良和)
Inbetweens: Jun Kiguchi (木口準)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Hatsumi Wakatsuki (若月初美), Fumiko Sekine (関根史子)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Tsukasa Kondō (近藤司)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Tofslan – Takako Sasuga (貴家堂子), Vifslan – Yoneko Matsukane (松金よね子)

21. The Big Incident of Flower Divination BOMB

Screenplay: Shunichi Yukimuro (雪室俊一)
Director: Masayuki Hayashi (林政行)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Inbetweens: Michiko Senju (千住美知子)
Backgrounds: Naoshi Yokose (横瀬直士)
Finish: Sumiko Hosoya (細矢澄子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)
Hayareeno – Ichirō Nagai (永井一郎), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

22. The Boy Who Came From Town ***1/2

Screenplay: Kunio Kurita (栗田邦夫)
Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Takao Ogawa (小川隆雄), Ikuo Fudanoki (札木幾夫), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Inbetweens: Katsuo Takasaki (高崎勝夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Mariko Inoue (井上真理子), Michiko Nara (奈良美智子)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Peacham – Katsuji Mori (森功至)

23. Mamma, I’m Sorry BOMB

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Wataru Mizusawa (水沢わたる)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Yukio Ebisawa (海老沢幸男 miscredited as 海老沢幸雄), Masatoshi Suzuki (鈴木正俊), Kazuko Hirose (広瀬和子)
Inbetweens: Jun Kiguchi (木口準)
Backgrounds: Tomie Inaba (稲場富恵)
Finish: Ayako Shinohara (篠原文子), Fumiko Sekine (関根史子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)

24. Let’s Make A Clock BOMB

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Kazuo Takaichi (高市一男)
Animation Director: Hajime Uzuki (宇月始)
Animation: Mamoru Kiyama (木山守), Jirō Kurosawa (黒沢次郎), Katsuo Hososhima (細島勝男)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Masako Fukunaga (福永雅子), Sumiko Hosoya (細矢澄子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Tsukasa Kondō (近藤司)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生)
My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一)

25. The Door Into Summer ***1/2

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Mitsuo Kobayashi (小林三男)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻善昭)
Inbetweens: Sachiko Ōta (太田左秩子)
Backgrounds: Naoshi Yokose (横瀬直士)
Finish: Kimie Kodaka (小高喜美恵), Michiko Nara (奈良美智子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎)
Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), The Nymph of Life – Michiko Hirai (平井道子)

26. The Golden Tails *1/2

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Norio Yazawa (矢沢則夫)
Animation by Japan Art Bureau: Masako Chiba (千葉雅子), Noriko Kusayanagi (草柳則子), Michio Suetsugu (末次美智夫)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Ayako Shinohara (篠原文子), Fumiko Sekine (関根史子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Assistant Director: Kazunori Tanahashi (棚橋一徳)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子), Doctor – Ichirō Nagai (永井一郎)

27. The Hattifatteners Got Angry ***1/2

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Mitsuo Kaminashi (上梨満雄)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Inbetweens: Atsushi Ishiguro (石黒篤)
Backgrounds: Takashi Miyano (宮野隆)
Finish: Masako Fukunaga (福永雅子), Sumiko Hosoya (細矢澄子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子), Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行)
Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子)

28. To Believe? Or Not To Believe? BOMB

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Norio Yazawa (矢沢則夫)
Animation by Japan Art Bureau: Masako Chiba (千葉雅子), Noriko Kusayanagi (草柳則子), Masako Shinohara (篠原征子)
Backgrounds: Tomie Inaba (稲場富恵)
Finish: Kimie Kodaka (小高喜美恵), Michiko Nara (奈良美智子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Director’s Assistant: Kazunori Tanahashi (棚橋一徳)
In Charge of Production: Tsukasa Kondō (近藤司)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子), Tofslan – Takako Sasuga (貴家堂子), Vifslan – Yoneko Matsukane (松金よね子)

29. What Can Be Seen In the Crystal Ball **

Screenplay: Mutsuaki Saegusa (三枝睦明)
Director: Satoshi Dezaki (出崎哲)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一), Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Inbetweens: Aya Nishimura (西村あや)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Ayako Shinohara (篠原文子), Fumiko Sekine (関根史子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
Director’s Assistant: Yū Tachibana (立花遊)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Muskrat – Jōji Yanami (八奈見乗児)

30. The Unvanishing Ghost ***1/2

Screenplay: Eiichi Taji (多地映一)
Director: Toshio Hirata (平田敏夫)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Inbetweens: Kōichi Tsuchida (槌田幸一)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Masako Fukunaga (福永雅子), Sumiko Hosoya (細矢澄子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Sorry-oo – Sachiko Chijimatsu (千々松幸子), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Ghost – Yasuo Yamada (山田康雄)

31. A Strange Quarrel **

Screenplay: Yoshiaki Yoshida (吉田喜昭)
Director: Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一)
Animation Director: Hajime Uzuki (宇月始)
Animation: Mamoru Kiyama (木山守), Kazuhide Fujiwara (藤原万秀), Katsuo Hososhima (細島勝男)
Backgrounds: Yoshinori Iwai (岩井好徳)
Finish: Kimie Kodaka (小高喜美恵), Michiko Nara (奈良美智子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Ken Fujita (藤田健)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Mr. Hemulen – Masashi Amenomori (雨森雅司), The Police Inspector – Kōichi Kitamura (北村弘一), Mymble – Miyoko Shōji (荘司美代子)
Stinky – Chikao Ōtsuka (大塚周夫), Too-Ticky – Yoshiko Yamamoto (山本嘉子), Tofslan – Takako Sasuga (貴家堂子), Vifslan – Yoneko Matsukane (松金よね子)

32. The Doll That Disappeared **

Screenplay: Junji Tashiro (田代淳二)
Director: Noboru Ishiguro (石黒昇)
Animation Director: Norio Yazawa (矢沢則夫)
Animation by Japan Art Bureau: Tōru Tanaka (田中享), Noriko Kusayanagi (草柳則子), Hiromi Ishizuka (石塚弘美)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Ayako Shinohara (篠原文子), Fumiko Sekine (関根史子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Noboru Kikuta (菊田昇)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Tsukasa Kondō (近藤司)
Additional Cast (only episode not to have Pappa and Mamma’s voices): Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎)
Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Snufkin – Hiroyuki Nishimoto (西本裕行), Polly – Katsue Miwa (三輪勝恵)

33. Pappa All Alone ***1/2

Screenplay: Kunio Kurita (栗田邦夫)
Director: Masayuki Hayashi (林政行)
Animation Director: Toyoo Ashida (芦田豊雄)
Key Animation: Mitsuo Shindō (進藤満尾), Masakazu Higuchi (樋口雅一), Masateru Yoshimura (吉村昌輝)
Inbetweens: Toshi Shishikura (宍倉敏)
Backgrounds: Jirō Kōno (河野次郎)
Finish: Masako Fukunaga (福永雅子), Sumiko Hosoya (細矢澄子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Hiroshi Isagawa (諫川弘 miscredited as 諌川宏)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Naoto Hashimoto (橋本直人)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)

34. I Am King! ***

Screenplay: Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介)
Director: Mitsuo Kaminashi (上梨満雄)
Animation Director: Hiromitsu Morita (森田浩光)
Key Animation: Akihiro Kanayama (金山明博), Sumiko Asato (朝戸澄子), Ichiya Kaminashi (上梨壱也)
Inbetweens: Kōichi Sakamoto (坂本公一)
Backgrounds: Naoshi Yokose (横瀬直士)
Finish: Kimie Kodaka (小高喜美恵), Michiko Nara (奈良美智子) (奈良美智子), Masao Tazaki (田崎正夫)
Photography: Kenichi Yoshizaka (吉坂研一)
Editing: Harutoshi Ogata (尾形治敏), Reiko Watanabe (渡辺れい子)
In Charge of Production: Norio Yamakawa (山川紀生)
Additional Cast: Nonnon – Reiko Mutō (武藤礼子), Snork – Taichirō Hirokawa (広川太一郎), Sniff – Kōsei Tomita (富田耕生), My – Junko Hori (堀絢子)
Mr. Hemulen