Animated Classics of Japanese Literature: The Harp of Burma Parts 1&2/Season of the Sun -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: C-
  • Age Rating: 3 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Animated Classics of Japanese Literature

Animated Classics of Japanese Literature: The Harp of Burma Parts 1&2/Season of the Sun

By Luis Cruz     January 05, 2006
Release Date: February 11, 2003

Animated Classics of Japanese Literature: The Harp of Burma Parts 1&2/Season of the Sun
© Central Park Media

What They Say
The Harp of Burma: Parts 1 & 2 by Michio Takeyama
Near the end of World War II, a soldier is missing and presumed dead by his captured comrades. A mysterious monk may hold the key to his disappearance.

Season of the Sun by Ishihara Shintaro
A boxer and a beautiful woman share a tumultuous relationship in post WWII Japan. Will love guarantee them a happy life, or will pride tear them apart?

The Review!
Easily the best volume in the series, CPM presents the animated version of a story that is not only a classic in Japanese literature but could be argued as a classic of world literature.

The only track present was the original Japanese mono audio; music and dialogue are crisp and balanced well. Given the age of the title, the audio track was surprisingly free of any hiss, distortion, or other issues that would detract from the viewing experience.

Produced in 1986, the print for this title was remarkably clean bearing only a few noticeable instances of scratches and other print damage. Also, the digital transfer did produce any noticeable artifacts making for an enjoyable visual experience. While not as lush as modern day titles, the colors were warm and bright matching the unique animation style used.

A collage of images from the stories is set against a parchment paper background on the front cover. The "Animated Classics" title is prominent across the top with the individual story titles and their authors just underneath. The back cover features the requisite screenshots, synopses, and disc details in a clean, readable format.

Rather than an insert for the chapter listings, the case is transparent allowing the reverse side of the cover to contain black and white images, the chapter listings, and a production credits.

The menus feature a static image to the left of the screen with the menu items to the right with music looping in the background. Transition delays are negligible allowing the viewer to quickly access the disc content.

The extras are divided up between content accessible by a stand-alone player and by a DVD-ROM player. Stand-alone players can only access brief biographies of the authors along with a quick synopsis of the actual story. The DVD-ROM content is simply a few screen captures from each story along with the script used.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Harp of Burma is a story I have heard and read in various forms over time; I was eager to see if the animated version could convey the themes and emotions of the material, and the answer was a resounding yes. A battalion of Japanese soldiers are low on supplies and desperately trying to reach the Thailand border. Hounded by British and Indian troops, their only solace is their singing and the remarkable lute playing of Private Mizushima.

All seems lost when they find themselves surrounded in a Burmese village; singing to disguise their final defense, the soldiers are surprised to find their opponents joining them in song. The battalion is told that the war has been over for three days, and they gratefully surrender to the troops. While on the way to the concentration camp, Private Mizushima agrees to travel with an English officer in an attempt to convince another Japanese battalion to lay down their arms.

That was the last the battalion saw of Mizushima until one unusual day; a monk that resembled Mizushima walks right past them and does not even acknowledge their presence. Convinced that this is Mizushima, the battalion does everything in their power to convince him to return to Japan with them. It is not until they are on the boat to Japan that the battalion learns why Mizushima turned his back on them and remained in Burma.

What makes this story poignant for all time is its theme of the human face of war. Despite whatever ideologies or rationales governments use, the actual war is fought by individuals on both sides that share the same fears, hopes, and desires. The moment when the opposing sides put aside their weapons and simply sing in unison with each other is an indelible and touching image. This combined with Mizushima's mission shows that every human being is capable of performing horrific acts but is also capable of amazing compassion and regard for their fellow man. It is a simple but timelessly beautiful story that can rightly call itself a Japanese classic as well as a world classic.

Ending this volume is Season of the Sun, a story that touches on the growing excesses in the youth of post-war Japan. Tatsuya is a university boxer that draws the admiring gaze of Eiko; Tatsuya quickly beds her and finds that Eiko has fallen completely in love with him. But, Tatsuya cannot admit that he is falling in love with her as well. He has been a playboy all his life, and he does everything in his power to maintain the status quo.

His petty games hurt Eiko deeply, but it is not until her tragic death that he can fully admit to himself just how deep his love was. Again, this is a story that suffered a bit from the constraint of the running time. Tatsuya is a thoroughly deplorable character, but his motives and the rest of the characters just do not have the time to develop properly. The audience receives a glimpse of the themes and messages the novel wants to convey, but there just is not enough time to adequately explore them.

In Summary:
The Harp of Burma is a story that everyone should experience in some form, and this animated version is certainly a worthy candidate for introducing one to its major themes. It truly deserves the "classic" label as its message will remain relevant many generations from now. Seasons of the Sun does not fare as well in animated form due to the brief running time allotted to it. There just was not enough room for the story to adequately develop the themes presented. However, The Harp of Burma more than makes up for this deficiency and makes this a must have volume for all viewers.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable


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