I was a child of the 90’s, and in the Philippines, the 90’s was very much rife with TV anime. There were shows like Superbook and Flying House in one end of the spectrum, and giant robot shows in the other. Later in the decade, two rival TV networks fought with their own array of anime. Right in the middle of it was the World Masterpiece Theater.
Why did these shows perform so well in the country?
I could give a few reasons:
1. Non-anime aesthetic
If you were to compare the art style of Little Princess Sara with Voltes V, there’s a world of difference. I wouldn’t even know that Sara was a Japanese cartoon, if not for the Japanese song and the credits. The TV networks knew this, and purposely downplayed any mention of “anime” or anime-related buzzwords in their promotion of them. This was a good move, since the general Filipino public’s perception of anime is synonymous to a certain combining robot. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but do you really want to make kids expect Cedie to pilot a giant robot? (In hindsight, Giant Robot Fauntleroy might be the best idea ever.) It’s just a harmless, innocuous children’s cartoon.
2. Relatable themes
Most WMT shows involve child protagonists who lead simple, idyllic lives. I think only Cedie lived in apparent comfort (please help me here, fellow countrymen, for my memory is hazy), but even he did have his fair share of challenges. It strikes a chord with a lot of us, since the Philippines is generally a poor country filled with people who only eat one meal a day, if they could. I’m going out on a limb here, but I guess the WMT is escapism for them–it’s okay if we’re poor and hungry, as long as we’re happy, decent folk! WMT glorifies strength amidst hardships, and maybe seeing Sara struggle against her daily chores give poor kids the strength to pull through the day.
It fits in neatly with the Christian way of thinking, more so in this poor country.
These shows are often sad, but the few happy moments are very much worth it. Suddenly, our own bad day doesn’t seem that bad anymore, when you watch a dirt-poor boy making the most out of his time, playing in the snow with his friends. And then they freeze to death the next day. Sometimes life just sucks.
Anyone can get into WMT. The bulk of its source material didn’t become classic in a vacuum. My nanny, of all people, got me into watching Huckleberry Finn, and it was a really good show. My mom has watched a couple of shows by herself back in the day, and still recalls key scenes vividly. This is no small wonder, and people take the composition of WMT shows for granted. Yamakan wasn’t kidding when he said that “Anne of the Green Gables is the textbook of what a director should do with a show”.
There have been many WMT shows I’ve seen throughout the years, but my favorite is Romeo’s Blue Skies. Which, IMO, is still worth watching today.