The Magic of the World Masterpiece Theater

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.

3. Universality

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.

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11 Responses to The Magic of the World Masterpiece Theater

  1. 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

    During the first run of Voltes V, or at least up to when I caught it, there was no mention of anime. I was told it was Japanese, but as a real young kid I don’t have much I can do with that information.

    I knew the Japanese occupied us in WW2 so I’d think that was less reason to market anime as Japanese cartoons, so I don’t know if this non-anime look of WMT is as a big deal.

    However, I think if it aired today, this would be an important distinction.

  2. Will of the wisp says:

    So… does World Masterpiece Theater air in Philipino TV? If so, are they translated into English? Subtitles? I for one would definitely love to see more of these shows.

  3. 2DT says:

    Point 2 is rather sobering.

    I read once that when things are bad, people like to see fantasies of rich people living awesome rich lives. It’s the reason why games like Monopoly took off when they did. But on the other hand, when Japan’s bubble burst, the demand for dramas featuring those kinds of stories actually dropped. So I’m not sure what to believe.

    I keep hearing about this anime version of Anne of Green Gables. I’m not exactly thrilled about the length, but I think I should check it out. Cheers.

    • schneider says:

      What I heard is that Nobody’s Girl Remi tanked so hard that they stopped making them for a long while. That was in the late 90’s.

      I caught a bit of Anne of Green Gables from here, but I was really young back then and I wasn’t able to appreciate its goodness.

  4. crazy3d says:

    They could have continued doing more WMT’s after Remi the girl but they decided to go movies (Dog of flanders in 97 and Marco in 99) but then they failed. The movies were good but this was a problem they had since Romeo, ratings were very low and this is a mistery because Romeo and Remi are the most famous and better WMT’s of the 90’s. They came back in 2007 but seems it has died again with Before green gables in 2009 wich was really bad.

  5. DJ says:

    Nippon Animation discontinued the WMT due to poor ratings and the eventual cancellation of Ie Naki ko Remi by Fuji Television. They have started again last 2007 with Les Miserables Shoujo Cosette (Ang Pangarap ni Cosette, Les Miserables here in the Philippines) and stops again after Konnichiwa Anne (the prequel to Anne of Green Gables. It is currently unknown if they will produce another WMT series for 2010. I heard also that they are currently working with other companies with a new project: Mahou Tsukai Haley no Speed Story. It is apparent in the title that it is not a WMT and not based on some books or novels.

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  7. eman says:

    i watch all these cartoon in Arabic im from the middle east they still air all the old cartoon with the new ones and i watch them online too on this website i really love the old cartoon much better than the new

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