Alps no Shoujo Heidi (Heidi, Girl of the Alps)


How much can I rave about a show before the reader begins to doubt me? How much praise can I heap before he suspects nothing could reach the height of the words? However much, trust me, I could laud Alps no Shoujo Heidi (Heidi, Girl of the Alps) up the red cliffs of Falknis and back without overstatement. This is one of the most beautiful anime ever made, the plot as compelling as the characters living it are lovable. A venerated classic, its visuals of yesteryear are so exceptionally realized and dwelt on that they haven’t their match in the spare-no-expense productions of today, the music energetic and joyful at opening and end, subtle yet ethereal in between.

The temptation on encountering this special anime might be to ascribe its glories to simple fidelity to Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi, given its own canonical reputation and unabated popularity. To be sure, unlike the last-reviewed Swiss Family Robinson, this series follows the source very closely, the credit for which goes to director Isao Takahata; Hayao Miyazaki was among the other contributors, as viewers may guess from the flight motif in the opening. Takahata’s themes have seen criticism, by Recovery of an MMO Junkie director Yaginuma Kazuyoshi in AnimeRight News interview, among others, but Heidi, Girl of the Alps can bear no such objections. It is the perfect paean to rustic life and olden ways, and like many of Miyazaki’s later works is a heartfelt (and appreciated) tribute to European culture.

For any readers who don’t know the story, Aunt Dete is hurrying five-year-old Heidi, overdressed in layers of clothes, through the Swiss village of Dörfli and up the Alm mountain on a hot summer day as it begins. Dete has cared for orphaned Heidi for years, but with a promising new career lined up, she‘s marching her niece up the heights, to leave her with her grandfather, known by all locals as the Alm-Uncle. A gruff old man with a rumored dark past, he lives an isolated life, raising a pair of goats in a hut beneath the boughs of three great fir trees, shunned by the villagers the rare times he ventures down to sell cheese.

After stripping to her petticoat and running with the goats that goatherd Peter leads up the Alm each day, the already invigorated Heidi makes it to the Alm-Uncle’s hut, and the uncle is hardly more than told he’ll have the care of a young girl than Dete runs off. But the awkward moment is short. Heidi’s love of the mountain’s beauty, the goats and wild animals, and her rampant curiosity—captured wonderfully in the opening theme—warm the Alm-Uncle’s heart, and soon they are close friends. The particular delights of the anime set in here. Heidi’s cosy bed of hay in the loft with a gorgeous little window, her daily ascent to the pastures where she spends afternoons playing with Peter and the goats, her befriending Peter’s blind Grandmother, for whom she is a rare solace in age, are lifted right from the book; even the names and traits of the goats are largely the same (incidentally, I noticed the sound for the bleat of her favorite, a smaller goat named Yuki was reused in the Swiss Family Robinson anime, a failed attempt to repeat earlier success).

Other plots expand upon Spyri’s story in the best way: in the book, it never seems to rain on the Alm, so it’s a special delight that an early episode features a storm. There are a few