Many anime inspired by classic children’s books have been produced and aired, often with artistic merit rivaling the original works. The many installments of World Masterpiece Theater come to mind. A few of the base works were adopted with passion into Japanese culture—thousands of the international pilgrims to Green Gables in Cavendish, PEI, hail from the Land of the Rising Sun—but few are natively written! Candy Candy is an exception. A glorious, lovely exception. Shojo incarnate, this classic touched the lives of, mostly, girls across not only Japan, but worldwide, decades before easy anime sharing and streaming online. With the near total exception, strangely, in the two countries where it is set: the United States and Great Britain.
The origin novel Candy Candy went to press in 1975, by Keiko Nagita writing under the pen name Kyoko Mizuki; at the same time, a manga adaptation illustrated by Yumiko Igarashi began serializing in Nakayoshi. Igarashi‘s extra flowery style, full of big, bright-lipped smiles, does not always translate into animation, but is sometimes evident, as in the eyecatch that heads this article. The TV Asahi anime began in 1976, running through 1979, when the manga too would conclude. Nagita was openly influenced by L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, though I think the mark of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess is also pretty clear—for those keeping track, though, the anime adaptations for those came out in 1979 and 1985, respectively, so any influence in the medium we’re concerned with was the other way around.
Set at the turn of the Twentieth century, one snowy night, two infant girls are abandoned outside Pony’s Home orphanage, near Lake Michigan. Left by their parents with nothing but their given names, Candice “Candy” White and Annie are found and raised by the kind-hearted nuns Sister Pony and Sister Lane. Found on the same day, Candy and Annie are special friends, almost like sisters, and inseparable, Candy being rambunctious and sometimes getting into well-meant mischief, and Annie her happy follower. Childhood is naturally a time of close friendships, and theirs is ably shown. It is moving when Annie stays with the wealthy Brightons, looking to adopt, for one night, and neither she or Candy can sleep, each longing for the other. They are happily reunited; but in short time, Annie is adopted by the Brightons. When Candy is 12, Mrs. Leagan comes seeking a playmate for her girl, Candy is ready to find a home of her own, heading for their estate, Lakewood. But Pony’s Home remains where Candy’s heart is, and her returns throughout the series provide refreshment for her spirit. As Candy grows, the keeping of the friendships she made at Pony’s Home and her refusal to forget or apologize for them is a recurring theme.
Candy never actually plays with the Leagan children, Eliza and Neil. They torment her and vindictively frame her for wrongdoing from the moment she steps up to Lakewood’s portico, hating her simply for being adopted; Eliza especially leaves the viewer wondering if she has any life of her own, a negative presence that might remind shojo fans of Peach Girl’s Sae Kashiwagi. Before long, Candy despairs, and runs back toward Pony’s Home. Then, in the mists, she meets a handsome, mysterious boy playing bagpipe, her “prince on the hill”. After a few words, he is gone, leaving only an Adley family crest behind. In a story where almost all the characters are Anglo-Saxon, the “childhood friend” element this brings in is reassuringly anime. The meeting of Candy’s “prince”, brief as it is, shapes her destiny.
Returning to the Leagans, Candy braves her persecution, drawing strength from the kindly servants, and from Mr. Albert, a hobo resident in the nearby woods, as well as from her adorable raccoon Kurin (the contemporaneous Raccoon Rascal is usually blamed for the mass importation of raccoons, now native to all 47 prefectures, but I suspect at least some of the children begging their folks for the soon-to-be-failed or -escaped pets were looking for their very own Kurin).
Soon, she meets Anthony, a member of the Adley clan who looks much like her “prince”. As she grows enamored of the gentle boy, who keeps a fine rose garden on the Adley estate, she also grows close to his cousins Archibald “Archie” and Alistair ”Stear”. The three are Candy’s allies against Eliza, Neil, and older relations hostile to their orphan friend. An appeal they write to elusive paterfamilias Grandfather William secures her formal adoption, as Candice White Adley.
This is a melodrama that has been likened to soap opera, so giving away too much would spoil the enjoyment. Suffice it to state that as Candy seeks her place in the world, living amidst high society but a kindred spirit to those in humbler conditions, she travels widely, and affects many hard hearts with her persistent kindness. She sojourns in England to attend an exclusive boarding school, and there encounters the school’s bad boy, Terry Grandchester. Terry, if the majority of fandom is to be believed, is her destined soulmate.
The series had a wide showing internationally, with Latin America, France, and Italy among others now boasting many middle-aged women reared on its innocent, wholesome fare. By whatever accident, almost none of Candy Candy reached the Anglophone world (TOO wholesome? Candy is a strong-willed yet feminine girl, and Christian prayer is often visible). Due to an acrimonious lawsuit between Nagita and Igarashi over ownership, it is sadly unlikely to be released in this language in official capacity. Fansubbers have done the work, but quality is inconsistent, with some releases having gone through a third or even fourth tongue before reaching ours! Fans will have to look around for the best subs to view. Even so, after 115 episodes (plus one short recap movie, and one 1992 short remake) you may feel as if Candy were a treasured friend, wishing there were 115 episodes more, if only you could remain together longer.