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“The Princess Meets the Tinder-box Soldier”

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This influential series in the history of anime was produced by Mushi Production, the pioneering studio founded by Osamu Tezuka, a pioneering artist credited for the beginnings of anime. This was the first series devoted to folktale-related stories designed for Japanese audiences, and its success created a market for adaptations of Western children’s classics. Cannily planned to run an entire year of weekly installments, the series began on January 3, 1971, with the first installment of “The Ugly Duckling” and concluded on December 26 with “The Little Match Girl.” Along the way came early Japanese adaptations of many of Andersen’s famous stories, including “The Snow Queen,” “The Wild Swans,” “The Red Shoes,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Nightingale.”

This cel comes from the anime version of “The Tinder Box,” one of Andersen’s earliest publications, itself an adaptation of an international tale, Type 562: The Spirit in the Blue Light. Here the plucky soldier, helped by the three dogs of the magic tinder box, has slipped into the royal palace and is introducing himself to the princess who will eventually become his bride.

The anime version changes Andersen’s plot, in which the princess is first taken to the soldier’s chambers while she is still asleep. In this telling, the Princess is weary of dealing with stuck-up nobility and is delighted when she is accosted by the soldier, a commoner with just the right kind of spunk to run off with. One imagines that the Danish tale-teller (who had little sympathy for pompous aristocrats) would approve of the anime’s retelling.

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