Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981)

sea prince and the fire child

“We will never be separated – never again.”

The Scoop: 1981 G, directed by Masami Hata and starring Toru Furuya, Mami Koyama, Tony Oliver and Keiko Han.

Tagline: None that I know of.

Summary Capsule: The Prince of the Sea and the Princess of Fire fall in love, against their parents’ wishes. Drama ensues.

Deneb’s rating: *sniffs* Excuse me, I… I think I’ve got something in my eye… *blows nose loudly*

Deneb’s review: Woo boy. I’m not sure where to start with this one. This… this is intense.

Well, let’s start with anime. Anime has really made it big over here, hasn’t it? Real big – the stuff’s everywhere. Yep, sometimes it seems like just about everyone’s a fan these days.

The main exception to this would be me. Oh, it’s not that I don’t appreciate anime – there are certainly some examples of it I’ve liked, and even been mildly obsessed with for a while – but overall, it just isn’t my cup of tea. There are too many aspects of it that just don’t appeal to me – stylistic things, mainly, like the fact that everyone has eyes the size of apricots, or the almost-freeze-frame-but-nooooot-quiiiite thing they do all the time, or the theme songs that never have anything to do with… well, you get the idea. I can certainly see why it appeals to people, but it doesn’t really do it for me.

There are exceptions to every rule, though, and Sea Prince and the Fire Child is one of them. I didn’t really have much choice but to be exposed to this film, and the fact that this is a Tales of the VHS review should tell you why (and if it doesn’t, you clearly haven’t read my previous review. Shame, shame!)

Anyway. This is one anime I dig most strongly, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s good stuff, and it’s a shame that it’s so obscure.

The film is basically a take-off on Romeo and Juliet, but it adds several heaping dollops of fantasy to the mixture. It is set in some previous age of fantasy now lost to man, like Tolkein’s Middle-Earth saga, only earlier.

The backstory involves two elemental gods, Oceanus, the King of Water, and Hyperia, Queen of Fire, his sister. Long ago, the two loved each other dearly, and their realms were as one, and lived at peace. It was all very nice.

Naturally, this pleasant state of affairs didn’t last very long. Water and fire weren’t the only elements in play here, you see – there was also Algaroc, Lord of the Winds. He was jealous of the siblings’ happiness, and decided to stir up trouble between the two. And boy oh boy, was he successful – he started a campaign of lies that led to a nasty spat. Fire and water waged war against each other until they threatened to wipe each other out, and only with difficulty were things calmed down in time.

Subsequently, the two have claimed separate realms for themselves – Oceanus in the sea, and Hyperia in the barren land that borders it. Algaroc, the cause of all the trouble, has had his power taken from him and is imprisoned deep in the ocean, in the menacing Forbidden Zone which skirts the oceans borders. On the borders of her own realm, Hyperia has placed the Holy Flame, which keeps the waters calm and her land safe. The siblings have not spoken to each other since the war ended, and there is sufficient bad blood between the two realms that any contact between them is banned entirely, to prevent the war from starting up again.

That’s all in the past, though. As the story opens, both rulers have had children, who are on the brink of reaching adulthood. Sirius, the Prince of the Sea, lives a carefree life beneath the waves hanging out with Bibble, his spunky li’l mer-kid pal. (For the longest time, I thought Bibble was meant to be a girl, since he’s clearly voiced by one, but no – guess that’s just an anime thing.) While he’s definitely on the flighty side, he does take his duties as Prince seriously (they largely consist of defending the ocean-dwellers from monstrous jellyfish), and Oceanus, while a bit of a distant parent, is clearly proud of him.

Meanwhile, on land, Malta, the daughter of Hyperia, has her own responsibilities. She’s in charge of tending the Holy Flame – every night, she goes to the seaside to guard it and feed it. She’s proud of the job she’s done so far, as is her mother, and is determined not to shirk her duties.

Clearly, these crazy kids have just got to get together. While pursuing a jellyfish across the Forbidden Zone (which he’s not supposed to do, but what does he care; he’s the Prince), Sirius sees a strange glow coming from above the ocean’s surface. Upon investigation, this proves to be the Holy Flame – and naturally, Malta happens to be guarding it at the time.

Naturally, one thing leads to another, the two wind up meeting, one meeting becomes several, and before long, they’re head-over-heels in love. It’s a difficult love, though, since it’s prohibited by both kingdoms’ laws, and neither likes the thought of how their parents will react when they inevitably find out. (They’re also technically first cousins, which is… yeah. Let’s move on.) Furthermore, she can’t survive in water, and he can’t be out of water during the day.

Is there no way that a Fire Child and a Water Child can be together? Well, yes, there’s one faint possibility. There’s a star somewhere in the heavens where fire and water are rumored to live as one, as it used to be in the old days. On the Hills of Elysium, the legend goes, grow the Kaleah Flowers, which sprout and bloom for just a minute or so every ninety years, at the time of an eclipse, and release seeds that float up to said star. If the two lovers can catch hold of the seeds as they’re released, then maybe – just maybe – they can make their way to the place where they can find happiness. And as it happens, the eclipse is just a few days away! Convenient, huh?

There’s just one problem. Neither of them has the slightest idea where the Hills of Elysium are, which puts a slight damper on their plans. Still, it’s their one and only chance, so they decide to take it.

Now, you all remember back at the beginning of this where I mentioned Romeo and Juliet? You know how that ends, don’t you? Ye-ah. Let’s just say that things are going to get worse before they get better, and the ‘better’ part is debatable, if not downright dubious.

All right, before I get into the rest of this review, I should mention that the only version I’ve seen is the English dub. Therefore, it’s possible that there are some subtleties of the original that I’m missing, some story details that got messed around with, etc. (For one thing, there’s a mention of “the highest god of them all” which seems suspiciously shoehorned into what is basically a Shinto-inspired cosmology. Also, according to Wikipedia, Bibble is Sirius’ brother. What?! That makes no sense, so I’m going to ignore it.) Sorry, original-language fans – this is the version I grew up with, so this is what I’m reviewing.

That being said, is this movie any good? Oh, hell yeah.

As is the case with a lot of anime, the artwork is beautiful, but this movie definitely outdoes itself. The two realms of sea and fire are equally gorgeous, but while the latter has a certain majesty to it, what with its spires of rock and mammoth castles and the like, I have a certain preference for the former – natural enough, given that we spend far more time there. The water realm is a phantasmagorical place that looks something like what you’d get if the Great Barrier Reef decided to abandon all logic. You’ve got underwater waterfalls, underwater birds (or something like birds, anyway), fish-type critters of every imaginable shape and size – it’s like the whole world in microcosm, only under the sea. And then there’s the looming majesty of Oceanus and Hyperia, the sinister swirling vortex that is the Forbidden Zone, the countless darting fire-fairies that inhabit Hyperia’s realm – it’s puuuuurty.

What really makes Sea Prince stand out, though, is the fact that it’s that rarest of things these days – a family film that genuinely has appeal to the entire family. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Pixar and the like have done some fantastic stuff, but most of those are primarily really good kid’s films – they’re made for children, but good enough that the family as a whole can enjoy them. I have no objection to such things – indeed, I enjoy them quite a bit – but the term “family film” strikes me as a bit of a misnomer when applied to them.

Sea Prince, on the other hand, is genuinely aimed at the family as a whole. Whereas most family films start by aiming for the littlest children and move up (sometimes not very far up, for that matter), this one starts from the other direction. Yes, you have some typically “kid-friendly” characters – Bibble, the various goofy sea-creatures, the big friendly dog-things that Malta hangs out with – and plenty of stuff that kids will like and enjoy, but make no mistake about it, this flick does not pull its punches. By the end, people will die – not a lot of them, mind you, and not in horrible ways or anything, but they will die, including some you’d think would be traditionally off-limits. The plot is dark, rich and complex, and, despite comedic moments, tragic – remember its inspiration. Seriously, if you haven’t blinked back a tear or two by the end, I’ll be very surprised.

This is not to say it’s perfect, mind you – of course, it never is. Our central characters, while well fleshed-out, are just a tad on the weak side at times. Sirius, our main heroic lead, can come off as an irresponsible goofball at times, while Malta, who in other respects is a fairly strong female role, spends quite a lot of time mooning over her beau, to the point where one is tempted to turn “Sirius, where are you?” into a Mad Libs game. (“Sirius, where are you? Your dinner’s getting cold!”) Furthermore, there is a lot of exposition-speak in this movie, of the “This thing I’m looking at must be the thing I heard about” school. This might irritate some people. (And, oh yes, there’s the fact that, technically, Malta is naked throughout the whole thing. True, it’s not emphasized or eroticized, and you never, y’know, see anything – it’s all very G-rated – and she’s basically a fairy, so it makes sense. Still, people get weird about that sort of thing.)

But y’know what? These are quibbles – they’re problems that either solve themselves or become irrelevant. This is a powerful, haunting little film – the term “achingly beautiful” might have been invented for it. It’s beautifully animated, beautifully scored, the voice acting serves its purpose well (again, English Dub), and it’s just overall beautifully done. This is one of those movies that I can only watch once every year or so, because however familiar I am with it, I want to keep it fresh; I want to keep it powerful. I want to forget things about it and remember them anew.

As is always the case, it’s not for everyone. If you’re a cynical sort who thinks fairytales exist to be picked apart, you’ll probably turn off the TV going “man, that was lame”. (You’re also not someone I would get along with – sorry, but it’s true.) But for all the rest of us, for the dreamers and romantics and fabulists – for everyone, in short, who can appreciate a good fantasy and quality animation – I recommend Sea Prince and the Fire Child most strongly. It’s an underappreciated little gem that deserves much better than it’s gotten.

“Aww, don’t worry, Sirius. I’ve never seen the play, mind you, but I hear this Willie Shakespeare was a really nice guy. I’m sure things will work out just fine.”

Intermission!

  • This was one of the first foreign-made animated features to receive wide release in the US.
  • Sea Prince was made by Sanrio, better known today as the manufacturers of ‘Hello Kitty’. How the mighty have fallen.
  • The film is based on The Legend of Syrius, by Shintaro Tsuji.

Groovy Quotes:

Monster: If we tell you where Elysium is, will you let us eeeeaat yoooouu?

Bibble: Ahh, you’re outta your gourd!
Mugwump: Uh?
Bibble: Well, to begin with, who’d want a king that looks like a soggy hamburger?

Malta: You’re cute when you’re confused!

Seahorse #1: You went to the Forbidden Zone?
Seahorse #2: But that’s impossible!
Seahorse #3: It’s… It’s…
All: Forbidden!

ArisTurtle: Avoid hatred by avoiding each other – that is the law we must obey.

Mugwump: Give me back my eyeball!

Monster: Won’t you be a good birdy and let us eat you?

Children of Fire: Malta the fair, Malta the wild – Malta ran off with a Water-Child! Malta the Fair, Malta the Wild – Malta ran off with a Water-Child…

Sirius: You don’t look much like a savage.

Bibble: Suffering Sargasso! He’s left me in the lurch again!

Malta: We will never be separated – never again.

Seahorse #1: Prince Sirius needs his sleep!
Seahorse #2: He gave the strictest orders not to be disturbed!
Seahorse #3: He did?
Seahorse #2: Well, uh – he would have if he hadn’t been so tired last night!

Malta: They call me Malta of the Flame – Malta the Fair, Malta the Fast…
Sirius: Tell me – what is Malta the Marvelous doing in a place like this?

Hyperia: They want to extinguish my flame and wipe me from the face of the Earth. They will not succeed. My flame will live! My children, gather your fires and come with me!

If you liked this film, try these:

  • The Neverending Story
  • Any version of Romeo and Juliet

6 comments

    • Glad you liked it. Trust me, it’s well worth looking for. (Good timing, too, as it’s only just now becoming available on DVD.)

    • Ooh, good call. I guess I just didn’t think of it – I liked ‘Last Unicorn’ when I saw it, but I’ve only seen it the once, and that was a long time ago. But yeah, that would also fit nicely.

  1. They’re also technically first cousins, which is… yeah. Let’s move on.

    Contrast this to the gods of the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, where marrying your sibling was the order of the day (there’s also historical evidence that the pharoahs may have regularly engaged in incest to keep the royal lines “pure”). In comparison, the relationship of Sirius and Malta is positively healthy.

    And there’s plenty of anime with a complete absence of saucer-eyed freaks. Le Chevalier d’Eon and Project Blue: Earth S.O.S. come to mind.

    • Oh, sure, I know the relationship has mythological and historical precedents – and hey, the relationship has never BOTHERED me, per se; in fact, I don’t really think I’d ever noticed that aspect of it until recently. It’s just something I figured I should mention, given the societal taboos and such associated with it today.
      And yeah, I know there’s anime that doesn’t involve such things – I’m just talking about the prevalent cliches of the genre which have kept me from getting as involved with it as some people.

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