Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: Daddy-Long-Legs (1990)

Daddy-Long-Legs (1990) is a World Masterpiece Theater Japanese anime based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster. It follows the young female protagonist, Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, through her high school years. She writes letters to her benefactor, a rich man whom she has never met, and thereafter addresses him as "Dear Daddy-Long-Legs" in the series. It contains 40 episodes.

Judy Abbott is a cheerful and intelligent orphan at the John Grier Home. Her parents died when when she was an infant. The children are wholly dependent on charity and must wear other people's cast-off clothes. She has been given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Lincoln Memorial High School by a mysterious benefactor whom she only knows as "John Smith". She has only seen his shadow once, and because of his long legs, she calls him "Daddy Long Legs". He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance. Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity. The only payment she is to give her benefactor is that she write him letters every month but he will never reply.

In high school, Judy thrives as an imaginative student. Her roommates, Sally McBride and Julia Pendleton, also enjoy her whimsical and sincere nature. She also learns etiquette and social norms among New York high society. However, she never confides with anyone that she is an orphan. Since Daddy Long Legs is the only family she has, she gradually becomes attached to him through her letters.

Daddy-Long-Legs was an entertaining show that delighted me. Set in the early 20th century, young women from elite and well-established backgrounds attended private schools and eventually enrolled in private women's colleges like the Northeast's Seven Sisters (e.g., Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Simmons, Vassar, Barnard). Many young women were exploring their options, and the anime (and novel) discuss typical young adult issues. As a coming-of-age story, Judy knows her orphan status makes her different and isolated from her rich classmates. Nevertheless, she enjoys school and gradually gains self-confidence.

It is also a surprising love story. Judy is intrigued and desperate to know more about this mysterious benefactor who suddenly shows interest in her education and well-being. Over the years, Judy grows up to be a lively and attractive young woman with a vivid imagination who takes delight in the pleasures of ordinary life. It is no wonder that her friends and benefactor (none other than Jervis Pendleton) find her company enjoyable. Jervis, who finds high-society life mundane and unbearable, likes her free-spirited nature and eventually falls in love with her.

Of course, over the years of her study at college Judy grows into a lively and attractive young woman who takes enormous delight in the little pleasures of ordinary life. It's easy to see why Jervis Pendleton, her rich room-mate's uncle, finds her company so enjoyable.

The themes of the book also reflect upon Webster's Progressive-Era interests in social work and women's suffrage. Webster insists that American society pay attention to child welfare issues (in this case, orphans), and access to a quality education should not be reserved to the privileged few. As an early feminist piece, it is also promotes that women can become independent thinkers and their voices should be heard in public. In the anime, Judy Abbott loosely resembles Pippi Longstocking (who, in other children's tales, is also very intelligent and imaginative with a strong sense of justice) as a tease, revealing how both share similar personalities.

Young adults will easily relate to Judy Abbott. I highly recommend this story.

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