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Little Mimiko is a cute, redhead with Pippy-Longstocking-esque braids. She’s the precocious star of the saccharine Panda! Go Panda! If you’re not excited, that’s okay. This kiddie anime has more than enough enthusiasm to go around.
Our hero’s journey begins at a train platform. She’s seeing her elderly grandmother off to Nagasaki. Granny has reservations about leaving her prepubescent granddaughter all alone. But Mimiko insists she’ll be fine all on her lonesome and shoves her granny into the train car. In this silly and plot-thin anime, Mimiko might be the only sane character. As she skips back home, the county police greets her. He does not seem phased in the least upon learning that a child has been left to her own devices. She arrives home whereupon she makes the acquaintance of a baby panda and his father panda. With the reasoning one would expect of a motherless child and two talking pandas, Mimiko decides to adopt the baby panda as her child and the father as her Papa. Thus the most ludicrously unconventional family is born. Like a lot of kids films, Panda! Go Panda! relies on foolish conflicts to make all the adults look like nincompoops. In what other world would you get a small child and two talking pandas that are smarter than a whole town?
Panda! Go Panda! is possibly one of my least favorite anime films so far. The budget is paltry and it shows. The animation is bare bones. Backgrounds have minimal details, and characters are drawn with economical simplicity. The story is not bad, but it’s not great. It’s mind numbing entertainment if you have nothing better to do. Panda! Go Panda! is most likely best consumed by an audience no older than 10 years of age, and that might be pushing it. So why even bother with this film? It might surprise you to learn that the film was directed by Isao Takahata and penned by Hayao Miyazaki.
The film was released in 1972 right around the global cultural panda obsession and before the formation of Studio Ghibli. Panda! Go Panda! has very few hints of the talent of Takahata and Miyazaki as storytellers and animators. There’s nothing special about it. It’s a simple, generic kids film. Mimiko and baby Panda are so cute you can not help but like them. Papa Panda has a quirky obsession with bamboo and is also irresistibly cute. But the film is as dull and dimwitted as a slug. I can imagine it would have sunk into anonymity were it not for Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s popularity. Fans might see semblances of Totoro in Papa Panda. If you’re looking to peek at the humble beginnings of two Anime greats, look elsewhere. Now to be fair, the film is not that awful. There’s definitely a lot of anime out there that ranks below Panda! Go Panda! It’s probably a fun movie to watch as a kid. It’s even a good way to kill some time on a boring weekend. Most likely Panda! Go Panda! is just a curious relic in the illustrious careers of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.