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When I was a little kid, I rarely wandered beyond the sight of my house. The outside world was a big, scary place which I was afraid to get lost in, and I had plenty to do without leaving the cul-de-sac where I lived. However, there was a sort of definitive moment when I was around eleven years old in which I started to explore my neighborhood, and realized a sudden thirst for adventure. At some point, I found this huge forest with a bike path going through it, and my brother and I spent a considerable amount of time exploring it over the course of one summer.
Ookii Ichi-Nensei to Chiisana Ni-nensei, which translates to The Big First Grader and the Small Second Grader, reminds me of the moment when I realized that I could, to at least some extent, navigate this big ass world. That sense of fascination over every single thing that I saw out in the forest, and the sense of accomplishment that came from finding some new place that I didn’t know–that my parents didn’t know–that no one seemed to know–those are the feelings that this short film reminded me of.
Born out of the Young Animator Training Project, Ookii 1-nensei was not only my favorite short film of the year, but probably my favorite thing to come out of studio A-1 Pictures since Tsuritama. Let me clarify up front that there’s not exactly a deeper meaning or subtext behind this film that endears it to me. You could easily watch this with a small child and they’d be able to understand and enjoy it–possibly even more than I did. It certainly feels like the kind of thing which I would’ve liked as a kid, although despite having Masaya’s personality growing up, I was particularly short like Akiyo.
This is a friendly, kidly story about a tall first grader named Masaya who’s a little bit shy and afraid of the dark–traits which belie his underlying courageousness and willingness to do anything for his close friend: the short, spunky and outgoing second grader, Akiyo. While I can’t say that these are the most memorable characters around, I think this film does a great job of making them act and react like real kids, and it never goes out of its way to ham up their personalities like a lot of shows would. Masaya’s shyness or Akiyo’s energy are never overstated or exaggerated, and there are moments wherein the animation captures the mannerisms and expressions of little kids in ways that make the characters feel very real. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell that the voice actresses playing the kids are actually older women, which I found to be an odd choice for a project like this.
More than anything, what sold me on this film was the combination of art and music, which creates this very Animal Crossing, borderline My Neighbor Totoro vibe. While the aesthetic is soft, with pastel colors and simplistic designs, the background art is carefully crafted with just enough detail to make the world feel alive and real, which in turn makes it that much more fun to explore. Even more inviting is the soundtrack, which I’d love to get my hands on, as it has that folksy, homey sound which you can find in places like the towns in a Zelda game, or The Secret World of Arietty; but presented more along the stripped-down lines of Animal Crossing music.
Now I’ll admit that I won’t be the least bit surprised if most viewers aren’t as impressed with this film as I was. Those who’ve followed me long enough will know that I love anything which can fill me with a childlike sense of wonderment and adventure–with stuff like Ponyo and Arietty being among my favorite films of all time. I always relate this back to how I grew up on a heavy diet of Winnie the Pooh, rendering softly-colored forests full of friendly creatures and soothing soundtracks as pretty much the purest form of nostalgia for me; but I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily easy to tap into that feeling–this short just happens to do a good job of it.
I’m not saying that this short is comparable to a Ghibli film in quality, and it certainly won’t give you the same kind of feels that you might get from something like Totoro. Some of the dialog and some of the shots in this film go out of their way to make the point of what’s happening blatant, so that even little kids will be able to follow what’s going on; and while that isn’t a problem, I did find a little voice in my head saying, “okay I got it,” a couple of times. I’m not saying this is a problem with the work, it’s just that as an older audience member I’m obviously going to pick up on things a little quicker. That said, when I think about a hypothetical future scenario in which I’m showing this film to my four or five year-old son or daughter, I’m glad that it’s so easy to follow.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to watch this short legally for free with English subtitles, so if anything you’ve heard or seen in this video sounds interesting to you, I recommend finding a download or stream on whatever site works for you. Not everyone will enjoy this as much as I did, but if you’re the type of viewer who relishes in the intimate little details and moments of a story, then I’m sure you’ll find something to like about this short. If nothing else, it definitely needs more love, as according to MyAnimeList, it is long and by far the least known thing on my top 20, with less than two thousand viewers. Go pump that number up, everyone!
Once you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought of Ookii 1-nensei to Chiisana 2-nensei in the comments below, and in case you missed them, check out my videos on #17, Parasyte, and #16, Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis and Fastening Days, and stick around on my channel to see what my fourteenth-favorite anime of the year is tomorrow!