Panda Kopanda is a pair of sort films from the early 1970s. Yes, that is even older than me. It was put out by Tokyo Movie Shinsha. You may remember them as the studio behind Magic Knight Rayearth & Versailles no Bara. That might give you low expectations but it was also written by Miyazaki Hayao, back before Studio Ghibli was a thing. And he’s done screenplays for some of the best anime films out there. So, get your expectations away from mediocrity or worse.
We open with young Mimiko seeing her grandmother off. Apparently it was time for the old bat to go into a home. (Actually, she’s going on a trip and can’t take Mimiko because she has school.) While on her own, Mimiko finds out that something strange happened while she was out. She swiftly finds the culprit and it’s a baby panda named Pan-chan. Pan-chan’s father arrives and is very upset to learn that Mimiko has no parents. So, he decides that he’ll be her father and, in exchange, she says she’ll act as Pan-chan’s mum. I know that sounds really questionable, but it isn’t. Thus the trio forms a bizarre little family.
The biggest issue with the films is, ultimately, that it doesn’t always take full advantage of its scenarios. For example, there’s a segment where Mimiko takes Pan-chan to school and some shenanigans ensue. But, ultimately, considerably more could have been done with this. Then there’s the grandmother. Mimiko having a grandmother doesn’t really do anything. Theoretically, she’ll get back from her trip at some point and that will lead to something, but there were only two films and that never came to fruition. Having her departure scene doesn’t really do anything and having Mimiko write to her doesn’t really do anything. Although, tying into the first point, there could have been a really funny scene of the grandmother reading the initial letter and misunderstanding it. It also is a bit weird that some animals talk and others don’t. Most of the circus animals, for instance, don’t say anything.
With that being said, the content they do have is fun and it has a real charm to it. Watching the characters interact with circus animals is fun. The stuff we do get at the school is enjoyable. The initial meeting with the characters is a fun time. There’s never a moment where what’s on the screen is just nothing. Miyazaki also does a good job of bringing in some minor sources of tension for the children. As adults, we know it’s going to turn out okay but for the intended audience, they work well.
The cast is simple, but they’re entertaining. Honestly, their interactions and dynamics are strong enough for a work with a comedic bent. Even if it was intended for older audiences they’d be perfectly functional in that regard.
The artwork definitely shows its age. It uses that really old school style where the animation is a bit janky and the art style is very basic. Honestly, though, it holds up pretty well. You’ll never confuse it for a newer series, but the bright vibrant colours and simplistic style do have their own sense of charm when they’re used well.
Our little family is voiced by Kumakura Kazuo, Oota Yoshiko and Sugiyama Kazuko. You might not be super familiar with them since a lot of their acting roles are in older anime but they all give solid performances. The music is very energetic and just fun.
There isn’t any romance whatsoever in this. So, no ho-yay. And, in this case, that’s a good thing.
Areas of Improvement:
Now it’s time for me to present those changes that I think could have made for a better work.
- Cut out the grandmother. Honestly, I think it would have been better if they’d left out the grandmother and had a girl, living on her own and finding a strange family with talking pandas. The grandmother just does nothing.
- No Mum. Basically, instead of having Mimiko agree to “be Pan-chan’s mum” I’d just have her agree to help take care of him and have her treated as an older sister. Because the mum thing is the only part of the films that’s weird and not in a good way.
- No More Mute Circus Animals. I don’t really think they all need to talk. Especially since most of them appear very briefly. But the Tiger mum could benefit from some actual lines. Especially since her baby talks and has quite a bit of dialogue. And it just comes across as strange that she only seems capable of making actual animal sounds.
In the end, Panda Kopanda is an entertaining, endearing children’s film. If you’re just looking for something that’s simple and fun, give it a go. It’s not one of Miyazaki’s best works, but it is quite good. I’ll give it a solid 7/10.