Sunday, 29 January 2012

Shoujo Cosette (2007)

Out of all the Les Miserables adaptations that I've seen so far Shoujo Cosette is easily the most time-consuming. It's a Japanese anime series that consists of a whopping 52 episodes. It took me almost   three months to watch the entire series (with English subtitles) after I downloaded the BitTorrent. Was this adaptation even worth all of my precious time?! Well...yes! Shoujo Cosette is an excellent adaptation of Hugo's novel. Even though it's aimed at kids it doesn't dumb down or over-simplify Hugo's story and is, for the most part, an extremely accurate adaptation. In fact this is probably the most accurate adaptation of Hugo's book that I've seen! I was shocked at how many small details were kept in from the book. Below is a more in-depth review of the series : )

The animation
The animation in this series is really well-done and beautiful - especially for a TV adaptation. OK it is a bit too cutesy and pretty for what is, at times, quite a dark story and some of the characters don't look quite as they should. Cosette has been changed from a blue-eyed brunette to a blue-eyed blonde and Valjean constantly talks through his moustache (which was endlessly amusing!). Also, Enjolras' hair is blonde but it's much longer than I imagined it being from reading Hugo's book. However you can't help but admire the quality of the animation, and the animators did a great job with the character designs on the whole. I especially liked what they did to Marius (who is very cute in this version), Montparnasse and Enjolras (despite the overly long hair). Here are some images of the characters:

Young Cosette and Gavroche
Teenage Cosette
Jean Valjean
Cosette and Marius
Madame Thenardier

The story
Every other adaptation of Les Mis that I've seen up until now has concentrated first and foremost on Jean Valjean's character and his efforts to evade Javert over the years. But this version takes quite a different approach. It shifts the spotlight away from Valjean and firmly onto Cosette. This is her story more than anyone else's. I was quite surprised by this but maybe I should have seen it coming with the title. In fact Javert doesn't even get that much screen-time in this version. Don't get me wrong, the Valjean-Javert storyline is still in this version. It's just not the main focus of the series. Now I'm sure others will disagree but I personally thought this made for a really refreshing change. I liked the fact that they'd obviously tried to do something a bit different and didn't just go for the obvious Valjean-Javert storyline that everyone else went for. Also, the sheer length of the series means that the writers didn't need to rush the story and could take its time to develop the characters. It sticks extremely closely to the book too and there were many scenes and characters in this series that either very rarely get shown in Les Mis adaptations or don't even get shown at all. For example: we get to see Fantine and Cosette together before Cosette goes to live with the Thenardiers. We get to see Cosette and Valjean living at the convent. Marius's grandfather is in this adaptation - and it's properly explained why Marius has a frosty relationship with him and why he has a prior connection to the Thenardiers. We get the Gorbeau house robbery. The revolutionary students and the Patron-Minette are all in this and mentioned by name. Enjolras is in this adaptation. Eponine and Azelma are in this adaptation and Gavroche is their brother. Sister Simplice is in this. Gavroche's elephant is in this. Montparnasse makes several passes at Eponine. Monsieur Mabeuf is in this version. Valjean dies at the end... I could go on and on. I think the only major event that was left out was Valjean's time on the prison ship. 

Really there isn't all that much that I can criticise about this series but there are a couple of things that stopped the show from being as good as it could have been. The first issue I have is that there are some episodes (particularly the early ones) that are quite slow-paced and don't really do enough to move the plot forward. For example: the first dozen episodes or so deal primarily with Cosette's time with the Thenardiers. In one way this was nice because we do get lots of character development, but in another way it wasn't nice because there's only so many episodes of child abuse that I can stand to watch. In fact it wasn't until Valjean rescued Cosette from the Thenardiers that the series really began to pick up.

Now one issue that some have with this series is that some of the characters that die in the book end up surviving in this version. To give yet another example: in one of the earlier episodes Gavroche gets given a cute puppy sidekick named Chou Chou. Eventually Chou Chou goes on to save Gavroche's life on the Barricades. Now I'm probably in a serious minority here but I don't actually mind Gavroche surviving all that much because at the end of the day this version is aimed at kids - and kids would have probably found Gavroche's death upsetting and possibly even traumatic. I can just picture it now! Mummy! Why isn't Gavroche moving?! It's actually the survival of another character that bothers me more but I'll get to that in a moment.

The characters
Apart from the girl who plays Azelma (she had an extremely annoying voice) the voice acting was good in this version and the characters are probably the most well fleshed-out and believable out of all of the Les Mis adaptations that I've yet seen. I'm not going to discuss all of the characters in this review but I'll talk about the characters that this version portrayed particularly well and the one that wasn't portrayed so well.

Since Cosette is the main character in this version I might as well start with her. Well, she was portrayed very well in this. You get a much stronger sense of her personality in this series than you do in the musical because (as much as I love it) Musical Cosette does come across as being quite bland. I certainly didn't want to strangle Cosette in this version either unlike Claire Danes' Cosette in the 1998 movie! Cosette comes across as being very likeable in this version and you genuinely want her to find happiness. She's adorable, beautiful and sweet and deserves everything she gets at the end. Marius also gets one heck of a good treatment in this version too. Although he gets the awesome Empty Chairs at Empty Tables song, Marius comes across as being bland in the musical as well because most of his backstory is left out. But this version includes all of his backstory! We even get the scene where he guns down a man who's trying to kill Gavroche! And the scene where he saves the Barricade by threatening to blow it up with dynamite!

I loved what they did with Eponine's character as well. She starts the series off as being a demanding, selfish, over-indulged little BRAT who deserves a good slap. She's also insanely jealous of Cosette for some reason - even though her parents give her pretty much everything she wants and Cosette gets absolutely nothing. Eponine bullies Cosette, treats her like crap, and helps to make her life a misery. But as time passes and her family falls into poverty, Eponine's parents start exploiting her. She begins to realise that her parents are immoral and don't truly care about her. Although still very flawed, her greed lessens and she becomes a much nicer and more sympathetic person. You feel sorry for her. Another thing I liked about this series is that, unlike the musical, you completely understand why Marius falls in love with Cosette and not Eponine. In the musical Eponine is pretty, and she and Marius are really good friends and seem to have known each other for quite some time. The fact that Marius then falls in love with Cosette at first sight often annoys people because they have this idea that she "stole" him from Eponine. But Marius and Eponine don't get many scenes together in this particular version and by the time they meet Marius has already seen and fallen in love with Cosette anyway. Cosette is prettier than Eponine too. There were three scenes that involved Eponine's character that I particularly enjoyed. One was a scene where Cosette and Eponine meet as teenagers and talk about their lives together as children. OK, they were taking a liberty since this never happens in the book but the things that they were saying to each other felt true to their characters and I wish that it could have actually happened in the book. Eponine's death scene is also pretty moving too although not as sad as A Little Fall of Rain in the musical. The third scene is a bit of a cheat because it actually involves Eponine's absence - she doesn't appear to Jean Valjean on his deathbed like she does in the musical. That never really made sense to me. OK, Fantine appearing to Valjean makes sense but why is Eponine there? What impact did she have on Valjean's life? I don't think Valjean would have even recognised her! It would have made a million times more sense if the Bishop had appeared to him instead.

Now I'll mention the character that wasn't portrayed so well in this version - Javert. In every other adaptation of Les Mis, Valjean spares Javert's life. Up until this point Javert has firmly believed that Valjean is a villain. His morals and legalistic black-and-white views of the world are then crushed and his whole world is turned upside down. He realises that everything he has believed in about the law and justice and criminals being automatically bad people who are never able to change their ways has been wrong and he can't handle it. It makes him question the entire point of his career and life. He loses his mind and kills himself. In this version Valjean spares Javert's life, Javert is devastated, it looks like he's about to jump into the river... but then there's a glorious sunrise and Javert has a sudden epiphany that "People can change! And that's actually a good thing! Hurray!" Tears roll down his cheeks, he learns his lesson, and he doesn't kill himself. I'm sorry, WHAT?! The decision to let Gavroche live isn't terrible in my eyes but letting Javert live?! Come on! Keeping him alive just irritates fans of the book and I highly doubt that kids would have got very upset if he'd died. They could have even had him die off-screen or fall into the river by accident if it was the death-by-suicide aspect that they were worried about upsetting kids. So yeah, Javert doesn't kill himself. And in the final episode, after Valjean dies, we get a montage scene and Javert turns up at Valjean's grave. Now this did make for a strangely moving scene but it's absolutely crazy. And hang on a minute. I thought Valjean's grave was supposed to be unmarked? And how old is Javert anyway?! I always thought that since Valjean and Javert knew each other from their time at Toulon that they were roughly the same age. But Javert doesn't show any signs of ageing in this version. Valjean's hair goes grey in this version but Javert's doesn't. Is Javert some sort of cyborg?! It's a shame really. If it wasn't for this change to Javert's character then I don't think fans of the book would have very much to complain about.

But you know what my favourite thing about this version was for me and I haven't even talked about it yet? How it presented the revolution and the students. The Barricade scenes are the most exciting part of Hugo's book and this part is done extremely well in the series. This version shows much love to Enjolras, Courfeyrac, Combeferre, Jean Prouvaire and all the rest - particularly Enjolras. He expresses guilt that people in society are suffering when he himself has lived a relatively privileged and comfortable lifestyle as the only son of wealthy parents. He also starts off with a very low opinion of Grantaire because he thinks he's nothing but a lazy drunk who doesn't take anything seriously, is only going to drink his life away, and doesn't really care about the cause. But at the end Grantaire stands by Enjolras and finally earns his respect. The two then get shot by a firing squad.

Overall: Shoujo Cosette is a really, really good adaptation of Hugo's novel. It was most definitely time-consuming and a real challenge to get through but it was a great experience and I did enjoy watching it. Apart from the bizarre, random decision to let Javert live it was extremely accurate to the book and was in some ways better than the musical. The musical will probably always be my favourite adaptation of the book but Shoujo Cosette is now my second favourite adaptation. Even if you don't usually watch anime this series is still well worth a watch and would make for an excellent introduction to the book/musical for children.

Rating: 4.5/5 (I could have given it 5/5 if they'd killed off Javert)

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