Five years ago, I made a top ten list for best anime series. A surprising entry on that list is Cinderella Monogatari, which got the number 9 spot. Since writing that list, I’ve re-watched a couple of old anime series, and have gained a deeper appreciation on a few of them (especially Cowboy Bebop, which only got an honorable mention in that list), that I now think they are more deserving to be in that list instead of some of the entries, including Cinderella Monogatari.
But that doesn’t mean that I now think Cinderella (I’ll be referring to it as such from this point; Cinderella Monogatari is kind of long) is not as great as I thought it was. Yes, I now believe that a couple of anime series are better than it, and I know it’s not free of dumb things that can be nitpicked, but it’s still a notable, well-made anime series. It’s still one of my favorites. In fact, let me make this bold statement: Cinderella is, in my opinion, the best retelling of a classic fairy tale in all media – including Disney movies. Really.
For starters, Cinderella made it a point to put ample personality in each of its core characters.
Cinderella’s “fairy god mother”, Paulette, is literally her godmother, as she is a friend of her mother. Thus, there’s much more sense why this character is motivated to improve the life of Cinderella instead of being a mere deus ex machina that comes out of nowhere.
Just the same with the original story, the stepmother and stepsisters are mean to Cinderella, and have unjustly made her their servant. But they are characterized in a somewhat likable way that though you might want them to be punished for their bad deeds, you still want them to be redeemed eventually rather than come to an ill-fated end. And that’s what exactly happens.
The prince, Charles (“Leonard” in the Filipino dub), finding the duties of a prince tiresome, occasionally sneaks out of the castle and visits the town in plain clothes. In such circumstance, he gets to meet and become friends with Cinderella. And as they go on adventures together, the prince becomes a better, more mature person from their experiences as well as Cinderella’s positive influence. Thus, he grows from a good-natured but slacking prince into someone ready of succeeding as king.
As for the titular Cinderella, she is the most profound, most charming depiction of the character ever. She is meek and submissive to her stepmother and stepsisters. But her yielding compliance isn’t portrayed as a weakness at all; her motivations are clearly out of love for them, or at least, for her father who adopted them into his household. Her personality is overflowing with grace, kindness, gentleness, cheerfulness, and optimism that she touches and wins over everyone she encounters, even her worst enemies. She’s the epitome of female virtue and decency.
The detailed, purposeful fleshing out of the characters is a clear indication that thought has been put into the writing of this anime. And an important result of this is the story being freed from the quick, superficial, by-the-numbers romance that fairy tales are known for (including what the original “Cinderella” fairy tale has).
The thoughtful writing brings about a magnificently well-developed romance between Cinderella and Prince
Charles Leonard (I have more fondness for the Filipino dub’s name). It takes its time; it doesn’t
rush. They started as friends, became best friends – their friendship going deeper with every passing
adventure they share – before coming to fall in love.
I also love the aspect in which Leonard is so down-to-earth that Cinderella never at all suspected that he’s the prince. Thus, when she fell in love with him, she didn’t fell in love with “the prince”, but his person. Likewise, when he fell in love with her during the ball, he didn’t fell in love with some random enigmatic girl he had never met in his life, but he fell in love with this “enigmatic girl” because she resonated the quintessence of Cinderella, something he probably suspected but not fully realized then. Hence, there are no stupidity and shallowness in the romance, which the traditional Cinderella narrative’s “love at first sight in the ball” has.
A huge chunk of fairy tales’ charm is hinged on romance, and thus, due to the smart handling of this facet, Cinderella succeeds in being a better version of a well-know fairy tale. Even Disney animated movies, which are arguably the most definitive and most popular fairy tale retellings ever, don’t really have much substance in the “love story” aspect of their stories. With the exception of Beauty and the Beast’s Belle and the Beast and Aladdin’s Aladdin and Jasmine (but only because their love story has more room to be fleshed out by the fantastic animated series and direct-to-video sequels), I don’t think the Disney royal couples have interesting love stories. Thus, Disney movies are better productions overall, but as far as being a retelling of a fairy tale is concerned and impeccably executing its romance, Cinderella is superior.
I’ve re-watched Cinderella Monogatari many times through the years (the latest of which was early this year). And the fairy tale love story of Cinderella and Prince Leonard still gets me every single time. It’s a love story that I probably won’t ever get tired of witnessing unfolding.