“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug (Little Women, 11).
Classics are constantly being remade to keep new generations interested. This is something I have noticed with the American story Little Women, which had three famous American movies (1933, 1949, 1994), a musical (2005), and several animes in the 80s but more recently adapted into a manhwa. (And since it is almost Christmas, this is the perfect story to discuss.)
Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). It was originally two books: Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (1868), and Good Wives (1869). The book was followed by another two-parter that was kept as two separate books– Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys (1871) and Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out (1886)–which follow the children that attended the school the previous main character, Jo, created with her husband.
Little Women follows the life of Josephine “Jo” March, a head strong young woman who wants to be a writer. She lives with her mother, Marmee, while her father is in the Civil War. Her older sister is Margaret “Meg,” a governess who dreams of falling in love. Her younger sisters are Elizabeth “Beth” and Amy; Beth is musically incline while Amy is artistic. Other important characters include Aunt March, the father’s great aunt and the neighbors Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, who is friends with Jo and whose grandfather Mr. James Laurence dotes on Beth as he would have for his granddaughter who died.
The book is semi-autobiographical; though unlike Jo, Alcott never married. Louisa was Jo, Anna Bronson Alcott Pratt was Meg, and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Seawall Alcott was Beth. (Abigail) May Alcott Nieriker was Amy and just like her character, May was an artist who illustrated “the first edition of Little Women, to a negative critical reception” (Wikipedia’s Abigail May Alcott Nierkier). Lizzie died tragically like her character, but May died after childbirth leaving her daughter, Louisa May “Lulu,” to Louisa unlike Amy who visits the school her sister creates with her daughter. After Louisa’s death, Comic Tragedies Written by “Jo” and “Meg” and Acted by the “Little Women” was published in 1893 with “A Foreword by Meg,” a.k.a. Anna B. Pratt who held the copyright; Anna died the same year.
A 20-minute episode of the Little Women story, Wakakusa Monogatari, aired on 06 October 1977 as part of the series Manga Sekai Mukashi Banashi (“Classic Tales from Around the World”) (1976-79). So far I have only seen one reference to this episode and very little information about the series.
Wakakusa no Yon Shimai, which translates to “Four Sisters of the Young Grass,” was created by Toei Animation in 1981. Toei’s 26-episode series followed a movie version from 1980. “Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Leiji Matsumoto and Yoichi Kotabe have all worked with the company in the past” (Wikipedia’s Toei Animation); the company is known for Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball series.
In the Toei movie and series, the hair color of the girls are completely mixed up: Jo has blond hair while Amy is a brunette! And Meg’s hair is never correct– in the 1977 episode she is a blonde while Toei has her with black hair!
“Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft, brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns, fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it…Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person — in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners.” (14 Alcott).
When she is introduced, Jo’s hair color isn’t really mentioned , except the “brown,” which might not be her hair color but instead be her skin color compared to the “fair” of her sisters’ skin color. (Beth’s hair color is also not mentioned but she is always portrayed as a brunette in animes which makes sense if Amy is the only one whose hair stands out and the elder two are also brunettes). Jo had brown hair in the novel which is mentioned when she tried to reassure her family that she was okay with cutting off her hair–“[her] one beauty”– to get money by “rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it” (162 Alcott).
Ai no Wakakusa Monogatari, which translates to “Love’s Tale of Young Grass,” was created in 1987 by Nippon Animation for World Masterpiece Theater (Sekai Meisaku Gekijō); others shows in the World Masterpiece Theater include Les Miserable: Shojo Cosette (2007), Kon’nichiwa Anne Before Green Gables (2009), and Princess Sarah (1985) which was based on Little Princess (1905).
This 48-episode series is followed by Little Women II: Jo’s Boys, or Wakakusa Monogatari Nan to Jō Sensei (“Tale of Young Grass: Nan and Miss Jo”), which aired in 1993. Though it’s English title is Jo’s Boys, the story is supposedly based on Little Men.
Dear My Girls (2007), manhwa by Kim Hee Eun, is the author’s interpretation if the March sisters attended a boarding school in England. The main character acts like Jo, but is supposed to be Beth the quiet one. The author really lost the character of Beth in this. The shy and loving Beth became high-strung and looked down upon by her schoolmates for being the only March sibling without a talent (in the original story, she was supposed to be musically talented). Laurie is in love with Beth just like he was with Jo in the original novel, and just like Jo, Beth doesn’t realize it. Jo is a fencer instead of a writer while Meg is a teacher at the school. Amy seems to be the most like her original self. New characters include Greg, Adrian, and Leonora: Beth falls for Greg, who is in love with Meg and the servant of the Avery family; Adrian “Ed” Avery is engaged to Lenora, has a strange love-hate relationship with Beth and is the love interest of Ravin Haven, who mistook Adrian for a girl when he was younger. The head of the school, Leonora, dislikes Beth because her best friend /love interest, Jo, and fiancée, Ed, are more interested in Beth than her. Since the author was quite creative while writing, why couldn’t she be creative enough to create four new character names while she was at it?
“Elizabeth — or Beth, as everyone called her — was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her “Little Tranquillity,” and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturning out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved.” (14 Alcott).
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presences vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind” (46 Alcott).
YKids’ Manga Literary Classics came out with a Little Women manga for children 8 to 13 in June 2007. YKids is part of YParent company Mediacorp Inc. located in Korea, so it probably would be considered a manhwa instead.
A Random Anime Note: The Disney dubs of Studio Ghibli films have several of the actors from Little Women (1994) —Claire Danes who played Beth voiced San in Princess Mononoke, Kirsten Dunst the younger Amy voiced the main character in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Christian Bale (Laurie) voiced Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle.