A few day ago I was looking through a old collection of my anime tapes when I saw a copy of Hols: Prince of the Sun/ Taiyo no Oji: Horusu no Daiboken AKA The Little Norse Prince from 1968. This film is very important in anime history for two major reasons, the first one that this film was the directorial debut of Isao Takahata, and the second reason is that many anime historians consider this to be the first major anime film to break away from the Disney style of film making thus putting anime films down their own creative path.
Note: I will use the name Hols to describe the main hero, many fan translations in the past thought there was a link between the “prince of the sun” title and the Egyptian sun god Horus so his name got translated into various forms of Horus. But in recent years the film’s creators have cleared this up by saying that there is no connection between the sun god Horus and the main hero in this film, his name Hols is a form of a common name found in northern Europe. Also, please excuse the quality of the screen captures, my tape of this movie is very old and not even my best professional level VCR player could do anything for it.
The film begins with our yet unnamed hero fighting off a pack of wolves with a hand ax, and while battling the wolves our hero awakens a stone giant named Mogue who asks our hero why he as disturbed his rest. The boy tells the giant that he was being attacked by silver wolves, and the giant tells the boy that those wolves are the followers of Grunwald. The boy notices that the giant is in pain and he asks him whats bothering him, and the giant tells him it’s only a thorn, so the boy climbs up the giant and discovers that the thorn is really a sword. The boy attempt to remove the sword as the giant tells him he’s not strong enough, and after a mighty struggle to boy manages to remove the sword.
When the boy pulls the sword out the giant praises him and tells the boy that the sword is called the “Sword of the Sun”, and he can keep it as a gift but will he be able to reforge it? The boy climbs off the giant and tries to use the sword but nothing happens, and the giant tells the boy that if he can reforge the sword and present it to the giant then the boy will be called Prince of the Sun.
Hols leaves the giant and heads home, and when he gets close he is summoned to go see his dieing father. When he goes to see his dieing father, he tells Hols that he must return to their original village on the coast of the north sea to unite the people and battle the demon that drove them away from the village, and then Hols’s father dies and Hols burns their home and heads off. Hols takes to the sea with his friend (Koro) a small bear, and after a long journey they find land again. Once on shore they are attacked by giant birds and Koro and Hols are separated, Hols yells to Koro to find a village with people and wait for him. Hols is carried many miles away by the bird then dropped into rugged mountains to die.
After Hols climbs to the top of the mountain he finds Grunwald holding his rope, he invites Hols to become his brother because he admires his strength. Hols asks Grunwald why he should join him, and Grunwald tells him because he’s the strongest and smartest person in the world. Hols refuses and attacks Grunwald, Hols is quickly defeated and falls down the mountainside. Later Hols is found unconscious by a small child and taken to the local village, he is taken in by an elderly blacksmith and his family. Hols learns that a monster is plaguing the fisherman of the village, and later Hols finds out that the blacksmith’s son in law was just killed by the monster.
While at the man’s funeral Hols watches as the men of the village argue and debate about how to kill the monster fish but nobody does anything, so Hols grabs some spears and heads off on his own. After a intense and dreadful battle with the fish Hols manages to kill it, and once he returns to the village the villagers discover that the game fish have returned.
Prosperity has returned to the village along with the fish, and Grunwald is very unhappy when he hears that his favorite fish was killed. Grunwald is also very angry to learn that Hols is still alive, and he wants him dead before he gains more power, also back at the village Koro is reunited with Hols. Just as the village is having a celebration a large pack of Grunwald’s wolves attack the village, but the wolves gets their asses stomped because the villages ban together. Hols gives chase to the pack leader with his friend Koro helping him, and they chase the leader far away from the village.
After a long chase Hols and Koro lose track of the head wolf, but their attention is drawn to a destroyed village by a beautiful singing voice. Inside the village they discover a girl about Hols’s age who lives there all alone, her village was destroyed by a demon and she is the lone survivor and a curse in upon her so no village will accept her. Hols tells Hilda that they are alike and that she should return to the village with him, so she agrees to go back with him. The villagers are smitten by Hilda’s singing, almost all work stops whenever Hilda starts singing.
As time passes and Hilda sings more and more the villagers do less and less work, it’s almost as if they have lost their will to do anything. The silver wolf is spotted again and Hols gets some help and tries to reforge the “Sword of the sun”, but their efforts seem to have no effect on the sword, and when Hilda comes to see what’s happening she has a bad reaction to the sword.
Grunwald sends orders for Hilda to destroy Hols and recover the sword from him because after all Hilda is his sister. The village women try to integrate Hilda into their group but she refuses saying that everything will turn to ash anyways, and the closer everyone tries to get to Hilda the more she pushes back.
As a wedding is going on in the village Hols is out chasing the silver wolf, he throws his axe and misses and when he goes to retrieve it he finds it missing. Later we see Hilda with the axe seeming to direct a attack of rats on the village, the village is almost totally destroyed and even the bride is almost killed. When Hols returns Hilda casts suspicion on Hols, and later she help a power hungry guy by giving him Hols’s axe.
The next day the children make Hilda come outside to play with them and later when Hilda is alone with a sleeping child one of Grunwald’s helpers orders Hilda to destroy the village and kill Hols. Hilda says that she won’t kill this child, but one of her friends says what good will saving one girl do, all you’ll create is another lonely Hilda. Hilda’s two animal friends battle for her soul, with one of them telling her to live and love like the villagers, and the other one telling her to destroy the village and kill Hols and live forever like Grunwald. After awhile Hilda declares that she has a demon heart, a demon brother, so she is a demon, and it’s her job to fight humans.
Hols stumbles upon Hilda singing in the forest and it’s such a sad song he asks her to share her pain with him, but she says that he’ll be killed by a demon and runs off. When Hols returns to the village he is accused of trying to kill the head man with his axe. All sorts of trouble ensues, Hilda refuses to vouch for his presence with her, and even someone accuses Hilda of the attempt. Before it gets ugly Hols takes his axe and tells everyone he will return with proof of his innocence.
While out in the woods Hols runs into Hilda who tells Hols that he’s so stupid for thinking that they were friends. She and her bird friend tells Hols that she was behind everything, the wolf attack, the rat attack, the assassination plot, and she wants him to fight her. She pulls a knife on him and uses magic to corner him, he tells her to stop and says that even if she is a demon she can regain her humanity, but it doesn’t work and she attacks him forcing him over a cliff.
After the deed is done, Hilda’s friend Chiro (the squirrel) tells Hilda that she’s through with being her friend saying she’d rather live and die with the humans rather than go back to Grunwald. When she returns to Grunwald he tells her good job, Hols is now trapped in the forest of delusion and hill wander around lost until he dies. Hilda tells Grunwald that she’s done and now she’ll go back to the north to live alone under the ice of a frozen lake.
Grunwald is displease at Hilda for threatening to leave him so he shows her visions of the villagers and Hols tracking her down and killing her, and he tells her that this will happen to her if she doesn’t go to the forest of delusion and kill Hols once and for all.
Once Hols is gone, Grunwald attacks the village with snow and ice spirits, some villagers run and hide inside while others try to organise a defense for the village. While Hols is trapped inside the forest he comes to grips with his inner fears and masters his delusions and is able to find his way out. Once he exits the forest he finds Hilda waiting for him, Hols tells Hilda that he now knows how to defeat Grunwald and return her to being a human being, but she attacks him instead. Hols soon disarms Hilda and tells her to return with him but instead she disappears telling him to save his friends.
The village is now under full assault from Grunwald and his snow demons, many villagers try fleeing but many want to make a stand and fight the demon. Hols returns telling the villagers that he now knows the secret to reforging the Sword of the Sun. While Hilda is out in the snow storm she comes across Koro and the small child that liked her so much, they are almost dead from the snow and ice, so Hilda gives them her wrap and she takes off her necklace charm and places it’s around Koro neck and tells them to go and take and with them her life’s charm, they are lifted into the air away from Hilda who is left alone in the ice and snow.
After a while the ice demons beat Hilda to the ground, while back at the village the Sword of the Sun has been reforged. Grunwald seeing the the sword reforged leads an attack directly into the heart of the village, and the villagers lead by Hols charge forward to attack. Hols charges up the ice demon and slays the silver wolf while the villagers protect Hols from the other demons using arrows. Just as Grunwald and Hols are beginning single combat the villagers start to flee for another large demon is attacking from the rear, but they are wrong it is the return of Mogue the stone creature.
Mouge congratulates Hols on the fine sword he has, and says he’ll take care of the giant ice demon. Koro and the child return and give Hols Hilda’s necklace telling him he can use it to fly, Grunwald seeing the turn of events starts to fly away from the battle. Hols dons Hilda’s necklace and flies after him with the villagers following, and they chase Grunwald to his icy lair. Hols and the villagers do battle with Grunwald and soon Hols disarms him, the villagers surround Grunwald with flaming arrows and Hols’s sword summons sunlight into the icy lair and Grunwald cowers in fear. Hols throws the Sword of the Sun at Grunwald and he and his ice palace sink into the sea. Once the palace sinks beneath the sea Hilda’s necklace disappears from Hols’s neck and Hilda’s friend Chiro breaks down in tears for Hilda.
The next day, the ice and snow are gone replaced sunlight and warmth, Hilda awakens in the forest confused about why she is still alive with out her charm of life. She is drawn to some noises she hears in the distance to find the villagers and Hols rebuilding the village, and then she is spotted by her friend Chiro and the child who loves her and they rush to greet her. Soon Hols walks up to and smiles at Hilda and takes her hand and leads her back to the village. Well, That’s all for this movie.
Well, this movie is interesting and important for several reason. One of which is that you can see the birth of “classic” anime storytelling when viewing this film, the hero’s quest, the conflicted heroine, the weak banding together to defend themselves, and many other themes that will be brought to completion in future projects that many involved the this film will go on to create.
Many people responsible for the creation of Studio Ghibli were present at the creation of this film, in fact many of the people involved in this film were fired or demoted because Toei was angry about the content and cost overruns. Isao Takahata never directed another film for Toei after making this picture, Toei’s loss but our gain. Even though this film lost money it is considered one of the greatest works of anime film making. Isao went on to direct Lupin III, Heidi, The Grave of Fireflies, Only Yesterday, and many other beloved projects.
But to me the most interesting thing about this film is Hilda, while everyone else’s motivations are clear Hilda’s are very confused. We can easily understand the others; Hols, the hero’s quest; Grunwald, who wants to rule the world; the villagers, who want peace and prosperity; even the power hungry villager, he wants to be in charge.
But what does Hilda want? She has always been alone except for her two animal friends and Grunwald, she sits alone and sings sad and lonely songs. When Hols takes her back to the village and they accept her she gets very confused and doesn’t know what to do. Hilda sees happiness and love around her, and even the village girls tease her about having children and becoming a bride, with Hols of course. She gets angry at the villagers for trying to make her happy by telling them it will all turn to dust anyways.
She knows what she is doing is wrong, but until the very end she does it anyways. Every time she does something wrong it causes her pain and suffering in her heart. In many great future anime series and movies you will see a Hilda type character; Monsley in Future Boy Conan, Eboshi in Mononoke Hime, Abelia in Now and Then, Here and Now.
So, If you every get a chance to watch this movie do it, if you can manage to look past the flaws of a 40+ year old anime, you might find out that plot and story are more important the frame rates and resolution. I’ll take substance over style any day.