The Little Mermaid is a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837. The classic tale has the Little Mermaid discover a handsome prince above the seas whom she falls madly in love with. She rescued the prince from drowning, but left before he discovered who his rescuer was. She traded her voice and tongue to a Sea Witch for a potion to give her legs so that she may win over the prince, but if he married someone else she would die the following day. As a human, she meets and befriends the prince, but the prince could only love the one who rescued him, and he believed it was a princess from the neighboring kingdom. They end up married, but the Mermaid’s sisters trade their long hair to the Witch for a dagger that if the Mermaid used it to kill the prince and drip his blood on her legs, could allow her to return to the sea and live. Unable to, the Mermaid falls into ocean and becomes foam, allowing her to transcend into an earthbound ethereal spirit.
|The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.|
In the years since its publication, The Little Mermaid has been adapted to stage, screen and animation numerous times. Each iteration added its own spin on the story; from miniscule details (such as the Mermaid’s hair color and name) to sweeping changes (like making the ending a bit happier for the heroine). Of course, one of the biggest and most recognizable adaptations of the story was Disney’s 1989 film, The Little Mermaid. Not only was it a box office success, but it became one of the most successful home video releases of 1990.
|Marina and Prince Justin.|
In 1991, the Little Mermaid made her debut on television; however, it wasn’t the Disney version. The Adventures of Mermaid Princess Marina (or Ningyo Hime Marina no Bouken) was a French/Japanese co-production conceived by DiC Entertainment founder Jean Chalopin. The series began much like the Andersen tale: mermaid princess Marina (Jun Takanomaki & Sonja Ball) rescued human prince Justin (Takehito Koyasu & Thor Bishopric) from drowning. Marina made a deal with Hedwig the Sea Witch (Chie Kitagawa & Ball) to become human in order to win Justin’s love, but he believed that the spoiled princess Cecily was his rescuer and the one he loved.
|Marina and Hedwig the Sea Witch.|
Where the story begins to differ, however, is that Justin remembered Marina was his heroine and wanted to be with her. The wizard Anslem (Aron Tager), who kept his magical nature a secret and served as Justin’s tutor, restored Marina to her original form and gave Justin a potion that would allow him to breathe underwater for an hour a day. Similarly, Marina manages to steal a potion from Hedwig that allowed her to be human for an hour a day. Episodes would focus around Hedwig’s attempts to use Marina and Justin as leverage to acquire the Amulet of Power from Anslem, her ex-lover, in order to rule the world. Marina and Justin would also try to acquire a Golden Tablet in Hedwig’s possession that had a spell that could make Marina permanently human.
|Marina with Winnie and Bobo.|
Hedwig would often enlist the aid of Cecily, who wanted Justin for herself, and Justin’s rival, Prince Lothar (Shingo Hiromori & Richard Dumont), but mostly relied on her dim-witted shark lacky, Dudley (Tessho Genda & Ian Finlay), her giant octopus, Hugo, and her manta ray transport/spy, Ray. Aiding Marina and Justin were her friends Winnie (Yumi Hiroki & Anik Matern), a seahorse who could fly when out of water and emit a loud sonic scream; Bobo (Carlyle Miller), a tropical fish who spied on Hedwig; Ridley (Sakiko Tamagawa & Arthur Holden), a sea otter who could breathe underwater indefinitely and served as Anslem’s companion; as well as Justin’s goofy, but loyal, page, Chauncey (Ryuzou Ishino & Gordon Masten).
|Singing: "I got a Golden Tablet..."|
The Adventures of Mermaid Princess Marina debuted on February 2, 1991 on Japan’s Fuji TV Network. It was made in cooperation with Fuji’s Fuji Eight Co., Ltd. with animation duties handled by Telescreen Japan and direction by Takehiro Miyano. Initially, Marina greater resembled Disney’s Ariel by sporting red hair and a purple bikini top, and Justin’s design was closer to their Prince Eric’s. Those were changed during the show’s production to prevent any copyright issues with Disney, who owned all aspects of their interpretation (ironically, Disney would come to own this series and the rest of Saban’s library through their 2001 purchase of Fox Family Worldwide, which Saban partly owned and was folded into). The anime ran for 26 episodes and featured a different opening and closing theme written by Azusa and performed by Hiroki.
|Ridley explains the art of imitation in marketing.|
Looking to capitalize on the success of Disney’s film, Saban Entertainment licensed the rights to produce an English dub to the series. The series underwent some minor editing and was given an all-new musical score and theme by Shuki Levy. The series was retitled Saban’s Adventures of the Little Mermaid and was aired in syndication on Saturday and weekday mornings. The show failed to reach the acclaim Disney’s version did, and no further episodes were commissioned on either side of the pond. Music from the English dub was reused in Saban’s next anime venture, Digimon: Digital Monsters.
Despite the show’s short run and relative fade into obscurity over the years, Saban licensed out a wide range of merchandising for it. Noteworthy made a set of Marina figurine stamps in three different poses, a coloring pad/stamp pad set, a vinyl bank, and a pencil topper. Helm Toy made a Marina and Hedwig doll with removable fabric clothing, as well as bendable drinking straws shaped like Marina. Toy Group produced four figurines: Hedwig, Justin and two different Marinas. Paradise released a 13-piece tea set decorated with images of Marina, and a Dough Maker that allowed characters to be made in molds. Unique made a line of party supplies including a tablecloth, candle, invitations and favors. Brookfield made a skate bag, Time Mee Toy a combination gumball machine and bank, and MagikeWerks Publishing of America, Inc. published a storybook as late as 1993. There was also building blocks, a sliding puzzle, bed sheets and a tabletop pinball game.
|The first episode on VHS.|
The series had gone on to be translated in multiple languages and aired in various markets. In 1992, Saban released seven VHS tapes with an episode each in the United States. In 2004, Boulevard, in association with Fox Kids released the first five episodes of the series onto DVD overseas. The next five were released by Maximum Entertainment, in association with Disney brand Jetix. In 2007, Jetix Films released the next five in a set with original DVD art that didn’t match the series it contained. The three volumes were eventually collected and sold together.