(Sorry it's so small! I really like this one, but I can't find a bigger version! Help!)
I give this lovely little anime...a 90/100!
Once upon a time, a woman named Louisa May Alcott published the book Little Women, and it wound up being a surprise hit, so much so that it spawned two sequels. It's popularity around the world couldn't be ignored. It was so popular in Japan that FIVE anime were made for it within three decades, two of those anime being part of the World Masterpiece Theater staple. The first series was made in 1987, and this version, based on the book Little Men, in 1993, the year I was born. On another related note, whenever a show or anime gets a sequel, usually it's just for a cheap cash grab, and they end up not as good as the original version. However, there are extremely rare times when a sequel ends up not only matching the greatness of the original, but being better in both quality and execution thanks to a loving, ambitious staff? Funnily enough, Little Women 2: Jo's Boys, is one of those better sequels. (Note: the title for this show is very misleading, because even though it's called Jo's Boys, it's not based on the book its named after. Rather, it's an adaptation of the second book, Little Men. The reason for the translation is unknown. The Japanese title is Wakakusa Monogatari: Nan to Jo-sensei, making it less misleading. They probably chose the third book's title to show that it's really about the children Jo takes under her wing, the majority of them being boys)
You don't need to know very much about the source material to enjoy this anime, but it's a little good to know what happened before so you know why these characters are doing what they're doing. Anyway, Jo March, the second child in her family, is now happily married to Fritz Bhaer, has two very young children way below school age, and started up a new school called Plumfield, hoping to encourage a new generation of children to fulfill their hopes and dreams regardless of the sexist, gender preferential social norms of the time. The story begins with a new student, Annie Harding, aka Nan, arriving at the school. She's quite the tomboy, like Jo was, and they wind up forming a strong bond, but not without some troubles along the way. Nan has no trouble making friends with the many colorful classmates like the prim and proper Daisy, her gentlemanly brother Demi (Meg's kids), the shy and gluttonous Stuffy, the timid but musically gifted Nat, and especially the school's class clown and prankster, Tommy, who isn't above picking on her and pressing her buttons for the fun of it. All of Jo's kids learn various lessons on life and hope to grow into good people.
Starting in 1989, the budgets for WMT shows began shrinking with each passing year due to disputes with the TV station, but it didn't stop the producers from delivering good animation quality despite a few hiccups here and there. It's pretty much the same as other WMT anime: soft, fluid when it wants to be, and it does its job well. The soundtrack is okay, but engaging as it is, I didn't find it to be to my liking. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad. I liked it, but some pieces made some scenes come off as kinda cheesy despite its intentions. It didn't bother me much, and I've heard MUCH worse, so I'll let it slide. Yeah, I don't have much to write about for this part.
Once again, just like with every WMT anime ever, the characters are the show's strong point. Everyone has personality and character to them, and aren't just cardboard cut-outs. You have the tomboy who just wants to be accepted for who she is, the prankster who has some hidden depths to him, the young lady who feels like she can't be like her friends the way she is, etc. Nobody's bland or one-dimensional. Not only that, every character has subtle backgrounds, and even when you don't know who their parents are or what backgrounds they come from (Nan, Nat, Daisy/Demi, Tommy, Stuffy, and Jack are the only ones who have confirmed relatives mentioned, shown on screen, dead. No, it's not the same for every single one of them), you don't need to do a lot of guessing in order to figure out what kind of background they come from. Not only that, the episode's stories are decided by the characters, which creates good, interesting conflict, like Nan going past the fence to collect berries with Rob only to get lost during a storm, or Dan convincing Tommy and Nat to play poker in the dead of night. None of the conflicts come off as cheesy, melodramatic, or forced. They play out quite naturally, like they would in real life. Plus, isn't it fun to see a bunch of kids having fun and chasing each other around, like we used to when we were young? Also, Tommy is the most adorable thing ever, and the fact that he's voiced by one of the very first anime singers I've been exposed to isn't helping matters (it may be due to seiyuu bias! Sorry!).
I originally saw the first ten episodes in 2011, when Licca Fansubs first worked on it, but I dropped it at episode ten for two reasons. The first being due to other obligations I had to attend to, like school. The second being...I found episode ten to be rather boring, and I kinda lost my motivation to watch the show after that, also because Licca Fansubs took a while to release episodes due to the translator's health problems. I got back into it a month ago, and by God, dropping it at episode ten proved to be a HUGE mistake, as it was the episode right before it suddenly grew the beard and became awesome, particularly with the introduction of one character named Dan Kean. Seriously, the show suddenly got awesome after that, as introducing Dan really opened many doors for the series, all of which were explored and executed wonderfully! It also paved the way for some of the best, most well executed conflict, internal and external, I've ever seen in an anime, and it never let up, reaching a whole new level. Since then I've been immersed like no tomorrow! THAT is what Growing The Beard (find it on TVTropes) is and how it's done! I really wish shows like these got dubbed here in the US, because I see no reason to think American kids won't love watching sweet shows like this about kids being kids, growing up, and learning important life lessons. Seriously, who says American kids HAVE to love only high octane action shows?
If you're looking for something sweet and heartwarming that'll remind you of the good old days and keep you on your toes at the same time, this is one of those anime I wholly recommend.