The first day of the year being a day off had me thinking I could spend part of it watching one of the movies I hadn't quite found the time for in the last weekend of the year just ended. I have movies enough to get to, but my specific thoughts were of an anime feature that had arrived not that long ago. Not quite getting to it until this year worked out in an odd way, though: I was now reaching back an even fifty years to it.

While I suppose I might have taken some notice of Discotek's licensing notice for Horus: Prince of the Sun and whatever first reactions there were to that on the anime sites I follow, what really made me pick up on the movie was Mike Toole putting it at the top of a list of "The Other 100 Best Anime Movies," a half-joking response to a previous list by someone else that had seemed at first glance all the easy, obvious choices, and itself an exploration of the fine lines separating curiosities, obscurities, and hidden gems. Describing Horus as the breakout moment where Japanese animation had first created something other than "kids' stuff" (although Toole had put a good number of features made in the years just before it not that far down his list, too) did get my attention. When I happened to see the movie on special sale on Right Stuf at the exact moment I could order enough other things to reach the rarefied goal of free cross-border shipping, I went ahead and ordered it.

The movie really was an interesting experience, although I still wonder a little about the possible risk in taking in "formative works" well after the fact, one of not quite understanding just what its contemporaries had been to take the innovations for granted but fixate on anything that might be called a holdover. I'm also stuck with a familiar feeling that in being invigorated by something I hadn't heard much about before to the point of trying to share my reactions, I risk depriving anyone in the position I'd just been on of their own chance of a similar experience.

Things started without introduction, with the title character, a youth with an odd sense of "Stone Age chic" to his fur tunic and boots (which was different from the other people he eventually met and was explained along the way) wielding an axe on a rope to fight off a pack of wolves. That in itself wasn't quite "kids' stuff," and the animation was quite impressive, although the chase being resolved by a sudden appearance did start provoking a feeling of the story feeling sort of thrown together; that's an easy criticism of anime five decades later too, of course. After Horus drew a sword from a stone (which in itself wasn't enough to give him a wondrous weapon that would solve most of his problems: the sword did have to be reforged) he met up with a talking bear cub, another sudden new element. The supplementary material I started looking at after finishing the movie heavily implied this had been an imposition from above, a more than familiar way to dismiss lighter or dissonant (or, to be fair, both) bits of a work.

After several more introductions, right around when I was wondering if the movie had pieced together at last to amount to a "boys' own" adventure without much of a female presence, a female character was introduced in a way I could tell she was important. My feeling of a "proto-Ghibli" look to the film, with people who'd end up notable at that studio having worked on this one, got that much stronger. (Horus himself did look somewhat "earlier" and, I have to admit, odder at times to me somehow.) In supposing I'd grasped Hilda's character with her first introduction, though, there were some major surprises to come. The supplementary material did make a big deal of Hilda having been the standout development of the film, beyond fluid animation or even animation showing things "not kids' stuff," for others too (although, in the end, it might have tried pushing just a bit too far in building-up comparisons for me in particular.)

If all reactions are personal, I'm not quite sure I'd put this work at the very top of even my "other best anime movies," although a part of that is a familiar reluctance to assign definitive ranks. It did add a very notable point to my still-small list of "anime from the 1960s" I've managed to see, and this time without resorting to "fansubs." I did, though, wind up wondering a bit about the distinctions between elaborate theatrical animation (even with one sequence in Horus that seemed to fall through the cracks to be presented as still frames; it still could be said to work, anyway) and cheap-and-quick television work, and if what I've heard about the movie having been controversial enough in production and content to have been "buried" on first release (a certain plus when it comes to "formative works" for at least some, anyway) amounted to its rediscovery, even in the decade just following, having to be balanced against the possibility of its innovations having been independently reintroduced in somewhat different contexts (although the supplementary material did include pointing out resonances in the later works of the people who'd worked on it). Even that wondering, though, doesn't keep the movie from having meant something to me not just as "one part of a larger puzzle" but as itself.