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Rail of the Star

World War II can be a touch subject in Asia because Japan violently expanded, conquering its neighbors, then proceeded to not treat the people in those lands quite badly. Some of the more popular anime that has touched on that period have focused more on the suffering of Japanese during that time. Grave of the Fireflies was about a pair of orphans trying to survive as the war wound down, while Barefoot Gen centered around the atomic bomb destroying Hiroshima. Rail of the Star is an interesting change of pace as it at least touches on the fact that other people in Asia were affected by the war and had a lot of animosity toward Japan as a result.

This is a film that was based on a novel by the same name written by Chitose Kobayashi. It’s an account of what she remembered as a child during this time. Her family was fairly well off, running a business in the northern part of Korea in the early 1940s when Japan occupied the country. Chitose was quite young and sheltered at the time, oblivious of the situation. All she did was play with her little sister, and do little girl things. As the war progressed, and Japan’s fortunes changed, she slowly became increasingly aware that something was wrong. Her family was keeping secrets, her father was eventually drafted to fight, and she met a young Korean boy who was being bullied by Japanese children simply for being Korean and insisting on using his Korean name. Things weren’t going well, and it was becoming apparent that Koreans were not being treated fairly by the Japanese.

When 1945 comes along and the war ends, viewers are reminded that the Kobayashi family are not in an ideal region: the northern part of Korea. This area would be occupied by the Soviets, and they weren’t taking any steps to allow Japanese to return to their country, as opposed to their American counterparts in the south. With that, the rest of the show is about Chito and her family trying to sneak south with a number of other Japanese families.

All that being said, Rail of the Star takes a simplistic look at these things. Granted, it’s being told from the perspective of a girl who is only 6 years old or so, and as such won’t be in a position to bring forth thought provoking, nuanced views. So, don’t go in expecting a thorough look at the atrocities that Japan committed in Korea. The value of this show is that they bothered to take a look at this at all. Japan has a history of glossing over what it did to its neighbors during this time, but Rail of the Star at least tried to address this a little bit, and it deserves a some credit for that.

Visually, the show isn’t much to look at. It was originally intended for broadcast television and aimed at a very wide audience, so the straightforward, easily palatable art style doesn’t come as a surprise. Given the already touchy subject matter, it makes sense that Madhouse would go for a very accessible visual style. It’s a period piece with nods to how things looked in the 1940s and gets the jobs done conveying the locales of the time.

The main thing that makes Rail of the Star interesting is that it’s a bit of an anomaly in so far as anime that looks at Japan in World War II goes. It is extremely rare to come across something that even hints that Japan may have been the baddies in this conflict. So in that regard, this show is somewhat refreshing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explore these things in any great detail, but merely touches on a few things briefly. Nevertheless, it’s a curious anime worth checking out for people who want something a little different than the likes of Barefoot Gen or Grave of the Fireflies when it comes to anime set in World War II.

- IroIro
September 18, 2020

Other Anime by Madhouse that We've Discussed:

- Cyber City Oedo 808 Anime Review

- Tokyo Babylon Anime Review

- The Enemy's the Pirates Anime Review

Directed by: Toshio Hirata
Studio: Madhouse
Released: 1993
Episodes: 1

Rail of the Star Image 1
Cover Art

Rail of the Star Image 2
Chitose playing with her little sister

Rail of the Star Image 3
Russian soldiers looking for former Japanese soldiers

Rail of the Star Image 4
Running to the safety of southern Korea