Horus Prince of the Sun (or The Little Norse Prince) is something of an event film in anime history, a spectacular looking production that features a veritable plethora of famous names turning up in its credits. For a film from 1968 it looks incredible, with fluid animation and virtuoso scenes such as the final battle – with a chase on animals of cloud, a troll fighting a giant ice mammoth and an army of Norsemen on boats. For anyone interested in animation history, or indeed the heights the medium has reached in its past, it cannot be recommended enough.
It uses its visual language and music very well; I would say the aesthetics significantly outweigh the relatively slight writing and plot. Music – particularly the song of Hilda – is central to the plot, and so sections of the film’s soundtrack are effectively diegetic. For a film focused closely on village rites, traditions and superstitions – and with a story surrounding, effectively, a siren casting a spell on those villagers, this use of diegetic music is effective.
The music becomes all-encompassing, completely integrated into the visuals, rather than standing distinct (as it does in sections where it is non-diegetic, scoring the action in more traditional film music ways). Similarly, the wedding-scene, in which the diegetic music comes from the villagers rather than Hilda, turns this siren-song effect on its head; the otherworldly music of the outsider who – it is revealed – is an unwilling agent of chaos is set directly against the genuine music of the community coming together to celebrate their own.
This is a simple juxtaposition, the single singer who enthrals all and draws them away from work and responsibility versus the community united by song. But in a film which is focused, ultimately, on the outsider entering the community and seeking acceptance, it offers a reminder of the power of community. Much as the people came together to fight the wolves, they come together in joy and music in a way which the outsider, who is made to use her own talents to divide that community, cannot bear. It almost feels like one can extrapolate from this that scenes like the wedding and the fishing, scenes where the community pull together safe from the influence of the outsider, offer a counterpoint to the scenes where the town is hostile and inward-focused; a community can exclude outsiders out of suspicion and ill-will from those with power, but at the same time its closeness and hermeticism can be a source of strength and warmth.
Visually, I was utterly enthralled; the visuals and character designs are full of character and heart, with big, emotive usage of stylisation, facial hair and fluid animal motions and some truly impressive landscapes and backgrounds. I was particularly fond of the scene in the flooded village; while only short, and not particularly remarkable in the grand scheme of things, it exuded loneliness, mystery and something quite profound-feeling. When set against a much more dynamic sequence like the battle against the monstrous fish, it is a sedate and perhaps bland piece of film but it evoked – or more accurately prefaced – equally profound-feeling post-flood scenes in anime. Hikaru and Misa exploring the ruined precursor city in Do You Remember Love, or the railway station scene in Spirited Away. From a purely personal aesthetic perspective, that short scene of a flooded village stuck with me long after I had finished watching Horus.
Possibly this has something to do with how pervasive water is throughout the film as an aesthetic and narrative device. Oceans, cliffs, rivers and lakes seem to recur from the opening credits to the film’s ending, where the coming of evil is shown through the prevalence of ice. Even in the dream-sequence in which Hols finds his courage, the water imagery continues; the imagery may be thematically relatively simplistic in this literal use of an ocean of doubts and worries, but as part of a visual motif throughout the film it fits. If anything the aesthetic consistency of the film, and the relative simplicity of its themes, work together well; there are strong juxtapositions of aesthetics or events to provide, ultimately, a balanced depiction of the central themes of loyalty, trust and community.
It works as a circular narrative, in a way; the troll Mogue sets the quest in action and completes it, the sword is broken and reforged, the outsider enters the community, is cast out then returns. All of these fit its folkloric narrative. Thus while the writing itself, the script and the pacing may not stand out in the way the visuals and sound do, they are strong in their straightforwardness. That one can identify how the visual and aural language of the film contribute to reinforcing the plot shows how carefully-crafted it is. Once again, as a piece of filmmaking considered artistically and aesthetically it is unreservedly recommended, a fine combination of all aspects of animation that stands out among contemporaries. Do not watch Horus expecting a particularly complex narrative, or indeed a film I would call compellingly paced. It meanders, and its developments are eminently foreseeable. But it is a fable. Consider it in that way, consider its mythic tone and roots, and lavish in how well-crafted a piece of cinema it is.