The legend of Robin Hood, the heroic archer known to steal from the rich and give to the poor, has been told in song, theatre, radio, film, and television for over six centuries.
In film alone, the Bandit of Sherwood Forest has been reimagined, reinterpreted, parodied, and animated since the early years of the medium. It was only eight years ago in 2010 that we got our last live-action version, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe as the honorable thief. And this week, we're getting yet another film adaptation: Robin Hood, an origin story starring Kingsman's Taron Egerton taking up the mantle once held by the likes of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, and more.
In the past 100 years, most Robin Hood adaptations have come from either the U.S. or England. However, there are exceptions. Robin Hood and the Pirates was a 1960 Italian film that had Robin leaving the Sherwood Forest for the high seas; 1966's Beware of the Car was an update set in Russia and followed an insurance agent who stole cars from government officials and gave the money from selling them to orphanages.
Then there's Robin Hood no Daiboken, a Japanese anime series.
Robin Hood no Daibouken (Robin Hood's Great Adventure) was a 52-episode anime series produced by Tatsunoko Productions that ran from July 1990 to October 1992. The story followed Robin Hood as he battled Baron Alwyn, who ordered the burning of Robin's castle in the series first episode. The attack led Robin and his cousins Will, Winifred, and Jenny to venture into Sherwood Forest to escape imprisonment or death at the hands of the Baron and his accomplice Bishop Hereford. There they befriend Friar Tuck and Big John (later named Little John), the head of a gang of runaways who have also fled to the forest to escape Alwyn's tyranny. Together they protect themselves and the forest from Alwyn and his cronies.
Most episodes followed a similar pattern, opening with a shot of a young woman sitting alone in a room presumably lit by moonlight knitting with her eyes closed; an unseen narrator is then heard introducing the episode. The plots usually involved Alwyn — who, with his sleek black hair, long nose, and long, thin mustache, comes across looking like a medieval Dick Dastardly — and Hereford launching a scheme to rid themselves of the outlaws. They would send a group of heavies into the forest, and Robin and his friends would find a way to send them packing.
With there being countless adaptations and interpretations of the Robin Hood story, there is no telling what sources director Koichi Mashino and the team at Tsunoko mined their source material from, and by how much. While there are similarities to other Robin Hood stories — such as the main characters Robin, Tuck, Little John, and others, as well as the forest setting — there are some differences unique to this series.
The main departure between Daibouken and most of the Robin Hood adaptations that came before or since is that both Robin and his Merry Men aren't men at all, but rather children in their pre-teens (the only adult in their group being Tuck), giving the series a Peter Pan and the Lost Boys-type dynamic as they battle against the adult Baron and Bishop. Then there are other, series-specific characters: Robin's parents, George and Mary Huntington, his three cousins, and Cleo, a young girl who develops a deep relationship with Robin but seeks to kill him because she believes he's responsible for the death of her brother Gilbert.
A knight who dresses like Ike from Fire Emblem, Gilbert is first an antagonist and later an ally of Robin Hood. He is based on Sir Guy of Gisborne, a character that has been around since the earliest songs of the legend. Sir Guy has made many appearances in both print and visual media, mainly as either an antagonist or a rival to Robin for the heart of Maid Marian (who is also a child in there series, so ewww).
Another major departure is the absence of Robin Hood's most famous antagonists. Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham don't appear until episode 40, with the Sheriff being referred to as "Fox" in the English dub (the only one that is available online) and both characters taking a backseat to Alwyn.
Mashino and his team of five screenwriters also took liberties with the legend by putting in a strong environmental message throughout the series. Most notably, though, they also injected the kind of magic and spiritual elements more commonly found in anime than the usual Robin Hood fare.
Robin's bow is no ordinary bow, but a magic bow that only those pure of heart can wield (like the Sword of Omens); Miriam's gold cross allows her to channel some kind of power that is used a few times and then never mentioned again; and lastly, Robin, Miriam, Cleo, Gilbert, Hereford, and Alwyn are killed and reborn by the forest after Alwyn tries to steal the sphere of eternal life hidden there. Robin doesn't even steal from the rich and give to the poor until Episode 30, and then never really does again.
There's also a spaceship in Episode 28.
As far as animation is concerned, besides the occasional uptick in quality, Daibouken is pretty cheap when it comes to its visuals. Speed lines to emphasize movement, complete lack of any personality animation, repetition of animation (such as Robin prepping and later using his bow and arrow), character designs, and backgrounds — all legit criticisms of the series, but also par for the course when it comes to Tatsunoko Productions' anime.
One of the first studios to focus solely on television anime, Tatsunoko Productions, founded by Tatsuo Yoshida and his brothers Kenji and Toyoharu, is known for producing two of the most recognizable anime series in history — Mach GoGoGo, aka Speed Racer, and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman — and for producing anime on lithograph rather than cells, which eventually became the industry standard. Because of its output and budgets, Tatsunoko has been compared to Hanna-Barbera, the U.S animation company known for producing "limited animation" series once animation moved from the theaters to television. (Funnily enough, Hanna-Barbera produced its own Robin Hood series, Young Robin Hood, in 1991.)
Since Daibouken wrapped up, Robin Hood has been absent from anime outside this year's Fate/Extra Last Encore as "Archer."
Even if this new version of Robin Hood becomes this year's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it seems almost assured this isn't the last we will see of Robin Hood. As proven by the interesting mess that is Robin Hood no Daiboken, as long as there are movies and television, there will be people out there with ideas of how to tell the Robin Hood legend better than their predecessors. Let's just hope next time they bring it to anime, they put together a story that will better hit the mark.