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Even these tapes cost something
WHITE FANG 
Toho| 1990 | 84mins
 
Finally...

...after much deliberation, several first draft scrappings, decision changes, unexpected delays and missed deadlines, the 2nd Anime Bargain Bin Anniversary super feature is here! With only several weeks of the 2nd year left!

Following on from last year's in depth look at the long lost Future War 198X, we learn the history of another forgotten Bargain Bin classic...
White Fang
, or is it?

American author Jack London wrote White Fang as a companion piece to his earlier and best known work Call of the Wild. Published in a serialised form in The Outing Magazine in 1906, White Fang is the tale of a Wolfdog's journey from wild animal to tame co-habitant set in Gold Rush era Canada in Yukon territory. Through a harsh early life mistreated by his fellow wolves who see him as an outsider, then to the vicious and cruel sport of dog fighting at the hands of his new master Beauty Smith, finally White Fang is saved by a young gold hunter Weedon Scott who takes him back to the family estate in the Santa Clara Valley.

London's novel was first adapted as a silent production in 1925 starring Strongheart the German Shepherd, one of the earliest animal film stars. Only a handful of other screen adaptations followed before White Fang's anime debut. Animated by Sunrise, creators of the world famous Mobile Suit Gundam, Shiroi Kiba White Fang Monogatari debuted on the channel TBS on the 5th May 1982 before a brief video release in 1984. This 85 minute TV movie marks the only time that Sunrise has adapted a classic work and was released at a time when they were purely known as a Sci-fi studio.

Jack London's novel White Fang   Sunrise Shiroi Kiba White Fang monogatari
White Fang: The Novel
 
White Fang: The Anime

In 1991 Disney released a big screen movie adaptation of White Fang. This prompted a slew of imitators in the following years, to capitalise on any interest there was in the classic novel. '92 saw the appearance of a Canadian cartoon series titled The Legend of White Fang which would be shown on TV screens around the world for several years. A young Karl Urban featured in a 1993 TV series also made in Canada based very loosely on Jack London's book. Numerous other cash-ins, including an Australian animated musical, kept the name alive until Disney's subsequent movie sequel White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf's release in 1994.

Amongst the shelf dusty cash-ins that hoped to trick the naive public was a cartoon video titled White Fang released both in the USA and UK timed to coincide with the release of the first Disney movie and then re-released to catch the movie's sequel.

The Legend of White Fang
White Fang Genesis Video
The mysterious 'White Fang'... what are you?
 

This unrelated VHS claimed on its packaging to be "Based on characters from Jack London's classic novel" but the content, bar several character names, bore no relation to the supposed source. The plot synopsis on the sleeve refers to events from the book as if inferring that this animated adventure is somehow a spin-off or unofficial sequel yet events don't seem to tally with the source timeline. An opening monologue recounts the blurb but none of these connections are ever mentioned or referred to in the story that follows.

This opportunistic release was in fact from Japan but was not an English dub of the forgotten Sunrise special. It was true that is took its inspiration from a book, but not the internationally known literary classic it claimed.

 

In 1990 Toho obtained the rights to the book Flight of the White Wolf by wildlife author Mel Ellis. The 1970 published novel had been a regular choice for American schools during that decade but isn't particularly well known.

The Hanson family live in Kettle Moraine, Milwaukee where they operate a well respected dog training school. Their understanding for animals led them to receive an orphaned Wolf cub who they named Gray. Years later the usually peaceful adult wolf kills a prize boxer and, before the family can catch him, he flees into the surrounding woodland. Young Russett Hanson heads off after him but when he doesn't return, the locals believe he has also fallen victim to his former pet and a state-wide hunt ensues to catch and kill the escaped animal. Coming to an uneasy alliance with the wild animal, Russ must evade the persistent stalking of the hunters and use all his knowledge of the natural world and survival skills in order to escort Gray on the long and dangerous journey north to the Nicolet National Forest where the wolf can find sanctuary amongst his own kind.

The story had already been made into a TV movie in 1976 by Disney during the company's period of facination with the natural world. Re-titled Flight of the Grey Wolf to accommodate the hue of their animal lead. Twelve year old Russ is played by nineteen year old Jeff East who later appeared as the young Clark Kent in the first Superman movie and as Jack London himself in the 1979 novel adaptation Klondike Fever.

Author Mel Ellis was a
Wisconsin native living
his whole life in

Milwaukee. A prolific writer on his
passion for the outdoors, before his
death in 1984 he had written 18
novels as well as thousands of
outdoor columns for the magazines
Milwaukee Journal and Wisconsin
Sportsman. He and his family lived
in an old frame house on 15 acres
which was named Little Lakes in the
town of Big Bend. It was from here
he wrote the majority of his
observations on nature and the
wild world.
 

The Disney version bears only the slightest resemblance to the source - here the heroic Grey saves Russ from a vicious attack from Fritz the Boxer before making for freedom. The angry posse want the wolf dead after unreliable reports that the animal attacked a girl while on the run. Russ' parents, who aid their son with supplies and a fully stocked survival pack in the book, are completely absent on holiday for the duration of the adventure. Later the same year the feature was serialised in two parts for the Disneyland TV series and received a Disney Home Video release in 1987 in America and the UK.

  Flight of the White Wolf Mel Ellis 1970   Disney's The Flight of the Grey Wolf   Toho's Hashire! Shiroi Okami
 
The 1970 paperback
 
Disney's TV movie version
 
A poster for Hashire! Shiroi Okami

In 1980 several scenes of the book were enacted for the second episode of the edutainment program CBS Library, a show entitled Animal Talk. The other books discussed on the episode were Jack London's classic Call of the Wild and Rascal, an autobiographical wildlife tale also set in Wisconsin. Coincidentally all three of the books featured in the program have received an anime adaptation at one time or another.

Ellis' widow Gwen was contacted by Toho for permission to make the 1990 anime. With her approval Group TAC began work on the feature length adaptation retitled Hashire! Shiroi Okami (Run! White Wolf). The finished 84 minute movie was released to cinemas on 28th April the same year with a video release from Toho Video following a few months later.

Apparently, Japan has a love of animal literature having taken famous novelist and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton to their heart with numerous reverential anime adaptions of his work. In fact, in the publicty text for this film original author Mel Ellis is praised as being second only to Seton in the realms of wildlife fiction.

Maybe then it is unsurprising that the film proved to be very popular, taking an unexpectedly large amount on its opening day. Shiroi Okami's popularity led to the re-publishing of the source novel as well as an art book celebrating the film.

Hashire! Shiroi Okami was popular too with the judges as it went on to receive numerous awards including Mainichi Shinbum's coveted annual Film Award for the Best Animated Feature as well as the Special Recommendation trophy from the spectacularly named Health & Welfare Council of Central Child Welfare. Futher notable mentions came from the Selected Ministry and Excellent Film Agency too.

Flight of the White Wolf Japanese Novel  
Japanese released novel
 
Pages from the movie's artbook