Even these tapes cost something

  Call of the Wild
1983 | Toei Animation Ltd.
Call of the Wild UK Precision Video

"An adaptation of Jack London's immortal work." That means the book can only be killed by beheading. But is safe from attack in any branch of Barnes & Noble.

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Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck was a TV special for Fuji TV animated by Toei and based reasonably closely to American author Jack London's 1903 novel.

Widely held as its author's best work, Call of the Wild follows Buck's progress from pampered domestic dog to fierce wild animal. When he is stolen from Judge Miller's family estate in the Santa Clara Valley, Buck is forced to learn quickly the ways of his savage ancestors. Sold to be a sled dog, the once complacent animal is exposed to harsh realities and the freezing and hostile environment of the Canadian Yukon.

The classic tale had been made famous on the big screen in 1935 by Clark Gable and Loretta Young and while others followed, including an English effort in 1973 starring Charlton Heston, this remains regarded as the definitive version. Nearly all films based on the book, including these, concentrate on the human characters, reducing Buck to a supporting role.

First broadcast 3rd January 1981 the TV special condenses the whole seven chapters of the novel into a single 68 minute movie featuring little dialog, mostly opting for narration and the silent interaction of the sled dogs. The following year Sunrise produced a TV Special for TBS based on London's companion novel White Fang.

The theme and closing songs sung by Ken Narita, well known in Japanese TV themes at the time, having sung on Cyborg 009, and the hit Denshi Sentai Denziman as well as the Toho movie House. The theme was included in several Toei TV theme compilation records.

Call of the Wild found itself as one of a raft of Toei TV specials marketed to companies overseas. Seemingly unperturbed by the aggressive nature of the feature, an English dubbed version was created by Harmony Gold in 1983 who also filled their shopping basket with Dracula, Frankenstein, Captain Future, Little Women and Run for Life.

Of the others specials on offer Les Miserables went to Ziv who had also, several years earlier, made their own version of Captain Future.

Call of the Wild was released on video in the USA by Vestron in 1983 and for a brief time in the UK in 1984 by Precision Video. It was also dubbed into numerous other languages for TV and Video distribution such as the French version as L'Appel de la Foret.

Call of the wild toei
A publicity still from Toei

Here in merry old England we have two video ratings for family stuff; U and Uc. The U (or Universal) is the equivalent of your American G rating meaning perfectly inoffensive. The Uc means not only perfectly inoffensive but specifically for young children, so - kind of a 'Super G'.

Somehow this video was sold with the Uc "Particularly suitable for children" certificate (though not likely officially awarded) which, according to the ratings board means it is "particularly suitable for pre-school children". This rating also ensures...

"There may be brief scary scenes and moments where the characters are placed in danger. As with violence, however, these scenes will be balanced by reassuring elements, such as comic interludes or music."

No comic interludes here, and I don't see how cheery music is gonna make little Timmy forget watching all those dogs drown under the collapsed ice. Every time he hears the ice cream van visions of a man beating a dog mercilessly with a club run through his mind. When it snows you hear the pained howls of mistreated sled dogs? Good luck with the therapist Timmy.

I'm not sure how the following video managed to squeeze into these criteria. Maybe the sun shone on the TV screen during the numerous scenes of jaw-droppingly brutal violence. But, since this is England after all, it's not that likely.

The opening depicts stone age times where grey wolves assisted Fred, Barney and the rest of the Water Buffalo Fraternity to bring down large furry pre-fossils to take home to Wilma and Betty. This sequence was Buck's reoccurring dog-dream in the book (that's right - someone got there before Wes Craven!) and is our first chance to witness bloody-cartoon-animal-death. But since this kill is entirely hypothetical it doesn't really count. Roy Fokker narrates the dream - and pretty much the next 68 mins.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

"Dog's were tamed and kept close to the campfire for hunting and companionship. They shared the lives of men at history's earliest point and there begins our story. The year was 1899..."

History's earliest point was 1899? What is he, a creationist?

The narration continues as Buck the dog is carried far from his home by freight train. As Roy fills in the details of Buck's sad situation a triumphant 70's track fades up in the background. This oddly upbeat tune will pop up though out this adventure and, like now, often at times of distress.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

This sequence is clearly the opening credits minus the text and with heavy handed narration in place of the lyrics. We flashback to Buck's carefree days on Judge Miller's Santa Clara estate. Santa Clara is in France going by the music. "The Miller family treated him like a special child". I'm not sure you're supposed to allow kids to ride on the 'Special Child', I think Child Welfare might have something to say about that.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Buck enjoys the lazy freedom of the whole estate until one day he is taken for a walk by Manuel the gardener which ends with him being sold for "150" to a dodgy looking man down at the the train tracks.

Back on the train, the dog tires of his reminiscence and attacks his abductor instead. He gets a good bite out of the man's hand but is thwarted by the tightening rope around his neck. The man gets his revenge and the "pained yelp" sound effect gets its first airing as Buck gets the crap kicked out of him.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

As the train slows into the station Sempai gives us some detail on the setting. There is a huge demand for tough, hardy dogs due to the Klondike Gold Rush. If you have a rugged looking mutt you better bolt it to the ground and record the serial number, as demand for potential sled dogs has driven caine theft through the roof.

Amongst the static crowd of a saloon (no doubt frozen by the cold) the seller locates a buyer for his ill gotten hound. A caged Buck is transported by boat to Seattle where he is delivered to a Sled Dog Training camp and his first lesson is "Being repeatedly clubbed in the head frigging hurts". His instructor for this part of the course is a man in a red sweater. The other dogs look on growing noticeably more disheartened as Buck fails to defeat red sweater. This sequence beats most other U rated videos for savage violence. Forget the time Postman Pat gunned down those hippies this is easily worse. It's likely the blood impacts got recycled in Fist of the North Star a few years later. There's not many kids videos that can boast this many cries of pain! And the twitching fits - a real clever detail!

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Having learned "The Law of the Club" Buck is allowed food and water. Days pass and eventually our glassy-eyed hero is selected from the multi-coloured stock by Perrault, a postal sled driver for the government with a science-teacher-beard, who needs new blood for his next arduous journey. Buck and another dog are taken aboard a steamer to Alaska. It is here that Buck meets his new human master Francoise and soon-to-be mortal dog enemy Spitz. On their journey Spitz steals Buck's dinner and, while leaping 30 feet in the air as all normal dogs and ninjas do, takes a whip to the face. The soggy steak is returned and Buck learns that Francoise is fair, Spitz is a real douche (and possibly some sort of ninja/Deer hybrid) and that The Law of the Club and the Fang rules everything.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

The party arrives in Alaska. "Buck's first snow was a surprise to him!" laughs the narrator. Yeah, laugh it up while you can, that dog's gonna be bleeding again soon. That night new dog Cali innocently wanders over to make friends with Spitz and the foley guy has his finger of the yelp button once more. An 8 on 1 canine gang-maul erupts and, even with Buck and the humans breaking it up, things don't look too good for poor naive Cali Let's just say, she's not in it any more.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Let's put all this ugliness behind us now with some triumphant music and a sled run. And from Buck's mutantly expressive face we learn it's a difficult one. First they run facing left, next they run facing right - they've got both directions covered. Eventually the team stop and camp for the night, two new dogs are added to the roster. Poor old Buckster hasn't got a clue how to keep warm at night so he goes to ask Sol-ek, mistakenly approaching the one-eyed dog on his blind side. He ends up bitten and chased for his blunder. Eventually Buck is taught by Billy that its totally natural for two male dogs, out in the wilderness, to bunk up and share body warmth in an ice hole together. Even better if goofy Alex Kidd style music plays in the background.

"The next morning came early..."

Yeah, thanks for that one Roy. Once more the sled dogs head across Alaska's frozen plains, Buck's impressive abilities stand out to his human masters. So impressive is his sled pulling skill that it sounds like our narrator's fallen for him, "there wasn't a single ounce of fat on his powerful body" as well as complementing his finely tuned senses and even his ability to "use all of his food". Have a cold shower, Roy, and seek help.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Night falls once more. Buck digs his bed and then heads over to pick up his dinner from the humans. When he returns he is pissed to see Spitz sitting in his snow-hole. "One of them would have to die!" announces Roy and the heroic theme begins to play yet again. It turns out that death wasn't that much of a requirement as Buck and Spitz (whose character model has slid from Stag to Panther) have their violent confrontation broken up by the humans. Even so, our once domesticated hero knows that their "ultimate battle" is not far away.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Yet more sled pulling montages. Buck's paws aren't quite up to the harsh cold so Francoise makes him a set of booties to protect them. It's not clear if the other dogs took the piss.

After their arduous montage the dogs have a break period. Once Francoise has finished his bottle of bourbon it's time to move on, but where is sled dog Dave? Spitz finds him slacking off in the snow and Buck windmills in to break it up.

Buck's influence amongst the group grows. Over many, many weeks and many, many montages Spitz's leadership slips and his influence lessens. While stopped for a rest the dogs run free. Buck and Spitz go after the same rabbit - and it is on! It's not even about the rabbit anymore! It has never been about the rabbit! This is is for Cali, and for the leadership and that steak.

Climactic showdown music is taken off the shelf and loaded into the player as the two dogs leap to unfeasible heights, crash over cliffs and plough through interesting locations, brawling more like stuntmen in an overblown Hollywood blockbuster than a pair of angry literary dogs. Their incoherent clash rolls on for a time before finally bringing them to a frozen stretch of water. Evil Spitz slams Buck through the ice holding his head underwater while shaking him up and down as if to loosen all the air out of his lungs. Our hero goes limp, it looks like it's all over for the Santa Clara Slayer but, like many WWF/E wrestlers before him he receives a surprise rush of energy and kicks his doggy opponent out of the water.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Weakening Spitz with a truly hilarious unrelenting volley of 30 foot skydives and repeat animation Buck is back on top. One brutal throat chomp later and it is all over. Spitz sinks below the ice. I doubt this ludicrously overblown battle is how London envisioned it in the book.

With Spitz out of the way Buck is now the undisputed leader. Finishing their last assignment Francoise and Perrault regretfully sell the dog team to a man insensitively described as "a scottish half-breed". The team work even harder for their new master, who seems like a good sort. The sequences of happy sled dogs doing their best and overcoming incredible odds has nearly raised the mood to neutral so it's time for some more reality.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

"Dave started falling down in the traces and became too weak to work..."

All this sled pulling is becoming too much for poor old Dave the dog. The Scotch Half-breed (which makes him sound like Shrek) frees Dave from the traces and allows him to run alongside the sled but even that becomes too much strain. Eventually there is nothing left for McHalfbreed to do than carry Dave off behind a rock and treat him with a house-visit from old Doctor Gun. The others look on forlorn as a shot rings out grimly in the air.

By the fireside Buck has another dream, this one more trippy than before with tie-dye backgrounds and symbolic silhouettes. This once lazy meat-Aibo is returning to his original factory settings.

Having complete their first Scottish mission the gang return to the postal office in Dawson but are found to be too exhausted to start their next delivery. Sled-master Shrek loses out on a lucrative deal as a result so the furry V8's change hands again.

Their new bosses are a trio of inexperienced and incompetent travelers Charles, Hal and his sister Mercedes. As well as being inexperienced they are also stubborn and really dumb. The sled they task Buck and his pals to pull is way too heavy and they neither know nor care how to properly manage the dogs. To make matters worse drama queen Mercedes refuses to walk or to let the men leave any of her stuff behind, adding her weight to the already low-riding sled.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

"Charles, Hal and Mercedes really were weaklings. All of them!"

See, even the narrator hates them, and he is honour bound to stay neutral. During a harrowing trek many of the dogs drop dead from hunger and fatigue. Events draw to a head when mighty Buck becomes the next victim of the strain. Those lucky enough to not yet be dead get to witness their heroic leader be relentlessly whipped by Hal in a deranged attempt to get the dog moving again. A rugged stranger burst into the scene demanding a stop to this brutality. Taking a quick glance at the trio's pulling power he notes "Your dogs are practically dead!" and calls their plans of traveling over the thin melting ice to Dawson "crazy". But Hal isn't the kind of guy who takes advice from a knowledgeable and experienced sled driver and returns to his mutt beating.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Buck momentarily stands but then dismays his master by collapsing shortly after. Hal continues the S&M barrage until he deems it ineffective then searches wildly in the snow for a more appropriate bludgeon. By luck he finds a hefty fence pike and drags it out from under the snow. Buck can't believe his eyes as the weighty club comes down on him. This dog can take more head trauma than Rocky Balboa, and that's saying something!

After standing by for several cranium shattering bludgeonings the stranger can watch no more and disarms the maniac. Hal pulls a knife but is no threat to the stranger who easily takes this weapon too, uses it to cut Buck free and then carries the tenderised canine away. Despite his warnings Hal, Charles and weepy Mercedes carry on their foolish journey and seconds later are lost under the thin ice unceremoniously wiping out the entire remaining animal cast with them. Buck howls in sorrow as his old friends die horribly.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

"Springtime came to the frozen north and a big, violent spring it was!"

Buck becomes great friends with Thornton, the man who saved his life, more so than with any of his previous owners. You'd love another guy too if he rescued you from an acquired brain injury. They play about in the snow with his other two dogs; Ski and the dangerously racist sounding Nig. He accompanies he new master everywhere; bar brawls, bird shoots and gambling dens. One night at the tavern it sounds like Thornton is starting a dirty limerick "I've got a dog named Buck..." but he is actually making a crazy bet instead, wagering more than he has on his dog dragging a hernia inducing mega-load 100 yards. Many are happy to take him up on it.

An enthusiastically rigid crowd grows outside the bar as Buck the Super-Dog makes his attempt. After four minutes of struggling, straining and recycled animation Buck achieves the impossible and makes his owner a fortune. Thornton's love for his hound grows stronger.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Thornton, his partners Pete, Hans and, of course, Buck head east in search of an old mine. While panning for gold Buck hears wolves howling in the distance and it awakens something within him. Sat by the forest one night, the dog spots one of the vocal animals not far away and heads off after it. After a long pursuit the wild animal is cornered and shows aggression but the dog approaches in friendship and wins the wolf over.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

More days pass, and Buck spends morning with the humans while hanging with his wolf buddy at night. Then one day the wolf leads his canine friend into an ambush. The whole pack rush Buck at once and bust out the mauling of a lifetime. But Buck ain't going out like no punk - he can leap several stories into the air! Using his mad ninja skills Buck kills the leader and wins the admiration of the pack who allow him to go on existing.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

The humans are making plans to return to Seattle but it looks unlikely that Buck's gonna be joining them. Thornton gives him the go ahead to join the wolf pack permanently. Finally everything is going to be fine. Buck is living the life he longed for since being kidnapped and beaten senseless by numerous strangers and Thornton has struck gold and will be heading back to civilization to set up his own general store. This story is shaping up to at least have a happy ending.

But it doesn't.

The sound of gun shots rings out one terrible night. Gunshots from Thornton's camp. His trusty four legged friend dashes to the scene but he is far too late. All three men, including Thornton are found laying dead in the snow. Did the isolation of Alaska prove too much? Were they invaded by The Thing? You don't have to be Lassie to work out that this is no double murder suicide.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

This vengeful Littlest Hobo doesn't have to travel far to find the culprits... Yeehat Indians generic goons! The enraged beast takes the gun toting low lives down one by one until only two are left. Unable to hit a dog capable of leaping a building in a single bound, the men run and become separated. Buck goes from Jet Li to Jason Voorhees taking on before unseen supernatural stalking powers, first creeping out of the shadows finish one hood, then the last.

Call of the Wild Arano no Sakebi Koe: Howl Buck Toei Call of the wild

Now, without any remaining links to mankind, Buck returns to the pack to live out a life of legendary wolfhood "In a land as vast and brave as his own soul!" Whatever the hell that means.

Final Animal Body Count: 24

3 Sundry Kills + 21 Dogs
2 attacking Wolves
5 in one montage
8 in the Thin Ice Massacre
Wolf Leader
Ski & Nig - off screen

Humans Deaths: 11

Hal, Charles & Mercedes
Thornton, Pete & Hans
5 murderous goons

Rating based on incredibly complex calculation
Rating is not an average
Missing videos Missing videos

A Parade of Cartoon Cruelty!
Just keep repeating: It's only a kid's cartoon. It's only a kid's cartoon.

Thornton's Crazy Wager
Buck nearly dies to fulfil his best friends drunken boast.

Unexpected video nasty! Caused genuine shock!
Dementedly OTT dog battles
  Fairly faithful adaptation
Bland identikit human characters
Wildly variable animal characters
  Shoddy animation overall
  Average dub

Children will watch time and again as cuddly, fluffy, cartoon dogs get Curb Stomped and mauled to death!

Call of the Wild gives a reasonably good overview of the book, managing to cover all the main events. Trouble is most of the main events are either someone beating Buck senseless or something horrible happening to one of the sled dogs. When you condense the scenes and take out almost all the minor detail and human interaction, you basically end up with 68 minutes of animal abuse. Its like watching a compendium of wildlife documentaries, but only of the death bits, and all the animals being killed are given names and back stories. The sound effects guy has probably never used the 'Pain Dog Yelp' sound so many times until he worked on "Pluto vs Goofy: UFC Dogs Cage Match".

This is not your typically, western made, cheery kiddies musical, it doesn't flinch from depicting the harsh reality of the source novel. Compare this to what an American or Canadian production company would consider a suitable family adaptation of London's book. I'm just saying I doubt the humans and dogs joined together in a merry song about their exciting life in the wilderness while Cali was being gang-mauled to death in the background. This is more Watership Down than Legend of White Fang, and I wonder how many kids sat through it to the matter-of-fact ending.

Aside from all that, the animation isn't great. The dogs are often 'off-model' and the human characters are so bland, forgettable and half assed they look like they came out of "Fashion Wheel 1890 Edition". The insane Kung Fu dog fights enliven things a little and its relatively short running time works in its favour.

Worth a look just once, purely for the unbelievable spectacle of it.