Heidi Girl of the Alps- From Switzerland to Japan to Germany
Was that the sound of an Alpenhorn? And a trilling flute! Time for Heidi Girl of the Alps! For many of us in the 1970s, those sounds pulled us away from play time, and we raced to the TV room ready to watch Heidi, Peter, Clara, the goats, and of course Grandfather. It wasn’t until years later that I made the connection between my favorite anime producers from Studio Ghibli to this favorite television program. So, how did a Japanese Anime series based on the Swiss novel by Johanna Spyri become such a tremendous success around the world? And why was it so crazy popular in Germany?
Heidi Girl of the Alps by Johanna Spyri
The story of Heidi, an orphan girl who lives in the Alps was first published in 1881 as 2 books, “Heidi: Her Years of Wandering and Learning (Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre)” and “Heidi: How She Used What She Learned (German: Heidi kann brauchen, Was sie Gelernt Hat”).
Aunt Dete brought Heidi to the Alps after she found work in Frankfurt, and could no longer take care of her. On the mountain, 5 year old Heidi found a home with her grumpy grandfather. There, Heidi meets Peter, learns to go into the mountains with the goats, and eventually softens her grandfather’s heart. A few years later Aunt Dete takes her off of the mountain to live Frankfurt as a companion to Clara, a girl trapped in a wheelchair. Heidi missed her mountains so much, that she went back home. Clara came after.
The story emphasizes family and friendships, as well as love of nature. Heidi became a bestseller, and is still one of the best known books to come out of Switzerland.
Due to the popularity of Heidi, a lot of film adaptations were also made but the one directed by Alan Gspnore is the most captivating and one of the must-watch movies from Switzerland.
Heidi (Fully illustrated in Colour)
So, how did Heidi end up in Japan?
In the 1970s, the World Animation Studios in Japan were taking Classic Western Children’s Literature, like Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables, and producing them as animated series. The Heidi story was already popular in Japan because of Heidi’s childlike innocence and love for outdoors. Naturally the story belonged in the series. Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki spent a month in the area around Marienfeld, Switzerland (Heidi’s Mountain) to insure that they exactly captured the beauty of the mountains and buildings in their program.
Unlike most “cartoons”, they insisted that this be a work of high quality. For the program they used almost 3 times as many animation cells per episode than other shows of the same length. Accuracy, beauty, quality, simplicity. All of these came together, and 52 episodes of the beloved show were made. Today, “Heidi Girl of the Alps” is still in regular rotation on Japanese television. And as a result, Japanese still visit the Alps seeking out Heidi’s mountain. (For those who can’t make it to Switzerland? There is a Heidi Theme Park in Japan!).
The names Takahata and Miyazaki are familiar to anyone who loves Japanese Animation… the two formed the production company Studio Ghibli, which was responsible for such gems as “My Neighbor Totoro“, “Spirited Away”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service“, and “Grave of the Fireflies“. (You will definitely see the resemblance of Heidi to Mei and Kiki)
Heidi Arrives in Germany
In September 1977, Heidi landed on ZDF television becoming an instant hit. Heidi’s adventures delighted all of us kids…she got to run around the mountain meadows with goats AND got to sleep on a bed made from HAY! Because the artwork was timeless, it evoked a sort of nostalgia for Adults. Takahata and Miyazaki excel at making childhood a time of wonder. The art style, Kawaii anime, is an aesthetic concept that focuses on sweetness and childishness. Kawaii emphasizes innocence but at the same time, characters still have to face the real world. Add to this, characters are polite (in a way that it expected in both Japan and Germany) and caring without being saccharine sweet. Something not usually found in animation.
Naturally, collectible figurines and merchandise were produced, spreading Heidi fever. Girls all wanted Heidi bed sheets, coloring books, and stationary.
There were albums and cassettes to hear songs and Heidi stories (often just a re-write of the TV program). And there was a catchy theme song… sung by Schlagersingers Gitti and Erika… It sticks in my brain even today. (and that yodel!)
Where to See Heidi of the Alps Today
The DVD exists, but only in German, and only on DVD players for non-American Regions. It’s a bit frustrating that Heidi never got to be as popular in the US as it did world wide. Luckily, you find LOADS of videos on You Tube.
You can find German episodes on You Tube-
Buy the Heidi Series in German from Germany
This set requires a multi region DVD player. It WILL NOT work on a standard American player.
Heidi – TV-Serien Komplettbox [8 DVDs]
Looking for Heidi of the Alps Merchandise?…
I would have loved to have the Heidi Breakfast Brettchen.
Breakfast Board Personalizes Kids Breakfast Board Name Heidi Wood with Engraving FreeHeidi, The Girl From The Alps Bumper Sticker Window Vinyl Decal 5Show Cartoon Anime Heidi Serie Switzerland Comic Alps Tv I DatMon- Mug holds hand made from White marble ceramic printed trendy designKawaii set of Heidi Girl of the Alps anime keyring and mobile strap toys from JapanYuwa Live Life Collection: Heidi of the Alps Fabric StampsHeidi The Girl From The Alps Coffee Mug 11oz Ceramic Tea Cups
Who else enjoyed all of the Heidi episodes!?
Thank you for this very interesting article! I liked reading the background information about the anime and its cultural impact. I am from the UK and have only just discovered the series on Youtube. I love it, it is beautifully animated. Definitely want to visit Maienfeld in Switzerland and the Heidi Village in Japan now!
me too (and the Ghibli Museum in Japan)
Hayao Miyazaki even has stuffed sheep in his home! That he brought back from switzerland!