Keywords: , , , , , , , , ,
Notables: FUKUEN Misato
INOUE Kikuko
SAITO Momoko

Follow the daily life of Binchou-tan, a chibi-sized girl who lives alone in an isolated, old house in the mountains. While she may be poor (the house she lives in has holes in the roof and is very old, she has an old sheet with a hole in it, and doesn't own many possessions), Binchou-tan lives life to the fullest. She gets up, gathers what she needs from the nearby fields, and pays for transportation from various animals with seeds, accorns, etc. Rice is the only thing Binchou-tan cannot provide for herself, so whenever she needs a fresh supply, she must travel to the nearby (1930's-style) village to do odd jobs in order to obtain rice. This is the a look at Binchou-tan's life on a day-to-day basis and that of her friends.

[12 TV episodes, 12-minutes each. Animation by Studio DEEN. There is also an OAV consisting of two songs, one to new animation and one to rough sketches.]

Note: Binchou-tan is the mascot of Alchemist, a Japanese company who produces and commercializes products related to anime-style games.

The various character names are actually takes off of Japanese words.

  • Binchoutan -- charcoal used for cooking.
  • Kunugitan -- charcoal made from the sawtooth oak tree.
  • Chikutan -- charcoal made from bamboo.
  • Rentan -- charcoal briquette.
  • Aroe -- the Japanese word for aloe.

Episode Details 
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Buy 10 9 10 10 8 10 AstroNerdBoy [series:1291#436]

This series caught my eye because of the super "kawaii" character designs. I thought, "I liked Bottle Fairy which had cute character designs, starred "chibi" characters, and was just a barrel of fun. So why not grab this too?" While this is nothing like Bottle Fairy or anything else I've seen, this series has to be one of the better anime titles for my tastes.

First, let me address the character designs. To say "sugoku kawaii" (extremely adorable/cute) is an understatement. I know that character designs this kawaii will put off folks. Yet the animators use this very effectively. If Binchou-tan wasn't so freaking adorable, I wouldn't have have become nearly as attached to her, or her circle of friends for that matter. Plus, the animators use this to generate more emotional range, or so it appeared to me. It is for this reason that I give such a high character design score.

Art, animation, and music also play such an important role in this anime. The first episode contains very little dialog. Binchou-tan says a few things and the narrator says a few lines. The rest of the episode story is delivered via the art, animation, and music. This combination is such a beautiful thing, more so because this is a TV series and not an OAV or movie. The music really caught my attention, and when that happens, it is either very good or very bad. Here, it is really good and helps greatly in delivering the emotional impact intended more so than most anime titles. I dinged the animation score a bit because I think they started running tight on money about half-way through. It was then that I started noticing the still-shots and a little more re-use of old animation sequences (like Binchou-tan leaving her cabin).

That bit of housekeeping out of the way, let me get to the heart of this wonderful anime. We start with Binchou-tan, who is an orphan girl living in an old, run down cabin in the mountains far from the village and civilization. Her cabin is in desperate need of repairs since it lacks a door, has holes in the roof, and gaps in the walls. Binchou-tan has only one old sheet with a hole in it, which fortunately covers her when she sleeps (she's small enough so that the hole doesn't affect her), but then it also appears to double as a door. Clearly she is very poor and must work hard to survive. Despite the incredible loneliness she must feel, she accepts her lot in life. Indeed, the first episode shows her gathering food from the mountain and fields to have with her rice, which is eaten in an old, chipped bowl. She does this incredible amount of work and remains cheerful while doing it. I have to say that this immediately grabbed me knowing how I'd complain like crazy if the local Wendy's ran out of fries and I was forced to go to another joint to get them. How small my problems are in light of seeing Binchou-tan's life.

Episode 2 showed what Binchou-tan has to do obtain supplies (mainly food) that cannot be obtained from the mountain and nearby fields. So a medium-sized bird sweeps down to a "bus stop" and carries her to town, for the cost of an accorn. Again, seeing Binchou-tan doing all sorts of odd jobs just to obtain a small bag of rice or maybe a tiny amount of money to purchase some item or other was a heart-wrencher for me. However, I did have a problem with the episode, which is where I knock the overall story down a notch. For some unexplained reason, Binchou-tan is about a little over knee-high compared to the adults in the village. Eventually I figured out that the folks of the village and Binchou-tan must be the same species since it would be impossible for there to be a bird bus stop complete with sign and schedule to carry her into town. But then her first jobs were doing things like sitting in the back on a shoe to test the stink (or maybe she was using her binchoutan to remove the stink since charcoal does that), being placed (complete with her binchoutan on her head) in a container of water in the fridge, being placed on a small container in the fridge, and finally being cooked in a rice cooker (again with her piece of binchoutan) with a pot of rice and having to be scooped out with a normal wooden cooking spoon. So if she's just a child and in the village is a normal child height, where the smeg was she that she's so tiny to fit into these tiny places? It was weird and out of place, especially since it appears that normal-sized humans aren't around. But then, I can almost hear the Japanese tell me, "don't let this worry you." While it didn't derail my veiwing enjoyment, it was so out of place that I had to say something.

Binchou-tan isn't the only character that is looked at here, though she is always at the center. We have the rich Kunugi-tan, who appears to be the same age as Binchou-tan. She's another lonely character despite being surrounded with a large staff of people, all of whom address her as "ojousama" to stress her high social status. She attends a prestigious school and has classmates, but this is the only time she gets to leave home. Otherwise, she is trapped in her large mansion, and it is her longing to see the world outside that eventually leads her to see Binchou-tan "flying" to town one day, which eventually leads her to meeting Binchou-tan and becoming friends with her. It was nice seeing that two lonely people who'd pretty much accepted their lot in life, despite maybe wanting something better, got together to be friends.

Chiku-tan is the third girl of the group. She meets Binchou-tan while trying to score a job in town. Since Chiku-tan lives at the base of the mountain, she's not too far away from Binchou-tan, and so they become defacto best friends. Chiku-tan living with her grandfather and little sister doesn't seem to have the lonely existance of Binchou-tan, but the friendship the two have really was touching to me. Plus, Chiku-tan constantly trying to invent something was amusing to me.

Ren-tan is the grandaughter of a local priest and appears to be a miko herself. She can call spirits (the blue fire balls), has great luck, and keeps an even emotional keel no matter the situation. She makes a great friend in the group.

Finally there is Aroe (Aloe). Unfortnately, she's the weakest of the group. Indeed, she really has no interaction with Binchou-tan's group beyond having some carryover stuff (such as finding a sweet potatoe left by Binchou-tan). She spends her time in a dizzy state needing water. Her hair is so sharp that in a vinyl kiddie pool, she can pop a hole in it by her hair touching it. So in summer, she constantly longs to swim in a pool for the coolness and moisture it provides, and in the winter, she longs to soak in an onsen for the warmth and moisture. Sadly, that's about all there is to her character and because she doesn't come in contact with Binchou-tan's group until very late (and then only briefly), she almost seems a waste. She's not completely a waste, but it would have been nice if she could have been pulled in earlier.

There were some things that I would have loved to know. For example, what happened to Binchou-tan's parents? How was she allowed to live alone after her grandma died? Where were Kunigi-tan's parents and why wasn't she allowed out? Where were Chiku-tan's parents? However, none of these qestions prevented me from completely enjoying this anime.

Bottom line: there are so many things I want to say about this anime, more than I can put into words and yet I fear that maybe I have written too much. I know that there are many anime fans who will have troubles with the "sugar" and won't feel that desire to protect and care for Binchou-tan. However, if you don't mind super-cute character designs and you don't mind a light, beautiful, meaningful little anime that doesn't have a deep story, but a really good one nevertheless, then this anime may be right up your ally. It was for me!

Last updated Friday, May 11 2007. Created Tuesday, July 25 2006.

Buy Jan-Chan [series:1291#967]
Wow .. What a fanciful anime story!! But just don’t expect monsters, robots or racy thrills! This is story of a (very Japanese) fairy girl, who lives in harmony in an isolated hut in the forest. Binchou-tan depends on ducks and birds, as we might depend on our cars or our public buses to get around. It is only when Binchou gets low on her rice supplies, does she have to travel to the city to find work to earn a few pennies to fulfill those needs that the forest can not provide.

While being short on words and dialogue, this series is very rich in images and story. This is an artisically beautiful anime tale (appropriate for all ages) about Binchou-tan, a unique forest spirit and her adventures with her friends in her magical forest and her encounters with the humans who live in the village nearby.

I have to rate this series a buy, if only to call your attention to a special and uncommon series. Artistically and creatively, this series is amazing.

(I posted some snaps of the first episode just to share a bit of this story!)

Last updated Friday, September 25 2009. Created Saturday, May 27 2006.

Other Sites
Mobanimation's Official Japanese Series Web Site
TBS's Official Binchou-tan Website
In Japanese

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