Apfelland Monogatari or Mitteleuropa: The Anime

Just a screenshot.

Once, years ago, when I was browsing AniDB, probably in search of something to watch (or maybe out of plain boredom), I stumbled upon this anime. Apfelland Monogatari, a 1992 OVA based on a lesser work by Tanaka Yoshiki. I put off watching it until now, but after reading the synopsis, I knew that I’ll have to, at some point.

I’m a fan of Tanaka-sensei, after all. He’s a mighty influential pop-lit writer, who made a career out of the idea that “fantasy and sci-fi are merely scenography” decades before Game of Thrones scrubs made that discovery. Watch LoGH to have a taste of his magic. I’m also pretty sure that his space opera, as well as the animated adaptation of Arslan, had been a hot topic among some creators of Japanese RPGs in the 90s. He might be the one to blame for German proper nouns being everywhere in Japanese fantasy.

The ridiculously named Apfelland is a fictional country in Europe. Mind that far weirder names appear in this story, though. It was obviously invented by a person with only fragmentary knowledge of the cultures he’s writing about. And, a person who doesn’t care. Still, Apfelland gets treated far more seriously than any other Anime Ruritania. It’s more than a country that exists for princesses to come out of. Anyway, Apfelland is a small, idyllic state surrounded by three powers much greater that itself – the recently unified Germany, Austria and Russia. A country with hardly any accomplishments, ruled by a queen whose main occupation seems to be knitting. And who looks more like a random grandma.

“Oh my, we’re getting anschlussed!”

It’s 1905. The protagonist, a boy named Vergille (shortened to “Ver”), a resident of Apfelland’s capital, accidentally runs into some sinister people in top hats who look like they might be a circus troupe. Denmann, an American with a whip and the voice of Wakamoto Norio (that’s how you know he’s a villain), and Aliana, a Polish femme fatale, are running around causing trouble together with their trained wild cat. If that wasn’t enough, it looks like Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin is getting ready to invade Apfelland… Ver learns the top hat people kidnapped a girl Ver’s age, which signals the start of a fun adventure, complete with car chases (I mean automobile chases), swordfights and cave exploring. That’s what happens in Apfelland Monogatari most of the time – the oldtimey adventure novel hijinks is what the main draw is supposed to be.

Turns out the bad guys needed the girl because she’s the last living member of a family who owns a certain abandoned salt mine. Suspicious people are interested in the cave because it houses a treasure so incredible that it could allow the tiny Apfelland to “rule the entire Europe”, if one of the characters is to be believed. It eventually turns out that what all those foreign powers wanted out of Apfelland was a large deposit of radium, the hot new chemical element discovered by everybody’s darling, Marie Curie. A substance that might be used to produce unimaginable weapons of mass destruction in the future. Eventually, Germans march into Apfelland – however, Ver and his gang of brave Apfellandians manage to slow them down and use a newfangled invention called an airplane to let the world know of the German assault before it’s too late. Germany, under the threat of having most of Europe throwing itself at it with bare fangs as retaliation for attacking poor Apfelland, decides to withdraw. And so, peace returns to “Ringo no Kuni”. At least until 1914, I guess…

From the moment I first learned of the existence of Apfelland Monogatari, I knew the story’s core would an idea close to my heart. Or at least I hoped that would be the case and the OVA wouldn’t turn out to be another Japanese “all aesthetics, no ideology” kind of deal. My worries were mostly unfounded, though. The story of Apfelland regularly stops to say a line expressing sentiments too familiar to people living on the outskirts of western European civilization like me. The land littered with remains of tribes that failed to become proper nations or never even really tried to. Although Apfelland doesn’t exist, its fictional residents are well aware of existential questions revolving around being a tiny, hardly developed country surrounded by ones much more powerful and thirsty. A country like Poland, the country dissolved by neighboring powers, one whose fate is explicitly mentioned as something that could eventually fall upon Apfelland as well. The Apfellandians are told some insulting lines from foreigners and are called to give up their pointless resistance and just join a bigger state for their own good. But they don’t give up, and the story has their back all the time, framing the invading Germans as the undoubtable bad guys. It sees something good in being a little backwater country like Apfelland.

Anyway, that was a satisfying little discovery. If you’re a turbonerd like me, then by all means, check Apfelland Monogatari out. As expected of Tanaka Yoshiki, I’d say. Now I should stop putting off watching the Nana Toshi Monogatari OVA…

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