• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Saturday, May 01, 2021

    Superbook: Nehemiah and the Walls of Jerusalem (1982)

    A while ago I wrote about the Japanese Anime Bible series Tezuka Osamu no Kyuuyaku Seisho Monogatari (In the Beginning, 1992) and I ended it with a passing mention of "Brasilian anime series called 'Superbook'". That was based on a translation of this site, but revisiting that again made me realise that was wrong. I'm not sure if the translation has improved or whether I just mis-read it, but at the moment it's translated "Perhaps the best known Christian anime in Brazil is Superbook (Anime Oyako Gekijo)". 

    In fact it turns out that this series was also a Japanese production made in conjunction with CBN, first broadcast in 1981. It was produced by Tatsunoko Productions who were set up by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida and his two brothers Kenji and Toyoharu and are probably best known for their work on Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-96). It was directed by Masakazu Higuchi (The Real Ghostbusters (1986)). The series ran for two 26-episode series in 1981 and 1982 was rebooted with CGI for CBN in 2011 with five series having been produced so far.

    According to Wikipedia, the original version of the Nehemiah story was broadcast on 11 March 1982 (the series having begun in October 1981). As with the series usual format, Chris Peeper (Sho Asuka in Japanese), Joy (Azusa Yamato), and Gizmo the clockwork Robot (Zenmaijikake) travel back in time via Chris' titular Superbook - a magic Bible. Chris is grumpy because he has to help build a fence and well you can probably see where this goes.

    The trio arrive back in the 5th century BC and immediately bump into Nehemiah's opponents Sanballat and Tobiah who accuse them of being spies and start to attack them. In contrast to other portrayals of Nehemiah, here he arrives on a horse and flanked by soldiers - much more aligned with the power Artaxerxes has invested in him.

    When they arrive back in Jerusalem Nehemiah brings his 20th century guests up to speed on the recent history of Jerusalem as he ponders his next strategy. The next day his speech inspires the crowd to pick up their tools to rebuild the city wall, despite Sanballat and Tobiah's attempts to discourage them. Foiled at this the Tobiah and Sanballat arm a party of soldiers to attack those working on the walls and are only repelled when the Jerusalemites fire arrows back at them. This goes rather beyond the text where the threat of attack is sustained, but never quite seems to go all the way (Neh.4).

    Interestingly the film also includes the incident where Sanballat and Tobiah bribe the house-bound Shemiah into suggesting Nehemiah should hide in the temple - as part of a relatively sophisticated plan to then discredit him. It  fails, of course, and so the film ends on the Jews celebrating the completion of the wall. This enables the film to avoid Ezra and his purging of gentiles from the city altogether, but it also means the film has a fairly good narrative arc - better than the book which peaks a little later, but then gets bogged down in the details. 

    The animation is fairly good - it's no Studio Ghibli, but is fairly well executed and the robot figure - while obviously totally anachronistic - lends the series a suitably Japanese 80s vibe. It's the most prominent gimmick of the dramatic devices that put 20th century kids alongside biblical figures, but it's has its own charm. It never feels like the team behind it are desperately trying to cling on to their audience's attention as other kids Bible series do at times and the storytelling is reasonably competent while capturing the spirit of the original. Speaking as someone who has never really enjoyed the Book of Nehemiah, this ranks as a decent effort to dramatise a somewhat stodgy text.

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    • At 4:25 pm, May 11, 2021, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Do consider reviewing other episodes as well. I thought the second episode of the show was particularly effective in its depiction of Cain and Abel.

    • At 7:49 am, May 15, 2021, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks, I will. I'd like toi watch the whole series eventually.


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