With its depictions of alcohol and dead-end jobs, the adult comedy “Aggretsuko” seems like a breach in Sanrio’s line of cute characters. Yet decades before it rocked the boat, Sanrio dabbled in a much darker animation known as “Chirin no Suzu,” or “Ringing Bell” in English.
“Ringing Bell” follows Chirin, a lamb who spends his day frolicking in a bright meadow with other sheep and chasing butterflies. Though the music is solemn, his cutesy escapades set up the animation as your average Saturday-morning kids' cartoon.
Then a wolf breaks into the sheep’s barn and begins massacring the flock. Shadows on the wall show the wolf ripping the throat of one and hurling the corpse at Chirin’s feet. Chirin’s mother covers her son to protect him and is killed.
The wolf departs, and Chirin begs his dead mother to wake up while crying over her corpse for an uncomfortably long one minute and ten seconds. Chirin’s cries combined with the sad music ushers in a much darker tone that remains for the rest of the feature. Gone are Chirin’s cute games with bunny rabbits—he leaves the flock to find the wolf and take his revenge.
When he finds the wolf, Chirin quickly realizes he is too weak to defeat him. He switches tactics and begs the wolf to teach him how to be strong. The wolf repeatedly brushes him off, but Chirin is persistent.
While following the wolf, Chirin stumbles upon a mother bird guarding her nest against a snake—paralleling his mother’s sacrifice. The snake kills the bird despite Chirin’s efforts to save her, and the nest and eggs smash in the process. Chirin sobs over the eggs and the fact he killed the babies, asking why the weak must die?
This convinces the wolf to train Chirin—though the way of the wolf is ruthless. Chirin is determined to become strong no matter what and willingly follows him. A song about the importance of strength plays over a montage of Chirin’s training. Black smoke and red lighting accompany Chirin’s transformation into a fearsome ram. Chirin’s new design gives him ragged fur and distorted horns poking straight out of his skull to further showcase how chasing power has warped him.
Chirin has embraced the life of the wolf and now considers his teacher a father figure. The two travel the land committing ruthless killings that eventually lead them back to the barn of Chirin’s youth.
Chirin murders the guard dogs and enters the barn with the intent to kill—but when he sees a mother shielding her baby from him, he runs away in horror at what he has become. The wolf confronts him, and Chirin remembers his revenge. He spheres the wolf with his horns, and the dying animal croaks that death by someone stronger is the fate of every wolf—and he’s glad it was Chirin that killed him before dying.
A lamb approaches Chirin in wonder—setting up a happy ending where Chirin learns his lesson and is welcomed back into the flock. However, the lamb’s mother pulls him back, and the sheep huddle in fear. Chirin has committed too many atrocities to rejoin the society of sheep. He leaves the fold forever and reflects on how he sacrificed everything to be strong. The wolf was the only one who shared that life and accepted him. Chirin may have gotten his revenge, but now he’s all alone. A blizzard picks up as Chirin cries for the wolf.
The narrator closes the film by speaking of how the sheep were too busy with their lives to contemplate Chirin’s fate for long. Though they occasionally heard the ringing of his bell, he was never seen again—presumably living isolated and miserable until death. The closing song is solemn, with lyrics like “run and play in the snow—for now that’s all the life you’ll know,” sure to traumatize any audience member regardless of age.
“Aggretsuko” does an excellent job portraying the realities of the working world and plight of millennials, but the amount of death and dark themes “Ringing Bell” contains makes it Sanrio’s darkest creation by far.
Charlene Pepiot is a junior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her @firstname.lastname@example.org.