The anime version of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, originally entitled Anderson Dowa: Ningyo Hime, was released in 1979. My mum got me an English-dubbed copy when I was an ickle tiny kid, and it somehow lasted the wear and tear of the years. I still keep that beloved vidtape, even if it's old and battered and I already have a newer VCD copy.
The little mermaid is this version is blonde, just as she was described in the original tale. (Addendum: My mistake. My brain told me the mermaid is blonde, and Bia has notified me that my brain is mistaken, which it is. The book never explicits states her hair colour.) Her name here is Marina, and she shars some similarities with Ariel in that she's spirited, has a little marine friend (although in this case it's a baby dolphin named Fritz), goes to the surface when she's not supposed to and is innocent and cheerful. But this version, being much closer to Mr Andersen's original story, is obviously sadder and deals more about innocence giving away to maturity, and that true love doesn't necessary lead to a happy ending.
As this version is relatively close to the original tale it might not be worth recapping, but I'm going to do it again anyway, spoilers and all. Marina is the youngest of the six daughters of the sea king, and as the movie starts, she is carefree and wide-eyed, much to the amusement of her grandmother and elder sisters. One day she finds a statue of a handsome human boy in a sunken ship, and she starts daydreaming about him. Not too long later when she sneaks up to the surface with Fritz, she sees a ship and discovers that the real deal is even better. The boy turns out to be a Prince, and needless to say, for Marina it's love at first sight.
Then boom! A huge storm makes its entrance. The tough ship sinks, and Marina saves her Prince. The fellow, who was rather preoccupied with drowning, only manages to get a glimpse of Marina before falling into unconsciousness. Marina takes the Prince to the shore just as morning comes, and though she tries to wake him up she suddenly hears a group of girls approaching from a nearby church on the beach. Marina has no choice but to quickly hide, allowing a dark-haired girl from among the church girls to rush to the Prince and be the one that he first sees when he does wake up.
Marina can't think straight, being madly in love and all, so when she finds out that the Prince is staying at the beach-side Summer Palace, she hurries off to the sea witch to ask for legs. (Of note, this sea witch is a fiercer, sexier version unlike any I've seen before or since.) Fritz tries to convince Marina not to go through with it, but she's too determined to listen to reason. Marina trades in her voice for legs, and has to win the Prince's heart, for if he marries another, the morning after the wedding she'll turn into sea-foam.
Off to land Marina goes, leaving a very depressed Fritz. She takes the potion once she's on the beach in front of the Summer Palace and collapses from the pain, just to be woken up not too long later by - who else? - the Prince himself. The Prince is quite the gentleman and takes her under his care. They get along very well, despite Marina not being able to talk and cannot explain who she really is.
A month passes. Marina's really happy eventhough the Prince seems to think of her as only a close friend. He does love her, but not quite in the way that she loves him. But into this comfortable setting arrives the Lord Chamberlain, telling the Prince that he's to wed some princess he's never met. The Prince refuses outright, much to Marina's relief. Later on she's made even happier when he asks her to marry him. But, he confesses, the person he really wants to marry is the dark-haired girl that "saved" him from drowning, and the only thing stopping him is that he hasn't been able to find her since.
However, the Prince's parents aren't having any of that marrying-the-mute-girl nonsense and trick him into boarding a ship returning to their main palace by claiming that the Queen is sick. Once he is on the ship, it's revealed that the Queen was all right all along, and they're heading to the Prince's future-in-laws' palace instead. He goes, intending to refuse the princess face to face, but gets a shock when he sees that the princess is none other than the dark-haired girl he had originally wanted to marry. So he agrees to marry her instead of Marina.
Marina's heartbroken at this news. When Fritz finds out what has happened he goes into denial. "No, I don't believe you have to die! You're too good, Marina! I can't say goodbye forever!"
The Prince's wedding takes place aboard a ship. Marina's bears the weight of her impending death silently as those around her celebrate and cheer. After the celebrations, when everyone has fallen asleep, Marina broods on the top deck alone and she is greeted by the sight of her five sisters who have had their lovely long locks chopped off. They reveal that Fritz told them what has happened, and they met the sea witch to trade their hair for a magic knife: Marina has to strike the knife into the Prince's heart, and when the blood falls on her legs they'll become a tail again. Marina goes down below to the Prince's chamber and tries to kill him, but she can't.
"Only with my death can I keep my love for the Prince true and pure."
Marina decides to accept her death. She returns to the top deck and tosses the knife overboard. For some reason to knife explodes, waking up the Prince. He rushes up to the top deck just in time to catch Marina teetering on the edge of the railing. As he runs - shouting - to her, she jumps and disappears beneath the waves. When the Prince reaches the railing, he sees that she left behind her pearl hairclip (that was given to her by her father and is worn throughout practically the whole movie) and a scale from what used to be her tail. Then, he remembers.
Marina dies, but her soul goes to heaven. The end.
In retrospect, this movie has my respect for keeping the sad ending intact. I've seen quite a few adaptations of The Little Mermaid (many of which I have not added to this site for various reasons), but this anime version and the animated Rusalochkha are the only animated ones I've seen that keeps the little mermaid's death. I have nothing against giving the story a happy ending, but when the ratio of happy ending to sad ending is 9:1, you know there's a problem.
This old-school anime has pretty cool animation: they got the facial expressions done really well, and I just love Marina's transition from wide-eyed innocent girl to a woman who's found true love, even if it wasn't reciprocated. The ending of the anime always manages to get me wailing on the injustice. Not so much the fact that Marina died, because that's in respect and truth to the Mr Andersen's original story, but that they made the Prince remember it was she who saved him after she died.