This shot echoes the famous picture of Cosette from the original edition of the novel, which also became the iconic picture for the musical.
It’s now very evident that this is a children’s show, since the focus is so frequently on the lives of the kids (Cosette of course, but also Alain, Gavroche, and Eponine and Azelma). I realize that the subtitle of the show kinda gives away what the creators want to focus on, but I was still secretly hoping to see a more elaborate retelling of Jean Valjean’s backstory, particularly the scene of his redemption by the Bishop of Digne. (Especially since the episode is called “Jean Valjean’s Secret.”) It’s a very powerful backstory and I feel it deserved a little more screen time than it got.
The Bishop–who is actually named Monseigneur Bienvenu (Welcome) in the book–offers Valjean the candlesticks. In the original story we are further told these are his last treasures.
Seminary Student Rambling Alert!
Plus, the episode is missing the last and most important words the Bishop leaves Valjean with, even more important than the charge to use the silver to become an honest man. I remember reading these words in French class for the first time many years ago and being profoundly moved, and moved again when I heard them in the musical:
Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.
Of course as a seminarian and a future minister I’m going to harp on the Christian elements in that quote and regret that the anime creators left it out. How could I not? :) But the man is a bishop, after all, and though Hugo himself was no orthodox Catholic what we are meant to see is a scene of salvation–not only from physical prison but from the habit of sin that made Valjean want to steal in the first place. That’s why he’s a changed man, the good and honorable M. Madeleine we see in the present; God through the Bishop has literally redeemed (=bought back) his soul by giving him what he does not deserve.
I can’t think of a better illustration of the meaning of salvation by grace. The Bishop is being profoundly Christ-like at this moment.
/End Religious Aside
Anyways, that aside, the actual episode was fine. The child-centered focus of the episode was actually handled quite well and it wasn’t annoying, though I’d like to ask people who remember the book and/or musical better than me whether Alain was part of the original story. (I know Eponine is; Eponine becomes an important character later. But was the thing about the pies in this episode part of the original too?) How much of the story has been changed so far from the original? Anyone know? I’ve been listening to the 1930s Orson Welles radio adaptation and they definitely gloss over lots of things so that’s not such a reliable guide…
And we get the promising start of the plot as we see Inspector Javert come out…which means I’m guessing that the trial will start soon, and the real drama of the story will start kicking in. I hope they don’t water it down too much–and here it looks like they didn’t water down the abusiveness of the Thernadiers too much. This is such a fantastic story and I’d hate for that to happen.