The story happens at the end of the Qing Dynasty during the Siege of the International Legations. Xiao Fugui’s grandpa is the chef employed by the Empress Dowager Cixi. But he is later accidentally involved into a political conspiracy and then deliberately mistaken for the criminal attempting to kill Cixi. Therefore, he is arrested and sentenced to death.
Xiao Fugui firmly believes in his grandpa’s innocence. In order to find out the truth, he is determined to work hard on his cooking skills and attain the eighteen golden kitchenware items to save his grandpa. However, Xiao Fugui later catches the eye of Mr. K, who is secretly planning a rebel campaign against the Guangxu Emperor. He decides to kill Xiao Fugui because the existence of the latter has prevented his plan.
In the process, Xiao Fugui has also met with other characters including Xiao Feidie, who is always trying to kill Cixi to avenge for her dead parents; Xiao Lizi, who has done every bad thing you can possibly imagine just to seek a chance of reunion with his parents; Douyacai, who is actually Guangxu Emperor, a well-intended emperor who tries to salvage his kingdom yet to have been in possession of no real political power. However, this cartoon has a tragic ending. Dreams and ideals can’t be realized. E veryone ends up alone, be it the powerful Empress Dowager or Xiao Fugui who is no longer naive.
Based on the historical background, accord with the actual needs, and made by the excellent animation production in that year, Magic Boy Kitchener makes the whole story easy to understand and memorable for children, and even more meaningful when they grow up and review.
In addition to the characters like Empress Dowager Cixi and Guangxu Emperor, who can be obviously found in history, there are many other historical figures in the cartoon as well. Many people consider Lord K as Yuan Shikai, and others think that he symbolizes the feudal and conservative ministers.
In terms of the ending, this cartoon is one of the few that ends with tragedy. It does not drift with the current and meet market needs to make a happy ending, but respects history, implying the decay of the Qing Dynasty and the suffering of people, which enhances the value of the cartoon.
The characters all have a lively and full personage, and no matter the positive or negative characters, they all have distinct personalities.
The protagonist, Xiao Fugui is a young aspiring chef with huge sense of justice. His motivation has been always very clear, which his purpose of pursuing eighteen golden kitchenware items is to save his Grandpa, instead of gaining the status and fame it symbolizes. To reach this aim, he trains his own cooking skills, goes through the excruciation and fights against the powerful minister. Such an indomitable fighter is he, who has been caught in danger for many times, but never gives up his dream.
At the same time, Xiao Fugui does not lose the innocence of a child. He believes that the world is beautiful and is always willing to trust his friends, though he is injured because of them. Even if he finally realizes that “only in the earthly world can we find the sincerity”, he still smiles. In the end, he gives up the fame and status, leaves the palace only with his horse and wanders all over the world.
Xiao Lizi is a simple but complex villain. The catch phrase “it’s too painful” is his label. The repetition of this sentence shows his inner helplessness and despair. At the beginning, people may think that he is vile and selfish. On one hand, he makes friends with Xiao Fugui, while on the other hand, he constantly frames up him. But in the end, what arouses the audience’s sympathy is that he cries “I could have been a good man”.
Xiao Lizi’s parents starved to death before he entered the palace. Lord K’s promise to his tiny and humble wish is just a lie. He often struggles between his conscience and the intimidation of Lord K, obeying his order to do bad things.
There are a few unforgettable supporting characters too. For example, Mr. K’s adopted daughter, Xiao Mifeng unconditionally trusts Mr. K, the villain in this cartoon, because Mr. K has once saved her life. Xiao Mifeng is not a bad person in her nature. However her stance has its limitations. She has to do many bad things against her own will.
Xiao Fugui’s grandpa is a reflection on people of his generation. They share many common traits, for example, bigotry and rooted feudal thought. Viewers can gather this in some details of the cartoon. Xiao Fugui’s grandpa regards that the ancestral recipes are completely correct and therefore can’t be altered. He also has utter faith in the royal family as one would god. It can be clearly seen through his action that he died peacefully, knowing Xiao Fugui has become the royal chef and hence bringing glory upon his own family, in spite of the injustice he personally faced.
Their story is a microcosm of the suffering people at that time. The cartoon implies the satirical theme and reveals the dark reality of the late Qing Dynasty.
The whole cartoon is about delicious food. What they cooked for Cixi in the chef selection competition is all precious, luxurious and fantastic delicacies, just seems like it is a peaceful and prosperous time. However, the sentence at the end reveals all the realities and miserable lives—they starved to death. “They” here refers not only to the parents of Xiao Lizi, but also to all the poor people who were short of food and clothing at the end of the Qing Dynasty.
The positive characters can’t get a happy ending, and the negative characters also have bad results. Almost everyone ends with tragedy. In the history of that time, it was only the epitome of thousands of suffering people, and it also often appears in realistic films and novels. But animators put these miserable realities into a cartoon for children, which is very rare and valuable.
As opposed to a happy-ever-after-fairy-tail-style ending, it has a tragic ending. That’s probably the primary reason why parents deem it unfit for their children. Parents’ motive for reporting Magic Boy Kitchener is understandable. Their core drive lies in one of the most basic yet one of the most profound parental instinct, which is to protect their children.
But what are the parents trying to protect their children from? Well, in this case, reality. Magic Boy Kitchener is an animation that is based on and adapted from real historical events. And in my opinion, it is the correspondence with reality that gives this animation its depth. It’s always hard to draw the fine line between protection and overprotection. It’s especially true when it comes to caring parents making decisions regarding their children’s innocence. Parents in foreign countries are also riddled with similar struggles. For example, whether they should tell their children that Santa doesn’t exist at all.
As for the drastic raise in the rating, maybe since the time has changed, parents become more open-minded towards educational entertaining, or maybe it’s because Magic Boy Kitchener ‘s fans have grown up and started to review this cartoon. This time, they are able to capture its deeper layer of meaning, thus trying to restore its reputation.