The Other Side of Animation 178: The Wonderland Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It is nice that in the Japanese animation scene, more directors and creators are becoming more popular. Japan has some of the most talented individuals working in the animation scene, and it is satisfying that Makoto Shinkai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mari Okada, and Mamoru Hosoda are now world-renowned, but I feel like one director deserves some more recognition than he gets, Keiichi Hara. While starting by working on some iconic shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, he has also had a small, but fruitful directorial film career working on films from those franchises, and his own films like Summer Days with CooColorful, and one of my faves from 2016, Miss Hokusai. However, we are talking about his newest film that got a small release thanks to Elevenarts, The Wonderland.

Originally titled Birthday Wonderland, and based on the 1988 story Strange Journey from the Basement, Hara’s newest film premiered last year in April, and was able to compete in the 2019 Annecy International Film Festival, but like many of the films there at the festival, lost to the festival smash hit, I Lost My Body. It even missed out on being shown at Animation is Film 2019, and hasn’t had the most fanfare. It doesn’t help either that while it got pretty positive reviews, they still came with hefty criticism. So, what do I think about this adventurous film? Well, you have to read the review.

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The story revolves around a teenage girl named Akane, a pretty average teenage girl with not a whole lot of self-confidence. One day, her mother requests she go visit her aunt named Chi to pick up a special gift. While there, she peruses the items that Chi has acquired. One of the items that stands out is this piece of stone with a handprint in it. Akane then decides to put her hand in the print and it ends up with the hand fitting in the, well, stone. Then, out of the store’s basement, a dapper individual walks out. He turns out to be a famed alchemist known as Hippocrates. He explains that he is from another world, and since Akane’s hand fits the print, she is the Green Goddess, and must come back with Hippocrates and his assistant Pipo back to The Wonderland. Reluctantly, Akane and her aunt go with Hippocrates to save their land and to avoid the evil plans of a masked individual. Can Akane save the day? Can she find the courage to make it through a magical world?

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There is a lot we can start with, but let’s talk about the standout element to the film, the visuals, and animation. This is a very pretty film with lush vibrant colors, beautiful landscapes, and fantastical locations. While there is CGI used in this film, you can tell it’s better integrated into the 2D animation than Ni No Kuni. I was in awe most of the time looking at all of the creative landscapes and designs. It’s hard to be grumpy at a film with large puffball sheep and being able to ride giant koi fish. The designs also stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, the designs of the humans may not look unique, but it’s the person behind them that makes all of the difference. The designs are by Russian Illustrator Ilya Kushinov. She brings in a very unique look to the film, and it stands out among the different anime films coming out. In terms of themes, the film is another coming-of-age film about dealing with self-doubt and becoming a better person through trust and helping others. Akane starts out as a nervous wreck, who is reluctant to better herself, but throughout the film, she becomes a more self-reliant individual who has faith in herself. Even the villain this time around is more interesting, due to his circumstances brought upon him. The voice work is pretty solid, but I have only seen the subtitle version for right now, but since this is Elevenarts, I’m sure the dub will be good. The music is also stellar, especially with the film’s theme song by Milet, which has been stuck in my head for weeks.

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Now, I do have a few negatives to talk about. While I love the majority of the cast, Akane isn’t the most interesting female lead. She isn’t terrible, but she’s fairly boilerplate. I also wasn’t fully on board with some of the mannerisms of Chi. She’s great, but there are a few moments that made me roll my eyes. I think my favorite characters were Hippocrates and the villain. I also found the pacing to be wonky. A lot of the film has the characters driving around, and I don’t mind that aspect, but once it hits the third act, the pacing becomes very stop-and-go. It’s almost jarring how oddly paced the last third is. I also wish there could have been more time expanding on this world than it being taken up by driving, because I loved the fantasy world.

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While I still prefer Miss Hokusai, I liked Keiichi Hara’s newest film. It has a lot of personality, charm, and fantasy whimsy to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure. Sadly, with its limited release, you will have to wait for it to arrive on Blu-ray, but if you don’t mind the wait, then you will probably enjoy this flick! Well, it’s time to move onto our next film, but sadly, we have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix. Next time, we will be talking about one of three animated films based on video games this year. We already talked about Ni No Kuni, so we will be moving down to Dragon Quest: Your Story.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

Animation Tidbits: Annecy 2019 Part 1

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

So, it’s another year, and that means the E3 of animation, the Annecy International Film Festival, is going to happen! This year, the special guest country is Japan, and the line-up that includes films from Japan is impressive! This article will tackle the films that are in the main competition. The line-up has many strong films, and I’ll be talking about a few that I have mentioned before.

Honorable Mention: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Competing last year in the “Out of Competition” section, I have seen the full film at Animation is Film 2018, and I loved it. It’s easily one of my favorite animated films of this decade, and it told a compelling story about a real-life filmmaker saving his career and finding out about himself. It has beautiful animation. The only reason why I’m putting it in the Honorable Mentions category is that it’s about to have a US release as well. Still, if you are going to Annecy, and you can go see this film, do so!

 

Now then, let’s get on with the other films!

Birthday Wonderland

Directed by Keiichi Hara, the director of one of 2016’s best animated features, Miss Hokusai, Birthday Wonderland tells the story of a young girl named Akane, who gets visited by an alchemist named Hippocrates and the student of the alchemist Pipo. They tell Akane that they are on a quest to save the world, and go into a basement to teleport into a world known as Wonderland. One of the stand-out details for me is the art direction. It looks incredible, but it’s more who is attached to it that is interesting to me. The visuals and character designs are being done by a Russian artist named Iiya Kuvshinov. You don’t really see outside artists work on Japanese productions. It’s a rare sight indeed. It definitely looks like a fun fantastical adventure with plenty of whimsical visuals and a cheerful tone that I hope delivers a wonderful experience.

Ride Your Wave

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, famed director of Lu Over the Wall Mindgame, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, the story follows the relationship of Hinako, a college girl who loves to surf, and Minato, a firefighter who also loves to surf. After Minato passes away during a surfing accident, Hinako goes into a depression. However, when she sings a song that was close to the two, she finds that Minato is back! Well, as a ghost that’s trapped in the water. Yeah, this is going to be another odd and abstract film from the creative anime director. It looks to be a film about dealing with grief and growing up. I’m just sitting here now waiting for it to pop up at the Animation is Film Festival line-up, and for GKids to pick it up!

White Snake

Directed by Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, and a prequel to the Chinese Fable, Legend of the White Snake, it tells the story about a hunter and a snake disguised as a woman. I’m a bit worried how people who are not familiar with the original story will react to this, and its slightly more adult tone may turn off certain people, but I think for Chinese animation, it looks impressive. Their CGI might not be all there yet, but it looks better than most features that come out of China. Hopefully, the story will be compelling and interesting enough for those not aware of the fable.

Swallows of Kabul

I know I have talked about this film by duo directors Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec, but since we have a new trailer of the film based on the book of the same name, I wanted to make sure people know about it. It still has a lot of the incredible animation that we saw in the previous teaser for the film, and we get a little more about the story about two families that become intertwined by a corrupt society. It looks great, and I bet we will see this one at Animation is Film later this year.

I Lost My Body

Directed by Jeremy Clapin, this French animated feature focuses on a living human hand that goes on a perilous adventure to be reattached to its body. Yeah, this is easily one of the more complex animated features competing this year. You get an adult vibe from the trailer, which could lead to some fairly mature topics. I’m not entirely sure how this premise is going to carry on through a feature-length film, but it’s a film that stands out from the rest, due to its premise!

The Famous Bear Invasion of Sicily

We finally have a trailer for this one! The story itself hasn’t changed, about a bear prince that ends up in the human kingdom that causes a stir between them and the bears. I wanted to bring up the insanely creative visuals. This is done by the same studio that did the Oscar-nominated The Red Turtle and Zarafa, Prima Linea Productions. The vibrant colors, the well-executed CGI animation, and the fantastical imagery really give this film some life that not a lot of other animated features can have. All the visuals look like they are part of some kind of painting come to life, and it’s crazy how lush the colors are! I really hope this comes over to the Animation is Film Festival later this fall.

Marona’s Fantastic Tale

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Finally, we have Marona’s Fantastic Tale! Directed by Anca Damian, this Romania, France, and Belgium collaboration follows a dog, which recently passes away, and goes through a journey through her life and the people that she encountered. This is a truly unique-looking animated feature with a pastel painting look to the characters, with a bunch of bright colors and eye-opening visuals to tell a story about love. It’s a small-scale-looking film that I think would be awesome to watch.