The Other Side of Animation 176: Ni No Kuni Review

imageedit_1_7391272171.jpg

(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!)

Well, it’s 2020. The start of the New Year, a new decade, and I want to focus on the feature-length animation side of things. This year is going to be wild because we have mostly original animated films coming out. I am always hopeful that what looks great turns out to be great, and films that might be bad eggs to be, well, not bad eggs. I’m always going to be like this going into every animated film no matter the situation, but sometimes, the walk down the yellow-brick road will lead to disappointing films. This where we are with the newest Netflix animation purchase, Ni No Kuni.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, written by Akihiro Hino, based on the popular video game franchise, animated by Oriental Light and Magic (the same studio that animates the Pokémon anime and film series), and put out by Netflix here in the US, is our first major animated film. I was surprised by the sudden release of Ni No Kuni because once it was released in Japan last year, there was barely any news about it. No box office reports, and barely any reviews. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why. Why? Well, let’s dive in.

imageedit_3_5509696471.png

The story revolves around three young teens named Yusuke Ninomiya, dubbed by Max Mittelman, Haruto Ichihara, dubbed by Alejandro Saab, and Kotona Takashina, dubbed by Abby Trott. They are best friends, even though some tension is there with Yusuke being confined to a wheelchair. One day, Kotona calls both Yusuke and Haruto because she’s being chased by a shadowy and creepy looking individual. The two boys save her, but were too late to prevent her from getting stabbed. As they try to take her to a hospital to get better, they almost get hit crossing a crosswalk. Luckily, instead of dying, Yusuke and Haruto get warped to a magical world known as Ni No Kuni. The two boys try to find their friend, and discover that this magical world runs parallel with their real world, and that every person in both worlds has a version of themselves. They find out that their friend Kotona who was hurt is the princess in the magical world. They also realize that if something happens in this magical world, it affects their world as well. Can the two find out how to make it back and solve the crisis of who attacked the princess and their friend?

imageedit_5_5847841689.png

On paper, this movie looks like a fantasy feature that would offer something complex with its theme of what are you willing to do for the people you love. Unfortunately, the biggest downside to this film is the story and writing. The film is not based on either the first or second game, and I like that it tries its own story, but it’s too basic. The characters don’t evolve beyond their character traits, the side characters aren’t interesting, and the villain is boring. The drama of the two male leads should be strong enough to carry the film, but it’s not. It’s even more disappointing when the female lead is then relegated to the damsel in distress. This is bad, because the female leads in the first two games are great and active characters. Also, don’t be going in thinking the mystery of who tried to kill the two women to be captivating or something on the level of Knives Out. If you know anything about anime character designs, then you know who’s going to be the bad guy. The last-minute twists in the film are also so lazily integrated that I rolled my eyes when they happened.

imageedit_7_8395865987.jpg

So, the script plays it safe, but what about the animation? Well, it looks like a Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc film, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to look as good as films from those studios. Like I said above, it’s animated by the people who do the Pokémon series and films, and it looks as good as some of their regular films, but at this point, you are wanting to see all of the little details that come with seeing a Ghibli or Ponoc film. You take it for granted, because while it’s not badly animated, it has nothing that I would say looks grand or theatrical. It also has CGI that doesn’t blend well. It doesn’t take full advantage of its setting, and that drags the experience down. What about the film’s voice work? Well, it’s not bad, and it at least tries to match the European/British tone of the two games. You have a solid cast including Max Mittelman, Alejandro Saab, Abby Trott, Patrick Seitz, Erica Lindbeck, Armen Taylor, Robbie Daymond, John DeMita, Spike Spencer, Wendee Lee, Kyle Hebert, Derek Stephen Prince, Kirk Thorton, Ray Chase, and others. Joe Hisaishi returns to compose the music, and it’s fine. Maybe it’s more of the Ghibli bias in me, or it’s the fact that another recent film he worked on, Children of the Sea had a much better soundtrack, but Ni No Kuni‘s usually iconic sound was not here. I think I liked one of the songs, and that’s it.

imageedit_9_8518270485.jpg

I still stand by my opening statement that I go into every film hoping for the best. Sometimes I end up enjoying the film, and sometimes, I don’t. It helps that I also go in with a mid-level hype for every film because then, I don’t judge the film too harshly if they didn’t reach my impossible sky-high standards. Sadly, not every film can be a hit, and while I don’t think Ni No Kuni will be one of the worst animated films I have seen, it will be one of the most disappointing. I can now see why Netflix sort of buried the release of Ni No Kuni, and why most of the reviews were fairly mixed to negative. It had all of the elements to be a great film, but due to a bad script and weak story, the film falls flat. Check it out if you are curious, but there is no rush to watch Ni No Kuni. Now then, I think it’s time to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s newest film, Ride Your Wave.

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: Rent it (It’s on Netflix, but still)

The Other Side of Animation 165: Promare Review

imageedit_1_9696508161.jpg

(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!)

When celebrating my 4th year of reviewing animated films, I wanted to pick something that would be special. It’s an exceptional review, and a yearly special should be about an interesting film. Well, what did I pick for this year? I chose Studio Trigger’s first feature film, Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Promare is an accumulation of what you get when you give a Japanese studio known for high-octane action, a feature film budget, and total unapologetic passion. It’s the right kind of project that most passion projects could only dream of becoming. Let’s dive right in!

imageedit_3_7399714395.jpg

The film takes place in a world where one day, people started gaining the ability to manipulate fire! They were labeled the Burnish. After almost wiping out all of the earth, 30 years pass, and we come to the beginning of the film where the major Burnish threat was taken care of. A Burnish fire breaks out, and a team of specialized firefighters called Burning Rescue is sent to take out the Burnish threat and save the innocent lives. Our main hero is Galos Thymos, dubbed by Billy Kametz. He’s the rookie member of Burning Rescue that ends up encountering the leader of a terrorist group called Mad Burnish. The leader of this terrorist group is named Lio Fotia, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. After Galos captures Lio and his two grunts, things unfold into chaos as maybe the Burnish are not the bad guys, and something might be up with the governor of the city, Kray Foresight, dubbed by Crispin Freeman.

imageedit_7_8131888426.jpg

I want to start gushing about the film, and there is nothing any of you can do to stop me! Anyway, the animation is downright gorgeous. Sure, it might be a mix of 2D and CGI animation, but, and I mean this with all sincerity, Promare might be the best Japanese-animated film that combines the two. The color choices are so perfect. All of the colors, even the darker ones are bright. The blues, the reds, the whites, the blacks, the neon pinks, the yellows, and you get the idea. Even with such a bright color palette and cartoony designs and movements, there are some beautiful shots and serious moments that never feel out of place. This film’s visual direction is on point.

imageedit_9_3324454341.jpg

Now, in terms of action, it’s Studio Trigger. They open up with one of the most exciting sequences that you will see in 2019, and the action ramps up from there in true Studio Trigger fashion. It’s well-choreographed, exciting, never too busy to miss out on what’s going on, and it’s so earnest and aware of how absurd the fighting is. The dialogue during the animation is so aware of its epic nature, that it constantly calls itself out.

Even though the film is advertised as this epic action film, Promare does take time to let the story breathe, tackle themes about discrimination and nature, and let the characters flesh themselves out more. I found myself rooting for the good guys and the Burnish in their ideals and reasons for doing what they do. It might be loud dumb fun, but it has a heart, and that’s what keeps it from being a style-over-substance problem that we see in many passion projects. It knows when to push the pedal to the metal, and it knows when to chill for a moment.

In terms of the dub, I adored the cast they hired. You have some veteran voice actors like the always awesome Johnny Yong Bosch, Kari Wahlgren, Neil Kaplan, Crispin Freeman, and my man Steve Blum, but everyone was well-cast and put in five-star performances. Everyone was on the same page, and I didn’t see one actor who was left out. While anime voice acting can have its challenges, I bet everyone had a fun time getting to be boisterous, loud, and entertaining. Seriously, Billy Kametz, Erica Lindbeck, Matthew Mercer, Melissa Fahn, Mike Pollock, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Yuri Lowenthal were all fantastic. The music as well was perfect. It was grand in scale, epic, and it kept me and the audience excited throughout the entire film. Composer Hiroyuki Sawano put in a soundtrack that I could hear myself listening to anytime I’m about to go to work or getting ready for a physical workout. It’s just so beautiful, and I got pumped up and was ready for the next scene.

imageedit_13_2339655086.png

Now, I could talk about how maybe some of the absurdity was a little much, or how the majority of Burning Rescue characters don’t get much screen time or development, but you know what? That doesn’t matter for this film. It’s meant to be this big fun movie, and that’s what I got. It had great animation, exciting action sequences, likable characters, awesome music, and was a blast from beginning to end. If you can find a theater that will be playing the dub or sub version of this film, go and watch it! For now, I think it’s time to look at one more Japanese feature before we watch DreamWorks Abominable. How about we make a return visit with our favorite anime thief, and check out Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray?

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and share it! If you would like to support my work, you can become a patron at patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials