The Other Side of Animation 254: Child of Kamiari Month

(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!)

With the Oscars once again dismissing and ignoring the Japanese animation side of things, stagnating as usual with what they actually nominate over what they should be nominating for awards, let’s keep reminding ourselves that not getting nominated doesn’t mean the film in question isn’t good. Who’s favorite film is actually ever in the Best Picture category? Anyway, just because the award shows announce their nominees, doesn’t mean films stop getting made. More movies are going to come out and they will continue to be interesting, good, bad or everything in-between, no matter the awards they are or aren’t given. So, let’s get down to it with one of the first animated films of the year with Child of Kamiari Month

This film was directed by Takana Shirai, written by Ryuta Miyake, Tetsuro Takita, Toshinari Shinoe, and was produced by Liden Films. The story revolves around a tongue girl named Kanna Hayama, dubbed by Mia Sinclair Jenness. Her life has been upended due to the death of her mother and she has lost her passion for running. That’s a touch unfortunate because she is also participating in her school’s marathon with her supportive dad being there. Sadly, due to the emotional baggage that she has been carrying, she doesn’t quite do well at the marathon, and runs away before her father can help comfort her. She runs to a shrine that she walked past with her friend the other day, and while there, her mother’s keepsake starts to activate. Time slows down around her and she realizes that something is up. Kanna can see the spirits that inhabit the shrines now! She encounters a talking bunny spirit named Shiro, dubbed by Luci Christian, who comes just in time to help her with an encounter with an oni boy named Yasha, dubbed by Mark Allen Jr. After the encounter, Shiro tells Kanna that she must go on this journey across Japan and gather the offerings from different spirits for Kamiari Month, a mystical holiday that is a celebration of the gods and spirits. Reluctantly, Kanna accepts the quest to traverse all over Japan to get all of the different gifts and complete the run. 

So, a recurring theme seen in so many foreign animated films that have been covered in multiple reviews and brought over to the states has been the main character going through some kind of coming-of-age story of getting over their grief or dealing with the loss of a loved one. It’s not an original concept, but they execute it well, with a much smaller-scale story about Kanna dealing with the loss of her mom and the growing depression and bitterness that has been caged up inside of her since that incident. The other side character that starts out as a rival to Kanna, the oni boy Yasha, has his own arc and reasons for wanting to do the run for Kamiari Month to regain the honor of his family that was dragged through the mud and banished from the heavens above. It’s a quieter experience as a couple of the montage sequences are just visuals set to music. The overall story might have some wonky and familiar elements, but it’s a good reminder, as usual, that not every film needs to be a groundbreaking mind-blowing experience. Sometimes, you just need to dial back your expectations 

The animation is pretty solid. It’s not super-flashy, and personally, when you are coming out after Belle, Josee The Tiger and The Fish, and Words that Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, it doesn’t quite compare to those, and not every film needs to, but don’t expect this to be on the same level as those films or upcoming films like Bubble and Drift Away. It does have some nice flourishes like when they encounter a giant dragon god, and when the film wants to have some distinct visual moments, it does deliver on those aspects with some waterloo flourishes that have elements of those Japanese ink paintings. The voice cast is also pretty rock solid with Mia Sinclair Jenness, Mark Allen Jr., Luci Christian, Kirk Thorton, Keith Silverstein, and Michael Sorich all bringing their usual top-level talent. 

In terms of criticisms, the film takes a lot of time to talk and explain everything about Kamiari Month. It’s not well-paced, because instead of spreading out everything throughout the runtime, they upload a ton of exposition about the lore and how everything works, and it becomes a bit much. Once you get past the film’s first 15 or so minutes, it ends up flowing much better, but you have to be careful about doing that story build-up upfront. It’s because most will be ready to switch to watching something else if the story is not paced well. It would be better if they were able to spread everything else around the run across Japan as they were doing it instead of wasting so much time in one spot to save money and time on new environments. 

While not perfect, and Netflix once again not promoting this film that they spent money on outside of a single trailer, Child of Kamiari Month is a solid spiritual experience of getting over loss and becoming spiritually stronger. Personally, Sing a Bit of Harmony is the better of the two Japanese animated films released this year so far. Luckily, it was able to get some attention on Netflix and on the web before it got buried or overlooked by Studio Wit’s upcoming animated feature Bubble that’s coming out on Netflix in April. If you need something to watch and to get your anime fill that’s not a weekly TV series, then definitely give this show a watch. Next time, we will be talking about a new spin-off series based on one of Netflix’s most controversial and popular series.

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!

The Other Side of Animation 195: 5 Year Special – Children of the Sea 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!)

In terms of media that we consume and observe, a term that gets thrown around is tech demo. It essentially describes a product that’s made more to show off what a studio or game engine or whatever can do. It might look pretty and powerful, but it’s made to show off something more than anything else. I’ve seen this term used a lot to describe certain studios’ work, and the one that seems to get that title a lot is Studio 4°C. Founded in 1986 by Koji Morimoto and Eiko Tanaka, most anime and animation fans would know them for their work on films like Memories, Princess Arete, Spriggan, Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet, the Berserk: Golden Age Arc films, MFKZ, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, some sequences of The Animatrix, certain sequences of Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends, and Genius Party and its sequel Genius Party Beyond. Most of their films or work are known for their interesting visual aesthetics, and to me, they push the limit of anime. Unfortunately, most consider their work more style over substance, and that might be true in some areas, but I think they are better than what most people give them credit for. Out of a lot of the anime studios that are around right now, at least Studio 4°C has an identity. I can tell what a film or project from them looks like. I also love that they want to push the boundaries of what anime visuals can be. This is why for my 5th anniversary special, I want to talk about a film that has been hovering around my brain since last October, Studio 4°C’s Children of the Sea.

Based on the manga by Daisuke Igarashi, directed by Ayumu Watanabe, and produced by Eiko Tanaka, Children of the Sea was originally released back in 2019, and has toured the film festival scene, from Annecy to Animation is Film. It even won Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards and the Grand Prize in the Animation Division at the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards. It was brought over to the states by GKIDS, and is now widely available to purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, digital, and you can watch it, as of writing this review, on Netflix, so let’s dive into the deep ocean, and check out one of 2019’s best films and one of the most stand-out films in animation. 

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We follow the life of Ruka Azumi, dubbed by Anjali Gauld. She is a junior high school student who is going through a bit of a rough patch in her life. Her parents are in the midst of possible separation, she ends up in a falling out with her classmates during an altercation during sports practice, and all of this while her summer vacation is was about to begin. After some friction with her mother, she goes to the aquarium where her father works. There, she meets a boy named Umi, dubbed by Lynden Prosser, who was raised by dugongs (manatees), and must be soaked or in the water in order to survive. While befriending Umi, Ruka also encounters Umi’s “brother” Sora, dubbed by Ben Niewood. What mysteries do these two water boys hold, and what is their connection with the huge migration of ocean life? 

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So, what is this film about? What kind of message and themes is it trying to convey? Well, to me and many others, it’s a film about loneliness, finding your place, and our connection to the ocean and the universe. Our main character feels alone in the world, and honestly, after the day she had and her family situation, I don’t blame her. Even a normal person can understand or have a point in their life where they feel lost. Sure, the film in the third act gets a little 2001: A Space Odyssey with its psychedelic imagery, but the overall theme and story I think are universal. The world feels vast, and you realize how small you are compared to everything else. It’s a very Men in Black way of looking at the world, but without the dark comedy cynicism. It’s a film that takes its story seriously, and you do feel for our lead character and her trials of finding out where her journey takes her. The other characters like Sora and Umi are interesting as well, with their free-spirited personalities that contrast with Ruka. The other characters are likable, but they are mostly there to help elevate Ruka, Umi, and Sora. Still, I dug the interactions and dialogue between everyone. It’s a hefty script, but without the feeling of the script being pretentious and bloated. The dialogue felt natural, and that’s sometimes very hard for an anime and Japanese animated film to pull off. 

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Now then, the highest praise for this film should absolutely go to the animation. I mean, look at it. Watch a trailer, find a clip, and look at the still frames of it! This is hands down, the prettiest and one of the most well-animated films I have ever seen. It does use a mix of 2D and CGI, but the studio mixes it up so well, that you can’t tell unless you know what you are looking for. It’s probably the most visually stunning animated film of the last decade. I know that sounds shocking, since we have also had films like The CongressKlausI Lost My Body, and you get the idea, but I think Children of the Sea outweighs them all on a visual level. You can tell they were painstakingly recreating the manga’s gorgeous artwork, and they do a good job with everything looking like it was drawn and colored by colored pencils. It’s like you can see every little hand-drawn line. The color palette is also gorgeous and just as detailed. Almost every frame could be taken out of the film and put in a picture frame, because of how jaw-dropping gorgeous the film is. 

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In terms of music, it’s also top-notch, as we have the reoccurring Studio Ghibli maestro himself, Joe Hisaishi composing the music for this film, and you can tell it’s him with his ethereal scores. It feels atmospheric and otherworldly as you try to figure out everything. In terms of acting, I saw the film both dubbed and subbed, and you can’t go wrong with either language, but as usual, I prefer listening to the dub, because I want to focus on the visuals. Still, the dub is a good one with a strong cast including Anjali Gauld, Lynden Prosser, Ben Niewood, Beau Bridgland, Marc Thompson, Karen Strassman, Wally Wingert, Michael Sorich, and Denise Lee. I also have to give a shout-out to the theme song of the film, Spirits of the Sea by singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu. It brings out all of the emotions and the grand nature of the visuals. 

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The only nitpick I have is that the third act might be a bit much. It’s very 2001, and you are either down with what happens or not. There is also a small side plot going on, and I don’t know if it needed to be there, but like I said, these are minor nitpicks. This is one of those films that I think I regret putting at no. 10 on my Worst to Best List of 2019. If I could redo that list, I would probably put it higher than some other films on the list. It’s a one-of-a-kind film in a year that had some incredible and stellar animated films. As of writing this review, it’s readily available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. It’s also on Netflix, so now you have no excuse to not see this artistic and cosmic experience. Watch it however you can. It deserves a re-release in theaters once everything dies down. Well, it’s been five years, and I’m going to hope for five more years of writing about animated films. Now then, let’s move on to another artistic triumph in animation with Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore’s newest masterpiece, Wolfwalkers

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: Criterion/Essentials