The Other Side of Animation 176: Ni No Kuni 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!)

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 150: Netflix Godzilla Trilogy 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!)

As much as I like writing reviews for films, I will say that the one thing that has lost its magic is the discourse of talking about movies that I don’t like. With the current film climate that is focused on being hyperbolic, toxic, nitpick-obsessed, and pedantic about everything for the sake of “comedy”, it ruins talking about movies, because people think that is how you approach movies, when it’s not. Film criticism is wildly subjective, and is never a straight path to whether a film is good or bad. Everyone has different priorities when they look into movies. I wish it was more of a conversation piece, and not a race of who can be the biggest pedantic waste of air that drags down film culture rather than elevating it. I may have had more energy to put into talking about bad movies two or so years ago, but now I don’t. However, to be a good critic, you have to look at a wide range of films from big budget to small budget, action to romance, and theatrical or straight-to-video. So, where do I sit with the Netflix-distributed Godzilla trilogy? The trilogy was directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, with the screenplay written by Gen Urobuchi. The trilogy of films were made by Polygon Pictures, the studio that animated films and shows like Transformers: Prime, Tron: Uprising, Knights of Sidonia, Blame!, the CGI elements of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Star Wars Resistance, and helped Studio Ghibli co-produce Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. The trilogy came out over the span of 2018, and suffice it to say, there was very little fanfare or warm welcomes after the trilogy was complete. While Netflix might have a promising animation output in 2019 and onwards for feature-animated films, this, to me, was one of their biggest blunders. Why? Read on to find out.

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I’m going to review this as one giant review, because the movies themselves feel like an overly long three part OVA special. So, the trilogy takes place in the future at the end of the 20th century. Giant monsters have ravaged Earth to a point where everyone on Earth decides to do the sensible thing and pack up, leave Earth, and try to find a non-monster-filled planet.  That seems a bit drastic, but when one of those monsters is Godzilla, you wouldn’t really want him as your next door neighbor. I mean, he could be a good neighbor, but I’m getting off track. Anyway, the humans were joined by two other alien races, the religious Exif, and the technologically-advanced Bilusaludo. After not finding a planet after years of searching, a young man named Haruo Sakaki, dubbed by Chris Niosi, tries to pull rank and suggest that the current living situation that is 11.9 lightyears away from Earth is not going to be livable for everyone. After a failed scout ship exploded going down to a planet they were looking at, Haruo finds out some prime time information about Godzilla’s weaknesses from an Exif named Metphies, dubbed by Lucien Dodge. Haruo convinces the committee in charge to go back to Earth, retake it from Godzilla, and live there again. They head back to Earth to find that nature has pretty much taken back the entire planet. They encounter ravenous life, a mysterious race of humanoid individuals, and, shocker of shock, Godzilla. Can the humans retake the planet and take down Godzilla? Do the other alien races have ulterior motives? Who are the mysterious beings living on the planet?

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So, it was really tough to find a starting point as to what to talk about first. How about the directing and writing? So, what have the directors and the writer of the films worked on? Kobun Shizuno has mostly directed Detective Conan films and the Soul Buster and Knights of Sidonia series. The other director, Hiroyuki Seshita, has mostly worked on Polygon Picture-related properties like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin. So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s talk about the writer of the three films, Gen Urobuchi. He is mostly known for writing the scripts to Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass. While I have not really seen Psycho-Pass, that other title I mentioned is pretty telling at what kind of movies I should have expected. The three Godzilla films that make up this trilogy are drawn-out, boring, convoluted, and don’t really feel like Godzilla movies. I know Godzilla has had movies that range from the fun monster-fighting romps, to the social commentary side of films, but these three films essentially show off the worst of both Godzilla and anime at the same time. When you think of Godzilla, you think of grand scale destruction, fighting other colossal monsters with their own creative attacks. Now, what are usually the most boring aspects of Godzilla films? The humans! The human/humanoid characters are fairly dull anime archetypes that you see in a lot of anime. You have the angsty young male, the calm-headed best friend, the token female character, the religious nut that has ulterior motives, the war-hungry meathead, and you get the idea. No one is really that interesting, and the story/writing constantly focuses on philosophical elements of living, being on a world ruled by Godzilla, and life, which are just boring as tar.

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A story about a planet ruled by Godzilla didn’t need to be this complicated. Why is it so hard to make something with giant monsters just giant monsters and action? I’m not judging this movie by what it’s not, but what we got, and what we get is not interesting. Godzilla isn’t even a major player in any of the three movies. He rarely shows up, and it’s really at the end of each movie. Also, for a film series that takes place on a planet taken back by nature and swarming with giant monsters, the other monsters involved are really boring. They are just these generic-looking rock monsters that don’t look good, and the iconic giant monsters you want to see from Toho are only seen in still frames. You only get, like, three of the iconic Toho monsters, but one is only spoken of, while the other one is Ghidorah, but not the traditional Ghidorah. It’s like this movie was afraid to be a giant monster movie. I know we all make fun of the old Toho monster flicks, but they were very entertaining, because seeing giant monsters fight was, and will always be, entertaining. They even have Mecha Godzilla, but not in the same sense. It could have been interesting, but it was sadly not. That’s the big takeaway from this trilogy, it could have been interesting, but it was drawn out between three films, and the few action scenes that were there, were not enough to save the film’s sluggish and confusing story.

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Animation-wise, it’s getting a bit tiring to criticize Japanese CGI animation, because there are good signs of some studios knowing what to do, like Land of the Lustrous, but I didn’t really find anything all that impressive about Godzilla’s CGI. It was fine, everything was animated decently, the action was mostly readable, and when you could tell where the budget went, it looked good. You just see a lot the films reusing character models, and you get the typical clunky anime CGI movements from time to time. Polygon Pictures is getting close to showing how well CGI can work, but a show like the mentioned above Land of the Lustrous does it better.

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So, do I like anything about this trilogy? Well, like I said above, the CGI anime is pretty decent. When Godzilla is actually on screen, you do feel his presence, and when he actually does something, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just common knowledge that watching Godzilla blow stuff up and fight actual monsters is a proven good time. The dub script is pretty okay. I don’t really say this will be anyone’s best performances, but they did a good job with reading the scripts given to them.

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I think the biggest failure of these films were that they got the wrong team to make them. Godzilla didn’t need to be yet another philosophical think piece, when the most recent live-action Godzilla film was flawed, but way better at tackling such subjects, and had much better action set pieces. If you are a hardcore Godzilla fan and haven’t checked out these films, I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you must see every single film, then check them out. I just couldn’t be bothered to be hyperbolic and angry about these films. The more I hated these films, the more draining it became. They aren’t good movies on their own, and it’s not a good overall story as a trilogy. It wastes opportunities by being a three-part film, doesn’t take as many opportunities with its premise as it should, and shows how far some studios still have to go to make good-looking CGI-focused animation. However, after seeing this trilogy, it made me realize why I like talking about movies I enjoy, so, next time, how about we talk about the smash hit How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World? Thanks for reading, and let’s keep spreading the support for more positive film conversations and more mature and in-depth film criticism. I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating for all Three Films: Blacklist/The Worst