As someone who suffers from anxiety and an inherent fear of physical contact, and as someone who follows a number of public figures who think COVID is the threat that the media says it is, I was—and am—a nervous wreck. Even at this point where people are just tired of it, I’m still scared for my life. I was forced to see Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch in theatres (since my family doesn’t have HBOMax) as a way for me to face my fears, and I truly did feel afraid for my life. Was I able to enjoy the movie despite all that was going through my head? Also, is the movie itself enjoyable? That’s the more important question! Oh, and of course, I never read the source novel for it!
In Earwig and the Witch, the titular Earwig (a.k.a. Ayatsuru if you like subbed) is left at an orphanage. After living most of her young life there, she is adopted by the titular witch, Bella Yaga. Since she’s empowered and all that, Earwig is determined to own her new home.
Let’s not beat around the bush. This is Ghibli’s first CG movie, and I wanna talk about the CG. It’s not Pixar to where they individually rig every single hair follicle, but everything else checks out. The lighting is good, the style is faithful to 2D animation while still being 3D, and the characters are very emotive. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least better than some of the horrid TV anime CG.
Sadly, that’s really all that makes this stand out from Ghibli’s filmography. Well, I say “sadly” as if it’s a bad thing. Ghibli sets a high standard for Japanese animation for a reason, after all. Earwig is full of the same charm and homeliness you’d expect out of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. It’s simple, to the point, and has a lot of wholesome charm.
Unfortunately, this also means Earwig has the same problems as most Ghibli flicks. The pacing is abysmally slow, despite its short length. It’s also structured like most Ghibli movies, to where more than half of the core narrative isn’t tackled until the last ten percent of the runtime. A lot is also left up to interpretation, assuming Ghibli even bothered to leave subtle clues in the first place.
The cast consists of four main characters, and literally no one else. Earwig is an unusual subversion of characters of her ilk; she enjoyed her life at the orphanage, and is incredibly headstrong and feisty when at the receiving end of Bella Yaga’s… er… parenting. As someone who tends to like control freak types, I was initially drawn to Earwig’s character arc. But with this being a family-friendly coming-of-age story, I’d thought they’d try to give her a redemption arc, which ends up not happening. Her adoptive mother, Bella Yaga, has a fetish with worms, but other than that, she’s your typical lousy foster parent character.
Also living in the same house is Thomas, a black cat who tries to be comic mischief (key word: “tries”). The movie’s tragic hero is the owner of the house, known only as the Mandrake. He comes off as super sketchy, but different elements about him are organically divulged over the course of the movie, making him the most complete-feeling of the cast.
In a completely spoiler-free manner, I warn you about the ending. Honestly, we [the anime community] have seen this often enough to know that it’s just Ghibli being Ghibli. Even the ones that aren’t as, well, Earwig-ish, have left me with a sense of… lack of accomplishment. I dunno, maybe it’s the uncultured swine in me talking.
Final Verdict: 7.15/10
To be brutally honest, the fact that Earwig and the Witch is CG is the only incentive to watch it. It is bog standard Ghibli in every other sense, and it’s still outclassed by stuff like Spirited Away and Kaguya. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of Ghibli and the art of animation itself.
A couple years ago, before I even started this blog, I read one of my favorite manga of all time: Children of the Sea. It was a short, beautiful story with a simple message that really puts things in perspective (which is the vaguest way for me to describe it without spoiling you). It felt like a dream come true for it to get a feature film adaptation from Studio 4°C. Everything seemed to check out. “Oh boy!” I exclaimed. “Something legitimately unique and powerful that isn’t just mindless visual spectacle is actually going to get its well-deserved publicity!” However, karma seems to dictate that no truly creative and excellent media can ever get that publicity, for COVID-19 was at its peak panic levels during the month of the movie’s US theatrical premiere. And as such, the movie got downgraded to a straight-to-home-video release, as if it were a bad Disney sequel.
Because of this, I was concerned, to the point where I had to make a whole new paragraph for the following statement. The straight-to-home-video release made me consider an alarming possibility: Children of the Sea flopped. I don’t know why, but GKids didn’t exactly promote it, like, at all (for example, it was released on Netflix but I haven’t seen them Tweet about it and I was on them like a hawk leading up to this release). I’ve been worried about it not being well-received. Children of the Sea is incredibly abstract, and gets very cosmic very quickly. The fact that a hyperbole-hating guy like myself just used the word “cosmic” shows that this movie is a real trip. Anyway, this preamble has gone on for too long. My copy of the Blu-Ray is here, so let’s just watch the darn movie and stop postulating already!
In Children of the Sea, a girl named Ruka is living a typical life as an outcast among her peers and as a victim of divorce. She visits her dad’s aquarium, which acquires some unusual new specimens: Umi and Sora, two children who were found literally at the bottom of the ocean. Ruka acquaints herself with them, and when fish around the world begin to vanish, the boys are the only ones who can help her figure out why.
Like I said before, the story goes places. It’s so much of a trip that there’s not even a real antagonist nor actual stakes. The first half is basically a slice-of-life with some supernatural intrigue, while the second half is just… art. I’ll get to that last aspect in a bit.
I’m someone who’s consumed a lot of media that I’ve believed is pseudo-intellectual, and at first glance, Children of the Sea has every ingredient to fall into that same category. It has many shots that are framed with absolute beauty for the sake of beauty, as well as a lot of very esoteric dialogue to make them come off as smart, with a dash of real-world science thrown in. But unlike pseudo-intellectual works such as The Fault in Our Stars, Rascal Does Not Dream, and Monogatari, Children of the Sea has a clear-cut tangible meaning (which I choose not to disclose in this review). In fact, you could criticize its writing for being too ham-fisted if anything (but in its defense, this message is difficult enough to get across as it is so they kind of need to ham-fist it). Most of the hard science, which includes marine biology and astrophysics, is… true enough. Regardless of scientific accuracy, the messages that are conveyed via these factoids are what matter the most, as opposed to something like Rascal Does Not Dream where it’s like “Teenager issues? Have a quantum physics textbook!” just to force symbolism onto you.
“But a social commentary is still a social commentary,” you say, “and you don’t like social commentaries!” Normally, that would be true. From my perspective, most social commentaries are about human things that are already common knowledge by now. Children of the Sea’s message is something on a grander scope that- sadly- ends up going largely unacknowledged. Not to sound pretentious, but I think it’s something legitimately important for everyone to know.
Despite how straightforward the movie seemed, your mileage may vary. It’s not just the fact that I read the manga, but I’ve also been awakened to the same message through different means (Spoilers: through an old mini-series starring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and it’s not Cosmos!). So of course the movie would make sense if I already had an understanding of what it was going to say! The anime is no-doubt the more difficult version to experience first. In the manga, you have the ability to stop and take everything in, whenever you want, while the anime moves whether you want it to or not. Sure, you can pause it, but anime Blu-Rays have a problem with making subtitles disappear for a few seconds after you pause them (which would be a non-issue if you watch the dub, you normie).
Anyways, let’s drastically change the topic and discuss… the differences between the manga and anime (that I remember)! While most of what they cut is trivial, some removed content can mar the movie experience a bit. They completely get rid of the backstory between these two scientists, Jim and Anglade, which gives context to their relationship with each other. But more detrimental is that specific cut content makes a certain scene regarding Ruka’s mother come from way out of left field. In any case, the cuts do help the pacing a lot. I’d rather have a fantastically done movie with some bits missing than a crappy TV anime with all the content.
Let’s move on to the characters, who are by far the weakest aspect of Children of the Sea. Ruka definitely comes off as a YA protagonist; crappy life, gets swept away by two handsome boys, and is arbitrarily chosen to fulfill some great purpose for no reason. Honestly, I can’t really justify her character arc. I have one thing to say, but I can’t say it without spoiling the central themes of the film. So, spoilers: Having someone like Ruka be chosen is a glimmer of hope that any human can regain its innate connection with nature.
Umi and Sora are a bit more likeable… to a point. They also have YA tropes; Umi is the fun, lovable kid, and Sora is the sexy bad boy. They say a lot of esoteric things, and it’s only because of my understanding of the movie’s message that I don’t want to bop them upside the head. Next up are Jim and Anglade, the scientists I mentioned earlier. Due to the cut content, their character arcs got beaten down more than anyone’s. Fortunately, they aren’t that integral to the plot to begin with, even in the manga, so it’s fine. Beyond them, we have Ruka’s parents… who are typical divorcees.
The audio and visuals make Children of the Sea complete. The music is absolutely enchanting, and perfectly sells the atmosphere of the movie. But as great as Joe Hisaishi is, he didn’t write the end credits theme: Spirits of the Sea. This little ditty was by the singer Kenshi Yonezu. I’ll discuss Yonezu… in the future, but for now, lemme tell you that Spirits of the Sea is a wonderful, beautiful ballad that really conveys Children of the Sea’s magic. I got to listen to it when he released the single, at the time of the movie’s Japanese premiere, and it is how I discovered Yonezu in the first place. I highly recommend listening to it casually, but also listen to it during the credits; a post-credits scene follows afterward.
And- Holy crap!- the art. A lot of TV anime these days might look… eh, but at least the movies have maintained a high standard for quality. In fact, Children of the Sea is the most beautiful anime I’ve ever seen. They were faithful to the original manga’s linework-heavy artstyle, while also adding their own flourish to it. Studio 4°C also had the manga’s sense of composition; each shot is full of little details, yet it’s easy to identify the main subject at any given time. The animation, use of CG, and particle effects were also top dollar. After reading the manga, I had asked myself, “How the crap are they going to handle the climax?” Well, I’ll just tell you… they did a good job on that end.
Final Verdict: 10/10
I knew that the best case scenario with Children of the Sea was it would become my favorite anime of all time. And guess what: it’s my favorite anime of all time. The stars aligned with this one. Amazing source material, adapted by a studio that really cared. It’s practically perfect in every way. But boy… Children of the Sea got Shrekked hardcore. The COVID-19 pandemic killed its one shot at publicity in a U.S. premiere (outside of Chicago at least), and it made me real salty. This was a rare chance for something obscure, adapted by a talented team, to be unleashed upon the world, and it was all for naught!
This is one of the few pieces of media that I recommend you try regardless of your tastes. I might be sounding pretentious, but understanding the message that it conveys is very eye-opening. I’ve read a lot of books where the blurbs say “This completely changed how I view the universe!” and it ended up being two boring teenagers falling in love. Children of the Sea is not that; it is genuine, brutally honest, and poignant.
I stated in my Tokyo Godfathers review that it was the “best anime movie I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell“. As such, it was a no-brainer that would watch another Satoshi Kon flick, Millennium Actress, on Kanopy, from a completely different license holder than GKids. Going into it, I was aware that Tokyo Godfathers was a black sheep in Kon’s career, and that this movie was going to be much darker and stranger than I could possibly expect.
In Millennium Actress, two documentarians, Genya Tachibana and Kyouji Ida, are given the opportunity to interview retired actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. The old bird gladly divulges her life story to them, and those two end up along for quite a ride.
And I mean that literally. The movie seems straightforward at first glance, and that’s because it is. Minor spoilers: it doesn’t take long before the men interviewing her are literally IN Chiyoko’s flashbacks along with her past self.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get more meta, here’s a real hum-dinger. The bulk of Chiyoko’s story isn’t just told through flashbacks, but additionally through assorted scenes in her movies. These are seamlessly integrated into the actual plot, which is quite impressive (also, it’s convenient that all of her movies had similar premises). In these sequences, Tachibana ends up inexplicably planted into each given movie as an extra, further adding to the meta aspect.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue with Millennium Actress is Chiyoko’s story itself. The main conflict of the movie involves Chiyoko trying her butt off to find a tall, dark, and handsome guy she met for five minutes when she was, like, twelve. It’s so annoying when a female character gets her heart set aflutter by these idealized bozos. Sure, she was young and dumb, but the guy looks like he’s at least fifteen years older than her, which is kinda weird. Look, I don’t hem and haw over these intentionally controversial old-on-young people romances, like the Monica and Richard thing from Friends, but at least they GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER FIRST.
This doesn’t help her as a character either. While it’s always fun [for Westerners] to watch someone descend into madness, her issues seem cringey and annoying. At least characters like Citizen Kane had REAL issues, his case being his own mother selling him to the freaking BANK, or Mildred Pierce, whose case I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. Overall, Chiyoko comes off as a whiny brat throughout the film.
Fortunately, the two reporters are better. They have great chemistry with each other, and add a lot of humor to the movie that very much reminds me of Tokyo Godfathers. Also, they sort of represent the audience in some way. Tachibana comes off as the self-proclaimed intellectual who is totally into whatever the movie throws at him, and Ida acts like the trend-savvy, filthy casual who wouldn’t know REAL art even if it placed his head into its bosom. The fact that I’m not waxing poetic about Kon’s “Schrodinger’s Cat, quantum-reality-warping transcendentalist genius” or whatever means that I’m CLEARLY more like Ida in this case.
When it comes to visuals, despite being only a year or two before Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress looks much more aged. But even then, it still looks better than pretty much every TV anime these days. It also seems that Kon’s movies have a signature face style, similar to that of Ghibli. I hope that I don’t get sick of it if I choose to watch any more Kon movies.
Final Verdict: 8.85/10
While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress was still a great movie, and proof that this Kon guy knew what he was doing. However, when you take away the whole “warping between past, present, and movie scenes” thing, it amounts to little more than a bog-standard tragic love story. This brings up the question of what’s more important in storytelling: The story or the telling? I’m a bit of a weird combination of both, but you’ll need to lean a lot toward the latter in order to enjoy Millennium Actress.
Hopefully G-Kids will add more anime movies to Kanopy, because the ones I’ve watched have been fifty-fifty. Patema Inverted ended up being an E.T. ripoff on the most superficial, empty level. But conversely, Welcome to the Space Show– today’s topic- ended up being an E.T. ripoff with just the right amount of whimsy to become something with its own identity.
In Welcometo the Space Show, five kids- Natsuki, Amane, Noriko, Kiyoshi, and Koji- go out to search for their missing rabbit when they find an injured dog instead. Of course, this dog is actually a space dog named Pochi. As a reward for saving him, Pochi takes the kids to a massive alien city on the moon.
To briefly touch on the art style, Space Show has a lot of abstract and bizarre setpieces and scenes. This is where I would normally assume that there’s some pretentious pseudo-symbolism. However, based on the sheer off-the-deep-endness of the movie, that really isn’t the case. The basic theme of Space Show is just weird for the sake of weird, and it doesn’t care if you’re confused.
And it does get confusing. Although there is enough foreshadowing to have continuity, the way everything all comes together results in a massive “WTF?!” at the end. As expected, the climax is about as absurd and over-the-top as it gets. Saying that they fight a giant cyborg dragon above an autonomous salaryman planet during a livestream being broadcast to the entire universe isn’t even a spoiler, just because describing the plot of Space Show is impossible no matter how hard you try. I could be a critic, and say, “Oh, visual spectacle is technically impressive, but it doesn’t justify the mindless [insert smart-sounding word here] BS”, but I won’t.
It’s because of the main characters that the mindless BS is justified. While these kids aren’t particularly interesting, they are definitely kids at heart. Normally, I’d dislike any “human” protagonists, because of my fierce antisocialness, but kids are an exception. Children, when not tainted by the many adults who seek to manipulate them, are the most pure, innocent, and lovable by far. The other characters aren’t that interesting outside of their designs, and the relationship between Pochi and certain other individuals isn’t entirely clear (i.e. it’s interpretive).
Of course, I can only justify so much. The movie does have some of those eye-roll-worthy tropes that tend to be in a lot of family friendly movies. First off, Kiyoshi has a whole plot line with his dead dad that means absolutely nothing. Plus, there’s the typical “let’s be dejected for fifteen minutes and abruptly bounce back after we say some sappy junk as if we weren’t even drowning in despair in the first place.” It’s kind of something you can’t avoid in these movies, so you’ll just have to deal with it.
Finally, the visuals. Space Show is stunning in every sense of the word. It’s abstract and colorful, with tons of beautiful landscape shots with a myriad of bizarre vistas. The aliens are all kinds of weird shapes (and there are a LOT of kissy lips attached to things). The animation is smooth like water, and all the characters are super expressive. It holds up really well for a decade old movie. Just be wary of anthropomorphic stuff if you’re against furries.
Final Verdict: 9.15/10
Welcome to the Space Show is a great anime movie, and a great showcase of that childlike wonder that seven billion too many of us lose with age. Seeing it makes me wonder how A-1 Pictures became the mainstream-catering studio that they are generally known as today. I get that anime being by the same studio doesn’t really mean it’s the EXACT same team, but as far as I know, they haven’t made anything as bizarre as this at all in recent years. Well, regardless of the history of A-1 Pictures, Space Show is a fun film, and I recommend it to fans of E.T. and those who want something wiggety-whack.
Different ethnicity, different religion, different species, body swapping, homosexuality, transgender, not actually being organically alive… with these, and other factors, many writers have tried- and failed- to make the romance genre anything besides a series of cringefests (at least for me). Could different gravity fields actually make it interesting? Let’s watch Patema Inverted and find out.
In Patema Inverted, the titular character dreams of visiting another world. So, she heads on the highway to the Danger Zone and ends up in the world of Aiga, some kind of Brave New World-type society. There, she meets an adolescent boy named Age, and they literally turn each other’s worlds upside down, because- well- their gravitational fields go in opposite directions.
Well, astonishingly enough, the opposite gravity means almost nothing. The only thing that the opposite gravity does is establish the forbidden romance factor that governs the film. It does build a sense of anxiety, just by them walking around, because both directions lead to a bottomless pit of death. Unfortunately, Patema Inverted plays out so cardboard-cutout-y that it doesn’t even matter. Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh, since Kanopy considers it a kids movie, but I’m writing this post, so I’m gonna be harsh!
The romance comes from out of left field, as it almost always does. The sh*t hits the fan no more than five minutes after they meet, and while I appreciate the not-beating-around-the-bush, it doesn’t help build their relationship at all. At least Ride Your Wave did something to actually get you to grow attached to the two lovebirds (as much of an obvious red flag it was).
I shouldn’t even mention the characters… yet I am anyway. If you’ve seen E.T., then you’ve watched Patema Inverted already, as it’s all about the powers-that-be being scared of something that they can’t understand. Age is a typical “I’m-sad-because-my-dad-is-dead” boy, who literally has no personality other than the fact that he’s sad because his dad is dead. Patema is just… a girl. There’s nothing to even say about her. The bad guy is a typical SAO villain, complete with one-dimensional evilness and wanting to sexually assault a teenage girl.
I’ll admit that some of the movie caught me off guard. Towards the end, there are a couple of interesting twists, but they end up being left with next to no explanation. A fan would say that it’s a nuance that requires some interpretation, and a critic would say it’s a plothole. Guess what I think it is.
Visually, this is perhaps the weakest anime movie I’ve seen. I don’t know if it was a stylistic choice, but the character textures are flat, and the background art- while somewhat beautiful- doesn’t get much better than a AAA-produced TV anime. There is also a remarkable lack of actual animation throughout the movie. This is the first anime I’ve watched since Tokyo Godfathers, which looked way more impressive despite having come out a whole decade sooner.
Final Verdict: 5/10
I didn’t think I was going to like Patema Inverted that much going into it, but it couldn’t even meet my low expectations. This movie was about as empty-feeling as it could get. As much as I didn’t like Ride Your Wave, it at least has a sense of whimsy with its art style, and much more personality to boot. I’d recommend Patema Inverted if you like the very inorganic romance that’s plagued the genre since the dawn of entertainment. I’m sorry for writing such a harsh review, but them’s the breaks sometimes. I admit that I only watched it as a test to make sure Kanopy was reliable. I’ll be covering a review of a different anime movie that will very likely be much better in the very near future.
PREFACE: There might be a… slight difference in portrayals of certain things in the old Japanese audio and the new 2020 English dub of this movie. Being the weeb that I am, I watched it subbed. This is a review of the subbed version.
If there was any good part of my decision to watch Ride Your Wave, it was seeing the preview of Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film, Tokyo Godfathers. I traveled uncomfortably far from my home in the ungodly hours of night, because that’s where the nearest theater happened to be. Was it worth the hassle?
In Tokyo Godfathers, three homeless bumpkins go dumpster diving and *play Zelda jingle* find a baby. Since they’ve got nothing better to do, they set out to find the darn thing’s birth parents.
One thing that any viewer will notice, at least a viewer who’s used to current anime, is the movie’s rather unconventional portrayal of Tokyo. Instead of the bee-bopping, fun utopian metropolis, we are shown the less lawful underbelly of Tokyo that Japan’s tourism industry doesn’t want you to see. It’s much more “realistic”, which is something that you might enjoy over those battle shounens.
But Tokyo Godfathers is a satire, and that means it’s not all underbelly. In fact, no matter how dark or emotional the movie gets, it manages to never take itself too seriously. There’s tons of witty banter throughout this movie, but unlike most anime, the humor is much more- *Fmuh!*- nuanced (if you don’t know what that Fmuh means, check out the 1968 movie The Odd Couple). You’ll need to pay attention to the mannerisms of the characters, as well as crap happening off in the background in order to be able to understand how Tokyo Godfathers works its magic.
In terms of the narrative structure, Tokyo Godfathers follows these people throughout the crowded streets of Tokyo as they get involved in all kinds of antics with the baby. This includes getting invited to a party with the Yakuza, and narrowly avoiding a Terminator-style vehicular accident. But every so often, they break the ice with tidbits on their backstories, until they finally form a cohesive whole.
So who are these bumpkins anyway? Tokyo Godfathers stars Gin, Miyuki, and Hana. Gin is an old, cynical drunkard who became those things because he ran away from his life issues, Miyuki is a bratty and spunky teenage girl (and a loli, in case any of you modern fans cared), and Hana is a retired drag queen. These three have tons of Laurel and Hardy-esque banter with each other, but in terms of individual strength, Hana takes the cake. She is extremely eccentric, and behaves very flamboyantly, providing a bulk of the comic relief. But when something needs to be done, she’ll damn well do it. I can imagine that the animators had the most fun with her mannerisms.
The music also helps sell the screwballiness of the movie. The music pieces, when they’re not Christmas music, are intentionally dissonant and jarring, and sound like a song by King Gnu even though they didn’t exist at the time.
It all comes together in the movie’s fantastic visual presentation. Normally, I’d write off great visuals as fluff, but here, it’s just as important to the plot as the plot itself. Most of us modern viewers have come to assume that anime are simply incapable of depicting themes like dreariness, suspense, and general negativity. But in Tokyo Godfathers, the desaturated colors and clever use of limited lighting effects conveys the mood wonderfully (it’s like they actually had funding to make it or something). Small details, like the various and creepily hyper-realistic adverts posted everywhere, make the underbelly of Japan feel otherworldly in its own way. Something so hideous has never looked so beautiful!
In addition, the animation is marvelous as well. Not a single frame is wasted to bring Tokyo Godfathers to life. It is most prevalent in the main characters, who tend to morph into completely different forms at times. This level of expressiveness is something that no live action actor can achieve.
There are TWO brief instances of… ahem… “nips” in the movie. You have been warned.
Final Verdict: 9.4/10
If you wanna be one of those people who thinks that older anime are better than newer anime, then Tokyo Godfathers makes a great example. It’s a weird and wonderful movie that takes a bit of open mindedness to enjoy. At the time of this post, it’s the best anime feature film I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes satires such as The Odd Couple.
Recently, I’ve realized that anime feature films are where Japanese animation puts its best foot forward. By a long shot. So, I decided to go against my gut and see Ride Your Wave, a new romance film from the studio Science SARU. Were mistakes made that day?
Can’t answer that question without a brief rundown of the premise first. A cute surfer girl named Hinako Mukaimizu moves from Chiba to a new town. One night, her life almost- literally- goes up in flames when her apartment catches fire. She is saved by a young fireman named Minato Hinageshi. They fall in love immediately and live happily ever after. Nothing goes south whatsoever.
Spoiler alert, it goes south. No, this isn’t even a spoiler, because if you’ve seen ANY romance for teens, or Up, then you likely figured what was going to happen just based on that last paragraph. What happens is that Minato drowns.
But don’t worry, this is magical YA-land! In the aftermath of his death, Hinako starts seeing Minato in bodies of water. You know, like you do.
There are three reasons why I wasn’t even remotely invested emotionally in Ride Your Wave. First, I never fell in love with a real life human ever, so I can’t relate. Second, as someone who’s been a teenager, I KNOW that love at first sight is the most BS thing ever; merely just some hormones going off in response to primal urges and other stimuli. Third, and most importantly, it is incredibly cut and dry (despite being water-themed). I even spent more than half of the movie thinking about the movie previews that they showed, and I was still able to follow Ride Your Wave‘s plot without missing a beat.
Ride Your Wave is basically your typical YA novel, except with that touch of anime whimsy. I can’t really say anything else about the story, because there isn’t anything else to say. The characters are all typical teen templates, too. I’m probably going to forget all of their names after completing this post.
The music, though, is the absolute WORST aspect of the movie. While half of it is pretty harmless BGM, the other half is the freaking overused song: “Brand New Story” by GENERATIONS from Exile Tribe. I had seen the band’s name come up occasionally on Apple Music’s Similar Artists tab, but I never got around to trying their music. Because of how it’s used in Ride Your Wave, I was not given a good first impression. While it’s not the worst song by itself, it is a plot relevant song in the movie. This means that you will have to hear it ad naaaaaaaauseuuuuum! Blech.
But hey, the visuals are all worth it, right (*sarcasm*)? I’m sure a lot of people will go gaga over Ride Your Wave‘s bright, Wind Waker-esque art style and fluid animation. I’ll admit that I might’ve silently gawked at a couple of shots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose to the story’s themes.
Final Verdict: 6.8/10
Ride Your Wave is nothing special; it’ll likely be forgotten when the next “pulse-pounding, break-your-heart-and-put-it-back-together” thing comes out (especially if it’s directed by Shinkai). I only saw it because the anime movies that I’ve seen have consistently maintained a higher standard than their TV counterparts, and despite all the salt, Ride Your Wave does the same. I can’t exactly recommend it, mainly because it was one-night only. So if the Blu-Ray comes out, borrow it from a friend, since there’s no such thing as a movie rental store in this world.
Just in case you haven’t read my profile, I’m gonna let you in on something: I’ve been intensely studying Japanese culture since earlier this year. And as such, I already knew how Ghibli’s adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, titled The Tale of Princess Kaguya, would turn out. And thank Jizo that I did! You’ll see why later in this post.
To sum it up, it all begins when an old bamboo cutter finds a baby girl inside a bamboo stalk. Since this is a Shinto story, he doesn’t bat an eye whatsoever at this find, and decides to raise her. Before we know it, bamboo stalks start oozing gold and his daughter is in the lap of luxury!
Normally, I’d discuss visuals last. But since the paint-like art style of Kaguya stands out so much, I gotta talk about it first. My first instinct is to chalk it up as gimmicky. However, the implementation of the different textures of the brush, as well as colors, helps the movie convey mood and motion better than most modern TV anime. The simplistic designs also help make characters super expressive and movements to be consistently smooth and fluid.
But the question becomes: “If you took away the unique artstyle, is the movie still any good?” Narratively speaking, Kaguya is more-or-less a family drama of the “Kid just wants to be a kid but gets all of it yanked away from them on account of their dumb, money-grubbing parent(s)”, a la Citizen Kane. I personally don’t care much for family dramas as a narrative theme, and I only chose to watch this movie because of my familiarity with the original story.
And I made a good call, because otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve liked Kaguya otherwise. At two and a half hours, this adaptation of a folk take that takes about five or ten minutes to read takes its sweet time. Despite how she’s supposed to be rapidly growing, it takes about the first hour for her to actually become a teenager and for the core narrative to start in earnest. Leading up to that, you end up deathly curious as to what her origin is (well, you’re meant to at least), but find yourself just watching a kid just bumbling around with other kids for a while. As admittedly boring this first act is, I greatly prefer it over the alternative, which is to have the sh** go down within the first five minutes before you can acclimate yourself to her childhood. Because of this, it actually feels emotional when the aforementioned sh** goes down.
But the thing is, despite how expressive the characters are in the animation, most of them are very unremarkable. The titular character, Kaguya, is probably the only one you’ll remember over time. Like in the story, she’s a real rambunctious rascal, and merely wants to live out that Cindi Lauper dream of girls just wanting to have fun. Watching everything crumble around her is pretty darn engaging, as sadistic as that sounds.
Her parents are polar opposites, with the “bad” parent being the dad. He starts as this jolly old fart and becomes an utter ass in his hunger for glory. Fortunately, Kaguya’s mom still gets her daughter, but she can’t do much. Time period and all that. Most other characters, besides Best Girl Chubby Loli Servant, aren’t that interesting.
The background music is nice. It’s obviously traditional, old school Japanese classical instruments, and it’s very beautiful. I noticed, in the opening credits, that the music is by the same guy that did Children of the Sea (if only it premiered in American theaters *glares at GKids*).
One big issue I can see viewers having with Kaguya is its final act. I can’t even imagine what audiences thought when they first saw it. I mean, this movie spends almost two hours building up this big family drama, and just when it’s about to go down… from straight outta left field… POW! Sudden new development! But there was no way around it. Here’s a fun fact: that ending is canon. I’m not joking; this movie’s ending isn’t Ghibli taking any serious creative liberties; they are following the source material. From a narrative standpoint, it is a very BS note to go out on, but there ya have it. Maybe someday, Disney will do a fluffier adaptation and retcon it like they did with the Grimm brothers, but for now this is what we get. I would’ve been livid if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, that’s for sure.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
It’s slow-paced, relatable, and cynical; no wonder it was so successful in the West! In all honesty, despite how good The Tale of Princess Kaguya is overall, I can’t easily recommend it. It is very slow, nuanced, very cultural, and that ending… Hoo boy! For all intents and purposes, this is probably the best version of her story. But movies are an inherently bigger investment than a cute little folktale, so the crotch-kick at the end hurts more than reading the original. It all depends on what medium you’d prefer. I’d recommend Kaguya if you want a reprieve from the cheapo anime that they churn out like Jeff Daniels in that disgusting scene of Dumb and Dumber, or if you’re studying Japanese culture and want to know about one of its famous folktales.