TL;DR – A really good film up until the point it gets bogged down in its own worldbuilding
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a post-credit scene
It has been a long road trying to adapt video games to the big screen and so far there have not been many (if any) that have actually pulled it off. Some have got close and today we take a look at one that also is very close, even if it just does not quite get there.
So to set the scene, in Japan, there are three good friends Kotona (Abby Trott), Haru (Alejandro Saab), and Yu (Max Mittelman). Kotona and Haru are a couple and Yu is the third wheel, but not really, though he is confined to a wheelchair after a childhood accident that killed his parents. Life is great, school is good, however, all is ripped apart when one-day Kotona realises that she is being stalked by a creep. Yu and Haru rush to help her but they are too late when they arrive a masked figure stabs Kotana with a weird blade. They rush to try and get her to a hospital when in the middle of the street they are ripped into another world and now Kotona is missing, their phones are compasses, and everything is different.
Overall, the animation is quite good, with a blend of more traditional hand-drawn style anime for most of the film with more computer-animated moments inserted in. You see this a lot when things are in motion and they want to do a pan, like a cat statue towards the start of the film. This leads to some really beautiful sequences like the moment when Princess Astrid (Abby Trott) is dancing on top of the water of a lake while plants glow around them. It looks like the art style is a bit of a departure from the source material, but I didn’t mind that when it is done well. Where it does not work as well, is in some of the big battle sequences towards the end when the two styles clash rather than supporting each other. However, even when it is not working as well as it could, when you have Joe Hisaishi providing the musical score, then you know it is going to be good.
One area where I don’t think they quite got the balance right is the tone that seems to jump around all over the place. One the one hand, you have elements that would be more at home young children’s animated film, including a ‘cute pink yapping not-dog sidekick’. However, it also has swings to more adult animated films with stabbings, pole dancers, and more. You can make such drastic shifts in tone work, shows like Adventure Time are founded on this very notion, but it never quite got there during its runtime.
A strength and then a bit of a weakness is the film’s story that isolated from wonder to confusion throughout the runtime. The original source material for the film is the Ni no Kuni games, that come from the JRPG or Japanese Role Playing Game genre. This is a genre that is known from its intricate worlds to explore but also for is somewhat dense storytelling, see the numerous flow charts needed to work out what is happening in Kingdom Hearts. So right from the start, the premise of the film, that people can jump between worlds (our world and the fantasy other world) and what happens in one world can affect the other. This is such an interesting concept that I could see a whole series about this and how it plays out across the worlds when death is on the line.
However, an interesting concept and a fascinating fantasy world are a start, the question is can they hold it together, and I am not sure that they did. There is a tipping point about halfway through the film where a character made a choice and while intellectually I can see how he got to B from A, emotionally in the context of the film the choice does not make sense. To add to this, from this point onwards the film is almost overwhelmed by the lore that you suddenly need to know for the ending to make some kind of sense and this grinds all the momentum that had been there to a halt. Which still would have worked if there was not a character with “I am a bad person in disguise” tattooed across their forehead.
In the end, do we recommend NiNoKuni? Yes, we would, with some caveats. If you are looking for a well-animated film with a competent story and don’t mind a little tonal whiplash, then I think you are going to enjoy it. If you don’t want to wade through a mountain of lore, then I don’t think this one is for you. If you are interested in video game adaptations, I can recommend the only really good direct adaptation Detective Pikachu.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of NiNoKuni
Directed by – Yoshiyuki Momose
Screenplay by – Akihiro Hino
Based on – Ni no Kuni by Level-5 & Bandai Namco
Music by – Joe Hisaishi
Production/Distribution Companies – Eiga Ni no Kuni Seisaku Iinkai, Warner Brothers & Netflix
English Voice Cast – Abby Trott, Max Mittelman, Alejandro Saab, Erica Lindbeck, John DeMita, John Snyder, Robbie Daymond, Armen Taylor, Patrick Seitz, Ray Chase, Kyle McCarley, Julie Maddalena & Derek Stephen Prince
Rating – Australia: M;