Seven anime Christmas favorites to watch with a cup of hot cocoa.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 24th 2005
My Beautiful Girl Mari
As the summer draws to a close, young student Nam-Woo must contend with a local man who seems intent on becoming his stepfather and the impending loss of his best friend Jun-Ho, who will soon be leaving to attend school in Seoul. With his cat Yo as his companion, Nam-Woo seeks a way to cope with his feelings of abandonment and finds it in a fantasy world within a marble, through which the lovely feather-clad girl Mari flies. With her help, Nam-Woo learns to deal with his loneliness.
My Beautiful Girl Mari is an award-winning example of the great leaps that Korean animation has made in recent years. This is not anime, nor is anything about it clearly patterned off of anime; it is an original cultural work which reflects Korean settings, sensibilities, and pacing. (I have heard it said that Korean movies, even amongst its action films, tend to unfold at a leisurely pace compared to American or Japanese-made films, and that certainly seems true here). It mixes slice-of-life drama with dreamlike sequences and some hidden details to create a gentle, magical story which richly rewards patient viewers with a number of spectacular scenes. Patience is critical to appreciating it, however, as events and scenes unfold rather slowly. While this is suitable viewing for children, those who have short attention spans (whether children or adults) are unlikely to much appreciate this title.
The highlights of the movie are its fanciful fantasy sequences. Scenes of fluffy rain clouds, puffy flying creatures with tiny wings, a gargantuan dog, and flowers as tall as trees dot a landscape which vaguely resembles something out of the .hack// series and looks every bit the stuff of daydreams. Amongst this wondrous landscape is Mari, a pale-haired girl clad from neck to ankle in white feathers, who interacts with Nam-Woo on his various visits. Though she never speaks, volumes of dialogue seem to pass between her and Nam-Woo as she gives him the comfort he most needs at this fragile time in his life. Beyond her the most interesting character is actually Yo, Nam-Woo's cat, who has the most convincingly cat-like behavior of any animated cat I've ever seen. In fact, I am convinced that an utterly fascinating movie could have been made about that cat. It certainly has more character than Nam-Woo, who is defined by his adventuresome nature and blasé attitude but has much less personality than a central character should. Fortunately a more interesting supporting cast partly makes up for this.
The artistry for Marie is completely computer-rendered, which has both positive and negative aspects. On the downside it leaves the characters devoid of texture and is too obviously computer-rendered to sit well with fans of cel-based animation. On the upside it creates some spectacular background visuals, allows for some fancy perspective-shifting, and produces at least one distinct 3D effect. It also provides superb animation, especially for that cat, although the movie undercuts itself a bit in this category by setting up scenes so we often can't see characters' mouths when they're speaking. The pale, muted color scheme and use of Korean racial features in the character designs further distinguishes the movie's artistic style from those of anime titles, which rarely bother to make Japanese characters look Japanese. Also watch for the clever little details in the opening scenes focusing on the seagull, such as the face on the bottom side of the blimp, the construction worker getting caught in a fall by his safety harness, or the fender-bender that happens on the street below as the gull flies overhead, amongst others.
The effective musical scoring is a mix of fully orchestrated numbers and guitar-based pieces, with fanciful electronica numbers supporting the fantasy sequences. The melodic, orchestrated opening number is a work of melancholy beauty, while the electronically-supported closer also sets a pleasant tone. Most impressive, though, is the use of background ambiance, sound effects, and especially animal sounds. All too often animated animals who aren't supposed to talk are still “voiced” by human actors, but Yo the cat sounds so convincingly like a cat that they must have used recorded cat yelps and growls.
ADV's dub script sticks reasonably close to the subtitles, although it does translate some background conversation which is left untranslated by the subtitles. The quality of the dub performances is a more tricky issue. Based solely on its own merits, the dub provides English performances which are well-delivered and generally seem on target for the characters. The boy roles actually do sound like boys, but the grandmother sounds distinctly like a younger woman trying to imitate an elderly woman (which is, of course, exactly the case). The styles of the deliveries are quite different in English than they are in Korean, though, and some of the voices aren't a good match for the original performers. The differences in languages and accents is more responsible for this than any performance flaw, as the flow of Korean speech can't really be duplicated by English and the thick, mush-mouthed sound of one character's speech would be nearly impossible to imitate in English. Overall it is still a respectable dub job.
ADV offers up the movie as a no-frills release, with no extras beyond company previews and a reversible cover. The 80-minute running time feels longer because of the languid pacing, but that does feel like the right length for the story that's being told. If you're looking for something to keep you awake then this is not the right animated title to be watching, but if you're looking for something soothing to calm you down after a stressful day then this one should fit the bill quite nicely. Some will get lost in the dreamy visuals, others will find deep resonance with how Mari helps Nam-Woo cope with the issues facing him, and still others (like me) are going to be fascinated by the cat. If for no other reason, see this one to find out what Koreans can come up with when they produce their own animation and what might be expected from them, quality-wise, in the future.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Exceptional sound, good animation and artistry
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