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by Isaiah Colbert,

My Oni Girl

Anime Film Review

My Oni Girl Anime Film Review
My Oni Girl, by Studio Colorido, follows Hiiragi Yatsuse, a high school boy who struggles to form meaningful relationships despite his people-pleasing disposition. Things come to a head for the young man upon a chance encounter with an oni girl named Tsumugi when she enlists his help in finding her mother in the human world. Along their voyage, Tsumugi and Hiiragi confront mini-oni — ghost-like orbs born from human beings afraid to express their feelings — and the calamity that ensues when folks let their emotions fester for too long.

Upon first glance, My Oni Girl has all the hallmarks of a Studio Ghibli-inspired romp. You've got a globe-trodding adventure with odd-couple protagonists, a myriad of wonderfully drawn vistas, titular mouthwatering glamour shots of Japanese delicacies, mondo cool old people, and visionary monster designs to boot. Considering the film's director, Tomotaka Shibayama, first cut his teeth at Ghibli before making his way to Studio Colorido, it's no surprise these stylizations would spill into My Oni Girl as well.

While any other film would kill to be compared to Ghibli in any conversation, it's hard to ignore the nagging feeling that My Oni Girl is flirting dangerously close with being overly familiar to the point of being rote. It's almost as if the film knows it can get a laugh track-esque reaction out of its audience by flashing any of the above on screen when there's a lull looming. And why shouldn't it overindulge when its animation quality is as captivating as My Oni Girl is? Fortunately, just when the film appears like it's going to be a formulaic cover act, its allure comes into play, revealing a disarmingly charming coming-of-age story that asks its audience not to let their feelings fester regardless of how hard it is to express them.

My Oni Girl follows a meek high school boy named Hiiragi Yatsuse who, despite his best efforts to form meaningful relationships with his classmates, always winds up on the short end of the stick in a series of transactional exchanges. These range from covering classmate's chores, doing their homework, and pretending to be their boyfriend to help them save face. Things come to a head when Hiiragi, understandably frustrated with his kindness being taken for granted, assists an assertive oni girl named Tsumugi in a quest to find her long-lost mother in the human world. This pursuit isn't just a 30-minute walk around the block. It is a nearly three-and-a-half-day venture with a fair share of hitchhiking, squatting, and laboring for their keep along their journey.

By far, My Oni Girl's best attribute is the conflict between and surrounding its central characters. While the movie sets itself up as an odyssey where Hiiragi and Tsumugi encounter mini-oni —demons who spew out of folks they encounter on their trek that bottle up their emotions—they're also routinely at odds with each other. Hiiragi not-so-secretly harbors frustrations over Tsumugi's brash and selfish nature taking advantage of his mild-manneredness throughout the film. This is accentuated both comically and dramatically through plumes of mini-oni that burst from his body whenever he lies about his resentments with her. The two's inevitably butting heads — arguably the best scene in the film — is accentuated by the pair tossing a playground swing back and forth at each other in their first honest conversation with one another.

The film serves its conflict two ways by masterfully teasing the tension from past arguments between its travelers as well as their individual family-driven drama. Hiiragi's undertaking of Tsumugi's quest functions as a way to sidestep confronting his father about him taking private lessons instead of going to cram school — something Tsumugi clocked from the jump. Likewise, Tsumugi respectively blames her own father for lying by omission about the whereabouts of her mother in the first place.

While the film is pleasant enough, the relaxed and contemplative gait of My Oni Girl's first half comes at odds with the breakneck-paced lore dump of its latter half. This abrupt tonal shift makes the film feel as though two different films are converging on one another, complicating some of the well-thought-out bases for its fantastical elements along the way. Chief among these jumbled last-act additions is the introduction of a cavalcade of Oni characters and their hierarchy in Oni culture in quick succession, confusing time travel-esque bits of imagery that never get addressed, as well as the downright overlooked ritualistic sacrifice being perpetuated in Oni culture that inversely created the movie's Avatar The Last Airbender-esque octopus-looking spirit demon problem in the first place.

Rather than serving to complement what the film establishes, these additions feel like confusing addendums that are handwaved away as quickly as they are introduced in the movie's blitz toward the credits. This dissonance became more evident when director Shibayama admitted staff at Colorido wrote and storyboarded the movie at the same time and struggled to come up with how to end it — ironically leaving a lot of things unsaid in a film about spilling your truth.

Narrative dissonance aside, the heart of My Oni Girl still shines through its jumbled ending: that folks should speak their minds even when it hurts. Shibayama sees this theme as a major issue among Japanese youth, and it transcends all borders. While the film doesn't hit all the notes it was trying to strike a chord with, it's still a good movie to put on to get in your feelings.

Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-

+ Interesting characters with compelling internal and external conflicts abound.
Final act moves and shakes a little faster than it feels suited for and raises more questions than answers if you think too long about it.

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Production Info:
Director: Tomotaka Shibayama
Yūko Kakihara
Tomotaka Shibayama
Yuya Fukuda
Taku Kimura
Kei Masaki
Atsuto Masuda
Tomotaka Shibayama
Kenji Takahashi
Unit Director:
Kenji Imura
Taku Kimura
Sora Maeda
Kei Masaki
Atsuto Masuda
Mizuho Ōtomo
Kenji Takahashi
Yō Watanabe
Haruka Yutoku
Music: Mina Kubota
Character Design: Masafumi Yokota
Art Director: Kunihiko Inaba
Animation Director:
Sunao Chikaoka
Jun Ishikawa
Fumi Katō
Mayuko Kato
Masayori Komine
Sayumi Kurumatani
Yuka Masuda
Masanao Murayama
Akihiro Nagae
Yukie Nishimura
Tetsuya Sakurai
Satomi Tanigaki
Yūko Yamamoto
Masafumi Yokota
Art design:
Kazuyuki Asaka
Yōhei Kawamura
Sophie Li
Akihiro Nagae
Tomomi Ozaki
Tetsuya Sakurai
Shiori Shiwa
Sound Director: Eriko Kimura
Cgi Director: Tsukasa Saitō
Director of Photography: Kei Machida
Producer: Karen Imagawa

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My Oni Girl (movie)

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