This Week in Anime
Is Ni no Kuni Worth Watching?

by Nicholas Dupree & Andy Pfeiffer,

Nick and Andy check out the bizarro-Ghibli film spawned from a pair of video games and find that it'd be a whole lot better with more spiders and less...everything else.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Andy
Hey Nick! I had so much fun watching a movie last week that I was in the mood to do it again. You up for a Ghibli one?
Nick
Sure Andy, but why go out for it when we have Ghibli movies at home?
Ghibli Movies at home:
Hmmm I remember Haku looking differentl
OK, so this is very much not a Ghibli movie. Instead this is Ni no Kuni, a new film from the folks at OLM set in the universe of the games of the same name, which I've only ever heard of because they featured designs from artists at Ghibli. There's almost certainly going to be some confusion among casual viewers though, which I'm sure some cynical person at Netflix HQ is counting on. But frankly if Miyazaki ever saw his studio's name attributed to this particular project I think his eyebrows would eat his own face.
Ghibli actually did some beautiful animation for the games, and I bet they're just tickled to see their work disrespected like this. The character designs are obviously trying to ape Miyazaki's house style.

The real insult is all the large scale fantasy environments that try to play as vast and magical and instead come across bland and weak.
Let's not bury the lead, this movie is uh, not good. I have no idea how it reflects on the games, but as a standalone production it starts off rote and then barrels downhill from there. Personally my first issue with it isn't even a criticism, so much as a trick my brain played on me. While the designs are a solid approximation of Ghibli-esque characters, the animation and direction are absolutely their own thing. And the result is that my eyes kept expecting them to move and interact with the world a certain way and they just...don't. Like neither Miyazaki or Takahata would ever have a CG-heavy tracking shot like you see in the opening minutes of this thing.
As someone that played some of the games, if you hadn't slapped the title on it I wouldn't have a clue. There's almost zero resemblance to the feel or story of them outside the wanna-be Ghibli aesthetic. It says a lot about how poor a production this was when their initial plan was to take something pretty cute and whimsical and turn it into yet another isekai story. The whole mess is pretty obvious to the audience before off-model Totoro even shows up.
Well, I don't want to dump on the film not being Ghibli-ish enough. Even if the aesthetic is super similar, it's fair for different creators to want to make their own story with it, and if nothing else this movie is more 90s/00s isekai than the past decade's light novel adaptations.

I do commend them for not going into the "wow this is just like my video game" but part of that reasoning might also be because it never even occurs to them because they are some of the dumbest characters I've seen in awhile. Especially Haru.
Yeah more than anything Ni no Kuni's biggest problem is all its own: the script. Which starts off perfectly competent, if a bit uninspired. Haru is a hotheaded jock who has play fights with his girlfriend Kotona, who best friend Yu is secretly in love with. There's even some minor tension about how Yu often feels unwelcome with them because he uses a wheelchair.

But around the time a fantasy assassin knifes Kotona in the park and Haru immediately lifts her still be-daggered body and runs into traffic, I started having worries about the screenplay.
Ok seriously someone needs to make Haru take a first aid class because holy shit he does the worst things when he sees an injured person. Girlfriend gets stabbed? BETTER PICK HER UP AND RUN AIMLESSLY INTO TRAFFIC! Later, best friend gets impaled on fantasy rebar? BETTER YANK IT OUT!

This isn't even mentioning that his first reaction to seeing his stabbed girlfriend is being mad that Haru is upset about it?
I'm willing to forgive characters a lot in stressful situations. I'm sure I wouldn't handle seeing somebody stabbed well now, let alone as a teenager. But Haru is a thoughtless moron for basically the whole movie and seems to be that way because doing colossally dumb stuff is the only way they can advance the plot. The closest he ever really gets to likable is this brief moment of joy when they end up in Isekai Town and discover Yu's able to walk there. It's not much, but it's nice.
That's pretty much the rub here. I'd honestly be ok with Haru's idiocy being the driving force, but once everyone else in the show starts operating on that same level I was astounded. There are numerous times characters shout a Proper Noun out of nowhere to messily set something up, or even worse, something happens and then we get a monologue about whatever nonsense we just saw.
So the first 30 minutes are what you'd expect from this setup. They wind up in fantasy world, find out the princess looks just like Kotona, and decide to find her to figure out what's going on. Then it turns out the princess is cursed but thankfully Yu realized he has Isekai hero powers and just uh, fixes her.
You cannot skip over the Ginyu force dance that failed to cure her.

In a better world we'd get a movie about those guys instead of the absolute dipsticks we got.
It was one of the few joys I was given. It's also stupidly relevant because we learn from their deaths that when someone dies in Fantasy World they Die in Real Life.

Well, everyone but Haru learns that but we'll get into that mess in a bit.
That's about where things really start to fall apart. Skipping over the requisite moonlit swimming scene where Yu falls in love with Princess Expy, they quantum leap back to their own world and find Kotona's alive! And Haru, in the weirdest choice of this whole movie, decides he'll just pretend their whole adventure was a dream and ignore it.
Look, some people died but they weren't his girlfriend, so who really cares, right? Besides, nothing else can possibly go wrong now because she was magically unstabbed? I never really caught onto how time works between the worlds and I think that's because no one writing this did either.
It's just so weird. Haru was there. He ate and shat and bled in that place. He pole danced with a weird stripper straight out of Star Wars. Why would he just ignore all that despite obvious evidence of looming danger?
I mean he does start believing again once this happens.

and BOY DOES THIS TAKE A TURN.
Right. Off. A cliff.

HEY SAVING THAT GIRL SAVED MY GIRLFRIEND BUT MAYBE I SHOULD DO SOME MURDER??? This logic comes out of fucking nowhere and I think has established a new level on the grief scale.
With absolutely 0 reason for it, Haru immediately decides saving Astrid gave his girlfriend cancer so he's gotta go kill her himself. It is balls to the wall bonkers and just makes it seem like he was really hankering for some regicide.
Which makes what happens next even more infuriating. See, in this world this kind of absolutely batshit logic jump is apparently contagious, because guess who else got brain worms after the whole princess saving incident?

YUUUUUUUUUP. Apparently nobody in this whole magical world knows the rules to anything, so Astrid immediately tells Yu to shiv her to save his best friend's girlfriend. Like literally she tells him if he doesn't kill her his love isn't real.
As stupid as this whole scene is I do kinda love that her response to Yu saying "What the hell is wrong with all of you??" is "Oh so you don't have the BALLS to stab me?"
If the script writers wanted every person in this movie to come off as either too stupid to live or too crazy to function, they succeeded. If they wanted to make a fantasy story with anything resembling a human emotional response, they fell flat on their asses 18 times in a row.
Let's chastise the new kid for not being stupid enough to immediately leap to killing a princess. When the voice of reason in your show is this fucking thing you know you done fucked up.

Which I think now is a good time to mention that the dub of this is absolutely amazing. In the sense that every bad UK accent you can think of are saying these incredibly stupid lines.
I wound up watching the sub, and it's a decidedly less hilarious affair. Astrid's voice actress is flatter than a Dr. Pepper left out in the sun all day. I'm usually not one to notice weak acting in Japanese, but she sounded like every line was being read at gunpoint.
If it didn't involve watching more of this I would recommend some of the fantasy scenes for the line reads alone. They tend to deviate from the subs a lot, which is probably a good idea except it means this line was never spoken.
But anyway, while Yu is convincing the Princess that stabbing her maybe isn't their only option, Haru has been taken in by a very reputable and not evil-looking-at-all group of friends. Who immediately tell him he's right about murderizing the princess who looks exactly like his girlfriend. They even give him cool armor!

Everyone knows the good guys in these stories wear black spiky armor, ride dragons, and invade peaceful kingdoms for no apparent reason, right?
Look, Haru's around this guy for like 20 minutes of screen time and during that time he repeats "You've gotta kill the princess to save your girlfriend, or are you chicken?" about 8 times so you know he has his best interests at heart. It's also a bit confusing because during the princess's "Take this knife and stab me" scene we learned that was a magic dagger that could bypass her magical princess immunity. Which might be why they had to kill her Kotona counterpart to get around it? That's never cleared up. Nor really matters.
That's clearly the implication, even if the characters are too stupid to figure it out. Why else would they send this Shigaraki-looking motherfucker to another world to shiv a teenager?
I'd go get crepes with him. Also between that last image and this one my brain finally clicked into what it expects from these designs. Some motherfucking card games.
I play Hunter Spider in ATK mode
A strong and regular complaint I have about shows is that they shouldn't remind me of better things I could be watching. This one has a lot of that. As you said earlier, 80s-90s isekai has a lot of strong contenders. The two best friends becoming bitter enemies over the life of a Princess has real strong X vibes. And Spider Assassin is really out of place in this show, especially in the real world, when he should be hanging out in Ninja Scroll

For real though, Spider Assassin was the most joyously dumb thing in that whole train wreck of a 3rd act. Especially when he started skitching on their car like the world's spoopiest Less Than Jake music video.
I honestly love how inconsequential this spider monster assassin is. His entire existence raises so many questions and absolutely none are answered.
Well of course he's not explained. He's not anywhere as important as our real villain, who gets a very thorough and well-foreshadowed explanation, in that his name was mentioned once before he reveals himself.
Ok but he also has another identity

If this makes you ask, who are these people and why are you doing this? Don't worry everything makes perfect sense. You see:
Oh that absolutely glorious dump truck of bad exposition. I'm genuinely hard put to remember a worse set of reveals in any movie. It's like 5 minutes of him explaining backstory totally divorced from any of the emotional stakes of our characters. "Not only am I the evil lizard guy in disguise, I'm also THE KING'S LONG LOST DEAD BROTHER. And I was killed BY OUR FATHER. But then I came back with a DEMON CORPSE BODY. And now I want to kill the princess because that will make me more powerful, I think? I'm still not really clear on that one."
I think my favorite part of that was the reveal that their dad did a genocide and the current king's response is

Like I still don't care about the evil plot bullshit but you know what, go ahead and you can be the king.
I have no idea if any of this is meant to tie into the games' story lines - this is apparently a distant sequel to their stuff, and even features what I'm pretty sure is the first game's protagonist as a mystical old man. But what I can say is that it's astonishingly bad writing that turns the final battle into an avalanche of stupid.
Is that who it's supposed to be? Because uh, with the pile of Chekov's guns in the floor near the end I thought it was implied that this might be the Father that committed genocide with the missing Magic Sword... who comes back to laugh about the situation and hand the sword off.
All I know is he's dressed like the kid on this box cover. If somebody who's more up to date on their Ni no Kuni lore wants to correct me in the comments feel free, because I am lost with this movie.
Ok so that could be him or the kid from Quest 64. Either way he exists only to give Yu the magic sword, which I feel the need to mention is called

Because every time I saw it my brain read it as Monstars and I really like the idea of this old dude crafting his legendary magic sword out of an old VHS copy of Space Jam.
After this very important villain—who was definitely well explained we swear—reveals himself, he decides to skip all the convoluted other-world stuff and just stab her. But wait, she's got the princess magic that will kill anyone who kills her! So he just takes control of Haru's armor to force him to kill her.

Oh right, Haru decided not to kill the princess after finding out his obviously evil friends were, in fact, evil. This kid makes no god damn sense.
Wait, wait, this made me remember the best part of the villain's reveal. It is so insultingly dumb that I actually got mad at the screenwriters. See, normally when you have a puppet master villain there are mistakes they make that the audience can pick up on. Ni no Kuni is at least smart enough to recognize this by making the clues dialogue that Galeroth had other characters repeat. Now, this does mean anyone in those scenes could be the culprit...so how do our heroes narrow it down to Galeroth?

I even went back to check that scene, and there is not a single thing that implies smell. No whiffs, no odd facial expressions. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing. Wonderful choice for your audio/visual medium guys.
Yu just channeled his inner Tanjiro for a minute and figured it out, OK? The nose of a bloodhound is part of the Isekai Hero superpower package along with a mysterious ability to attract pretty anime girls and live without a personality. Also props to even the Netflix subtitle team being too confused by this mess to keep things consistent. "Sword dagger" indeed.
If the screenwriters can't be bothered I can't blame the subtitlers either.
Anyway, Haru gets body-controlled for all of 30 seconds, gets his ass whipped by Yu, and then Evil Dude totally forgets about the part where he can't kill the princess without dying and just decides to do it.
Yeah he tries to kill her with pieces of debris because apparently that would get around it? So would long falls or drowning her, I guess? If only there was a way to get her way up in the air. Oh wait.

Apparently he can turn into a flying Scorpion King, but then just tries to uh, crush her?
Calling this a first draft is ostentatiously generous.
I guess the curse doesn't matter anymore. Also this was clearly written by a dude that throws a fit about the end of Return of the King because I have no other explanation for what happens next:
Hey remember that bird who showed up for 5 seconds an hour ago? No? Well he's here to save the day by helping Yu. Why does it help Yu, you ask?

Why is Yu special? Because he is. There's nothing particularly unique or admirable about him. He's not more clever, interesting, or trustworthy or good-natured than any given person. He's just special because he needs to be for the plot. So the giant magic bird lets him go hang gliding to kill the bad guy.
The villain simply has no chance against sudden magic bird (that disappears immediately after this while the villain is still alive, so I guess it just is very territorial about it's airspace?) and instead it's up to the power of either animation or editing errors to finally defeat him.

See this shot? Immediately after this the sword teleports about 50 feet behind the villain so that Haru can pick it up and kill him. It's played as some kind of smart plan or trick by Yu but oh my god is it complete bullshit.
I can forgive continuity errors for the sake of striking animation, but yeah this goes on the pile of dumb shit that constitutes this movie's final third. They end up defeating the villain entirely because he forgot there was a SECOND isekai protagonist who could stab him and then he poofs into dust.
Don't worry I'm sure we all learned a valuable lesson.
I mean, that's not a bad lesson to learn, but it had jack shit to do with any of the actual emotional stakes. Which I think were supposed to be Haru and Yu fighting to either kill or save Kotona/Princess, but it stopped mattering as soon as the bad guy started monologuing. Anyway, no time for catharsis, you boys have to suddenly go back or you'll die. For reasons.
Welp, can't argue with The Legend. C'mon Yu time to go back to the wheelchair and watch Haru make out with the girl you love instead of staying with her equally shallowly written counterpart here. I mean, they both like sour oranges so you know they're the same.
You know there could have been a whole arc about Yu having to choose between his closest friends or having a markedly improved life in fantasy land, but instead he winds up surrounded by clones of anyone actually important to him so the decision just feels pointless.
There is that weird lingering part where everyone has a counterpart but our two protagonists. If only that mattered somehow...
It turns out the one thing Haru's smart enough to figure out is that actually, this wasn't an isekai story at all. It's a reverse Isekai and Yu is actually Haru from that world even though they don't look the same like everyone else does.
How dare you say smart enough because I refuse to believe this was planned.
Well "smart" is intensely relative here. In that it's the first time he comes up with an idea that's actually accurate and not pants-shittingly stupid. That's how Ni no Kuni ends: Haru's back with his girlfriend, Yu gets to go on walks with his identical girlfriend, and we all learned war is bad or something.
I mean it still doesn't parse so maybe it takes his broken brain to do it.

Since everyone remembered them and the old man in both worlds every time.
Listen man, if we're going to list every leap in logic in this thing we'd be better off transcribing the script.
I care too much about my own sanity to do that, but hey everyone's happy because now you don't feel bad ditching your friend to go up stairs.
If I had to describe what this film is like, I'd say it's reminiscent of that time I had a creative writing project in high school English class that I started the night it was assigned, forgot about for a month, then woke up 2 hours before class having remembered I needed to finish it in a dream. In both cases the end result is an astonishingly rushed pile of nonsense that everyone involved with should feel embarrassed to have produced.
Tbh I wish I'd read your assignment instead, because then I'd at least know who to blame. Who am I supposed to shun for this?
I'm comfortable just blaming Netflix. They could have given us a Dorohedoro simulcast instead of this but noooooooooooo.
Netflix pls
It's probably best to just ignore whatever this misbegotten mess of a movie is. Far as I can tell people are better off playing the games. Or just watch an actual Ghibli film. Or hell that new Shinkai films in theaters now right? Just the drive there will be more engaging than this.
There's also plenty of new shows this season that deserve your attention more than this does. We should get on that and let this one fade into obscurity.

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