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This Week in Anime
Is Lu Over the Wall Worth Watching?

by Michelle Liu & Nick Dupree,

Director Masaaki Yuasa tries mermaids on for size in his film Lu over the wall. Yuasa hasn't missed a beat in his latest offerings but does Lu keep the flow going or are its waters too choppy?

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 series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

So Nick, I don't know how you're holding up under the world's latest health crisis, but I'm approaching a week of near-lockdown here. And as the days go on, I'm finding myself eyeing my neighbors and thinking:
Sounds like somebody needs to numb the tension of encroaching cabin fever with some bingewatching! Thankfully Netflix was nice enough to add one of your childhood favorite movies this past week:
The Little Mermaid!

Huh, Prince Eric seems scrawnier than I remember.
Don't be ridiculous. That's clearly Ponyo.
OK, truth is with Keep your Hands of Eizouken ending we needed to fill the Yuasa shaped hole in our hearts and god knows I don't need to watch DEVILMAN crybaby in this geopolitical climate, so why not hit up one of the Science SARU features I never managed to see before?
I happened to miss this one when it was screening at whatever con I was at in 2017, but upon going back I'm kind of kicking myself for it. Lu over the wall isn't my favorite of the post-Science SARU Yuasa features, but it's mighty cute and a joy to look at. Whatever its flaws, it's definitely more evidence that anything with Masaaki Yuasa's name on it is probably pretty special.
Yeah I can't call Lu a favorite either, but Yuasa and his posse of collaborators are an extremely unique voice in the current anime scene and I'm totally down for seeing anything they work on. Even when they're indulging in somebody's inflation fetish.
I'm also not sure I ever wanted to see a shark with a mustache, but it's a thing that exists now.
How dare you. Sharkdad is the best character in this whole thing. I want a whole movie of him waddling around coastal towns doing Business Things!
So I guess we should start with the actual narrative of the movie, which is dirt simple by Yuasa standards: your standard disaffected anime teenager Kai lives in a podunk fishing town, but his life gets flipped turned upsidedown when he meets a whimsical mermaid girl and they go on aquatic adventures until he has some important coming of age moment.
Yadda yadda, mystical disasters, explosive climax that's resolved through the power of getting together to sing "Kumbaya"; throw in a viral YouTube star of a blob girl and a few wacky hijinks and yeah, that's about the gist of the movie. There's not a whole lot of story to it, but come on. Viral dancing fish girl hypnosis.
Which isn't to say it's bad! While the script is easily the weakest aspect of the whole thing, Science SARU has never made anything that looked boring, and Lu is arguably the loosest they've ever gotten with their art and animation. Which is saying a lot.
Lu does really feel like an excuse to go all-out on water animation, but yeah, that's not at all a bad thing. The design of the film is so neat - like, I gotta respect the genius galaxy brain decision to heavily feature dogfish. No, like, actual dogs who are also fish.
Masaaki Yuasa has spent his whole life refusing to draw a normal dog and you have to respect that.
They're more normal than Hirohiko Araki dogs at least! That's also unfair to Puppy, the genius swimming poodle who lives in a pink Prada purse.
Dogs aside, I really can't overstate how wild this film looks the whole way through. Rather than focusing on detailed stills, the whole film is built to constantly be moving from the word "go". Even when setpieces feel like they're just there to look cool, I can't complain because dang, they look really friggin cool!
They do! I don't think I've ever been so mesmerized by the sight of a flopping fish, except maybe when I was 8 years old watching Spongebob. But Lu just sells every little motion like that. Speaking of flopping fish though, I'm still majorly bothered by the thought of fish that continue to waddle even after being eaten. Like why was that a plot point in this?
Oh that was my favorite part! It's basically a 2 minute side story showing the power mermaid spit has on other creatures but god I love the image of those fileted fish marching back to sea.
It's such a weird, horrifying idea! I respect the creativity that went into the joke, but I can't stop thinking about eating a live fish and then watching it hop out of its tank and walk out on me. Ew? But also cool? But mostly ew?
That's Yuasa baby! People know him for Devilman these days but his early career was basically stringing together clever, morbid ideas for cartoon skits into feature length films. Mind Game is 100 minutes of extended dick jokes and it's great.
I suppose this isn't the first time he's done a bit on the morbid horror of eating sentient fish. His episode of Space Dandy back in 2015 ended on the punchline "and then the lovestruck alien mackerel gets grilled on a stick."
Honestly I'd watch a whole Genius Party-style anthology of shorts just based around weird visual gags. Yes please give me 10 minutes of Dogfish eating so much immortal fish they do this:
Or whatever the heck this octopus/fish hybrid thing does to get around. Like which direction does it propel itself? Animators, answer me.
It propels itself into my nightmares for sure. That said, Lu over the wall sadly isn't just a series of increasingly disturbing magic fish jokes. It wants to tell a story too, but on that front I don't think it ever manages to find its sea legs.
There're a lot of nice moments and standalone scenes, but it doesn't quite come together to form a coherent picture, yeah. There's a bunch of ideas at play - Kai's adolescent confusion, his friends' musical dreams, the town's deep-seated fear of the new and unknown, social power dynamics and paranoia - and the film kind of jumps from idea to idea without quite fleshing out or tying them together.
They're not bad ideas by any stretch, any 2 or 3 would be a great base for a movie like this. But in aggregate they all distract from each other so nothing gets fleshed out. Like Kai has a whole distant relationship with his father that gets resolved without them ever really...talking. It just gets fixed because that's how these stories are supposed to go.
How about the part where he decides he's in love with the toddler mermaid girl like that isn't really, really weird? Like y'all, I know these movies are supposed to end with romantic confessions between the leads, but usually they're not like, literally toddlers with nothing on their minds but "can I eat it?"
Y'know guys you had a perfectly cute thing going with Kai being a big brother to this fish gremlin. You didn't need to make it icky.
To be fair, mermaids apparently have much longer lifespans than people, but that doesn't make the jump from "I will protecc this little gremlin" to "I love this gremlin, like, romantically (?)" any less jarring.
It's just an awkward note to go out on. Especially when it's followed up by an aquatic dance party before Lu disappears forever.

That said: fishblob line dancing is very good I invite more of it whenever possible.
Pretty sure the Eizouken girls have got you covered! But yeah, the whole climax of the film pretty much goes "and then the mermaids and people clear up their misunderstandings and cooperate against a vaguely-defined supernatural disaster so everything's cool now" while the de facto villains speed by on a sea serpent rollercoaster or something. And then they have a dance party just because. What's that about generations of fear and hostility? Uh, never mind that, just check out these two weenies getting owned.
It's so strange! There's multiple subplots about the older people of the town resenting merpeople for eating their loved ones, but it turns out nope they just got turned into fishfolk when they were saved from drowning. And never told their loved ones for 60 years. Oh well, granny's an immortal mermaid now with her younger-looking merhusband so I guess that makes up for a lifetime of anger and grief.
It's an all-too-convenient resolution to a conflict that deserves way more nuance than can be offered in a few throwaway scenes in the third act. Meanwhile the entire middle act of the film is dedicated to some tourist attraction/amusement park venture that kind of goes nowhere.
Yeah pretty much anything involving Kai's bandmates fails to go anywhere of relevance. There's bits of characterization with Yuho as the spoiled rich (for this town) girl wanting to leave for Tokyo, and Kunio being the rebellious heir to the local shrine. But by the end they're exactly where they were before as if the whole mermaid bonanza didn't happen.
To be fair, Yuho does finally make up her damn mind and actually try for a Tokyo school. But it's not like that was super relevant to what she was actually doing in the movie.
I guess? But that decision seems to have nothing to do with anything she's part of during the movie. It feels like you'd get the same result if she just stayed inside and watched TV for a week.
Like, I guess being upstaged by a fish in her musical debut got to her. But you'd think her big step forward would be music-related in that case?
Her big climactic action is to turn a wheel with Kai and their respective dads so maybe she decided to take up bodybuilding at a fitness school. Who knows really.
Even there I'm pretty sure she's upstaged by Cowboy Grandpa, who is very good, for the record.
Grandpa Yeehaw just wants to make the town a tourist trap, is that so much to ask? So what if it means exploiting the fish toddler for YouTube points.

I will say, there is one subplot that worked for me pretty well, if only because I liked the intermittent scenes of Kai's cranky Grandpa trying to keep his dumbass grandkid from any magical bildungsroman hijinks.
Grandpa just wants to make umbrellas and not deal with the chaos of adolescence metaphors, dammit. He's too old to entertain supernatural coming-of-age stories!
So the umbrellas are probably the best thread through the whole thing. Grandpa makes them after he abandoned diving when he lost his mother, but by the end they become the tool that unites humans and merpeople he always blamed for what happened to his mom. It's ridiculously cheesy in the best way.
I'm not entirely convinced Grandpa's not the real protagonist of this whole shebang, what with how his emotional journey is the closest thing the film has to a continuous throughline. Everything else in the script is just kinda patched together on top of that.
It does kind of feel like his whole arc is a separate short film and everything else was a first draft. The conclusion still begs a lot of logistical questions but DAMN if his reunion scene didn't hit me hard.
Nothing like realizing that no, they did not eat.
It's a good scene okay. If the rest of the movie were on that level it'd be a modern masterpiece to rival Maquia.
On the other hand, if the film were more focused, we might not have gotten the glory of Sharkdad, so it's kind of a tradeoff.
As is, Lu mostly reminds me of the Animator Expo series of shorts from a few years back - more valuable as an experiment in animation and unique talent than as a traditional narrative. It's certainly worth checking out for folks who like Yuasa's ouvre, but it's also probably the weakest thing I've seen with his name on it.
As far as music-powered magic water movies go, this year's Ride Your Wave is easily the better version of what this movie wants to be, so I'd recommend taking a look at that if you ever get the chance.
Oh I'm for sure picking that up whenever it's safe to leave my house. Until then I'm stuck with what's on Netflix, and Lu's probably going to be more enriching than falling asleep to the Great British Bake Off for the 17th time in a row.
For sure. Until then, make like Sharkdad and keep your distance from the many dangers of the outside.

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