Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Island Arc, Episodes 23-31

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Time for post number five, where things really fall apart – though there is another sucker punch right around the corner!

The Island Arc – Episodes 23-31

Damn. Nadia was always animated but it was never cartoonish – until now.

And the conventions of cartoons have their place for sure, but that place is just not at episode 23 onward of this particular series. There’s almost nothing to like in this arc as it’s pretty much a long stretch of excruciating filler.

Admittedly, this shot is fun

Worse, it’s deeply regressive in terms of character development, as if the new team decided to trash every hard won moment of meaningful interaction that existed between the leads prior.

Aside from that bitter error (I don’t sound emotionally invested at all, huh?) the plot is mostly abandoned and a new Looney Tunes feel appears, where the laws of physics and other aspects of reality no longer matter.

Two ‘highlights’ of this new approach:

What happened? Well, in brief – when NHK realised it had a hit series, it ordered more episodes and since Gainax couldn’t handle that precisely (more on maybe why below) Nadia was handed off to a different studio with lower production budgets/values.

This isn’t the worst example (considering the disappearing limb moment elsewhere) but King and Nadia do look a bit ‘off’ here for example.

Direction was taken over by Shinji Higuchi who didn’t know what to do, it seems. At all. Either that or he was told to spin the wheels and just had no talent for comedy? Or maybe worse, according to this quote from an interview with Okada:

O: On Nadia, Anno didn’t direct the middle episodes, Shinji Higuchi did. And some episodes were directed in Korea–why, no one knows exactly. [LAUGHS] That’s real chaos, not good! What I mean to say is, controlled chaos–that’s good. Controlled chaos is where you’ve got all the staff in the same room, looking at each other. But on Nadia you had Higuchi saying, “Oh, I’ll surprise Anno”, hide, and change the screenplay! Screenplays and storyboards got changed when people went home, and the next morning, if no one could find the original, I authorized them to go ahead with the changes. No one can be a real director or a real scriptwriter in such a chaos situation. But on Gunbuster, that chaos was controlled, because we were all friends, and all working in the same place. But on Nadia, half our staff was Korean, living overseas. We never met them. No control.

A: Was Nadia the first Gainax film to have Korean animators?

O: No, we used Korean animators even on Gunbuster. But we had never before used a Korean director or animation director. It was real chaos, just like hell.

So, imagine working 18-hour days (can’t remember exactly where I saw that figure) and then having other team members hide your scripts as a prank(?), during an important and expensive run on a major tv network… sounds cool.

Gainax had also been suffering a lot of other internal strife around the time of taking on the project and more, it would cost them I think 80 million, a sum they wouldn’t recoup. Further, NHK and Toho were not offering any rights to the anime. Instead, Gainax would be permitted to make what became a successful video game – but it was not until Neon Genesis exploded that they would become financially stable.

In this context, and with the strict, punishing schedule of a television series, Anno reportedly suffered a breakdown, which is also generally considered to be a factor that eventually led to Evangelion.

But during Nadia’s production he was (also) unable to find a suitable ending at first… but once he had it and was back in the driver’s seat, he simply ignored all the rubbish on the island (and the Africa Arc too) and got back to ending the series, picking up with the same tension and (mostly) focused storytelling we’d seen prior.

Now, having spent heaps of this post ripping into these episodes and the behind-the-scenes stuff, there are a bare handful of interesting things that appear scattered throughout. As fans will know, episode 31 (and maybe 30 too) is considered worth watching for some context around the final arc, but I recommend skipping everything here if you’re going to watch Nadia.

To try and find a few positive notes – there are at least two worthwhile moments in the filler: we see some of Nadia’s childhood (and the source of her choice to become vegetarian) and also cut to Gargoyle’s ‘funeral’ for Nemo.

But again, these moments are fleeting and buried beneath meaningless or regressive filler and I don’t know that I’d recommended seeking them out. Instead, consider maybe watching #31 only.

And now, if you can believe it, things actually get worse before they get better…

Next up, the dreaded Africa Arc – Episodes 32-34.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – Beneath the Mask Arc, Episodes 20-22

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Onward to the fourth post now, with what is perhaps the second most important (if short) arc in the series.

Beneath the Mask Arc – Episodes 20-22

Here the characters begin to face their secrets and yet more of the shadows that have been brooding across the series rush to the fore – though Nadia does get darker still, later on. Now, I’m not trying to claim that this is a ‘disturbing’ anime, as it’s not so confronting as Neon Genesis Evangelion can be, but basically by now Nadia has pretty much abandoned the tone it established during the NHK episodes.

Gargoyle is always in control – that’s why he is often standing so casually

This mini arc also has perhaps one of the better cliff-hanger moments in an anime series – though to some extent I do partially spoil it four paras below.

Now, I am aware that just above I tried to convince you that Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water isn’t so troubled as Neon Genesis (and that’s still true) but we certainly see a different side to Electra in these episodes. Here, her simmering jealousy and feelings of abandonment spill over into an explosive confrontation with Nemo – and if you think through some of the implications to her breakdown you’ll know that she’s quite lost and maybe confused in some ways.

And it’s probably understandable, considering what we learn during her flashback – and here some of the more distinctive visual elements come into play. First, you’ll notice the that monochrome and selective colouring is really striking. So too, the ‘sketched’ look to the scenes, but perhaps most of all I really enjoyed the direction* as the narrative weaves in and out of past and present, yet retaining Electra and that muted palette as the anchor in both spaces.

As part of the context around the confrontation between Electra and Nemo, Gargoyle really has the Nautilus on the ropes in these episodes – thanks to poor Jean’s ‘mistake’ – which eventually leads to some great heroics from all the characters – especially the Grandis Gang, but eventually Captain Nemo has to take drastic measures to save his crew.

And here’s when that moment from Antarctica really comes back with a gut-punch, as Nemo seemingly sacrifices himself to save Jean and Nadia. And it’s her reactions here that twist the knife, as she seems about to acknowledge her feelings but still cannot… and suddenly the kids are adrift in the ocean without means to navigate or fight, and the episode ends and we have no idea what’s going to happen to everyone!

And it’s a perfect cliff-hanger and release of all the tension that had been building on and off for 20-odd episodes.

And then something happens behind the scenes to forever and deeply mar this fantastic series.

Here we have Sanson and Marie in the kinda odd comical moment in the arc.
An early glimpse of Nero, whose Atlantean look feels quite Egyptian, but is still really striking.

*I know I talk a lot about Anno at various times in these posts but I’d like to note that there were as many as twelve others who worked on storyboards for various episodes, and nineteen folks who directed episodes across Nadia’s run and so the visual style of the series cannot necessarily fall only upon one person’s shoulders here, though I’m not really able to differentiate, of course.

Tomorrow, the first of some hard yakka* with the Island Arc – Episodes 23-31.

(*Thought I’d add in some Australian slang – means “hard work”)

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Nautilus Arc, Episodes 9-19

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Post number three now – this is the longer ‘arc’ as it were, and things are about to get quite episodic, as we head into the longest stretch of episodes before the quality vanishes for a while.

The Nautilus Arc – Episodes 9-19

Okay, I could have split this section into two groupings as it covers quite a large range of episodes but in the end I just… didn’t 😀

Anyway, here we have the biggest arc (and I use that term loosely I guess) of the series and the section that is most episodic. Gargoyle is still a threat, still someone Nemo and his crew are hunting, but smaller problems are met and solved too, maintaining that adventure feel. It’s also an important time for character development, which I’ll mention further down. (There’s also a spoiler during the ‘highlights’ section).

In terms of pacing, things slow down once more so that the audience can now get to know Nemo and his crew. This is a problem in the sense that it impacts the momentum that had been built up, but since I love episodic storytelling I’m kinda easy to please, I suspect 🙂

At first, the interpersonal conflict is perhaps mostly ‘teenage’ as Jean and Nadia continue their awkward (and generally cute) courtship, but hints of more troubling things to come are foreshadowed – chiefly the possible connection between Nemo and Nadia, but also what this might mean for Electra, who is more troubled than she seems at this point.

Aside from new inventions, sea mines, chases, sea creatures, nuclear leaks, underwater graveyards, a god-like whale and a fairly large dose of romantic comedy and rivalry, it’s this arc where more character development is introduced – not that it’s absent previously.

In this section there are a lot of plot threads happening at once but perhaps most important (other than the specifics around Gargoyle’s madness) is both Jean and Nadia’s relationship to each other, and to Captain Nemo. Nadia is always pushing Nemo away – usually through her fear or stubbornness, whereas Jean is drawn to the stern father-figure. And while Jean is helped by both Hanson and Sanson just as much, in terms of the coming-of-age stuff, it is Nemo who seems to have the bigger impact on the young genius.

Now, rather than put you through a breakdown of the sections within this section, I’ll try and mention just a few of my highlights from the arc:

A Stand Out Episode: #12 Grandis and Her First Love

I almost picked this one for Sanson’s outburst alone, poor guy.

But elsewhere it’s a nice change of pace from the (great) underwater tension of the sub, with that comical rivalry between Electra and Grandis taking the main stage. It also allows Jean and Nadia to bond, though of course Gainix couldn’t resist chucking in the old ‘accidental pervert’ trope.

At the end of Grandis and Her First Love however, Nadia’s vegetarianism makes an important return to the plot. Once again, her trust of adults (and Jean) is tested, setting things up for an even more dramatic – probably melodramatic actually – ending to the following episode.

A Gripping Moment: Ensign Fait’s Death

I do wish more time had been taken with this storyline to build it up further by giving Jean and the viewer more time with Fait earlier.

Every time this scene gets to me – probably due to Noriko Hidaka’s performance, and I feel for the crew of the Nautilus, and especially Jean whose blind, even naive faith in technology and science is badly, badly shaken.

A Touching Moment: Nemo’s Tear

Captain Nemo takes the kids to the surface of Antarctica where they witness the aurora and Nemo is quite moved. Despite the tendency for his eyes/one eye to often remain hidden by the brim of his hat, Nadia catches a glimpse of a tear at this point. It shocks her and we get a softening in her attitude toward him – something which becomes perhaps more poignant only a few episodes later.

It’s an important moment for a character who can be kinda cruel at times – and so the audience needs to see those extra facets to her personality.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent a whole heap of time so far in these posts on the storytelling rather than the visuals – and yeah, maybe that’s a bit of an imbalance for an animated series but I do have a few notes here and there in captions at least 😉

And I will get there in more detail soon but I want to note now that the character designs of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and Shunji Suzuki really stand out for me, heaps of variety and they’re great at comical faces without (usually) going overboard. (I think most folks know that Nadia and Shinji from Neon Genesis are quite similar too.)

But obviously don’t go in to Nadia expecting modern animation blends with CGI etc – and that’s not to say it’s bad, but you will see a fair few pans across stills and other cost-saving techniques at play throughout. On the other hand, the colours are bright when they need to be and the action sequences always feel cut together nicely, compared to having tonnes of really dynamic camera movements for instance.

Expect a lot of these dramatic close-ups throughout the series 🙂

Okay, that’s probably enough for now – next time, Episodes 20-22 Beneath the Mask as I’m going to call that mini-arc.

As far as I can, tell this is the only female employee on Gargoyle’s evil henchman roster.
Maybe the phrasing is clumsy here from the kids – but this is the kind of utopia I think Nemo feels that he provides in the ship – maybe it’s paternalistic due his role, and I guess it’s a shame that vengeance is the thing that it takes to bring everyone together here.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – A Growing Darkness Arc, Episodes 5-8

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Here’s the second of seven or eight posts on Nadia! A quick note – while I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I want to steer away from heavy spoilers, I do worry that I’ve used too many pictures at times which might be spoilers in their own way… dunno, hard to tell. I’ll try my best to be disciplined somehow!

A Growing Darkness Arc – Episodes 5-8

Here the audience is exposed the darkness that lurks beneath the brighter opening episodes – something that is driven home during #5 ‘Marie’s Island’.

Based on this from Hiroyuki Yamaga and Takami Akai:

Originally, NHK would send them the script, saying this is how exactly they want it done. The director, Mr. Anno, what he would do was take the fax, staple it and throw it in the garbage. For some strange reason, every single week they would get the scripts.

it seems clear that Anno was very much ignoring the NHK scripts, even if in the first episodes he may have kept closer to their outline. Now that he’d started to take the series in a direction he was excited by I think the almost instant change in tone is clear. And having seen Gunbuster, audiences of the day would have been aware that a project he was involved with would not shy away from tougher moments.

At this point in Nadia you also get more important details in regard to the larger forces at play, forces which quickly sweep the kids up into their struggle. Here, I’m obviously talking about Captain Nemo and his nemesis, the imposing Gargoyle, who leads the Nazi-like Neo-Atlanteans.

Even though the two share few scenes ‘together’ precisely, they are often composed as if they are conversing…
….In fact, later in the series you’ll have them finish each other’s sentences without being in the same space.

But before we get to meet Gargoyle properly (I’ll show that moment in another post I think), another of poor Jean’s inventions (even one which had been improved by the crew of the Nautilus) lands in a spot of trouble and they crash on the island. Here Jean and Nadia save and recruit a little girl named Marie, who has lost her parents to soldiers – and this flashback scene is the first hint of the coming darkness.

It’s also in this arc that the Grandis Gang undergo some fleshing out and we see that Grandis does have limits, and that maybe she and her two sidekicks are more like rogues than true villains – something later confirmed when they all face true evil. It’s also from here on in the series that they become more heroic while still maintaining the role of comedic relief.

The ante is upped in these episodes too, as Jean and Nadia discover a mighty power plant and the menacing soldiers who have enslaved the people of the island.

Eventually, Naida must give herself up in order to protect Jean and Marie, setting up a thrilling rescue where Jean and the Grandis Gang join forces.

While Nadia is imprisoned the audience gets a peek into Gargoyle’s delusions as he grandstands and intimidates in his lust for the Blue Water – which he needs to reactivate the ultimate killing machine; the Towel of Babel, first of many Christian elements and symbols found in the series.

I’ve seen it suggested that Sanson (especially with his sunglasses on) reminds folks of Kamina from ‘Gurren Lagann’

Tried to be a little shorter with this one – and kinda failed, oh well, I’ll just give up on that idea perhaps! Tomorrow it’s the Nautilus Arc – Episodes 9-19, which is huge. However, I’ve tried to highlight only some moments, while still including the general discussion stuff.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The NHK Arc, Episodes 1-4

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Following on from this introduction post I thought I’d start things today – and let’s see if I can post more about this classic adventure show over the next seven or eight days straight!

(The brushwork on the title card is ace)

The NHK Arc Episodes 1-4

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water starts out very firmly in ‘children’s cartoon’ territory in some ways. NHK* was reportedly still sending scripts to Anno Hideaki during this time and so there’s definitely a family friendly vibe, with slapstick and a bit of fast and loose stuff when it comes to physics (though nothing like the infamous ‘Island Arc’).

More importantly, many of the characters are established in these episodes, and the MacGuffin too – or so it seems. Of course, the Blue Water itself is actually far more than a MacGuffin, but for now no-one in the story really knows why, not Nadia herself nor those pursuing her.

Firstly, we meet the super-curious Jean, a young scientist who wants to fly and more, to find his missing father. When he arrives at the 1889 Paris World Exposition he encounters a mysterious girl who works as an acrobat in a circus… and is quickly pulled in to her flight from the city, when a trio of comical villains try to steal her glowing blue pendant.

It’s Team Rocket! (Well, the Grandis Gang probably owes something to older shows itself :D).

What follows for the first few episodes is a cycle of close calls as the Grandis Gang close in on Jean and Nadia during their escape, an escape which is usually aided by Jean’s wonderful (if at times unreliable) machinery. (It’s generally these aspects that, for now, carry the steampunk feel.)

Now, if you’re getting some vague Laputa: Castle in the Sky-era Miyazaki vibes from my description then you’ll be gratified to know that ‘Nadia’ was pitched to Toho by Miyazaki as “Around the World in 80 Days in Captain Nemo’s Submarine” during the mid-1970s. Apologies of course if this is old news, as I suspect it will be to Nadia fans who stumble across these posts.

Of course, Miyazaki didn’t end up in the director’s chair but eventually, a fair few years later, Anno Hideaki did and while I’m not sure how much exactly he inserted into these early episodes (compared to what NHK expected him to shoot), it wasn’t all the thrill of setting out on an adventure, though that is still definitely the main focus of the first few episodes.

Also appearing in this arc, usually only briefly, are perhaps a few things more uncommon to the idea of a fun, kids adventure story: namely vegetarianism, racism and maybe even some push-back against the idea of American Imperialism. I haven’t been able to research all of that well but I do think Nadia is at least one of the first anime characters to be firmly vegetarian, which is interesting in and of itself, but also remains an important character trait during the show.

Elsewhere we see the racism of Jean’s aunt, who refuses to take in Nadia based on her skin colour. While racial harmony (or the lack of) is not a theme that the show refers to often, it is present and Jean of course, being not only infatuated with Nadia, but also a young chap of principles, chooses to protect her without help from his family.

During these episodes Jean and Nadia get the chance to share their fears and dreams and find common ground. Nadia’s extreme (but understandable) distrust of adults clearly helps her come to trust Jean quickly, even with her tsundere personality making his life a little harder – but Jean takes it all good-naturedly, bringing a real optimism to the episodes and the whole series.

This expression will pop up every now and then, when Jean is especially excited about technology 😀

Eventually, the kids are chased into the very ocean where they end up being saved by and taken aboard the magnificent Nautilus, courtesy of the taciturn Captain Nemo and Electra, his mysterious First Officer.

Impenetrable disguise there, Electra
Meet Nemo Kanchō – but just his right eye for now.

Here, Jean freaks out with excitement about all the wonderful new technology and though they are attacked by a ‘sea monster’ while aboard, the kids are soon sent on their way once more – toward what is commonly known as Marie’s Island where the tone of Nadia takes a fairly sharp turn away from ‘kids show’.

*I believe that NHK, as Japan’s public broadcaster, was generally considered ‘all ages’ for at least some of its programming?

Getting some foreshadowing in nice and early!

* Another note – re: the Laputa/Nadia aspects, there’s one episode of Nadia here that will clearly evoke the earlier film, both in palette and sometimes composition, but tonally they’re different takes on a similar moment and I only pulled a few shots here.

And I’d say it’s clearly a direct homage too.

The Gainax team were obviously well-aware that Miyazaki pitched the idea and their love of fan-service is kinda legendary, so if Captain Nemo can bring both Superdimension Fortress Macross/Space Battleship Yamato to mind, then why not a nod to Laputa Castle in the Sky with the morning after Jean rescues Nadia/Pazu rescues Sheeta?

A shot of both boys sleeping, having given up their beds.
Here a POV shot as Jean checks on Nadia (who is far less predictable than Sheeta) and the over the shoulder shot from ‘Laputa’.
Both boys head outside to meet a sunny day, though again, tonally the scenes are pretty different. Later, both series and film head back inside and we see more of their inventions.

Okay! Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow for the Growing Darkness Arc – where I’ll do my best to tackle episodes 5-8!

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia)

Pretty sure this is from an Art Book/Special Edition

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

There’s valid debate as to whether Nadia of the Mysterious Seas should actually be considered a classic or not and I understand the trepidation. There are some serious flaws resulting from a troubled production that I think would prevent the majority of folks from giving this anime that honorific.

However, I do think of the series as a classic, but then I’m a fan. (Having said that, I’m pretty aware of the problems too.)

This time around I’ve decided to split my review/discussion into seven posts (of varying lengths) that represent some of the show’s ‘arcs’ as I see them. I’ve named each arc but in a non-consistent way, partly to tie in with how fans tend to discuss certain parts of the series, but also to signal some tonal shifts, production changes or storytelling movements – and finally, ever my dream, I’m breaking it all up to make my posts shorter 😀

Here’s the lay of the land for the Nadia-themed posts:

There will be spoilers in these posts – though not many big ones like ‘specific details on exactly how the series wraps up’. I’ll try to put a little warning in at times, but there will be spots where I have to discuss certain events (again, not the ending).

Not sure when I’ll start posting – have just got to deal with the tiny detail of going through 39 episodes for images 😀

Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko)

Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko) 1994

I guess you could say Pom Poko appeared right in the middle of a golden period for Ghibli, and from a production standpoint it’s just as wonderfully animated as any others from the time.

I also think it’s probably just as (or more) imaginative to my eye, in part due to the wealth of mythological creatures featured within.

But even though I still enjoy the movie I don’t think it’s my favourite by Isao Takahata and I wonder if that was due to my expectations upon first viewing, rather than any real deficiency in the film.

For instance, I think I unfairly expected more whimsy from Pom Poko upon first glance, both due to Ghibli’s general history and the animal cast.

Of course – that was always my error, since everyone who has seen Pom Poko is well aware that it’s very much a David vs Goliath story, with the animals fighting against humanity’s quest to conquer wild spaces, and without spoiling the ending, I guess I’ll have to just say the words ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ to offer a general clue.

And so my misconceptions were all my fault and truly, there is whimsy. The tanuki can be just as playful as the kitsune are sly, and there is comedy too but I think of the movie as more of a drama, and one which wears its environmentalism very much upon its sleeve – even including a fourth wall break.

Again, it probably sounds like I don’t enjoy Pom Poko but that’s not true – I wonder if maybe I’m just comparing it unfairly to other works from the studio? Or maybe I wanted a different ending for an underdog story, even if I knew it wasn’t possible all along.

3 Stars

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko)

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) 2015

Before Makoto Shinkai was dubbed ‘the next Miyazaki’ that (possibly unwelcome) title was given to Mamoru Hosoda.

I can’t remember exactly when it was that such claims started but maybe around 2006 when The Girl Who Leapt Through Time first made waves?

Obviously Hasoda wasn’t the first director to be compared in such a way to Miyazaki nor will he be the last but it’s understandable why it happened. Both directors have a real knack for blending the fantastical with very real human characters and both (though obviously not always) stray toward the ‘family-friendly’ spectrum of anime.

For me, they probably have more differences than similarities but I won’t try and delve into that but instead, finally get to the film itself The Boy and the Beast.

I wanted to start with that comparison to establish something of the reception to and tone of Hasoda’s films – but with The Boy and the Beast I think it’s one of the more obvious examples of where he’s further away from Miyazaki than usual.

Maybe it’s the shonen feel to the training or master-student storylines here, or maybe it’s just the fact that family is dealt with as more of a ‘site of conflict’ rather than being something somewhat absent, as is often the case with Miyazkai’s more adventure-based films.

Here’s a tiny idea of the plot:

Young runaway Kyuta stumbles into a fantasy world where he is raised by a cantankerous bear-man, Kumatetsu – and is soon forced to struggle for control of both his emotions and abilities, as he is drawn into the politics of succession in the Beast Kingdom.

The story proceeds much in the classic ‘coming of age’ manner but with a couple of welcome surprises and as to be expected with a great director and a giant budget, some wonderful animation and great integration of CGI. I especially remember really enjoying the whale in Shibuya scene actually, that and the travel montage or the way the seasons are depicted in the film.

Although, on the note of the travel montage I remember being kinda disappointed when Kyuta and Kumatestsu set out, as I was expecting a new adventure to start – but it was heavily compressed and instead, the film switched back to the focus on the politics of the fantasy world and more importantly, the strained master-student, father-son relationship between the two lead characters.

And it’s obviously a struggle for both of them so that’s where a lot of the film’s comedic moments (and heart) comes from, and so if you’re familiar with Hasoda you’ll know that the dramatic elements are given as much weight as action or fantasy.

Looking back on the review, I’ve probably spent a bit too much time on comparisons, on genre and general statements… but I actually want to quickly mention that so far, The Boy and the Beast is my least favourite of the Mamoru Hosoda films I’ve seen.

For me, it didn’t match the heights of Summer Wars or tension in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, nor the emotional rollercoaster that was Wolf Children. I’ve not been able to put my finger on quite how or why I didn’t enjoy it as much – but having said that it’s really a question of degrees: I really liked it, as opposed to, I loved it.

4 Stars

Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)

Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) 2013

If you’re a Makoto Shinkai fan and for some reason you’ve overlooked Garden of Words I reckon you should rectify that and take a look.

The movie is shorter than a feature film but that compressed the storytelling and worked really well for me, so it felt like the perfect length. Garden of Words also plays to all Shinkai’s strengths with beautiful backgrounds, wonderful attention to detail, a dramatic love story and coming of age themes.

I also feel like there are echoes of films like Whisper of the Heart within, along with a clear nod to Cinderalla and the fairy tale genre in particular.

Like a lot of film, it presents an idealised story, a romanticised one, but one where the beauty doesn’t mask the real fears and problems the two main characters face.

As is my way with these write-ups, I won’t spend much time on the plot but Garden of Words could be called a ‘first love’ story with the coming of age aspects not limited to the main character, perhaps. I’ve spent a bit of space here trying to define it via themes or genre but perhaps a single word is better – I think the movie is sweet.

And maybe that’s ‘sweet’ but spiked with a moment or two that’s more bittersweet. Maybe that won’t be a surprise for fans of Makoto Shinkai, though the film is certainly no ‘downer’ either.

Even if you don’t end up gripped by the story the visuals will probably transfix you – the garden and the characters’ homes, the weather, it’s all pretty stunning.

In fact, I’ll watch it again for the rain alone, it’s sublime. And yeah, I’ll cut back on my quest for a superlative now and try and wrap it up by saying that I think this is a sweet, intimate film made all the more so by slow* pacing, by lots of close-ups and nature-based framing, by silences and earnest dialogue.

4 Stars

As a fan of haiku and renku, I really enjoyed the appearance of classic Japanese poetry in the story too, via the tanka that features as a plot point 🙂

*And this might be redundant, but just like the word ‘sweet’ further above, I don’t mean for ‘slow’ to be a negative here.