The Ni no Kuni Movie Suffers from the Same Problems as Revenant Kingdom

Many months ago, I wrote a post concerning the announcement of a Ni no Kuni movie.  Originally, I thought the movie was only going to be released in Japan, but a few weeks ago, I learned that it was actually going to be available on Netflix!  So now that I’ve seen the movie for myself, it’s time for a little review.

Going into the movie, I wasn’t expecting much, for two reasons.  One, video game movies never turn out very good.  And two, though I enjoyed the first game, I wasn’t such a big fan of the second one.  And I’m going to have to start by saying that this movie follows in the footsteps of the second game far more than the original.  I know, how disappointing.

The movie follows high school friends Yuu and Haru, whose friend, and mutual love interest, Kotona is in danger.  They end up travelling to the world of Ni no Kuni, where they meet Kotona’s soul mate, Princess Astrid.  (If you’re unfamiliar with the games, soul mates are two nearly identical people, one of which lives in our world, while the other lives in the fantasy world.)

To avoid spoilers, that is where my explanation of the plot ends.  The major problem with this movie is the same problem plaguing the second game.  While the original game focused on some interesting and well-developed characters, including Oliver having to eventually accept the loss of his mother, the second game was a lot less…personal.  The characters weren’t nearly as interesting, and the focus was more on politics and battles than the people we were supposed to connect with.  (I don’t even remember the names of the characters in the second game, though I still remember Oliver, Esther, Swaine, and Mr. Drippy quite fondly!)

The movie is no different.  Once again, the focus turns out to be more on politics and the struggle between the Kingdom of Evermore (yes, the Evermore from Revenant Kingdom) and the Black Banner.  While I sort of liked Yuu, I still couldn’t find much reason to care about a very slow-paced and boring story with characters that received very little focus.  There was actually a long bit of exposition from the very obvious “twist” villain at the end of the movie, and frankly, I almost felt as if his backstory would have made for a more interesting story than the one presented in the movie.

Sadly enough, one of the best things I can say about the movie is that it had some great music.  And yet, most of that music (if not all, I’m not sure) came from the second game, so one of the movie’s greatest strengths was not even original to it.  The animation is good enough, as well, but I sure wish Studio Ghibli was involved like they were in the first game.

There is one other point I’d like to make before I end this review.  While I kind of disagree with the opinion that Ni no Kuni is for kids (sure, it’s cute and colorful, but as is the case with a lot of video games, I feel that it can be enjoyed by a wide audience), I was super shocked by how…not kid-friendly a particular scene was.  Well, two scenes set in the same location.  Show of hands: how many people expected a scantily clad woman pole dancing in this movie?  Anybody?  No?  Didn’t think so.

I wanted to like the movie.  I really did.  I think it had potential, but as it stands, it just wasn’t very good.  It wasn’t an awful movie by any means, but it wasn’t good, either.  Just meh.  Whenever they had scenes that were meant to be emotional between the main characters, I didn’t really care.  I wanted to, but the story didn’t focus enough on them on a personal level for me to feel anything about them.  If the movie had focused a lot more on the main characters and their relationship, struggles, and personality, with the fantasy world serving more as a setting than the main focus, we could have had something.  It’s a shame that Level-5 clearly doesn’t understand what made fans love the first game.  And unless they do finally learn their lesson, I won’t be giving any more entries in the franchise a second thought.  Apparently the success of the first game is just one thing that can’t be replicated.

Who else has seen the movie?  What did you think about it?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, dear readers!

Image from official Ni No Kuni 2 website.