Review: 'NiNoKuni' an underwhelming anime effort from Netflix

Release date: Jan. 16, 2020 

Director: Yoshiyuki Momose 

Runtime: 106 Minutes 

Genre: Action, adventure, fantasy 

Rating: D 

"NiNoKuni" is the latest in the long line of anime projects Netflix has acquired over the years in its quest to capture a portion of the popular and lucrative anime market. Some of these projects, such as "Devilman: Crybaby" and "Violet Evergarden," have turned out to be popular among many anime fans. Others, such as "Knights of Sidonia," have not done well in quality or fan reaction. 

How "NiNoKuni" will land with anime fans is uncertain because of its newness, but the plot is based on a popular video game series, "Ni no Kuni," so it already has a built in audience. The movie, however, falls in the bottom half of the Netflix anime spectrum. 

"NiNoKuni" is about three friends, Kotona, Haru and Yuu. One day Kotona gets stabbed by a stranger. When Haru and Yuu try taking her to the hospital, they are almost hit by a bus. Instead of being killed, they get transported to another world. They find their friend Kotona isn't with them anymore and discover that the princess of the land, Astrid, looks exactly like her and has the same stab wound as Kotona. From here, the movie is about Haru and Yuu's journey to save Kotona and Astrid. 

This introduction could have been interesting, but the script constantly overloads the audience with information. This leads to situations where characters aren't naturally talking to each other, instead quickly saying information and delivering pre-scripted dialogue that affects the movie for its whole runtime. It makes the audience feel like they're watching a movie and not engaging with the characters or the story being told. These scenes are the driving force of the action, which never allows the movie to breathe and properly tell the story it wants to tell. It feels like there was a lot more story and world building that could have been included for people not already invested in this world.

When the audience isn’t being overloaded with information, it faces basic fantasy and anime tropes. The movie doesn’t do anything interesting with the fact that its characters can travel between two worlds, with the actions performed in one world affecting the other. Some tension could have been derived from this by having the characters piece the information together like a puzzle. Instead, Yuu solves everything all at once early on. For the rest of the film, Yuu tries to convince Haru that the fantasy world is real. This results in the audience repeatedly being told information instead of having the story unfold organically and having the characters find everything out more naturally.

The animation in the movie is consistently good when the 2D animation is onscreen, but when the 3D animation appears, sometimes mixed with the 2D, it can be jarring and take the viewer out of the movie. It doesn’t look finished or blend well with the excellent 2D animation. Studio Ghibli did the animations for the cutscenes in the "NiNoKuni" video games. When put side by side with that caliber of work, it’s hard to keep up, but the movie does a decent job of it.

"NiNoKuni" generally feels rushed, with no significant character development. This movie plot would be better served at TV show length, so the creators would have time to explore their characters and tell the story they wanted. For fans of the games, it might be interesting to visit this world through a new medium. For anime enthusiasts, it might be an interesting watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon. But for all others, if you don’t enjoy fantasy stories or love triangles, then there really is no need to choose "NiNoKuni" over other options on Netflix.

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