Anime Review: Ni no Kuni (2019)

TL;DR – there is a magical world connected to our own that has people who are similar to us, and when something happens to that person in the magical world it can impact the equivalent person in our world.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Haru, Yu and Kotona are friends. Kotona is outgoing and sporty and both Haru and Yu are clearly attracted to her. But Yu, who is a paraplegic and stuck in a motorised wheelchair, never expresses his feelings as 1) he feels Kotona doesn’t see him as anything other than a friend and 2) he can tell that Haru likes her.

One day after school, Kotona invites them to go to a café, but when they arrive, she sees that they have to ascend a long flight of stairs to reach the café, and Yu can’t get up there because of his wheelchair. Kotona is apologetic and suggests they go to a different place, but Yu feels like the third wheel and says they should go ahead without him.

Later, Kotona is walking home after parting ways with Haru and senses someone following her. She calls Yu for help (Haru isn’t picking up because his phone is in his bag, and he can’t hear it ring) and Yu rushes to Kotona only to witness her being stabbed by an unknown figure. Yu lunges from his wheelchair to attack the assailant who runs away. Holding a now stabbed Kotona in his arms (unable to do anything else because his legs are useless), Haru arrives on the scene and blames Yu for not stopping the attack. Haru lifts up Kotona and carries her to the main street looking to hail a taxi and get her to a hospital. In an attempt to flag down a taxi, Haru runs out into the middle of the road with Kotona in his arms. Yu sees that they’re going to be hit by a truck, so he rushes over in his motorised wheelchair to push them out of the way. They scream as automobiles race toward them and then everything goes white.

Haru and Yu wake up wearing medieval clothing in a town where humans and magical creatures co-exist. A world called Evermore. Kotona is nowhere to be seen, and Yu discovers his legs work and he can walk without any aid.

As events unfold, they discover that Princess Astrid at Evermore castle has been wounded by a curse. The boys discover that Astrid is strikingly similar to Kotona, and when Yu manages to remove the curse, the princess is saved. Yu develops a strong connection with Astrid, but Haru believes that everything they are experiencing is just a dream.

When they manage to return to the real world, the pair discover that Kotona is unharmed. Yu believes that by saving Astrid, they also saved Kotona and that there is a connection between the two worlds.

This leads to a conflict between Haru and Yu as to what is going on. When Kotona later reveals she has been diagnosed with an incurable disease, Yu believes that this means Astrid is in danger and that in order to save Kotona, they need to save Astrid.

However, Haru believes that it could be the opposite. That so long as Astrid lives in the other world, Kotona is fated to die in this one. This is confirmed in Haru’s mind when the pair are transported back to Evermore. Haru appears (separated from Yu) before a castle ruled by the Black Banners who are in opposition to the current king and father of Astrid. The Black Banners convince Haru that the only way to save Kotona is for Astrid to die. Meanwhile, Yu is appointed as Astrid’s protector and will fight in the king’s armies against the Black Banners where he will likely confront Haru.

Ni no Kuni examines the lengths a person will undertake in order to save the ones they love. Friends become reluctant enemies and the balance of two worlds appears to be at stake.

This anime had plenty of potential, but I struggled with how the story unfolded, identifying gaps that ultimately impacted my enjoyment and resulted in a flawed movie. Visually, Ni no Kuni follows the same style as Studio Ghibli films but is clumsy in parts especially with the action sequences and the animation is not nearly enough to alleviate from its other shortfalls.

The bond between Kotona, Haru and Yu is not developed enough. Three friends that apparently are close are too easily brought into conflict. When Haru blames Yu for Kotona’s stabbing, it is ludicrous because how is Yu meant to stop anyone when he’s in a wheelchair?

When Yu saves Astrid by pulling out the cursed shadow blade, he and Haru are later believed to be working with the Black Banners and are tested in an arena against a bunch of gladiators with the king and his advisors in attendance. The king’s main advisor posits that the two boys are responsible for the shadow blade and are working as spies; the removal of the blade by Yu being a means to gain the king’s trust. It makes no sense that the king agrees to this theory and wishes to test their fighting skills in gladiatorial combat. What a way to say thank you for saving the his daughter, the princess.

And then in the arena, somehow Yu and Haru are expert swordsmen who have the knowledge to fight against a dozen or more seasoned gladiators and defeats them?

Though Yu admirably stands by Haru in Evermore, and they work together to return home, Haru then loses it when Kotona reveals she will die soon from some illness and gets angry at Yu for theorising that they need to save Astrid again. Even though just a day ago they fought together as brothers in arms.

These are some of the examples that make for a flawed story, and took me out of their plight. By the end, I was no longer invested and struggled to see it through to its end.

4 out of 10

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