Ni no Kuni is a series of popular RPGs by Level 5 that have spanned five (soon to be six) games. The series has been highly praised for its complex stories, wonderful characters and Ghibli- style animations. Two of the games’ animated sequences were actually done by Studio Ghibli and the other games continued the style. It’s no surprise with that track record, I’ve always had a passing interest in the series. But I’ve never actually played a game, even though I own probably the most popular of the series Wrath of the White Witch (it’s been sitting on my shelf for more than six years). But now that Netflix has released the film adaptation under their brand, I thought it would be a great chance to jump into the gorgeous world of Ni no Kuni.
The film comes with it’s own original story, focusing on a trio of high school friends (Yu, Haru and Kotona). On the way home from school Kotona is stabbed by a masked, magical figure. As Yu and Haru try to rush her to hospital, they’re transported to an entirely different world. There, they realise that Kotona’s life is linked to that world’s princess’. To save Kotona, they must become heroes in a brand new world.
There’s no doubt that the film is visually stunning. The character, creature and world designs are unique and immediately you want to explore this new land. The animation itself is smooth, especially during combat sequences or when magic is used. The film’s musical score, by the amazing Joe Hisaishi is nothing short of magical. But, unfortunately, that’s kind of where the praise for this film ends. The film runs for close to 1 hour and 45 minutes and I could very easily cut out 45 minutes of fluff. But, that’s not even my biggest complaint. Fluff can be excused if it’s enjoyable, or backed up by a solid story. But it’s not. The only reason the story goes anywhere is because of one character’s absolutely mind boggling actions. Prime examples include – running into traffic carrying their dying girlfriend and dodging common sense to assassinate the princess whose life is linked to said girlfriend. Those 45 minutes of extra, useless content are of this one character doing mental trapeze that would make Cirque du Soleil dizzy.
On top of the story, the film’s editing is also a mess. In one scene Haru and Yu are talking inside a hospital, and then suddenly they’re outside and the conversation continues without any interruption. In another battle scene Astrid picks up a magic staff from nowhere. One second there’s nothing there and the next there’s a random weapon on the ground. The film’s ending is equally as disjointed. The final scene with the main antagonist is your usual face off but the reveal right at the end is just something. You just kinda sit there for a bit wondering if they really tried to slip that bullshit past you.
Ni no Kuni had an incredibly strong foundation from which to build a great film. I don’t know where along the production line it fumbled, but it fumbled hard. Besides the art and music, there’s not much to enjoy about this film. The story drags on far longer than it should, only propelled forward by a character who doesn’t have a lick of common sense. It’s not a watch I’d recommend for someone who wants quality, and it’s not a watch I’d recommend for someone who wants something to enjoy. It’s a watch I’d recommend for someone who really REALLY has nothing else to watch.