This movie makes me very conflicted, I want to like this movie, and I do, but there's no doubt in my mind that there's a lot of flaws holding it back.
TLDR: Did this movie make me laugh? Definitely, and fairly often, actually. Did it make me roll my eyes? Quite often on that count as well, haha. But most importantly, did I enjoy my movie going experience? I would say yes, and I think I can recommend it without too many reservations.
I want to begin with this category because it definitely feels like the writers wanted this film to be a character driven bildungsroman. There are a lot of likable characters present (in particular, I really like the main duo of Akane and Chii, and also momma Midori, although admittedly, her role in the movie is pretty negligible), but the issue with all of them is that they feel one dimensional. Even the main protagonist, Akane, feels a bit flat. The movie is supposed to be a coming of age story about her growing up and taking initiative in her own life, and we see her transformation in the end, but it feels largely unearned. This is in large part due to the plot device of the momentum anchor, which I absolutely HATE. I won't go into too much detail here to avoid spoilers, but everything about the anchor makes me roll my eyes, especially when it's brought up again near the end of the movie. The other gripe I have is that the alchemist and Pipo feel like they exist only to spout exposition or move the story along, and are largely under-utilized. Overall, there was a lot of potential here but it falls short of creating super memorable characters.
I found out about this movie, and ultimately watched it, because I'm a huge fan of Ilya Kushinov, the artist behind all of the visual designs. This movie is without a doubt gorgeous. Due to the quality of the visuals, there are some obvious drops in framerate or moments where a still frame is held for just a tad bit long, but I'm more than ready to forgive the movie on that count because, unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world where studios have infinite time and money to pour into each project. There's a lot of great color imagery as well, aligning the themes of the story with the visual experience. This movie very clearly takes heavy inspiration from Studio Ghibli's takes on fantasy and worldbuilding. It doesn't achieve the same levels of believability in my opinion, but the victorian-esque fantasy world that is constructed is still quite lovely. The one thing that disappoints me is that unlike Miyazaki's works, it doesn't perfectly attach the elements of fantasy with the message that the movie is trying to tell. I was fortunate enough to go to a viewing of the movie where Kushinov flew in all the way from Japan to talk about his work on the film and some of his thoughts regarding the process, and I was simply blown away (RIP my wallet after I bought all his artbooks and a print). For me, the art is the one distinguishing aspect of the movie, and had the fidelity not been what it is, I would have trouble recommending this movie.
While the story isn't strictly bad, it feels very rushed and haphazard in organization. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a lot had been left on the cutting room floor in order to make deadlines. While I enjoyed watching the movie to indulge in the excellent visuals and delightful fantasy elements, the story was hard for me to care about or be engaged with. The quest to restore rain to this ailing land through the drop rain ceremony is very much a MacGuffin, and even upon its resolution feels uninteresting at best. I wish there were more scenes showing how the country and its people were suffering from the lack of rain, rather than the excessive number of moments spent showing cute sheep (which I admit are undoubtedly adorable) or fleshing out the subplot about the knitting competition (which ultimately feels tacked on and unimportant). I mean, come on, the land is gorgeous, green, and lush, and it doesn't look like it's in need of a single drop of water. There was also a dark, depressing, London-like city that was meant to showcase the suffering and hardship, but again, it's not aptly developed or effectively implemented. I would love to see what the studio could achieve by telling this story in the form of a show, rather than a movie. There, you could take full episodes to truly explore the world or show Akane helping the people, rather than forcing everything onto a linear track that slowly progresses towards a predictable conclusion.
It's been two weeks since I've seen this movie, and admittedly the sounds aren't the freshest memories in my mind, but maybe to some extent that means there wasn't anything particularly memorable for me to recount. That said, I think that in the quieter moments of the movie where the sound design really comes through and pulls you into the world. There are a couple songs that I did stick with me, but none of it really stands out as the highlight of the movie. This is kinda cheating, but I also really liked the cover of "The Show" by Milet in the end credits.
I think this is one of those movies that in the moment, you can really enjoy while watching it, but as you reflect on it as a whole, it comes apart bit by bit. I do want to point out a couple of the strengths here, however. Overall, the comedy was effective and generously meted out, albeit usually as one-liners or simplistics jokes. In particular, I thought the visual comedy was done very well. If I haven't gushed enough about the art in my visuals section, I just wanted to point out how beautiful the movie is again, haha. It is, in my opinion, the film's single biggest strength. Where it falls apart for me is that I wish the movie had done more showing and less telling. The movie equips the audience with two characters that simply explain every foreign object or fantastical detail instead of letting the audience process the information on screen for themselves. Ironically, many of the plot elements also feel under explained or lacking of a clear and consistent line of logic. I think this movie could be a great family experience, but reading subtitles will likely be challenging for kids.
I've actually never written a review before, but I thought this might be helpful for those deciding on whether or not to see the film, since I was lucky enough to catch an early showing. I hope my thoughts are helpful to at least a couple of people. I watched this movie in a double anime feature night, during which I watched Weathering With You right after I finished this film and heard the artists thoughts on the process, and the juxtaposition of the two movies really made me wonder what this movie could have been. I think that despite the missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, the movie still has solid enough legs to stand on. I genuinely enjoyed the experience, and I would say that it's worth watching at least once.