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Ghibli Style With Non-Ghibli Story
on 1 February 2013
This film is the story of a young girl who, after meeting a mysterious young boy, finds herself thrown in to the conflicts involved around a secret magical underground land. Much of the lore the film is set it in is taken from actual myths and legends of such a place, giving it a rich and well realised setting.
The film is visually gorgeous, with stunning scenery and brilliant use of sweeping vistas bathed in soft, colourful light. It evokes the feeling of many Studio Ghibli films, especially more recent ones. The character designs and animation are also brilliant. Those of the human characters also bare similarities to recent Ghibli films, but the designs of the various creatures look more like older films from Ghibli, such as Princess Mononoke or Laputa.
The story is where it sets itself apart from the famous anime studio. Although many of the characters themselves may come across as having personalities similar characters from Ghibli, the events they are involved in certainly are not. The story mostly actually revolves around the past conflicts between Agartha and nations from the surface, and the journey of one man who betrays his position as one of a group of shady government investigators who are seeking to plunder Agartha themselves, his intention being to resurrect his dead wife. His intentions clash with those of the girl, but one gets the feeling that his side of the story is much more meaningful and well developed. The girl's motivations are mostly born out of naivety, while the man's story has more layers to it and gives his character an interesting arc. It gives the feeling that the story is framed as the experience of a young girl who has been caught up in the affairs of adults and has gotten out of her depth, even though those events take place in a fantastical setting.
The themes of the story make the film stand out among others in the genre, but it is far from a masterpiece. The main characters are mostly not very compelling or developed, and not a whole lot of interesting stuff happens until the third act. It's not unenjoyable per se, but the story feels like it's focusing too much on a side of the story which is not very original or interesting. If it were the only aspect of the story then this film would be completely forgettable, but once the story of the man and his wife takes over the movie towards the end things become much more interesting.
If you are happy to just watch a movie for how good it looks, you could to a lot worse than this. If you're looking for a moving narrative with characters you fall in love with throughout their journey, then you'll be disappointed.