A Wondrous, Enchantingly Original Anime From Director Kenji Kamiyama
A plucky teen girl deals with magic, talking stuffed animals, self-driving cars, giant mecha battles, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and more in Napping Princess. The life-affirming anime movie from writer/director Kenji Kamiyama is a delight in the spirit of Studio Ghibli’s better movies, even if Kamiyama isn’t connected with the venerable Japanese animation studio. Everything you could possibly ask for is included in this charming allegorical adventure about the power of dreaming that recalls Spielberg at its best moments.
From the director behind popular projects such as Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden Of The East, Napping Princess: Ancien and the Magic Tablet is an ambitious sci-fi fantasy that imaginatively melds the wonder of fairy tales with technology coming right around the bend. Connecting her fantastical dreams to reality, a spirited schoolgirl discovers a powerful Japanese corporation is after her father’s secret technology.
The year is 2020, mere days away from the Tokyo Olympics. The Morikawa family live in the Okayama prefecture. Kokone Morikawa likes napping when possible, slipping into a dream-world called Heartland. The high school student lives with her father, Momotarō Morikawa. He’s an unassuming auto mechanic. Possibly hiding some sort of secretive self-driving technology from Shijima Motor, Momotarō has been keeping important family secrets from Kokone her entire life.
Kokone’s Heartland is a magical kingdom with a ruling king. Fancifully built around futuristic cars and vehicles, the place includes giant mecha robots and a menacing kaijū creature. Kokone sees Heartland through Princess Ancien, a young girl with magical abilities that can transform mechanized creations to life. Princess Ancien uses her magic to bring her stuffed animal to life, Joy. Joy is Princess Ancien’s constant companion as the young girl battles evil factions within her father’s kingdom. On a side note, expect the adorable Joy to become a popular toy after kids see this movie.
Having introduced everyone to Heartland, Napping Princess shifts back and forth to Kokone’s real world as her reality shifts. The plucky girl becomes concerned when her father is arrested, accused of theft. She will soon be on the run from a powerful corporation desperate to fix their self-driving cars for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Led by the sinister Ichiro Watanabe, a group of henchmen look for stolen computer code supposedly on Momotaro’s computer tablet. Soon Kokone herself will be on the run from the men. With help from her childhood friend Morio, Kokone will discover that her dream-world of Heartland holds more family revelations than she ever dared imagine.
… breathtaking visuals will keep viewers thrilled
… breathtaking visuals will keep viewers thrilled
Napping Princess works well because of Kokone, a refreshingly likable heroine. While the story is full of fantastical moments and futuristic technology, the story is really about the young girl reconnecting with her family. Kokone’s mother plays an important role in the narrative, even though she’s been dead for years by the events of Napping Princess. The first hour is a wonderful adventure as Kokone discovers that Heartland holds the key to finding her father and connecting with her dead mother. This dream connection is beautifully woven into the ensuing adventure as Kokone attempts to clear her father’s name with Shijima Motor.
If Napping Princess does hit a snag, it’s the primary antagonist to Kokone’s quest. Watanabe is your standard, garden-variety Japanese corporate villain. The character is a walking cliché designed for one purpose and one purpose only, to get beaten in the end by the good guys. He stands out only because every other character in Napping Princess is so thoughtfully designed for their role in the greater allegory laid out by Kenji Kamiyama.
Hints of Kenji Kamiyama’s prior works leak into Napping Princess despite its rich fantasy themes. The allure of powerful, futuristic technology able to change society is once again a central focus in the narrative. What makes Napping Princess different from Eden of the East and ultimately better is its more grounded humanity, including a gently heartwarming conclusion.
Napping Princess is an imaginative, wondrous twist on fairy tale magic with appealing characters. The messy plot and its inevitable climax drag near the end, but the breathtaking visuals will keep viewers thrilled throughout this charming anime movie.
Napping Princess receives a pristine presentation on Blu-ray. The fluid theatrical animation has a rich, colorful palette loaded with saturated primary colors. This is vibrant, dynamic animation quality a touch behind the finest films offered by anime studios like Studio Ghibli.
Its perfect contrast, flawless black levels and untouchable AVC compression make for stunning 1080P video. The inventive visuals take delight in exposing viewers to visually rewarding sequences, mostly in Kokone’s Heartland.
Distributed by Shout Factory for GKIDS, the same label behind the stellar Studio Ghibli reissues on Blu-ray, they’ve shown a dedicated commitment to delivering a quality A/V presentation whenever possible. That continues with Napping Princess, ranking fairly high in sheer video quality with similar anime films on Blu-ray.
The 111-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-50. The animation sings in a perfect transfer that captures the wonderful character designs and elaborately illustrated backgrounds, often inspired by actual places in Okayama prefecture. The 1.78:1 presentation will impress almost everyone with its impeccable visuals and strong animation design.
GKIDS provides both the original Japanese soundtrack and an excellent English dub in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Like most Japanese surround mixes, there is a strong emphasis on the front soundstage with minor surround support. That being said, the subwoofer sees a lot of action with heavy LFE. The mastering is perfect, leaving ample headroom in the mix with fine dynamic range for the explosions. Dialogue is sweetly anchored in the middle of the action, completely intelligible.
The English voice cast is good and nails the main characters, especially the young Kokone. As someone that usually prefers the original Japanese voice cast in most anime productions, this is one English dub I can fully support as being equivalent in skill and talent.
Three sets of subtitles are included. Most importantly, a real set of English subtitles translated from the Japanese are provided for the original Japanese soundtrack. So, no need to worry about dubtitles. A secondary English SDH choice is available, taken directly from the English dub’s dialogue. French subtitles are the last option.
All three subtitle choices play in a white font.
GKIDS loads up this Blu-ray and DVD combo set with several special features, all in Japanese with English subtitles. A slipcover is available. They cover the main voice actors in some detail, though Japanese actors tend to give a certain range of responses when doing these promotional interviews that can be limiting at times.
Interview with Kenji Kamiyama (15:02 in HD) – The director discusses the project’s creative genesis and some of his goals in making it, led by an unseen interviewer.
Introduction at the Japanese Premiere (20:17 in HD) – Director Kenji Kamiyama and several cast members appear together before the audience, discussing the characters.
Greeting at Japanese Release (17:51 in HD) – The cast members together discuss things with the audience in the typical, wacky press style familiar to Japanese fans.
Okayama Scenery (03:24 in HD) – A featurette comparing photographs of Okayama with how they look in the film.
Special Interviews with Cast (07:19 in HD) – Three of the principal cast members, including the actress voicing Kokone, give this brief interview session together on their characters.
Special TV Program (22:04 in HD) – This featurette is a TV interview by three main cast members, made for promotional purposes.
Trailers and TV Spots (03:57 in HD)
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An enchanting anime movie about a young girl’s dreams making her more powerful than she can imagine.
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