From my perspective, it’s difficult to critique modern Japanese animation (especially films) without consciously comparing it to the work of powerhouse Studio Ghibli. Ghibli has been around for ages, more than three decades, and has influenced a myriad of media. Branching off from this historical studio, is Studio Ponoc, whose many animators and founder previously worked at the aforementioned behemoth. Ponoc’s first feature film, Mary and The Witch’s Flower, clearly follows similar themes found throughout Ghibli narratives: strong women leads, tales describing the journey from childhood into adolescence, and lots and lots of magic.
We’re introduced to Mary Smith, a young girl who has just recently moved to the idyllic countryside to live with her gracious great aunt Charlotte. Mary is sweet and eager to help those around her; however, her thoughtfulness is attached to clumsiness, and she is constantly dropping, tripping over, or breaking something. This doesn’t stop her from exploring or trying her best though! Her qualities are endearing (at least at first) and we see her gradually move towards fostering her confidence and capabilities within herself. After following some cats through the forest, she finds a beautiful batch of flowers, which leads her to discover their inner powers: They grant people the ability to use magic for at least one night. This leads Mary into excitement and danger, as she grapples with personal responsibility and what makes promises important. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who is the director here, also led When Marnie Was There, the 2014 ghost-esque drama, and I can see a few similarities here; there are familiar flashbacks and the otherworldly essence extends throughout the story.
We get a lot of excitement throughout the run, and the animation is top quality. The character development for Mary is rewarding, but incredibly slow. I understand that she is a kid thrust into an impossible world, having to deal with near-impossible situations that even a seasoned Marine would have trouble handling, but I found myself frustrated with how the character behaved during several pivotal scenes. I also found the film lagging in some areas, which is never a good sign, considering this is a fantasy cartoon with a run time of 1 hour and 43 minutes. Overall, the story itself, while unoriginal, was cute. The visual work, especially on the the sky and various plantlife, was stunning. I do recommend this film, especially if you are a fan of Ghibli. This was a safe and fun first installment for a brand-new studio, and I am excited to see what Studio Ponoc has in store for us in the future!
P.S. The cats in this are so cute, you can go see it just for them.