DVD Movie Review: Napping Princess

By Drew Hurley 18.03.2018

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Napping Princess (UK Rating: PG)

For many Western fans, when they think of beautiful and moving films from Japan, the only things that ever come to mind are the legendary works of Ghibli, but there is so much more out there. Thankfully, some of these magical stories are finally getting some recognition, with titles like A Silent Voice and Your Name receiving huge acclaim from their releases here in the UK. Could this latest movie, Napping Princess, stand alongside these recent masterpieces? This animated feature comes courtesy of Anime Limited and is available from 19th March.

There are two very different stories told in tandem with Napping Princess. The first tells the tale of Ancien, the princess of the magical world of Heartland. A futuristic, magical world where the populace works constantly on factory lines to produce car after car, it's the entire basis of their society. Ancien has the ability to use a magical tablet to bring life to inanimate objects, something that could upset the entire balance of the world. Due to this, she meets the fate of many a princess; she gets locked away in a glass tower and separated from the tablet that grants her the magic she can use. She cannot save her people from the assembly line life they are chained to and, worse yet, she cannot protect them from a monstrous lava-covered Kaiju called the Colossus.

As this fantastical, futuristic fairytale continues to play out, it is revealed to be the dream of a young girl in the near future of Japan, 2020. Her name is Kokone Morikawa, and only in her dreams she is Ancien, but there are some items linking the two worlds together. The pair shares a little pirate teddy bear, although thanks to Ancien's magic it has a lot more personality in her world. Ancien's magical tablet is in the real world, too, although it's just Kokone's father's regular beat up old tablet in the real world. Kokone has a difficult life; she lives alone with her father, and her mother died in an accident when Kokone was very young. She was too young to even remember her mum. He doesn't bring in much money, either, often helping the people from the quiet little town for free or for favours, while she has the urge to get out of her town and head off to Tokyo.

As the two stories play out, links between the worlds become more and more prevalent. The king has a sinister advisor named Bewan who seems responsible for her being locked away, and in the real world his doppelganger comes after Kokone's father, demanding his tablet for some reason. Suddenly the line blurs between dream and reality, the Colossus is destroying Odaiba, Kokone's grandfather is transforming into the king - the stories of Heartland all have an explanation in reality.

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Napping Princess comes from Signal.MD, an animation studio produced within IG Port, who most people will just know as Production I.G. The studio focuses on digital animation and has produced supplementary animation for a few big series like Attack on Titan but has produced little entirely itself, its most recent work being last year's Recovery of an MMO Junkie. Signal.MD has put this movie in the hands of one of its prolific alumni, Kenji Kamiyama. A man with unbelievable pedigree, he's worked on such iconic pieces as Akira and Kiki's Delivery Service. During his time with I.G. he has both written and directed numerous memorable shows and movies. Titles like Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East, for instance, and all titles that are entirely different to this. It's his first time as a director, taking on this sort of charming story, and the direction can't be overly criticised, yet the writing and the plot… well, they leave a lot to be desired, at least in the final act.

While the story falters at the final hurdle, the presentation is top notch. The art is stunning, especially with the gorgeous rural environments of Kurashiki City. The place looks delightful and the crew did an amazing job capturing the allure of the sleepy port town. Anyone planning a trip to Japan will find a new place to add to their agenda here. As good as it looks, though, the soundtrack is a step beyond; it's absolutely amazing. This is hardly surprising, considering the talent on hand; the soundtrack comes from Yoko Shimomura, one of the very best composers Japan has to offer. She is mostly a composer for games, with themes under her belt from classics like Street Fighter II and Final Fight, but is best known as the composer for Kingdom Hearts. The themes here are certainly reminiscent of her work with Kingdom Hearts, with some fantastic piano tracks.

Anime releases all over the world can be rather lacking. The old "Full price release for just three episodes" is something of a thing of the past these days… mostly… but often the releases still come fairly barebones; this is even the case in Japan, as any importer will know. That's why it's always so great to see a release like this, stuffed to bursting with things fans will adore. There are a bunch of features here adding up to a few hours' worth of content. First up there is a 15-minute interview with director Kanji Kamiyama. It's easy to see why he's come so far in his career with this interview. His passion for the craft really shines through; a fantastic interview where he opens up about all aspects of the film. Then there are two featurettes filmed at the Japanese premiere, where the cast and crew stand in front of the big screen to discuss the film and their work on it. Filmed afterward, there is an interview with the three main voice actors, which ends up being not only the first time they watched it but also the first time they met each other thanks to the magic of voice acting. There's also a special TV programme with these three actors and a feature on adapting the real-life locations to the beautiful scenery.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Napping Princess is a heart-warming story that is topped off with a disappointing final act. The narrative that tries to blend fantasy with reality works well for some of the story but, as the movie reaches its big climax, there are too many moments that just make no sense. It looks gorgeous, has some great moments and a phenomenal soundtrack, and is worth watching for those elements alone, not to mention to see Kenji Kamiyama step so far out of his comfort zone, yet this can't quite live up to the other outstanding films that have hit the UK recently.

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