A Review of Kenji Kamiyama’s The Napping Princess

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After seeing the gashapon capsules available at Lost Ark Video Games for months and months, I finally got a chance to see Kenji Kamiyama’s The Napping Princess in theaters!

But sadly, I don’t think I’m actually going to buy any…

The Napping Princess, also known as The Story of the Unknown Me or Ancien and the Magic Tablet, is a film that was released in Japan earlier this year that landed stateside this month.

Created and directed by Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East director Kenji Kamiyama, and scored by the legendary musical sorceress, Yoko Shimomura of Kingdom Hearts fame, the story follows a young girl, Kokone, whose fantastical dreams (and knack for falling asleep) intertwine with her real life as the conflicts of her father’s past begin encroaching on her peaceful life. 

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The story takes place in a very close future to ours. Kokone’s father works as a struggling mechanic outside of Osaka, Japan. Kokone is headstrong, confident, and driven, except not in class where she tends to fall asleep. The rest of the cast includes her father, Momotaro, her childhood friend, Morio, the blue-stuffed dog who belonged to her late mother, Joy (who only speaks in the dream world), and the sleazy businessman, Watanabe, who is after her father’s tablet (no, not some sort of ancient rune, but an iPad-esque regular old tablet).

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Later in the film, we are introduced to a significant side character, Sawatari, played by guest and friend of the show, Paul St. Peter! [Listen to our interview with Paul here]

The film explores the emerging technology of self-driving cars, a rapidly developing technology in our own world right now. Funny enough, considering the film takes place in 2020, and likely self-driving car technology in 2020 will be a more widely available asset, it feels as if this film should have been released a few years ago to convey that larger “futuristic” feel. Thanks a lot, Elon Musk. But I suppose I should be grateful to see a film that plays with a REAL technology rather than some sort of fantastical invention. I can respect that. 

The film’s character designs, set designs, and animation are highly impressive and lovely to look at. Most notably, the character designer for Big Hero 6′s Baymax, Shigeto Koyama, provided the character designs for the transforming robot car, Hearts. If you were feeling a sense of deja vu, you were definitely onto something. 

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See?

The film’s talent pool is significant, with studio Signal.MD (an offshoot of Production I.G) at the helm, with veteran talent from I.G., GAINAX, and Pierrot all filling major production positions.

Yoko Shimomura’s musical underlay, while not drawing too much attention to itself, helps to convey the emotional hooks from peaceful, dreamy melodies to large, sweeping action pieces.

The films biggest sin lies in it’s confusingly bombastic ending and tendency to be inconsistent with following its own rules. In a similar way to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars, the film transitions between the real world and the fantasy world of Kokone’s dreams. The film can’t seem to make up it’s mind about how much the dream world affects the real world, and vice versa, constantly leaving me guessing if the dream world was supposed to be a “magical” reality or just some sort of high-concept metaphor. There are a few times in which we are led to believe it’s one way, then it becomes the other, and it’s hard to keep track.

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The ending is overloaded with large scale fight scenes and animation spectacles that, if they were in another film, would be more appropriate. Here, they seem like a giant distraction from the emotional and narrative climax of the film, leading me to feel like I missed something. It’s as if the production team decided to sacrifice some key character moments for more action, which is a real shame.

Overall, the characters are charming, the emotional hooks mostly resonate, and the film is presented in a very pleasing fashion. They avoid an easily exploitable ham-fisted love story (thank goodness) and keep the film entertaining with our headstrong female lead and her charming ways. I believe this film will be mostly forgettable in the long run, but it’s a decent addition to Kenji Kamiyama’s resume, showing he can at least attempt to navigate the waters of fantasy as well high concept sci-fi. Let’s just hope The Napping Princess is a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

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The Napping Princess: 6.4/10


The Napping Princess is currently in theaters, released by GKIDS. Though a home video release has not yet been announced, odds are he film will be available on Bluray and DVD within a year. For similar anime recommendations, check out Summer Wars, Your Name., Eden of the East, and The Boy and the Beast.

[Edit: The film is now available on bluray/DVD from GKIDS]

For more information: http://www.gkids.com/films/napping-princess/

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