NiNoKuni is an animated movie based on the JRPG video game series of the same name. However, it is not necessary to have played the game or even know about it to watch the film. Directed by Studio Ghibli animator Yoshiyuki Momose (Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies), the film follows high schooler Yuu (Kento Yamazaki) and his friend Haru (Tucker Chandler). After their childhood friend, Kotona (Abby Trott), is injured by a strange man, the two are transported to a world unlike their own, Ni no Kuni, while trying to get her to safety.
NiNoKuni is an emotional journey about friendship, love, and sacrifice. Once in this new and whimsical world, Haru and Yuu realize just how similar it is to their own world. In hopes of finding Kotona in Ni no Kuni, the two friends end up saving a princess and starting their own journey after figuring out how to travel between Ni no Kuni and their world.
Considering NiNoKuni is directed by Momose, it is not surprising how many similarities it shares with Studio Ghibli’s films. The movie has a magical quality to it but features characters that are incredibly relatable. From the stunning animation to the whimsical and at times romantic score, NiNoKuni is a treasure. However, the magic of NiNoKuni actually lies in the relationship between Yuu and Kotona. Yuu cares deeply for Kotona and likes her as more than just a friend. However, she is currently dating Haru. The three of them are friends but the tension is clear and Haru easily becomes jealous which is evident when Yuu saves Kotona’s life. While in Ni no Kuni, Yuu speaks to the Princess Asya, who looks exactly like Kotona. It is there we see just how deep his feelings are for his friend.
But as impactful as the relationships are in NiNoKuni, what resonated with me the most was Yuu. Yuu is disabled and uses a wheelchair. However, in Ni no Kuni he is able to walk. That being said, there is never a moment of dialogue where he feels “complete” because he can use his legs. The scene where he realizes he can walk is emotional and humorous but never becomes the main point of his story arc. Still, the movie doesn’t shy away from the fact he is in a wheelchair either. Toward the beginning, Yuu, Haru, and Kotona go to a bakery only to find it is not wheelchair accessible. Even though Kotona offers they go somewhere else, Yuu declines and instead heads home. As someone who has had to use a wheelchair due to my own health conditions, that moment was impactful and there have been many times in my life I have just gone home because a place was inaccessible.
Additionally, despite the beauty of Ni no Kuni and the fact he can walk there, Yuu never longs to return. He is content with his life. During a flashback scene showing how Yuu and Haru met, Yuu explains why he needs a wheelchair. While doing so he also notes to Haru that he doesn’t have to feel sorry for him because he’s fine. It is rare to see disabled people in media ok with being disabled. Through everything, Yuu never focuses on himself and instead, always is thinking of his friends, but especially Kotona. Yuu’s compassion, even in the face of unfair circumstances, is often at odds with Haru’s brash nature. It is hard to ignore the fact that Haru, an able-bodied individual who has had a fairly easy life, cannot handle pressure like Yuu. In regards to my own experience, since becoming ill, I have been able to handle more of what the world has thrown at me. Yuu is the strongest of the three and while it is never directly stated, I have to believe that it is because of his life experiences. That being said, Yuu never feels like a trope.
No matter how touching the relationships in NiNoKuni are, the movie is not without its flaws. In the latter half of the film, the animation quality shifts heavily as it becomes more and more reliant on CG. The stark art change sticks out and makes the scenes feel unpolished compared to other portions of the movie. That being said, this is only a small part of the film and doesn’t detract from the story as a whole. Additionally, there are moments where the pacing of the film itself can feel a bit strange. Scenes in Ni no Kuni seem to go on without Yuu or Haru having a care in the world despite what is still occurring within their own world. This is also due in part to the overly convoluted story. The third act of the film is filled with a lot of plot twists that don’t all seem to correlate to the events that have occurred. Considering this is a video game adaptation, it makes sense why the pacing and story would work like that but in a movie, it doesn’t completely translate.
However, NiNoKuni is an excellent adaptation that captures the spirit of the series. Fans of Studio Ghibli films or fantasy animes should absolutely press play on this delightful, whimsical, and emotional story.
NiNoKuni is streaming now on Netflix.
NiNoKuni is an excellent adaptation that captures the spirit of the series. Fans of Studio Ghibli films or fantasy animes should absolutely press play on this delightful, whimsical, and emotional story.