Review for Napping Princess - Collector's Edition
The thought of a modern day fairy tale directed by Kenji Kamiyama might raise a few eyebrows. The sense of childlike wonder and magic isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of the more obvious cyberpunk filmography of the man behind Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East, or 009 Re:Cyborg. If you need an example of capturing a child’s eye view of the world, the perfect example is there, in the twelfth episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Escape From tells the story of a little girl looking for her lost dog, Locky, and the adventure she goes on with an itinerant Tachikoma. Of course if you want more, there’s also the Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit fantasy series. Actually, stop right now, and go and place an order. Moribito is probably the most underrated show in Kenji Kamiyama’s filmography, a tale about a young prince suddenly thrown into adversity, and the unlikely bodyguard who saves him. I certainly had no doubts that Napping Princess a.k.a. Ancien and the Magic Tablet would be good. I just didn’t know how good.
Kokone Morikawa has a rich fantasy life, perhaps a little too rich for a girl who should be preparing for university entrance exams. She lives with her car mechanic father in a quiet town, but when she falls asleep, she enters a dream world created from the stories he told her as a child, where she’s the princess of a kingdom called Heartland, where everyone lives to make cars in the royal factory, but where Princess Ancien Heart, daughter of a sorceress, is kept locked up, as the people fear her magical powers. The only problem is that she’s been falling asleep more and more often of late, spending more time in her fantasy world.
Things come to a head when her father is arrested suddenly, at the behest of a strange businessman who is after a tablet belonging to her father. She soon realises that the mystery of the tablet lies in her past, the truth about her mother that her father never told her. Except that the secrets to that past lie in her dreams. Soon she’s on two adventures, in the real world as she heads to the Olympic city of Tokyo, and in her dream world as Princess Ancien escapes from her gilded prison.
Napping Princess gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, and it’s a fine transfer, clear and sharp throughout, with strong consistent colours, and bringing across the animation without compression, aliasing or digital banding. It’s just what you want for a theatrical feature, especially as one as rich and vivid as this one. You have two world designs to appreciate, a near future Japan, and Kokone’s fairy tale dream world. The character designs are appealing and well realised too, with the character animation nuanced and expressive to an impressive degree. This is Kenji Kamiyama playing in the same sandpit as Mamoru Hosoda.
The images in this review have been kindly supplied by All the Anime.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround French, optional French subtitles, translated English subtitles, hard of hearing English subtitles (dubtitles), and an English signs only track. The surround is excellent, truly immersive, bringing the action and ambience across well. I went with the Japanese audio and was satisfied, although what I sampled of the English dub was impressive. There is a small problem with the subtitles though, as this is one of those discs that are limited to the number of captions it can show on screen at any one time. That becomes an issue when there is on screen text and dialogue to translate simultaneously. Twice in the film, watching the Japanese audio and translated subtitles, a line of dialogue was lost because a screen text was translated instead. The second example is at 17:02 into the film. It’s easy to skip back and briefly switch to the dubtitle track to see what was said, but it is an error nevertheless. Another problem comes down to the perennial issue of licensing music rights. The end theme song to Napping Princess is supposed to be a cover version of The Monkees’ Daydream Believer. You can still hear a snippet of it in the film’s trailer, but it’s not in the movie proper anymore.
Napping Princess comes out in standard DVD and BD form, as well as a Limited Collector’s Edition containing both discs, limited edition packaging, a 40-page artbook and artcard. I have only seen the check discs so can’t comment on the physical extras or packaging, while the on disc extras are mostly exclusive to the Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray boots to an animated menu.
On it you will find a 15:02 interview with Kenji Kamiyama, a 20:17 stage event, Introduction at Japanese Premiere, another stage event Greeting at Japanese Release (17:51), Special Interview with Cast (7:19), and Special TV Program (22:04).
Okayama Scenery (3:24) allows you to compare and contrast the real world locations to the anime scenes. Finally there are 3:57 of Trailers and TV Spots. All of the extras are in 1080i format.
So many times have I seen movies that start off great and simply fall apart by the end. Napping Princess is the reverse. It has a great ending, a thoroughly fitting climax, but the road there is a wayward and bumpy one, especially at first. This is a film with no quick hook into its story, no easy way into its characters. For the first half hour it seems aimless and disjointed, as if it doesn’t really know how to start its story. It begins with a burst of exposition about Princess Ancien and her travails in the fairy tale world, but the truth of the matter is that the story is about Kokone, and we don’t see her for at least ten minutes, at which point she falls asleep again and we get another chunk of fairy tale. So we have this fantasy realm that is tied to the real world by the film’s protagonist, but we don’t really get the context until half an hour has passed, and that’s when the film’s characters start being developed. It’s a backwards way of doing things that doesn’t do the film any favours. And I can’t blame anyone who tunes out before that point. It’s very rare these days to have a film take its whole first act to draw the audience in.
But please stick with Napping Princess as once it gets going, it just gets better and better. By the time the film had ended, I was convinced that I had just seen a new favourite anime feature film, and it was only subsequently when I recalled the way that it had started that I paused to temper my opinion. For one thing, while you can take Kenji Kamiyama out of cyberpunk, you can’t take the cyberpunk out of Kenji Kamiyama, and he manages to craft a near future fairy tale that is relevant and prescient. Set just before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it may not be as staggering a feat of prognostication as Akira was in that regard, but his tale revolves around the technology for self driving cars, quite the hot topic these days.
That’s the maguffin that drives the mystery in the movie, the secret past that Kokone has to uncover, but the real search is one of self-discovery, of finding out who she is, about the mother she never knew, and what happened to her. She thinks that her father has kept that history secret from her, only it turns out that the truth might lie in her dreams. It’s quite the emotional journey that Kokone goes on, and the way the film tells its story is perfectly judged, getting me right in the feels.
There is also the real world, dream world duality, with things that happen in the dream world apparently having an effect in the real, and vice versa. It’s a mind-bending duality almost on a par with the kind of narratives that Satoshi Kon used to wield, only on occasion it doesn’t quite have the same effortless deftness, feeling a little contrived instead. But it does allow for some great, animated flights of fancy, and once that clumsy opening half hour is done with, it does get better and better as I said. The cynical adult in me might be thinking that this girl needs to get to a sleep disorder clinic before she does herself an injury, but he’s quickly silenced by the childlike wonder this film inspires.
Napping Princess gets great presentation on this Blu-ray disc from All the Anime, although a couple of subtitle errors stop it from getting it perfect. But if you have the patience, this is one of the more entertaining and moving anime fairy tales in recent years, and Kenji Kamiyama proves that he can go toe to toe with the big names like Miyazaki, Hosoda, and Shinkai.