A dubious and lifeless knockoff of a vaunted series, with visuals as lifeless as its plodding, formulaic storytelling.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of video game adaptations on the big or small screen can’t have been holding out much hope for Ni No Kuni, the film version of Level 5’s acclaimed fantasy JRPG series. But Yoshiyuki Momose’s effort, which was released on Netflix on Thursday, January 16th, after a theatrical run in its native Japan last August, is still a disappointingly typical effort in the field, attempting to let a formulaic and mostly inert story coast along on the appeal of brand recognition and a long-ago association with the legendary Studio Ghibli that even the games put paid to after the first installment.
On that level, Ni No Kuni (Netflix) feels like a cynical exercise in plugging a hole in the market usually filled by a Ghibli animation, and that’s pretty much exactly what the film is. Following high-schoolers Yu and Haru as they find themselves in a fantastical kingdom following the attempted assassination of their friend and mutual crush Kotona, the film works through a rote genre checklist as the kids discover the connections between this world and their own and grow into their roles. It’s a snooze.
And it doesn’t even look good. For a series that was once a Ghibli effort and even then managed to retain a strong sense of fantasy adventure, Ni No Kuni boasts flat hand-drawn sequences and dated digital embellishments that do nothing to elevate the mundane storytelling. A legitimately good soundtrack feels notably out of place in such a low-effort production, and the upside of disability representation in the wheelchair-bound Yu is small consolation. Those on the lookout for such things would be better off spending their time with The Healing Powers of Dude, also out on Netflix this week, and anime fans still have Scissor Seven to be going on with. Both are a better bet than yet another adaptation that fails to break the everlasting video game curse, a mythical malady more intriguing than anything this film could come up with.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.