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Ancien and the Magic Tablet (Napping Princess) – Anime Movie Review

Napping Princess (poster)Ah… Now, how exactly do I describe this movie to a newcomer? Imagine Inception, except where the dream involved has a significantly more fairy tale/fantasy bent, mixed with a corporate political thriller and a huge dollop of anime tropes, including giant robots and school girls.

That feels like it might be a start to describing Ancien and the Magic Tablet.

The movie, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, is about a young schoolgirl named Kokone who has a tendency to drift off and get caught in her own dreams. In said dreams, she is a sorcerer princess named Ancien, battling against a Colosseus that threatens her kingdom, via use of a magical computer tablet. However, when Kokone’s father is arrested in the real world and thieves attempt to steal his personal computer tablet, Kokone is sent on the run, drifting between dreams and reality in an attempt to find out the truth behind all these goings-on.

Now, when I first walked out of the cinema after having watched this movie, honestly, I really wasn’t entirely certain how to feel about it. There was some things I really liked about it, other things not so much. I definitely wasn’t too fond of the movie at the beginning, as it felt confusing, bland and I wasn’t particularly engrossed with the worlds or characters in neither dream nor reality. But, as the movie went along and pieces started to slot together, I started to get more and more into it, leading to a climax that I actually really kinda enjoyed… almost.

See, the thing is, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is a movie I don’t think quite realised how brilliant its own premise was.

Napping Princess (screenshot 1)

Now, that may sound like an odd statement, but let me explain. (Note: I’m going into minor spoilers here.) The thing is, partway through this movie you come to realise just how much Kokone’s dreams reflect reality. Indeed, many of the fantastical characters and elements in Kokone’s dreams are actually symbolising real-life characters and events from Kokone’s life/past. And this all culminates in a big finale where fantasy and reality comes together and you get to see the real-life events play out through this exciting fantasy dream lens.

And that’s honestly a really awesome idea. Seriously, I had a blast watching the finale of this movie, theorising what each individual element represented and how the story was playing out in real life. It was a brilliant and inventive intellectual exercise and like nothing I’d ever watched before. I’ve always been a sucker for these sorts of films that can blend fantasy and reality together (probably why I’m such a big fan of Mamoru Hosoda) and this was a unique and fascinating take on the concept.

Napping Princess (screenshot 2)

At least it was at first. Because then it turned out I’d been entirely wrong about what the movie was doing and we learned that 50-60% of said climax was entirely fictional and had no actual equivalent in the real world. I’d simply been reading too much into it the entire time.

That was kind of a bummer.

Napping Princess (screenshot 3)And that’s also kinda why I think the movie didn’t quite realise how smart it was. It has a brilliant and unique idea for its grand finale but, rather than take it all the way, it almost feels like the filmmakers went ‘Hmm, maybe this is a bit too far’ and ended up scaling it back instead. Which was entirely the wrong move. The idea was fantastic. The movie just needed to follow through on it.

It also didn’t help that the movie insisted on shoehorning in a small subplot of ‘maybe Kokone’s dreams are real magic’. An idea which was already somewhat ridiculous, forced and unnecessary and becomes outright laughable in the finale when they demonstrate it in a single throwaway line that just feels completely out of place and is never referenced again.

But, all that aside, would I recommend Ancien and the Magic Tablet? Honestly, kinda yeah. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot of flaws and rough edges. The protagonist is somewhat bland and ends up feeling like a side note for a lot of the movie. The antagonist is just a laughable, moustache-twirling villain who is obviously evil from the go. And also, like I mentioned before, it takes a while before it really gets interesting.

Napping Princess (screenshot 4)But, once it does get interesting, there is really quite a lot to like about it. The story is actually really interesting and compelling once you begin to see how the jigsaw pieces of the plot, there are some moments of genuinely really good drama scattered here and there, there are enough mysteries to keep you engaged and, like I said before, the climax is actually a really interesting and unique idea, even if I’d prefer for it to have gone all the way. Plus, the animation is also fairly good, albeit nothing spectacular for an anime film.

To sum up, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is definitely an interesting ride. It might not be for everyone and there are certainly quite a few problems here and there but, for me, the positives make it worth checking out at least once. I mean, come on, it can’t be any worse than The Emoji Movie, can it?


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