Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, Napping Princess (originally named Ancien and the Magic Tablet, 2017) is an ambitious slice of sci-fi fantasy that, on the surface, might even pass for a Studio Ghibli film. Fantastic action and adventure? Check. Bold and determined heroine? Check. Sweeping music? Check. Magical critter? Check. At least one flying sequence? Triple check. It's got all these and more -- again, on the surface -- but almost every ounce of goodwill in Napping Princess is threatened by an overstuffed plot that keeps it from delivering on its promises.
Our story follows teenager Kokone Morikawa in the near-future of 2020, mere days before summer vacation, college applications, and the Tokyo Olympics. Among other duties, self-starting Kokone looks after her busy father Momotaro; they've lived alone since her mother's untimely death more than a decade ago, and this stressful life forces her to nap whenever possible. She frequently dreams about alter ego "Ancien" -- presumably, a younger version of Kokone -- who lives in "Heartland", possesses a magic computer tablet, and is ruled by a king whose castle is a futuristic car factory. As Kokone's dreams become more frequent and start intersecting with real life, Momotaro is suddenly accused of theft by the car company he works for -- so along with trusty school friend Morio (who, before long, shares her lucid dreams), Kokone sets out to clear her father's name and uncover what might be a link between both worlds.
It's a lot to take in, and Napping Princess isn't equipped to juggle everything at once: among other problems, it explains away huge chunks of the plot via cheap exposition -- especially true in the home stretch, where the film really starts to crumble under its own weight -- and the core story never feels like it's worth all that extra detail. To be fair, Napping Princess' central characters are memorable (Kokone and Morio make a great pair) and it's interesting to piece together certain elements of the real and fantasy worlds, which are often linked in clever ways. The outstanding music score by long-time video game music composer Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts) also adds a lot of depth. But overall, both worlds -- and by extension, the story as whole -- never really come together in a satisfying way, which leaves us with great visuals connected by messy threads. Still, this is a ride worth taking at least once and, if you're more willing to accept its faults, Napping Princess might be worth revisiting in the future.
Not surprisingly, GKIDS serves up a capable Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that's sure to please fans of the film. The A/V presentation is flat-out flawless, which certainly sells Napping Princess' great visuals and enveloping audio mix. While the depth of bonus features leaves something to be desired, this is still a fairly well-rounded release for the asking price, even if it's not the most obvious blind buy material in recent memory.
Not surprisingly, this recent animated film looks flat-out flawless on Blu-ray: GKIDS obvious had a great 1080p transfer to work worth, which has been translated seamlessly to disc with no apparent issues. Napping Princess has a beautiful style with great designs, wonderful backgrounds, and interesting visual flourishes that really grab the viewer's attention from start to finish. Image detail, texture, and color reproduction are all quite stunning at times, with relatively deep black levels and strong contrast that creates a nice illusion of depth. No obvious digital imperfections -- including animation regulars like banding, compression artifacts, motion blurring, or jagged edges -- could be spotted along the way, rounding out the visual presentation nicely. Overall, it's a great-looking film that we're lucky to have: Napping Princess only earned a limited theatrical release around these parts, so it's good to have a quality copy on disc so quickly.
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Like most anime titles, viewers can choose between the original language Japanese 5.1 track or an English 5.1 dub in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Both offer an outstanding and deeply atmospheric mix with crisp dialogue, solid channel separation, plenty of rumbling LFE, and no shortage of subtle touches along the way. Naturally, the most enveloping moments occur during Napping Princess' more imaginative scenes, while the original score by long-time video game music composer Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts) also carries a great deal of weight without overpowering the dialogue. Either way, there's no room for complaints here: Napping Princess sounds just as good as it looks. GKIDS' Blu-ray thankfully includes subtitle options for both the Japanese track AND the English dub, as well as a French dub and subs for Canadian viewers. Good to see that this is slowly becoming the norm.
GKIDS' menu interface is smooth and simple, offering separate options for audio/subtitle setup, chapter selection, and bonus features, with no annoying trailers beforehand and a handy "Resume" function. This two-disc release arrives in a dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive two-sided artwork and a matching slipcover; no inserts are included.
A few interesting odds and ends are included here, but most of them are similar in tone and execution. First up are two Interviews with Kenji Kamiyama (15:02) and three members of the Japanese voice cast (7:19); it's standard stuff that covers the project's inception, early development, production, and release. A Special TV Program (22:04) is more promotional in nature but goes into similar detail, and was created specifically for the theatrical release.
The promotional extras continue with an Introduction at the Japanese Premiere (20:17) with Kenji Kamiyama and several cast members, who mostly discuss the project in general and their characters. Meanwhile, a Greeting at the Japanese Release (17:51) takes more of a Q&A format with lucky fans. Last but not least -- and perhaps the only "different" extra on this disc -- is "Okayama Scenery" (3:24), which includes a few photo-to-film comparisons of some of Napping Princess' most memorable settings. A short collection of Trailers & TV Spots (3:57) rounds out the bonus content.
Bursting with visual flair, an ambitious story, outstanding music, and a memorable lead heroine, Kenji Kamiyama's Napping Princess is a fantasy adventure that may appeal to fans of the genre. But I can't admit that both halves of its setting -- Kokone's life in modern Japan and her alter ego's adventures in "Heartland" -- ever gel convincingly, and the film has a tendency to explain away its overstuffed plot with a lot of cheap exposition. So despite a handful of strengths, Napping Princess probably isn't the most recommended blind buy in recent memory: its weaknesses are a real turn-off, and will likely stand out even more on repeat viewings. GKIDS' Blu-ray serves up a pitch-perfect A/V presentation and a few well meaning but forgettable extras; for obvious reasons, it's a clear case of "try before you buy". Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.