[Anime Review] Mai-Mai Miracle

While Mai-Mai Miracle falls slightly short with its overall story, its introspective into that which is pure childlike fantasy versus the harsh reality of life among other of its thematic devices is where it shines the most.

Information

Title: Mai-Mai Miracle (Also know as “Mai Mai Shinko to Sennen no Mahou”)
Episode: Film (1hr 33 minute run-time)
Producer: Madhouse Studio
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Recommended/Similar Titles: My Neighbor Totoro, Only Yesterday,
Review Source: Digital Blu-ray rip (unofficial fansub)

Synopsis (Via MAL)

The story is set in 1955 in Kokuga, Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. One thousand years ago it was the site of the ancient capital, Suo no Kuni, and traces of the Heian Period (year 794-1185) are passed down to us in the form of ruins and historical place names.

The protagonist is Shinko, a third grade elementary school student, who was born and raised in one of the town’s venerable families. She is a little girl whose characteristic is a strange curl on her forehead (she calls it her “Mai Mai”), and her love for playing in the fields. On the other hand, her secret joy is to imagine and to daydream about the world of one thousand years ago. Her fantasies travel far into the days of the Heian Period…

One day, a girl called Kiiko transfers from Tokyo and enters Shinko’s class. This girl from the big city has difficulty feeling at home in this small town, but gradually her friendship with Shinko deepens. Before long, the two of them become engulfed in a strange incident of one thousand years earlier…?

Review

It is often said that children have better imaginations than adults due their loose outlook of reality. With Mai-Mai Miracle – we get that imagination, but also a dichotomy of both fantasy and darker reality of life tucked inside by both perspectives. The story overall chronicles a young 3rd grader named Shinko Aoki with a unbelievable imagination and her chance encounter with a reversed transfer student, Kiiko Shimazu. Together, they time travel to different era of their town to discover the secret of the “Millennium-Old Magic”, but also learning the ways of the world. Despite the description, their is no time travel rather than it is fantasy pieced together with two connected stories; one modern and the other of the past, one of many reoccurring themes in the film. For the most part, the film flips back and forward to Shinko, Kiiko’s and their friends everyday trials to Princess Kiyohara’s (based of the novel The Pillow Book) desire to make friends which seems to make for a predictable (if not confusing) story, but the reality is that the story is far more interesting and deeper than that. Without trying to spoil much of the plot, the film itself is very executed with juxtaposing the two periods to express a multitude of ideas and with Shinko’s timeline specifically, how far imagination itself projects to the harsher realities in life. Again, I will not divulge too much into the plot rather than encourage it to be seen in action.

The film also as an assortment of wonderful characters on hand to go along with its touching story, but only a few like: Shinko’s grandfather, Tatsuyoshi, and Hizuru come into play major roles besides Shinko and Kiiko. However, with the cast on hand, it really does strengthens the films thematic elements and improves on a unique quality the film holds to be segmented by its sub-story, but not thrown off by it. Voice acting comes from a elicit and fresh faces, especially that of Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda), Kiiko (Nako Mizusawa), Nagiko Kiyohara (Ei Morisako). The rest of the cast (with the exception of Shinko’s mother by Manami Honjou) are secondary members or the same for other supporting roles not credited or listed officially as seen in the films credits.

Madhouse Studio is primary power house behind the animation and one that has done a well-done job prior to its previously faux pas. It still does come with minor graininess in some scenes (not an encoding issue for the non-official release), but to a lesser extent and one that does not become noticeable. The animation itself is rather simple in nature, which attributes to this fact (free from extensive GC design) and the artwork seems to support this claim with its rather rounded character modeling. Besides from visual aesthetics, the soundtrack is also aptly implemented;  with a limited rosters of scores yet fitting to the films atmosphere. Noteworthy enough, the film also includes The Carpenters original 1974 recording of “sing” as insert song (known to most for its renditions on Sesame street). Sunao Katabuchi acts as the director for the film, most known for directorial duties for the Black Lagoon series as well as a anime version of Lassie, Meiken Lassie.

Again, from a personal stand point, Mai-Mai Miracle was a fine film, yet not quite to perfection. It inherently had some trouble with the story, or in this case, trying to adapt some of the Pillow Book’s story to an original. However, this detail is forgivable when applicable to the overall films execution and how it combines the past and present not only for one of the stories focal points  but also to the idea of how time changes things and what it means to grow up. This type of realism in itself is what I found very impressive about the film, but the techniques used to elicit it and emotional depth (or response) that results from it is the real impressive detail. I would recommend the film alone for such details if nothing else.

Mai-Mai Miracle proves itself to be a film worth the time watching and watching more than once. Chocked full of echoes of social changes in Japan (from eastern imperialism to westernized individualism), deception of time, and childhood wistfulness to ascending into adulthood; the film is more of anthem of how life goes on and the things as well as people in it are subject to change. If you like tinge of the aforementioned elements along with an adequate, yet emotionally authentic story, Mai-Mai Miracle is a gem that is worth examining. It may not be the prettiest of gems, but a few flaws make it so.
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Conclusion

Pros: Nice execution, unique storytelling, great representation of thematic devices, impressive artwork and animation

Cons: Confusion with the dual storyline, minor animation and artwork inconsistencies

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