Aaaaand I'm already off schedule, I've got no excuses for that especially since I already feel bad that I only review Makoto Shinkai's movies a month after crunchyroll has their special "watch all his movies for free worldwide" days in the middle of March. Some year I'll figure out a way to remind people in advance about that but for this year anyway I just took the chance to see his latest film (also the only work of his I hadn't seen, this is the third or so year CR has done this and I caught all his others in previous years).
Children who chase lost voices
Summary: Asuna is a dutiful student and a good daughter but a lonely one who spends a lot of her free time after school not just at home taking care of chores but also at a secret fort she made in the mountains where she listens to a radio with a crystal left by her father. On her way to her secret fort one day she's attacked by what appears to be a rabid bear, is saved by a mysterious guy, and becomes friends with him over the few times she sees him. But after a time he doesn't show up again and Asuna begins to unearth the truth, Shun and the "bear" were really from the underworld Agartha and even though she now knows he's dead she travels there anyway for a chance to see him again.
The Good: I was really worried that Shinkai was just going to rehash his earlier films when I worked out what the theme of this one was (relationships seperated by death) but he doesn't! The theme here is still in a similar vein to Voices of a Distant Star and 5cm A Second but it's changed and progressed since then, that's normal and a good thing! I would like to see him move even farther from this theme with his next work but that's a different kettle of fish, I do like that he did something different and I think he handled the different kind of setting well. But, even though I liked the setting and the details of the story, which are always rather important aspects for me, I did have a number of problems with the actual story which tempered my feelings on it quite a bit.
The Bad: This story almost works, almost, and that's always a frustrating state for a movie to be in. The basic concept behind it, that Asuna is so lonely, not because the people around her are mean but because they simply aren't there, that she ends up traveling to the underworld for a chance to meet again a guy she had started to form a friendship with, that's great and when the story focuses on that it's also great. But that's not enough to fill an entire movie's run time so the movie threw in the other two subplots and instead of adding to the story they took away from Asuna's story and I think weakened it. I feel like this movie could have been better structured if they had spent more time working and remolding the story around Asuna, I feel like it lost it's focus partway through (and took forever to get going, through and through the pacing was just off) and that while it did regain it by the end that the whole story suffered because of it. As a result all three of the main characters feel only partially fleshed out by the end and while I would watch the movie again I'd only be watching it for the potential I see in it, not what was actually achieved.
The Audio: Crunchyroll was only streaming the Japanese dub and about half a month later on neither the voice acting nor the music stand out as memorable to me. I don't recall being frustrated by any of it or thinking it didn't work, I believe I even remember liking the music, but there are some tv series/movies out there where I can easily remember the music weeks after I've last heard it and this simply wasn't one of them.
The Visuals: Visually it's pretty easy to see why a lot of people were saying "Shinkai is trying to make a Ghibli film!", I swear Shin looks like he was plucked out of Tales of Earthsea and Mimi looks an awful lot like another cut Miyazaki designed critter. But there are still more visual elements that are clearly and distinctly Shinkai than anyone else's, the character designs look similar to his past ones, there's the rich use of color to the point where every scene has practically the entire rainbow in it, and of course his trademark sky scenes are present (although not as many as I was expecting which made me a little sad since his sky scenes are absolutely gorgeous and what I've come to expect from his films). After watching mostly tv anime it's nice to watch a full film every now and then and realize just how far the visuals can go in terms of design, detailing, colorwork, and animation (not that the animation seemed notable here) and remind a lot of us why we fell in love with the medium in the first place.
So, while I would rewatch I think I would only rewatch once, with someone who understands stories better than I do, and would not buy it and would only recommend it to some people. So I give this movie a 3 out of 5 for being okay but really not as great as it should have been.