Ponyo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

 

Similar: Tsuritama

My Neighbour Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 41 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful visuals.

Negatives:

  • Ponyo, the character.
  • No arcs, no development.
  • Drags on.
  • No stakes.

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Ponyo is The Little Mermaid but with children and no consequences. A little fish-human hybrid escapes from her sea wizard father to see the surface world, where she meets human boy Sousuke. The two become fast friends. However, her father, knowing the damage she could unleash on the world, summons the power of the ocean to bring her back. Things deteriorate when Ponyo tastes human blood and begins to transform into a girl with magic that throws the world off balance, causing insurmountable natural disasters.

This is the worst Studio Ghibli movie I have seen to date and with only five left for me to complete, it will likely be the worst overall. Yes, worse than Tales from Earthsea. It will be difficult to detail why Ponyo is so bad without revealing the end, so the next paragraph onwards will have spoilers. The short version of my review, for those interested in seeing this film for themselves, is as follows: Ponyo is an obnoxious character, the mother should have Sousuke taken away from her due to recklessness, there is no character development and no arcs, the end is garbage, and the story is boring. I do not recommend Ponyo.

Spoilers from here on.

So, Ponyo’s use of magic and fraternisation with Sousuke’s causes disasters around the world, with a tsunami most notable to our characters. One’s first expectation seeing this is to assume something will occur to halt the tsunami in time or everyone will die. Should the tsunami hit – keep in mind this is a Noah’s ark, God’s judgment tsunami – there is no way you could recover in a children’s movie without some bad writing to fix things, hence the above expectation. But the tsunami goes unchallenged and wipes the landscape. My alarm bells ring. And I am right, for no one dies in the end. There isn’t even any damage. I do not jest – nothing of consequence occurs by the conclusion. How is everything okay? Magic!

Go choke on six pack rings, you garbage movie. What a condescending story, treating children like morons that can’t cope with any stakes in life. Is Ponyo a film for the mentally fragile that cover their eyes and block their ears to reality, pretending everything is perfect?

The problems don’t end there. We’ve had decent stories with bad endings before, but Ponyo makes you suffer along the way by forcing you to sit through dull scene after agonisingly boring scene of Ponyo and Sousuke bonding or Ponyo being obnoxious. If only the fisherman had harpooned her at the start. Their “bonding” not only fails to capture the child spirit, Ghibli’s signature, but the scenes often serve no purpose to the story. I’m sure you’ve seen the infamous scene of Ponyo interacting with a baby. Is Ponyo’s monstrous face supposed to be cute? Nightmares are made of the stuff.

These “whimsical” scenes drag on forever in a vain effort to make this brat charming. Everything in Ponyo is overdone, including the score, which swells up as if at the climax of the film every other scene. This feels like a near 3-hour movie.

With an ending like Ponyo’s, of course there is no character arcs or development. All that changes is Ponyo becomes human because she and Sousuke “love” each other. I don’t need to say it at this point, but those two have no basis for a romance so strong that it fixes the world. If our world were reliant on them to save us, we’d be screwed.

Some things I’ve heard complaints about don’t bother me, such as how did Ponyo’s human-sized father have a fish child with a giant goddess. How did Hagrid’s human father mate with his giantess mother in Harry Potter? Who knows… Some questions are best left unanswered. The small details aren’t the problem in Ponyo. You need to look out for the big things.

There are only two good scenes in the entire film: when Sousuke’s mother flashes in Morse code to his father how much of an idiot he is for cancelling on dinner again (he has to work at sea) and the scene with the sea wizard walking on land. They got a laugh from me.

If you removed Ghibli’s visuals from this movie, no one would remember it.

Art – Very High

There is no denying that we have gorgeous art with a ton of animation. Just look at the opening scene with all the marine life swimming around the sea wizard’s submarine. The amount of effort that scene alone would require is astonishing. Shame it didn’t go towards a better story.

Sound – Medium

The opening opera singer is magnificent. The score, taken as individual tracks, is great too, but the usage is overdone. It’s trying to be Fantasia.

Story – Very Low

A little boy finds a sea creature that begins to transform into a girl, though heralds natural disasters as well. With weak characters, scenes that drag, and the worst ending in anime, Ponyo’s story is utter garbage.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. I haven’t decided on whether Ponyo should be in my lowest tier yet. Regardless, it isn’t worth your time. A few clips of the visually beautiful scenes on YouTube are the best there is from this title.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotLacks ConflictNo Development

6 thoughts on “Ponyo – Anime Review”

  1. Thank you! Someone had to say it. I never really voiced my opinion about Ponyo once I watched it several years after it was released because I remember how loved it was among the general populace. Of course, I never checked up on current opinion, but I was bored and disgusted with the movie. I agree that the only memorable thing about the movie is the visuals, which Ghibli is good at.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People often have these inherent blinders when it comes to works by artists/studios they love. “They made these other great things I love, so of course their latest one is great too. I don’t even need to see it to know!”

      This also happens in the inverse, where hatred for an artist automatically makes people hate their new work, no matter how good it is. You often see this with the console wars in gaming. “What? The game is exclusive to the OTHER console? It must be terrible.”

      People can be weird.

      Like

  2. To classify a film according to how complex, exacerbated and developed it is, is like an elitist method, because you are trying to rationalize the abstract sensations of art.

    Some reviews appeal to how unrealistic some anime are, but fictional stories don’t even try to be realistic, some of them try to give an idea and a feeling, and you can’t rationalize something like that.

    Eg, its not a requirement that a film develop its characters, because some of them are narrated with a superficial point of view to make us feel as witnesses of their experiences, and not omniscient of their state.

    The art of cinematography here is absent in most of your comments.

    Some of your reviews make praise of shows according to how philosophic and deep they are, but ignoring how well done is their writing and its character consistency. Eg LoGH, that indeed has a pretty good story, but its Mary Sue main characters are not even considerated.

    In Monster (some of the best anime ever), Johan’s idealization and the convenience in some sequences are not considered because again, the program is so deep and moral that it does not matter the rest. Giving us a contradiction in the elitist algorithm.

    So, ¿Trying to rationalize there doesn’t work because the program is so ”deep” and ”mature”?

    Just look some of profesional reviews and see how they develop on the movie sensaction (in its demographic context), and not in ”how eccentric the plot its and how over developed the characters are”.

    The art of cinema is not just “how real the characters are”, “how eccentric the plot is” and “how mature it is”. This kind of criticism would perfectly focus on “City Lights, Charlie Chaplin” as a Meh because how simply is, but its substance is beyond that.

    Your quality review: Low

    Hope it can help you My constructive criticism:

    Some of your reviews make praise of shows according to how philosophic and deep they are, but ignoring how well done is their writing and its character consistency. Eg LoGH, that indeed has a pretty good story, but its Mary Sue main characters are not even considerated.

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    1. “some of them try to give an idea and a feeling, and you can’t rationalize something like that.” – Then what is the point of discussion? Sounds like you are trying to deflect any criticism by saying, “my feelings say otherwise.” More to the point, I have numerous times talked of one can still enjoy a piece in the face of glaring problems, fully aware of them. It’s where the “guilty pleasures” come from. I have some myself.

      Ponyo’s problem isn’t a lack of complexity. It’s a lack of anything in character and story. I particularly despise it for talking down to children.

      I don’t get your comment on lack of cinematography talk. I gave Ponyo the highest rating for art. (Are you grasping at straws?) All the art in the world doesn’t save a bad story for me. These are my reviews, by the way, meant to be my perspective. What you value isn’t what I value.

      “LoGH, that indeed has a pretty good story, but its Mary Sue main characters are not even considerated.” – I’m not sure you know what a Mary Sue is. You literally can’t have two Mary Sues in opposition, otherwise they would no longer be Mary Sues. If you think LoGH’s characters are Mary Sues, there is no way forward in this conversation. Don’t know what else to say here.

      Your use of the term elitist also doesn’t work. It’s no secret I am a fan of the classic Disney animated films, all of which use simplicity at the core of their characters and storytelling, which garner mass appeal. They work taking simple elements and simple characters and bringing them together beautifully. I don’t compare Cruella Deville with Johan – it’s not the same type of story, the same intent whatsoever. (Algorithm, another word you use incorrectly.)

      If you think Charlie Chaplin doesn’t have realness to the characters, maturity, and eccentricity – all things you clearly despise – then you haven’t seen Charlie Chaplin.

      Lastly, I place little value in philosophy. That should be obvious to anyone who reads my work.

      Like

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