Mai Mai Miracle Review — Bittersweet Diabetes

Couldn’t be assed to go to the movies this weekend. So here’s a review of an anime most of you have never even seen.

Those of you who have lives and don’t pay attention to all but the most famous of anime directors may not know who Sunao Katabuchi is. Well, I’m sure most anime fans have at least heard of the name: Black Lagoon. Yep, the man responsible for bringing all the kickass in both seasons and the Roberta arc was him, so you’d think he’d have a genuinely successful career in the industry with his talent. Well, he sorta does, but it’s mostly underground.

Despite the popularity of his foray into action, he’s mainly a Ghibli-esque storyteller with the majority of his resume being family friendly stuff that contain very familiar plot points to those who’ve watched Castle in the Sky or Future Boy Conan. And by the majority of his resume, I mean his three other anime (one series and two movies) that no one even knows exists, because he’s not actually associated with Ghibli bar assistant work on Kiki’s Delivery Service, and it’s not like their are many other options in terms of anime studios with Disney-levels of success willing to throw the amount of money and resources needed to properly get his name out there. Even though he’s now under contract by Mappa to make a movie adaptation of the historical manga, In This Corner of the World, the combination of a not-very-popular manga and Mappa not being able to appeal to the mainstream crowd in terms of blu-ray sales makes it hard to secure funds for the project and I’m not even all that sure it’ll come out in 2016 like MAL says it will. I really hope it does though, because it looks like a solid historical drama.

Anyways, this review is centered on Mai Mai Miracle, his lesser known 2009 film with Madhouse that can basically be summarized as his own version of Ghibli’s more slice-of-life-y affairs like My Neighbor Totoro and Only Yesterday. And by his own version, I mean a slice-of-life anime centered on the countryside with an increased focus on realism and, ironically, an increased amount of diabetes.

The story is centered on Shinko, an elementary-school girl with a cowlick on her head that she calls “Mai Mai” – hence the title of the film – who likes to daydream about what her town was like in the past, reminiscent of the dream sequence from Whisper of the Heart if it was channeling Air: The Motion Picture. One day, a Tokyo girl named Kiiko moves into the countryside and immediately stands out due to wearing what’s basically the equivalent of royal clothing in the middle of Somalia, resulting in the fish-out-of-water nervousness you’d expect from such a situation. But that doesn’t stop Shinko from befriending her, and from then on, we follow the two as they hang out with the other kids, deal with personal problems, and even share the same daydream – although trust me when I say it doesn’t really lead to anything of significance.

It’s pretty damn easy to see why Mai Mai Miracle never drew a big audience considering that it itself draws most of its appeal from showcasing countryside life as well as the tribulations of youth passed through a giant “it’s for kids” filter. Hell, apart from Madhouse’s production values, I’m not really big into the movie myself. The story leans a wee too hard on nostalgia and the calmer parts of youth in general to the point that it’s like an Eternal Sonata-level JRPG: it can be fun to actually experience the thing, but watching someone else do it is about as interesting as watching grass grow. And it doesn’t help that not all the plot points come together very well to begin with. Aside from being friends, the plot point regarding a girl’s dead fish could not be any less related to the plot point involving one of the boys’ role models dying.

At its heart, Mai Mai Miracle is about reality clashing with youth, but because it’s a kids’ movie, it can’t go all the way with it. There’s a particular scene in the finale where Shinko and one of her male friends go to a red-light district for reasons I won’t spoil other than it involves the death of a minor character. And whilst it’s aesthetically rough on the surface from the prostitutes to the yakuza, said scene ends with the crooks they encounter sympathizing with the kids and allowing them to go free. Not that I’d want anything worse to occur from said confrontation because I don’t like seeing people that young getting put through the ringer and another one of the movie’s main points is that reality isn’t all bad anyways, but it’s a very good example of how Mai Mai Miracle doesn’t have the bite I prefer when it comes to these types of stories. Even American Graffiti had more of an edge in regards to its take on reality versus youth – and whilst it was good for its time, American Graffiti is kind of plain by today’s standards.

But of course, if you’re watching this for the visuals, you’re in for a treat. I wasn’t kidding when I said Madhouse’s production values interest me, because Mai Mai Miracle really does a good job at nailing the calm atmosphere it’s going for with its imaginative dream sequences and lush cinematography, even if said atmosphere isn’t too my taste. This is a beautiful-looking movie with an appropriately soothing soundtrack that complements it pretty damn well. They even throw in a kiddy version of The Carpenters’ “Sing a Song” into the mix, which got a smile out of me. I may come off as a sap for saying this, but I really like that song. It’s cute in all the right ways.

For those of you who like slice-of-life/light-hearted anime, Mai Mai Miracle should definitely be right up your alley, as I can’t seem to find many faults in the product for lovers of the genre. But then again, I wouldn’t know how to separate your Arias from your Dog Days, so what do I know? Nevertheless, whilst some of the plot points could have been handled better, it has a genuinely heartwarming and relevant story that’s good for its target audience, it’s well-made, and the characters are likable enough as well – acting close to real kids during the time period this movie takes place in. Doesn’t appeal to me personally, but then again, I’m the asshole who thinks Azumanga Daioh became boring eight episodes in. At best!

PS: Sorry for the low-res pics. The only stream I could find of this movie was pretty low quality, and I recycled my movie file before I decided to review this thing.

3 responses to “Mai Mai Miracle Review — Bittersweet Diabetes

  1. I do wonder why no others anime film directors have gained as much fame and money as Hayao Miyazaki in both Japan and the West, when they also make film targeted at mass audience. Even recent Ghibli non-Miyazaki films like Kaguya hime and Marnie flopped while The Wind Rises, which absolutely not suitable for kids (in fact, it’s more of an art house film), rakes in millions. The one who has came closest is probably Hosoda, but he still got a long way to go. Satoshi Kon is popular among hardcore film fans, but no mainstream popularity.

  2. I watched this movie a few years ago and really enjoyed it, I appreciated it’s simplicity. It was a nice movie to watch on a warm summer evening.