Anime Review: Lu Over The Wall — Ponyo on Speed

Yeah that’s pretty much what it is.

Pre-Review Background

Masaaki Yuasa is a cult anime director who has achieved great critical acclaim from the sakuga fandom for his distinct visual style and off-the-wall sense of humor. Not many casual anime fans know of his works because up until Ping Pong, nobody wanted to physically release his stuff in the US or the UK. I’ve heard some foreign countries like Germany have gotten Tatami Galaxy blu-rays, but the major foreign market was mostly dry of the man’s talents, and Japan doesn’t hold him on the same level as Hayao Miyazaki to begin with. As of recently however, the man has achieved more fame amongst the general fanbase, and thanks to his experiences with Adventure Time, he’s gone off and made his own animation studio, Science Saru. Because every other talented person (and untalented for that matter) is doing that when they’re not partnering up with A-1 Pictures and Studio MAPPA, so why not?

Thus we get more of his weird anime in the form of two films and an upcoming Netflix series. And let me just say, thank god he decided to screen his new movies thirty minutes away from my apartment, because who knows when we’ll be able to actually watch Lu Over the Wall legally? I knew a bit about his Night is Short film due to it being a successor to one of his previous series, but I didn’t know a thing about Lu Over the Wall before screening, and it doesn’t help that intentionally seeking information for it is hard beyond obvious fanboy reviews. If anyone cares, Reiko Yoshida was involved with the screenplay, and this movie won the Cristal for Best Feature Film at the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. That’s pretty much all the extra information I could find out about Lu Over the Wall, as there’s not really even much of a plot synopsis out there. And honestly, that really intrigued me, because I much prefer jumping into the unknown rather than knowing I’ll like something before watching it.

Also, this movie came out after Night is Short. However, it was screened first at Animefest, so the latter can wait its turn to get reviewed.

General Plot

So what exactly is the plot of Lu Over the Wall? Well it’s about this depressed high school student living in a seaside town who’s apparently really good at music, but due to his mother not being around anymore (at least I hope that’s the reason because otherwise he’s just mopey over nothing), he refuses to join a band formed by two characters whose names I don’t remember, so I’m just going to call them Spunky Girl and Male Best Friend. Incidentally, I don’t remember any of the characters’ names in this movie and I refuse to look them up on MAL or whatever, but it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t really much to the characters besides their stereotypes. Spunky Girl is about as stereotypical a best female friend as you can get, and Male Best Friend is…there.

Anyways, our male lead gets a surprise when a mermaid named Lu enters his house and forms a sort of attraction with him, following him everywhere he goes and enrapturing people with her energy to the point that they can play music and dance like pros without their consent. Oh, and did I mention that in this universe, mermaids are pretty much any living being (dogs, sharks, etc) with a mermaid tail, they die if exposed to sunlight, they can turn others into mermaids by biting them, and their tails can turn into feet under certain conditions I’m not quite clear on? From there on is a series of events that I can only describe as a “random events plot”, loosely tied together by the town’s fear of mermaids, the lead male getting over his angst problems, and Spunky Girl getting jealous that her band is getting famous due to Lu rather than her own efforts. Mind you, I might be able to describe it better if I had a good copy of Lu Over the Wall to look through whilst writing this review, but all I’ve got is my memory at the moment, and I distinctly remember coming out of the screening whilst going “so was that a movie or a music video?”

One thing I do distinctly remember is getting a bittersweet sense from the ending due to reasons I won’t spoil. Let’s just say that while the moment before the credits roll isn’t tragic, it did make me think “well that sucks”.

Personal Dissection

For the longest time, I had quite a bit of trouble forming an opinion on Lu Over the Wall because I wasn’t sure whether or not I had a grasp of the overall story, or if there even was one to begin with. Most of the screen time is devoted to wacky humor and music video segments interspersed with the characters confronting a few personal demons, and I was trying my hardest to see if there was anything underneath the flash to give it substance. I did eventually find some, but what I discovered amounted to nothing more than a simple love story with racism themes and some high school issues that need to be overcome. If there are some hidden metaphors that I missed, especially if they’re related to the sea and such, I’d love someone to reveal what they are in the comments section.

The characters are a bit too simplistic for my taste, but they get the job done in terms of delivering on the humor and animated set pieces. Some like Spunky Girl get some more depth when the drama starts hitting, but for the majority of their screen time, what you see is what you get. Also, Lu Over the Wall has a bit of a character focus problem at times, particularly towards the end when the male lead gets phased out in favor of Spunky Girl, then gets phased back in in time for the final climax. And it doesn’t exactly help that the drama can feel arbitrary at times. There’s a scene where the townsfolk raise a ruckus to the point that Lu’s life is threatened because a girl went missing when in reality, she just went to stay at someone’s house. It sort of fits Lu Over the Wall’s comedic tone, but when a major character’s life is threatened due to that simple misunderstanding, it’s also just stupid.

As expected from a Yuasa product, the animation is mostly flash, but without the negative connotations that generally accompany flash animation. Everything is so fast and frantic that it’s difficult to see the cost-cutting tricks being utilized, and it delivers on the spectacle overall, so even if you did notice, I don’t see why you’d complain. The character designs themselves, on the other hand, put me off a bit. Yuasa generally doesn’t use shading on his characters in order to make them more expressive, but while that works well on the mermaids, the human characters look really cheap. It kind of reminds me of how the simplistic-looking characters in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time clashed with the much more detailed backgrounds to rather eerie effect.

And yet despite knowing all this, this movie made me want to dance whenever the characters broke into song. I can’t really explain it without sinking to that cop-out “charm” excuse people use to justify their opinion of a product, especially since Lu Over the Wall doesn’t even have the necessary characterization and streamlined plot to function as a truly great camp film like the live-action Speed Racer. But there’s just something inherently likable about the movie that sticks with me to this day. Most of the jokes work and there’s just enough characterization to hold the movie up during its runtime without devolving into an overly long animation showcase. Definitely would rather watch Ponyo over it since Ponyo has better characters and the surprisingly mature environmental message to give it an edge in substance, but I’m not one to dismiss quality when I see it.

Conclusion

Overall, Lu Over the Wall is just fun. Watching a mermaid try to overcome prejudice by getting everyone to participate in a musical tickles my visual senses, and the character drama when it bothers to appear is legitimate, if a little basic. Not really much else to say other than that, which is sort of the trap when it comes to reviewing these movies that don’t have much deeper meaning other than being “fun”.

Look forward to my upcoming review of Yuasa’s other new movie, which I almost guarantee will have a lot more to talk about…although probably not in the way you want me to.

Additional Quips

  • If Jermaine Clement’s character from Moana just burst in and sung a song out of nowhere like he did in that movie, I would have lost my shit.
  • Who wants to bet that the dancing in this movie becomes a meme sometime in the future?

2 responses to “Anime Review: Lu Over The Wall — Ponyo on Speed

  1. So you actually really liked the Jermaine Clement character from Moana and the song? I always found Tamatoa and his part of the movie kinda out of place and a little creepy in a wacky sense. Maybe that’s the point anyway.

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