Movie Review: Napping Princess

It’s silly to admit it, but I originally bought a DVD copy of Kamiyama Kenji’s Napping Princess (Hirune Hime: Shiranai Atashi no Monogatari) in 2019 because despite the film having been released two years prior, I thought it would have been funny to review the movie closer to the Summer 2020 Olympics. I would have compared how the animators pictured the festivities around a celebrated and much anticipated event and see how accurate their guesses were. (I did find out much later that the Olympics wasn’t the main focus at all.) 

But then, shit hit the fan and I never got to sit down and watch it until now. 

(From here on out, spoilers are ahead.)

For those who are unfamiliar with the film, Napping Princess  introduces us to Morikawa Kokone, ready to start her last summer vacation as a high schooler in the summer of 2020. What’s peculiar about Kokone is how she always finds herself asleep and entering into a dream world called Heartland, a futuristic city full of amazing motorized machines. 

When Kokone’s father is accused of stealing technology from a powerful corporation, Shijima Motors. She and her childhood friend, Morio, go on a journey to rescue and prove her father’s innocence. Following her dreams, Kokone discovers clues about her father’s disappearance and about her past.  

Most of Kamiyama’s work in anime involves protagonists intent on saving the world or fighting a giant catastrophe, including Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.  

In an interview with GKids, added as bonus content in the DVD, Kamiyama stated that he wanted to present a movie focusing on normal life where nothing special happens by “snuggling up to one human’s personal thoughts.” A realistic slice-of-life genre film without any fantastical elements or magic, as Kamiyama discovered while creating the story, didn’t have a unique point to make it interesting. It was in a staff meeting where he recalled his childhood memories in which his imagination sometimes blended fairy tales with reality.

This concept became the hook of Napping Princess and I fell for it. 

From the first scene of the film, Kamiyama’s scriptwriting brilliantly fooled me into incorrectly guessing the plot’s progression by getting me to misinterpret details in different scenes until the huge reveal popped up and swiftly walloped me on the head. I never saw it coming and neither did Kokone; it was fantastic. 

Seeing events through the lens of the protagonist and being exposed to only information and details privy to her gave the audience the responsibility to piece together and reveal the story’s larger picture. At first, I assumed the girl Kokone dreamed of in Heartland, Ancien Heart, was her true self because Kokone believed that affirmation to be true. It also helped that Ancien greatly resembled Kokone. 

However, Kamiyama uses supporting and minor characters as hints to challenge Kokone’s ideas about the possibility of her fantastical dreams being connected to the real world. For example, challenging the idea of Kokone belonging to another world, Morio states that the dreams are based on the stories Kokone’s dad told them as children. 

Another example is Morio’s skepticism about Kokone’s magical abilities. When she inputs her desires into the “magical” tablet, she suddenly obtains tickets to ride the express train to Tokyo and two boxed lunches. As we find out in the next scene, the messenger app she used on the tablet is connected to all engineers working for Shijima Motors. Supporters of Kokone’s father saw her messages on chat and paid for all her expenses. 

My favourite moments in the film are the clips of memories added to the ending credits featuring Kokone’s parents including their first meeting and their collaboration on the artificial intelligence technology, their last goodbye and their wedding. 

Anime combining 2D and 3D animation techniques is becoming more commonplace and I felt that the flat colouring and simplistic art style used for the characters made the environments and the 3D animated action scenes pop and a little disjointed to me because the lighting and shadows could have been pushed further to blend elements seamlessly together on screen and create depth. 

Prior to checking out who was in the main cast for Napping Princess, I could sense that they were TV/Film actors. Having consumed a lot of anime-related media, seiyuu excel at exaggerating and emphasizing emotions through their voices to compliment the music and moving pictures on screen while sounding “natural”. 

It’s not to say that the actors failed in their craft because they did a solid job for individuals who have little voice acting experience because they all did a phenomenal job. It’s hard to transition from acting within an ensemble, using physicality and responding to other actors face to face to help bring out emotion in the voice, especially in this specific case where the actors recorded one on one with the director. 

Napping Princess is a science-fiction, fantasy adventure family film exploring themes of the generation gap and adapting to change, which are things anyone could relate to. The film was created by Studio M.D. I did enjoy watching the film but feel that it is something to see at least once. 


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