Mary to Majo no Hana is based on a children’s story by British author Mary Stewart. The anime film was Studio Ponoc’s premiere work. Basically, they’re a group of creators who splintered off of Studio Ghibli, probably because they were mortified by Tales from Earthsea and the only way to distance themselves from it entirely was to start their own studio. With black jack and hookers. Let’s see how much of a splash they made.
We open with a building on fire and a hooded girl scarpering while magical beasts try to chase after her. We then cut to a young girl, Mary, suffering from boredom since her great aunt’s house has no games and a broken television. I mean, she has books so maybe read? I know when I was a kid I’d do that literally all day on occasion until my mum caught me and made me go outside because she thought bug bites built character or some such shite. One day she’s eating lunch outside when she encounters a pair of cats. She follows them into the woods and down the dell, the path is strange but they know it well. There in the woods she finds a strange flower and thus begins the journey. Basically, it gives her magical abilities and she finds herself in a strange land where there’s a magic school. Unfortunately for her, this magic school hides a dark secret.
And no, it isn’t copying Harry Potter because there’s a magic school. The book this is based off of came out way before Harry Potter. Just like the majority of things that get accused of copying Harry Potter for some reason. Seriously, I’ve seen the late Sir Terry Pratchett accused of “ripping off” those books because of Ponder Stibbons, a character who was introduced in 1990. Seven years before those books existed.
The biggest flaw with the story telling in this film lies in the pacing. There are some long, dragged out moments that are mainly intended to build atmosphere but they just go on too long. And, to exacerbate the problem, there are some really important moments that get really glossed over. And the big example of that lies in the big “important” friendship betwixt Mary and Peter. They barely exchange a few sentences and go from not particularly caring for one another to besties for no apparent reason. The film is also a bit inconsistent with things like how long the effects of the flower actually last.
That being said, pretty much everything to do with the magic school is really good. The animal scenes in particular are fantastic. The film also excels at building up its big twists enough so that they make perfect sense and you can kind of see them coming but not to an extent where they’re really obvious or come across as contrived. And the atmospheric scenes may drag at times, but they are pretty effective, especially when they actually do end at sensible points.
This varies a bit. Mary is a compelling character and her complex about her hair does add some depth to her and is just very relatable. Her great aunt is also quite interesting, particularly when the film goes into her history. I also like that there’s effort put into humanising the antagonists, in spite of all the really not okay things they do. In contrast, Peter is just a generic good lad and the other side characters are just “the gardener” or “housekeeper.” And you don’t really expect the side characters to be super interesting given that the film has to do other things but Peter is a major character. He should not be dull as tepid dishwater. He is, but he shouldn’t be.
You can tell that this was made by former Ghibli staff. It looks gorgeous. The backgrounds are really well detailed. The magic school has a sense of whimsy and wonder about it along with some phenomenal visuals. The designs are interesting. The action flows really well. It’s just a very nice film to look at.
Young Sugisaki Hana does a great job in the lead role, in spite of having very few voice acting roles. Ootake Shinobu is also very good. As is Satou Jirou. And none of them have a lot of voice roles. Muramatsu Takatsugu’s soundtrack is pretty good as well.
It’s based off a children’s book from the 70s. It has exactly as much as you would think, bugger all.
Mary to Majo no Hana may not be the best film out there, but it is pretty damn solid. It has a good degree of charm, adventure and whimsy. Its biggest problems are Peter, some contrived character dynamics and some unexplained inconsistencies. None of which are all that bad everything considered. I’ll give it a 7/10. It’s a good film. Tomorrow, Xiao Qian.