The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Title: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea aka Gake no Ue no Ponyo
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Ghibli
Format: Movie, 101 minutes.
Dates: 19 Jul 2008

Synopsis: In a small fishing town lives a boy by the name of Sousuke. One day, he finds and become friends with an odd-looking goldfish whom he calls Ponyo. Ponyo turns out to be a magical mermaid who ran away from her father to see what the human world is like. Upon liking him, Ponyo resolves to become a human being and in the process of becoming one, sets off an imbalance in the world. How will Ponyo and Sousuke stay together in light of this curse?

The Highlights
Story: The Little Mermaid, with a lighter touch.
Visuals: Simplistic drawing and fluid animation that complement each other.
Characters: Few, down-to-earth with genuine relationships between each of them.
Ponyo: So adorable and lovable, even I want to keep her as a pet.

The year 2008 has been a mixed bag to many in the anime community. To me, the year was a little disappointing compared to 2007 – an unfair analysis you may argue – because there wasn’t really that many outstanding titles back then. Only Natsume Yuujinchou and Kaiba have really reached out and engulfed me with powerful emotions. Then here comes Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which is strangely underrated for a movie produced by the so-called “Disney of Anime”, Studio Ghibli.

Ponyo is perhaps one of the best Studio Ghibli title in recent years. Why would I make such a bold statement? It’s because the anime wizard Miyazaki Hayao has gone back to the basics, focusing his attention mostly on the two vital aspects of any anime title: the characters and the story. Unlike his two previous movies Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, Miyazaki takes a simpler approach to Ponyo in terms of two things. Firstly, he gives a lighter touch to the famous fairy tale The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, which results in a simple story that still touches the hearts of viewers. Secondly, he works his magic yet again in creating those familiar wholesome characters with down-to-earth individualities and endearing relationships.

Speaking of characters, one character outshines the rest and that is the titular character Ponyo herself. She possesses an aura of innocence and adorability so irresistible that anyone would just want to see her triumph in the end, no matter the odds. The scenes which are particularly endearing to watch are the subtle moments she spends with Sousuke, in both times of relief and hardship.

Another impressive feature of Ponyo is its different visual approach. Miyazaki takes a different approach towards the visuals by making it simpler than his previous movies, yet maintaining enough brilliance to leave the viewers in awe with its amazing animation. This is stunningly exemplified by the orchestra of vibrancy in the marine world, where Ponyo comes from; and the tranquility and simplicity of the human world, which is Sousuke’s fishing town. The contrast of the two worlds is visually achievable by Miyazaki’s mastery in blending simple artwork and fluid animation.

At first glance, Ponyo would not grab the viewer’s attention so much with its simplistic artwork. However, it is very rare to underestimate a movie produced by Studio Ghibli and it pays off for Ponyo’s case nonetheless. Personally speaking, I originally expected the movie to be a mere child’s story but it turns out to be one that completely washes the viewers away with its charm and utter beauty.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: AC

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