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Ghibli Veterans Bring Witchy Whimsy Back with New Anime

Ghibli Veterans Bring Witchy Whimsy Back with New Anime

First, Hayao Miyazaki clarified that, actually, he got a little ahead of himself with all that “retirement” talk after the Wind Rises. Now, here’s a new trailer, showing that even if Studio Ghibli itself doesn’t produce any films beyond the Red Turtle (or When Marnie was There, if you want to get technical), the Ghibli aesthetic surely isn’t going anywhere.

So, dry your eyes? Blow your nose in that hanky? There’s still some rosy-cheeked whimsy in the world.

Yoshiaki Nishimura is a Ghibli alum, having in fact produced Marnie and the Tale of Princess Kaguya. Fittingly, he also was behind the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a 2013 documentary that followed Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and other Ghibli founders as they worked on what they thought at the time would be their last features. The doc even ends with Miyazaki announcing his soon-to-be-short-lived retirement.

Seeing the writing on the wall, perhaps, Nishimura took it upon himself to keep carrying the studio’s world-famous style onward. He founded Ponoc early in 2015, and enlisted some other Ghibli veterans to work with him. The only animation they’ve produced which has aired, thus far, are some short TV spots for JR West, an Osaka railroad company. Here’s one.

The “next Miyazaki” is a title being thrown at directors as diverse as Makoto Shinkai (Your Name), Mamoru Hosoda (the Boy & the Beast), and almost anybody making anime that can appeal beyond the otaku niche. Ponoc’s output, however, directly continues Ghibli’s approach to art. The clip above was directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, who’s worked on many Ghibli features since Grave of the Fireflies, and also put out several short “Ghiblies” for the old studio.

Another alum, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is directing Ponoc’s first feature film. He also worked in the art department of hits like Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. Even more fittingly, he directed Marnie. Now, Yonebayashi is drawing inspiration from classic British lit once again, transforming Lady Mary Stewart’s the Little Broomstick into Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Here’s the film’s teaser.

Between this and Little Witch Academia, witchy whimsy would seem to be back in full force in 2017. Heck, this could play in a double feature with Kiki’s Delivery Service quite smoothly. The mutating swordfish/hummingbirds in the hazmat suits look like they’d be right at home with all the morphing phantasmagoria in Howl’s, too. Still, this isn’t even 30 seconds out of what’s sure to be a sprawling epic just bursting with eye-popping imagery in every scene. Obviously, we’re still at a very early stage in Ponoc’s promotion for the film. The Japanese release date is set for the all-too-broad window of “Summer 2017,” while the American release has been left at the maddeningly-vague promise of “2017.”

The official details about the film’s story may be scarce at the moment, but a little sleuthing online brings us the synopsis on the back jacket of Stewart’s novel. Seems the fiery-haired Mary’s misadventures start when a black cat named Tib leads her into the woods to find the titular witch’s flower. From there, she gets the “little broomstick” which the book’s title refers to–and it proves to have a mind of its own. The stick whisks Mary to the campus of Endor College, which sure enough is a school for young witches.

witch-2

We might joke about whether Endor ever plays inter-collegiate Qudditch matches against Hogwarts and the Luna Nova Magical Academy, but it seems this plot will go into some creepier territory once Mary discovers the goings-on at the school. As in, experiments to mutate cute little animals. As in, we’re already hearing that poor chimera croak “Ed… ward?” in our fragile little minds.

Showing its cosmopolitan influences even further, Ponoc gets it name for the Croatian word for “midnight,” and that’d seemed to spell out that the studio isn’t afraid of getting dark. It’ll be a while before any of us can watch Mary and the Witch’s Flower (though, we’ll be seeing it before Miyazaki’s next eventual film, surely). If the Studio’s truly keeping the Ghibli tradition alive, though, expect Mary to temper the awesome with the fearsome.

Does Ponoc seem like a worthy successor to Ghibl? What are the essential components of Miyazaki’s house style? Share your thoughts in the talkback.

Featured Image Credit: Studio Ponoc

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