Children Who Chase Lost Voices (FYI, ‘child who chases‘ would be more accurate) is the best non-Ghibli Ghibli production since Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.
Aside from the ridiculously Ghibli-like rounded character designs, CWCLV also features a young girl who travels to a mysterious land; a mysterious boy from said land who acts as a love interest; large, slow moving, and silent god-monsters; a magical blue crystal; old books; and fashions right out of Nausicaa. Yes, it’s hard to miss the… let’s assume the best and call them ‘homages.’
The fact that it apes Ghibli so closely is a pro and a con. The con, of course, is that it ends up lacking originality. As colorful and interesting a world director Makoto Shinkai works to create, it all just seems too familiar. The pro is that Ghibli films are really good. There’s a wondrous sense of awe and whimsy to them which is carried over perfectly in this one. It’s a lush and beautiful view that you never tire of seeing.
The mysterious world that the little girl Asuna travels to is not simply a magical land; but the underworld of legend (though it doesn’t end up looking much like Hades), the place where the dead reside. She’s chasing after a boy with whom she had a brief encounter, and is accompanied by her substitute teacher, a man who seeks to retrieve his dead wife. Ghibli movies don’t shy away from heady issues like that (not usually, anyway); so it’s perhaps the film’s most respectful homage that it uses the format to tackle big ideas.
Further, it does so in a novel way. The vision of the afterlife and the gods presented in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. Despite involving gods and spirits, it’s amazingly un-spiritual. The gods are simply wise old creatures who made it their business to help out early humans (though in retrospect, that was probably a bad idea); it’s a thoroughly un-magical magical land, where the mystery comes not from the supernatural, but from the ancient.
As an aside, if you look at gods throughout history; the oldest are animals, then the forces of nature, and finally humanoid creatures. Humans make gods out to the things that scare them most. As humans became more powerful; we started to fear other humans before anything else, and thus we have the human-imaged gods of today. The gods in CWCLV are (or, at least, were) purely benevolent beings. They didn’t judge or punish, they just guided us and left us to our own devices when we were able to take care of ourselves.
Another thing that this film took from Ghibli was the quality of the animation. Obviously, it doesn’t share the budget of its inspirations; but there’s a fluidity of movement in Children that is very impressive. This isn’t the movie version of a TV series targeted at otaku; this is the work of someone that cares very deeply about the product they create; and it shows.
In a time when Ghibli seems to have lost a bit of its old magic, Children Who Chase Lost Voices has not only found it, but run with it. It may not be new; but when something is this nice, you don’t mind seeing it again.