This Week: Magical Sisters Yoyo & Nene (Majokko Shimai no Yoyo to Nene).
It is quite alright if one believes magic can solve anything, at least for a short little while.
Most of what I write about on this site comes down to passing bets of whimsy.
Like most folks, I have a media backlog. The way I deal with it is to not think too hard about it. It keeps the hunt loose and casual for me, even if I may end up at times writing more on the formal side. It is how I end up with flights for writing fancy for half hour music videos about a young city woman who turns into a jungle cat. Folks who animate on walls, or books, or rig up their paintings. Even pieces of productions which were scrapped before a full release interspersed with other topics. Sometimes I eat a few spells to the face, other times they get to cast themselves on me.
I have been involved in organized projects like the most recent Anime Secret Santa exchange. But on the whole I am not impervious to more chance recommendations either.
Direct. Succinct. This, despite occupying similar internet spaces, had never happened before out of the clear blue sky. A carrier pigeon hauling wings.
Sometimes, things just pop up.
Which, in this kind of story, is more than a little appropriate.
Yoyo & Nene is a 2013 adaptation by Ufotable related to Hirarin’s on-again, off-again manga Noroiya Shimai. Comic Ryu even put together a web-based promotional video for the manga, to coincide with the film and mutually promote.
Directing comes curtsey of Takayuki Hirao, they of Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack fame and repute in such capacity. Though he has worn numerous anime production hats over the years.
The lifestyles of these two siblings revolves around being what amounts to a magical private investigation and troubleshooting duo. Nene, they of the tall, quieter, and bookish school of character type. Yoyo, meanwhile, slotting into the more hotheaded and rambunctious space as befits her name. She is also, while being the far more kid sized of the two, quite clear in stating that she is the older sister. Her general mentality, however, would make her the clear go-get-em choice for many children who may watch this film.
Which brings us to the particular case focused on in this movie. Odd building elements have appeared in the colorful and pastoral Magical Kingdom. Not dissimilar to what we would identify as modern apartment blocks. One thing leads to another, and a magical sister ends up stumbling into a portal with a direct line to our own world.
This, of course, is strange and curious to all characters on either side in its own right.
But it also is a thing that should not be, with the questions and races against time that would imply.
While the original manga is hard to pin down on an international scale, the basic formula should seem quite familiar.
Comfortable, even, in ways. This is very much suited to angling for the children and family viewing pool, and it has all the visual toys Ufotable can give it. Yoyo operates as the engine driving the core of the experience. Capable in the form of a little child in Magical Kingdom. Her physically growing up early on to more preteen levels (as shown on the theatrical poster) on our plane of existence. One can easily make her out as an idyllic figure for those around that bracket as she cast spells to brag, impress, or help.
Yoyo functions as the equivalent of a little kid telling everyone just how awesome and old she is. Then, that same individual getting seen as such, able to show off, and found amazing by others.
Nobody on Earth has much frame of reference for what she is capable of. For all that good and ill that can and does entail. It is understandable that all this is ego feeding, as she demonstrates wonderful acts. Song numbers that can sprout sudden forests. Instant costume changes. Classic witch flight. And many more. So also though is it intrinsic to her own self image. Her inability at times to even outright comprehend what we see as basic human fears and concerns, the perspectives others may have in the world she is in but finds unfamiliar.
It would be a tall ask for a single energetic fireball with good intentions and lessons to learn to champion an entire film alone.
This is where I feel Yoyo & Nene begins to trip itself up over its own shoelaces.
Despite the title, Nene’s presence is rather fleeting. Let alone acting as anywhere near an equivocal partner. Her main features consist of cutaway bits of world-building, and a long distance magical conference call or three. Now, one can make the argument this film wants to be akin to a “Yoyo’s Big Movie.” As if the sister team had an established morning television show as a duo. This theatrical push could in turn be seen as wanting to focus on Yoyo for demographics. Meanwhile, taking her to a big headline event location: our era of reality. In a broadcast series, I imagine investigations would have been in Magical Kingdom locales, after all. It is the precise kind of slot this variety of movie framed in its exact ways keys off for success.
I can see it all so clearly. Where this goes, how this flows.
…But, a magical girl who refuses to believe in the word impossible or not, there is no such property by any studio.
There is of course the manga as source material backup. But it does not seem entrenched on a level expected to have or assume such a level of similar reach or familiarity.
The film has Yoyo operating separate from what one can surmise is her traditional support network. In that approach I can see the veins of more elevated narrative. And it has a good one, deep down, with well meaning intentions if even broad. But without much previous franchise work it can wave to as a means to shore up how one would perceive its characters, even on a general Lupin III type episodic level, it would need to dedicate some time to them in the now. Yet it also gives little room to characters like sister Nene, the frog cursed Nils, the village chief living tree Kirōchō, and others. All receive rather minimal presence within the running time of this film.
I feel there are character components and moments which do not end up firing quite like they should. The Magical Kingdom and its residents seem more distant out of us barely getting to really know them here, rather than the immense barrier of a vast dimensional separation.
While on the surface it seems like such a superficial thing to say, a “Yoyo’s Big Movie” type film tends to work best when supporting characters are either familiar to the viewer as part of a franchise, or can become as such. And to some, who may have tracked down the manga, that may well have been a case they were have to have fold out before them. I can not speak for them, but only of my own experience.
To be fair, one will by no means be lost by the narrative itself trying to watch the film without such connections. Yoyo’s arc is wide, telegraphed with the ups and downs one could expect given her personal separation situation. The increasing instability in Magical Kingdom. The turns and twists that come. Which is, again, a good thing for purposes of what would bank revenue as a film for families with small children. Or just the young at heart.
There is, and I can never stress it enough, a place for films with comfortable narratives. Entertainment is not a competition for what will or will not break me.
Asking the world of a single magical girl off on her own. It is a big series of requests she is faced with. Yet also in some ways that is a lot easier than trying to have her pick up a bundle of character slack for the length of an entire hour and forty minutes long movie. Unlike a case like, say, a Redline, I feel Yoyo & Nene could have gotten a boost from a bit more character over inertia.
The movie is good when it comes to doing, insofar that it is always moving.
But it at times felt like Yoyo was rushing more akin to those one person show routines, where the next best character for audience attention is still yourself.
Yoyo & Nene puts a swell, and in some ways even dazzling, first foot forward.
Yoyo is striking. Yoyo is theatrical. Yoyo is daring.
It is what she wants to hear. It is how she interacts with the world for most of the film . And as she will have you know, there are picture books with her face in it.
But Yoyo is also not able to work as a one girl show. Yoyo can not do everything and anything by herself. Nobody would, or even could, in her situation and its eventual conclusions.
And I can not shake the feeling the movie could have learned from remembering its own lessons. To dial up the fantasy side characters, the Magical Kingdom, her sister. Not enough to dominate or take over, of course. But to better know what Yoyo had. What she could miss. How drastic Yoyo’s physical changes are. The world at stake other than our own.
Any and all of that, I feel, could have been to a great benefit towards helping her make a grand debut on the global stage.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.