Penguin Highway (2019)
Coming from first-time feature-length director Hiroyasu Ishida I really had no expectations from Penguin Highway. It was simply another anime moving coming out in one of those extremely limited releases that would probably come and go without a whisper if you were not searching for people talking about it, yet this really impressed me. This almost feels Ghibli-ish in its childhood magic and engaging plot which is something I rarely can say.
The first thing that took me back when watching this movie was the visuals, they are truly stunning and are of such high quality! Coming from the smaller studio Studio Colorido I would not expect so many breathtaking visuals, yet they deliver big time. They create a beautiful world that is breathtaking in everyday beauty, they don't have to try to hard to create crazy visuals using crazy colors or anything of that sort, the beauty in this movie often comes from nature which we know can be a spectacle in itself from popular shows like Planet Earth. A forest still wet from morning showers, sunshine rising over a city after a long night, penguins shooting through water, these are all scenes from this movie that might sound unremarkable on paper yet when you watch this movie it honestly takes your breath away. This movie has that "it" factor when it comes to its animation, you can't put your finger on it (maybe its the well thought out cinematography, amazing control over light, the general high quality of the animation, etc...) but there is something here that connects with you and stands out as a visual spectacle.
I also love the characters in this movie, we spend a lot of time with young children and I love how they play into that. They don't try to change what they are, most of them are basic kids who are at the helm of their confusing emotions and to a point they are all pretty much assholes, but in an innocent kid way. I love the impact they are able to give small kid things such as promises and crushes, sure on paper, they mean very little but once you spend time with these characters you can feel the weight that they put onto these things, therefore giving them weight to you. This movie does such an amazing job at catching that unique childhood wonder in a way that feels so authentic and real, I feel like for most of the audience as it did myself it is going to connect with you in that way and you will be brought back to the mindset of when you were that age.
The plot is also really interesting! As these kids try to figure out where these mysterious penguins come from the mystery gets bigger and bigger. This is a mystery that engages you, you don't get the answers and constantly are creating your own hypothesis and theories regarding what the hell is going on and I loved that. It never got caught up in basic childhood melodrama and always had this deep backbone. I will say though that I could see people feeling a bit underwhelmed by the ending. Where it does answer most of the main questions there are still some that remain and if you got really invested in those questions the feeling of being unsatisfied is justifiable. There are also times where it can feel like the mystery is getting a little too big for its own good, whereby the end I do think it all comes together nicely I could see someone getting lost along the way as the story grows and grows.
Luckily overall I think this movie really worked. I lost myself in its clever and smart plot and had tons of fun with its characters. As I mentioned the visuals are breathtaking and I hope this does get the attention it deserves. This is a fantastic anime movie and if it is coming near you please go see it! I cannot wait to see what Hiroyasu Ishida does next, in this era of people looking for the next Miyazaki I truly think he could be a dark horse to be the next big thing.