- Alt. Name
- The Wonderland
- Release Date
- April, 2019
- 1 hr. 55 min.
Birthday Wonderland is a 2019 Coming-of-Age Adventure Fantasy Japanese anime film from one of the lesser-known animation studios, Signal.MD. A relatively new animation studio that has yet to create anything memorable that does not equal everything this studio will make won’t be a loss. There is a fine line between being unique and entertaining and being a cookie-cutter film when it comes to coming of age films. However, everything that any studio produces, no matter if it’s anime from Japan or cartoons from America, is always available for critics and fans. Though can a studio that has yet to make a name for itself captivate its viewers and at the same time show that they are worth their potential fanbase?
The day before her birthday, Akane is asked to retrieve her birthday present from her aunt Chii’s shop. While looking around, she chances upon a mysterious slab with a hand-shape cavity in it. Curiosity killed the cat, she places her hand in it, and somehow it fits perfectly! The next thing she knows, a strange alchemist named Hippocrates and his apprentice Pipo appear, calling Akane the legendary “Goddess of the Green Wind.”
The two eccentrics claim to be from a different world that’s connected to the shop’s basement. With the peace of their world in jeopardy, Hippocrates and Pipo seek the help of the only one capable of saving it from destruction: Akane. For most teenagers, going on a magical adventure would be a thrill of a lifetime, but for some reason, Alone is reluctant to go. Later she decides to accompany them on their journey to restore the land’s harmony; Akane – with her aunt right behind her – sets off to discover this magical new place.
When it comes to Birthday Wonderland’s story, they have fewer positives than one would hope. For example, the adventure and fantasy are very well done – more so on the adventure side, but still very good. The way this film builds its world is creative and imaginative. However, the fantasy aspect of this film is instead a little less than stellar. The fantasy is still well done, but when these two genres come together, that’s where the magic happens.
Another aspect of this film was that it had a better pace than what one may expect. It wasn’t too fast nor too slow. Having a coming-of-age film within the adventure and fantasy genres where being too slow or too fast can quickly derail the enjoyment as promptly as exiting out of the movie screen. For a studio that hasn’t created many productions, this story showcases a good few of their positives regarding storytelling. Outside of these two aspects, there weren’t many positives, which is rather unfortunate.
Unfortunately, this film had quite a few negatives when it comes to the story, and after each viewing, it continues to grow. The biggest problem within this story is that there isn’t anything new for a new anime film for viewers. The viewers will see many similarities with other series and movies that use the same gimmicks, for example, Doctor Who, Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, Harry Potter, and even Lord of the Rings in some areas. While some may find this as storytelling through other creations, overall, it’s just cheap and unoriginal.
Another negative aspect of this story is that it starts right off the bat, which sometimes is not a terrible thing if done correctly. This film, however, is not one of those times. The unfortunate part of this is that the viewer will more than likely forget that the film is called “Birthday Wonderland” since the only aspect that gives the viewer this detail is what seemed to be an off-the-cuff line of it being the main characters birthday the next day.
Outside of that, the most significant negatives within this story. That a lot of its problems could easily have been avoidable had to do with the pacing. It more or less starts full force by pretty much jumping into the story without any setup. Some films can do this without a hitch; this film, however, is not one of those. For whatever reason, it just needed potentially thirty minutes of set up to the story for it to have a better transition. Though once the film did get its footwork, the pacing was significantly better, but leading up to that, it did stumble quite a few times than necessary.
The art style of this film was rather delightful; the art was very colorful and pleasing to the viewer’s eye, which is what anyone wants when watching any fantasy piece. The background artist Junki Taniguchi was giving their all within this film, which was terrific. The color schemes within this film were also very colorful during the right moments but properly shifted to darker tones for the villains when needed. While most of the characters are generic looking, with one or two that potentially stand out to viewers, the real winner of the character designs was the villain. His Horned King from Disney’s Black Cauldron design mixed with an elk skull not only worked extremely well with the film but showed that taking inspiration can be done correctly within this film.
Now the animation production of this film was better than what was expected, but not overly perfect. While the biggest positive inside the art style was the character designs within the villains, this film’s most prominent negative aspect was within the sound. For instance, the music within this film is very minimal, which isn’t always a negative, but when a movie is trying to get a crucial dramatic moment adding music instead of having nothing is always better. Another example of this is the voice actress for the main character; her performance was outstanding. However, if someone watches this film without reading the synopsis, they’d more likely think Akane was in high school instead of being a younger girl. She sounds too mature for her character.
When it comes to characters within a fantasy adventure anime, one would think that the characters are supposed to be interesting, which would be a fair demand for viewers. However, Birthday Wonderland had a mixed bag of righteousness, which is somewhat disappointing. Akane is a sixth-grader whose better described as a typical young girl. She is slightly shy about new experiences, caring, and doing the right thing whenever she sees something wrong. Nevertheless, she does fall into peer pressure at times. Some viewers may find her a little annoying, but personally, that’s what makes her character so realistic; little kids can be and are annoying.
Chii is Akane’s aunt who owns a store with weird and mysterious things of mainly useless junk from all over the world. She is best described as the role model we all needed at that age, protective when need but adventurous. She joins the adventure mainly due to her “wishing I had this opportunity when I was your age,” even though she wasn’t invited.
Hippocrates is the alchemist who was inspired by the combination of Doctor Who and Merlin. His assistant or apprentice is Pipo, a tiny Sprite-looking entity whose very friendly and agile. Very few things about these two characters are known, but frankly, that’s all the characters since there’s no backstory. The better character within this film was Zan Gu, the villain who wants to destroy the well for reasons never explained. He’s wise and somewhat kind but very feared within this land for reasons also never explained. Having so many characters with no explanations or backstories takes any emotional impact the creators were going for. Failing that significant aspect ruins a vast majority of the story since the viewers won’t care for any of the characters because there’s no reason.
When it comes to the entertainment of this film, it’s somewhat hard to describe depending on who the viewers are that are watching. This film will easily entertain young children and perhaps families, but it’s an easy pass outside of that. Please don’t get confused with the bright, colorful backgrounds and that some of Studio Ghibli’s former staff worked on this film, it’s not one made for mass audiences. With this lackluster story and terrible character development with a “surprise” ending that can be seen from the beginning of the film, the creators didn’t use their overall best resources.
Once again, for a children’s film, this is a decent film for younger kids, but it’ll more than likely be pointless after the age of twelve. So many other movies and even series tried to do better and have ended up doing better with much less than what Birthday Wonderland ended up with that were more entertaining. So don’t expect anything from this film other than to waste time; there are potentially fun moments within this film, but they’re probably when the movie ends, and the potential nightmare is over.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.