Review: Munto

(Editor’s note: Do you know how hard it is to find a good usable image specifically from this 2003 film? It’s harder than I thought it’d be. So sorry if this one isn’t of the best quality.)

I’ve been a big fan of Kyoto Animation for years now. From my reviews of Nichijou, Chunibyo, and Dragon Maid, you’ve probably heard enough of me giving them praise. But one particular work stuck out to me.

Munto was a 2003 short film created and produced entirely within the doors of Kyoto Animation. This came years before they started publishing their own novels and anime, and even unlike those, this is a completely original film. Some say this was done to showcase the talents of the company (although a quick Google search couldn’t confirm this). Among all of the works KyoAni animated, even their lesser-known ones, this original anime is practically never discussed or mentioned.

It felt elusive, and so I was intent on seeking it out one day. … And ironically enough, my local library had a copy of the DVD release. I guess that wasn’t too hard to find after all!

An Introduction

Floating high above the clouds in the sky, are the magical islands of the Heavens.

There, human-like beings live, blessed with a magical power given to them by the gods: the power of Akuto. Akuto flows everywhere around us, and can be harnessed by these beings to bend and twist the fabric of reality. It’s a magic as powerful and fantastic as you can imagine… but, as the beings soon found it, it has its limits.

Akuto isn’t renewable, and every time they perform magic, a bit of Akuto is used up. Worried about the rapid, inexplicable depletion of their magical source, war broke out, and has continued for thousands of years. (Because, of course, using up more of your Akuto energy to fight this magical war is really going to make it last longer…) One faction of the magical lands decided the solution was destroy one of the magical kingdoms off the map so the remaining people can preserve the Akuto energy – the kingdom they chose was that of Lord Munto.

Munto, as you’d expect, isn’t going to just stand and take this, but he has a solution. Through divine sight, he found the solution to all their problems: a young Japanese schoolgirl, living on the Earth below, named Yumemi. Yumemi is the only Earth human who’s had the ability to even see the magical floating islands above, but little does she know of the power she truly holds.

And so Munto jumps from his island, down into the clouds and the land below, to a place where magical beings have never returned from…

The Plot and Characters

A lot of the introduction above discussed the issues of the magical world above, but Yumemi has an issue of her own:

One of her best friends – Suzume, the most childish one of the three – announced that she would be getting married to her delinquent boyfriend, Kazuya. And the marriage would be tomorrow.

As Yumemi and her other best friend, Ichiko, travel around the city to hunt down and confront Kazuya… and as the two of them simply process through this situation in general… this is where Munto appears. He appears suddenly, demands Yumemi hands him her powers, and gets upset when she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Frankly, I think anyone in her situation would be lost and confused, and even more so when Munto suddenly disappears moments later and Ichiko is left there wondering who the hell Yumemi was talking to.

Beyond this, there is absolutely no connection to the two worlds. On the one hand, there’s the magical Heavens in the middle of a war, and there’s the Earth, where Yumemi and Ichiko are dealing with what’s happening with Suzume.

Excepting for Munto coming down to harass Yumemi into submission, there is absolutely no other connection between the two worlds. Munto and Yumemi are the only characters from the two sides to interact, and literally no one else even sees Munto; on the magical side, only two other characters know of Yumemi’s existence, and that’s primarily only because they sit and commentate through everything the entire time. This strange dichotomy between the war of the Heavens and the domestic issues of Yumemi’s friends comes at odds sometimes; there’s one scene in particular where Yumemi and Ichiko are running around on-screen while a narrator exposition-dumps something about the magical world. It’s two distinct entities that just aren’t blended well together, primarily because they just have no connection to one another at all.

All in all, this film’s writing just seems to lack polish. The two sides lack any connection, Yumemi is (for no apparent reason) just “the chosen one”, Munto yells his demands at Yumemi rather than helping the poor girl understand what’s even going on (even though he realizes she doesn’t understand), the only character who has any depth whatsoever is Kazuya, and beyond his sudden appearances, all we see of Munto is him laying around on a rock. Finally, in the end, Yumemi just decides to help out Munto anyway, despite him giving her barely any explanation and she still believing him to be a hallucination.

Ultimately, I know that this is just a 50-minute film, and there’s only so much you can do in that time. But if they took this from a different angle – played around with this idea while sticking to the concept of “Munto must travel to Earth to have Yumemi save his world” – we could’ve gotten something interesting. Instead, we ended up with this mish-mash of two very different settings and two very different problems, with an insensitive (and mostly absent) titular character.

That’s not all to say I despise this film though. There’s enjoyment to be had here.

Although the two aren’t blended together at all, you get caught up in the drama surrounding Kazuya and Suzume on one hand and the plight of the magical people on the other. It may’ve been because Kazuya was the only character with development, but you begin to root for him and Suzume during the marriage scene. They may’ve relied upon the “chosen one” trope, but you do get some cool moments where Yumemi contemplates her role in life and the idea of responsibility.

On top of that, the film’s pacing is good, for as much as they have to squish into 50 minutes. Excepting for a surprisingly fast beginning, things move at a pretty good pace; fast enough to get everything in there and keep people from being bored, but slow enough to allow people to digest what’s going on and to allow scenes to have the impact they deserve.

In the end, I wouldn’t consider this a film to avoid. But I’d also consider it one not worth your time to go out and see… unless you really want to see everything Kyoto Animation has ever done.

The Atmosphere

This film is indeed animated, and fully created, by Kyoto Animation.

For a 2003 work, the animation is pretty decent. For a studio that is commonly associated with high quality visuals, however, KyoAni’s work with Munto here seems more standard-fare for 2003 than above-average. There’s not much of an attention to detail here, the backgrounds look relatively plain (although it is all bright and colorful), and characters – especially background ones – just aren’t very animated. There are, of course, exceptions to each point I listed. There’s a magical being named Gus who is at the front lines of these magical wars, and there’s been a lot of detail applied to him – especially his weird arm markings – and he oozes character in his poses and movement. The next character that comes close, animation-wise, is Suzume. As well, the backgrounds used in the magical kingdom are also pretty detailed, as well as some background work down on Earth during in the climax of the film.

The rare times visual effects are used, they’re top notch for 2003. This includes Gus’s arm markings, floating screens used in the magical world, as well as some effects in the action scenes and the climax. The 3D models used at some points do stand out quite a bit (especially the moment Yumemi’s mom parked her car during the marriage scene), but they’re used sparingly enough to not really cause a problem.

The film’s few action scenes are handled not too well, although this was a weak point for KyoAni in this time period (in my humble opinion). The first fight scene features Gus against an entire army, and a lot of white-light visual effects were used rather than animating much fighting. There’s a fight that occurs between Munto and an assassin robot, but that’s done almost-entirely off-screen.

All in all, the animation and visuals certainly aren’t bad, but they’re average. And for KyoAni, especially given their reputation today, that’s saying something.

There’s not really much music used throughout this film either, honestly. I could count with my ten fingers the number of times a song is used during a scene, including the song used for the ending credits. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re definitely forgettable. The ending theme (which is also featured in the DVD menu and all of the DVD’s special features, and also the included trailers for the anime) utilizes what sounds like generic MIDI instruments (and it also gets a bit grating when used literally everywhere in the DVD).

Speaking of the DVD, this is a Central Park Media DVD. And you know what that means: an okay-to-bad CPM dub. And this dub… is pretty meh. Veronica Taylor does decently well as Yumemi, Dan Green and Micheal Sinterniklaas play Gus and Kazuya pretty well, respectively… but Kelly Ray’s interpretation of Ichiko was weird-sounding at points, and Sean Schemmel’s voice just didn’t really match up with Munto at all. Overall, I’d suggest watching the Japanese voices if you seek out this show.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Munto is a film with two stories to tell, and not a good way to tell them together. In the end, we get this weird mish-mash of magical world battles and Earth-side romance quandries, with both only being bridged together with Munto, the titular character, jumping from one and trying to butt into the other. Polish and direction is what this short film lacks, and it isn’t made up by the visuals or sound work either.

If you’re interested in the complete history of Kyoto Animation and want to see every work by this company, that’d be the primary reason for watching this show, I feel. Beyond that, it’s a lesser-known, poorly executed, 50-minute, 2003 anime film that really doesn’t need your time. Don’t go out of your way to avoid it, but there’s better stuff out there.

Rating: Poor
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ Kazuya and his storyline, Gus and his storyline, great visual effects
— storylines don’t connect together at all, everything Munto, action scenes not great

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