Becoming an addition to the Studio Ghibli catalogue allows you the privilege of millions of fans before your film has even hit the cinemas. Of course, it also means that your film will be rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest anime that has ever been produced, and with that an air of expectation is always present. When Marnie was There is the second feature from Hiromasa Yonebayashi (his first being The Secret World of Arrietty) and this one stands at a similar level to that. Plenty to enjoy, but not a classic just yet.
Although fairly standard for a Ghibli feature, one thing I struggled with in When Marnie was There was its protagonist. Young Anna is somewhat of a social outcast who’s anxiety causes her frequent asthma attacks. After being sent by her foster mother to the countryside in hopes of brightening her spirits, she continues to suffer until she meets Marnie, a ghostly-girl who appears to live in the abandoned house across the lake.
Although her early life experiences and social difficulties are sympathetic, for most of the film she is difficult to warm to. Unlike other Ghibli characters such as Chihiro in Spirited Away, she doesn’t really develop as a character over the space of the film and it was difficult to really feel for her. Her infatuation with Marnie also seems odd at first, as Marnie appears to be the bubbly extrovert type that she is so hostile towards, as seen in one scene where she calls a seemingly nice girl a ‘fat pig’ out of nowhere. Take that one outburst away and you get almost nothing from Anna.
Now, for most of the film I felt unattached to Anna. However, the final act in which the narrative (and twist) ties the film up nicely adds a whole other level to the film, so much so that I actually felt a burst of warmth and life that really hit me emotionally. Currently my problems with the film stands, but I feel that the final 10 minutes provide a deeper level to the characters, and that a second viewing may change my opinion greatly. When Marnie was There is a welcome addition to this great anime collection, but time will tell whether it becomes a favourite of mine.