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A Tale of Unlikely Friendship – The Secret World of Arrietty Anime Review

In my eyes, The Secret World of Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ) is one of the most under-hyped Studio Ghibli films. Notice how I didn’t say underrated, as it has attracted its fair share of critical acclaim and awards. But with movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke perpetually in the spotlight, Arrietty sits modestly within the shadows; making it somewhat overlooked by anime enthusiasts. The debut film of Hiromasa Yonebayashi may not boast the same intense theatricality and startling fantasy elements of its more famous counterparts but it still nevertheless conveys a wondrously quaint charm.

The plot is based on the book The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and revolves around the existence of tiny people who survive by "borrowing" (Do you see these squinted eyes of mine? I don't think it's called borrowing if you don't return the stuff, guys) from humans. Of course, they take care to only "borrow" things that the humans won't notice are gone, like a sheet of tissue paper and sugar lumps. 

The main characters are Arrietty, one of the tiny people who lives under a house with her parents, and Sho (or Shawn), a sickly young boy who temporarily moves into the home to rest before his heart operation. I ain't no pedo but Sho is very attractive, just saying.

See what I mean?

Their relationship starts off rocky because of Arrietty's apprehension towards humans (a mindset ingrained by her parents, and for good reason too as you'll witness during the course of the movie) but eventually develops into that of understanding and acceptance. 

Arrietty is not a complicated film. Simply put, it is a frills-free story of friendship (bordering on pseudo-romance if you try hard enough) that may be described as lighthearted due to its clarity, though I personally feel it's more sad than happy.

If this were a regular happy-go-lucky story, Arrietty would be able to continue living under the house in peace with the other humans, and she and Sho would be friends forever. That doesn't happen. Arrietty realises that not all humans are bad, but that doesn't mean that they are all good either. And there's nothing she can do about it. In the end, she has to move to another place with her family. She also learns that you can't always be with the people you love, and that sometimes they can only live in your memories. 

During one scene, Sho (quite coldly) tells Arrietty that the little people will eventually die out, because there are so few of them. Arrietty gets angry and refuses to accept it, saying that they will do anything to survive. That she knows there are others like her out there. There is a light in her conviction, but it's sad at the same time. 

On a lighter note, the overall message conveyed is an inspirational one. Life is full of uncertainties and dangers, but there will always be hope and kindness to help you face it. It's not exactly a radical statement, but the movie's exquisite storytelling imbues it with a new edge of soul and bittersweetness.

To sum it up...

Plot: 7/10 – Nothing unique but still pleasant. If you've watched the film already, you can check out this theme analysis by Modigliani. It discusses the movie's ideologies of family and love in greater detail.

Animation and art: 9.5/10 – Beautiful and detailed visuals as expected of Studio Ghibli. I really enjoyed the clips of the dollhouse interior and Arrietty's house. 

Music: 10/10 – The soundtrack is composed by Cécile Corbel, a French musician, and truly brings the animation to life. Its dramatic and uplifting.

Characters: 7/10 – Apart from Sho, Arrietty, the cat and perhaps Spiller (a tiny person who helps out Arrietty), the characters are painfully one-dimensional. The main characters themselves are nothing to write home about either, but at least they are still likeable, if not forgettable. 

Personal enjoyment: 9/10 

Overall rating: 8.5/10 – Practically flawless music and animation makes this a treat for the eyes and ears. Definitely recommended for those who are looking for a fantasy film that's not too heavy with its slice-of-life approach.

Written by Faelan

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