After a major splash on the festival circuit with his bizarre existential fantasy Children of the Sea, renowned Anime superstar Ayumu Watanabe returns to Studio 4°C with another round of coming-of-age hijinks with Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko. Instead of gargantuan set-pieces and a soaring Joe Hisaishi score, his latest relies purely on the domestic; a small-town drama set with various lively visuals and a kinetic lead-perspective. In general, Watanabe’s love letter to motherhood seemed sound on paper — with the exception of one major issue.
This issue being the film’s constant reliance on fat-phobia and the questionable portrayal of its titular character; a film that reiterates the same crude punchline and gag for redundant effect. Lady Nikuko is portrayed as a bumbling fool; constantly gobbling food and clumsily causing multiple waves of second-hand embarrassment for the surrounding supporting cast. It’s the same perpetrated outdated stereotype, only this time around somewhat less damaging with its earnest characterisation regarding Nikuko’s unfortunate past. Yet even with its occasional moments of depth being shared with her toxic past-relationships and monetary downfalls, Watanabe supposedly “comedic” portrayal of Nikuko and her subsequent hijinks merely reiterate the same aforementioned distasteful tropes.
Even on a structural level, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko often fails to compel, due to its impressive commitment in portraying the free-spirited adolescent perspective of its own tween-protagonist. A homicidal penguin, a boy with a strange talent at morphing bizarre facial expressions, and a jealous basketball team on the verge of separation are but a few derivative subplots that continuously drag the film’s pace and focus. Ultimately, the big sell of Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is the film’s titular character; who once again is butchered by the clutch of uncomfortable profiling. Where there could have been a body-positive message at the core of Watanabe’s latest, his screenplay unfortunately resembles the same amount of consideration and professionalism of a Fat Albert reboot.
There’s no denying that every single Wantabe production looks visually stunning. By creating an endearing portrait of the mundane with its beautifully-drawn 2D animation, the adjacent visual homages to other anime-features such as My Neighbor Totoro also demonstrate the animation team’s clear level of appreciation, dedication, and respect towards their craft. Yet that’s no excuse for sloppy screenwriting; especially a manuscript that could prove harmful and reductive in the face of its well-intentioned narrative. What is left of Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a lamentable aftertaste, a film that should have and could have easily overcome its own temptations & leniency towards the problematic.