Napping Princess film review: dreams and reality merge in Kenji Kamiyama’s anime

A teenage girl must save her dreamscape and the real world in Napping Princess

The filmography of writer-director Kenji Kamiyama is rife with updates of beloved anime or manga properties, most notably a TV expansion of Ghost In The Shell. What characterises most of his visions is a penchant for political commentary, which is a tad less prominent in his latest project, Napping Princess, a more straightforward fantasy adventure with some sci-fi dressing.

Well, straightforward might be a stretch, for though the core of the film is a sweet father-daughter relationship, the convolutions of the surrounding fantasy story can cumulatively feel a little exhausting by the time of the finale. That said, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this hectic tale.

It opens in a futuristic city-state, Heartland, vaguely reminiscent in design of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis manga. By order of a king who sees cars as the key to happiness, everyone there works on a rigorous automobile assembly line. In this world is a spell-casting princess, Ancien, with a magic tablet that’s key to protecting Heartland from a monstrous threat.

After a near ten-minute exposition dump, it turns out what we’ve seen is all a dream; a recurring one for teen Kokone – a smart, borderline narcoleptic girl living in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her mother died when she was young and she’s never met her grandfather from that side, as per her mechanic father’s wishes.

Her dad has always seemed to be hiding something. When he’s suddenly arrested, real world events start to parallel those of Kokone’s dreams, suggesting the two realities are intertwined. As such, Kokone and allies must outplay mysterious antagonists in both worlds to uncover a family secret and save the day in both Heartland and Japan.

Bolstered by an appealingly plucky protagonist at its centre, Napping Princess ticks most of the boxes for a crowd-pleasing anime adventure. Amusingly, though, perhaps its most fantastical element is actually the idea of an inherited tablet with a broken screen still working over a decade on.