My Beautiful Girl Mari

Alt title: Mari Iyagi

Movie (1 ep x 80 min)
3.136 out of 5 from 289 votes
Rank #13,335

My Beautiful Girl, Mari is a story of two childhood friends, Nam-woo and Jun-ho, who are growing up in a fishing village full of unwanted change. With the discovery of a glowing marble, Nam-woo sometimes finds himself in a lush, dreamlike world, inhabited by a beautiful girl named Mari. With more change inevitable, Nam-woo and Jun-ho struggle to cope with reality, even when tragedy strikes.

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StoryThere is a kind of universal appeal to the storyline, which is part slice-of-life and part sheer undiluted fantasy. The two seemingly contradictory elements combine into a heartwarming tale about mismatched romance, dreamy nostalgia, and poignant farewells. For those who have seen Only Yesterday, there are definite similarities between the two plots, and I’m almost certain that those who liked one will like the other. Like Only Yesterday, My Beautiful Girl Mari’s main fault in its narrative is the pacing, which seems to have been set to match the lazy summer afternoons that the film is set in. There is also a fair bit of subtlety here; oftentimes some of the most important points of a particular scene are the ones that go unsaid. I must confess that I didn’t really take to the film until about 20 minutes in, and those with similar attention spans (i.e. that of a hamster on cocaine), will also have trouble getting into the natural rhythm of the film. Still, I eventually warmed to the movie, and by the end liked the overarching story quite a bit.AnimationOne of the best parts about watching animation from countries that are not generally known for it is that the animation will almost always be different from anything that you have seen before. The U.S will always live under the ever-looming shadow of Disney and comic books, while Japan’s style has become almost stubbornly entrenched in the traditional anime/manga look. There is no such creative limitation, however, for countries like France (with their undeniably unique Triplets of Belleville, which sadly will probably never be reviewed by me) or Korea. My Beautiful Girl Mari reflects this completely, with a film that simultaneously sings with both creativity and technical excellence. The look is difficult to describe because there’s basically nothing to compare it to. The edges are more distinct than in traditional anime, but the colors are softer. The best analogy I can think of is that of an animated picture-book. Anyway, the animation works extremely well as a whole. Like the storyline, there is a blend of everyday countryside scenery with completely imaginary fantasy. Overall, the animation handles both parts well, and the transitions between the two worlds never feel forced or artificial. My one complaint is the use of CGI, which does seem a little jarring at times. It’s certainly not as ugly as some of the CGI in other anime, but I’d hesitate to say that it ever actually looks good. Fortunately, the use of it is fairly rare over the course of the movie.SoundThe soundtrack is fine - an interesting instrumental work comprised mainly of guitars and synthesizers. As a whole it works well at fitting the mood of the storyline, although like most movie soundtracks, it probably wouldn’t be very interesting to listen to alone. The voice acting is in Korean, which is a language I’ve heard about twice in my lifetime, and so I couldn’t really judge how good it was.CharactersYou won’t find any wacky personality traits or a buried traumatic past here, but that doesn’t mean the characters aren’t well done. Basically, they feel like normal kids, with realistic problems and personalities. At the end I liked both of the two main male characters. The other supporting characters aren’t really developed, and are mainly there to help develop the plot and support the two protagonists.OverallMy Beautiful Girl Mari is the kind of hidden gem you only find once in a long while – a film that has fallen into obscurity and lies buried among the dreck, just waiting to be mined. In this case, the reasons for this obscurity are almost criminal; had the film been made in Japan, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have received a lot more attention. Instead, the work comes from Korea, and as such is doomed to be ignored by the very people that could appreciate it the most. This is a shame really, as My Beautiful Girl Mari is a great film.


StoryRather than starting out this review telling details of the plot, I feel it would be more appropriate to discuss the type of anime this is. First of all, My Beautiful Girl Mari is Korean, not Japanese. This influences both the animation style and the music, though the story itself could have been something you’d see in a Japanese anime. The most important thing to understand about the story is that it’s a mix of two things: slow slice of life, and mystical fantasy-based wonder. Think of it like Totoro, but more moody and silent and less aimed at children. As far as plot particulars, we are shown the tale of Nam Woo and Jun Ho, two young boys who live in a seaside village somewhere in Korea. Magical-marble and mystical girl aside, the plot is mostly related to how Nam Woo is adapting to his life in the village. After the death of his father as a young boy, his mother is finally dating someone again. His best friend, Jun Ho, is soon leaving to go to Seoul for school, and in general he seems to feel like his life is stagnant. Everything changes when he finds a special marble in the local store, which occasionally transports him into a strange fantasy world inhabited by a pretty-yet-furry girl named Mari, a giant white dog, and strange plant life. Each of these halves of the story is interesting in its own way, but in both cases is quite slow as far as the pacing is concerned. The slice of life portions don’t have much going on except watching pretty birds fly through the sky and navigating through the broken lighthouse. Yes, we are privy to a decent amount of character development, but let’s face it; this was a movie made for the pretty graphics, not the story. The mystical fantasy world part was also pretty to look at, but didn’t provide much substance for the mind. We are never told why this world in the marble exists, who Mari is, or what the hell is going on in the first place. Combined, I felt like these two portions seemed thrown together and a bit choppy. Then again, the entire story felt a little disjointed in my opinion. I enjoy slice of life, and I enjoy mystical worlds, but I also like the slice of life to remain interesting and enjoyable. By the time Nam Woo gets the marble, I was already becoming a little bored with the regular "story", since most of it consists of panning shots of the city in some way, and little real plot or character development. The addition of the marble and fantasy world helped, but still felt plodding in a way. I don’t know, this is a hard section to rate. While the very slow pacing and mix of fantasy and real life might interest some, I found it to be almost a little too slow for comfort. In addition, I didn’t walk away feeling any sort of connection to the characters. With most slice of life, it can get away with being slow and introspective because usually the characters manage to sway your emotions and cause you to care about them. My Beautiful Girl Mari’s problem is that it focused way too much on the animation and not enough on the development and such. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but for some reason it just didn’t keep my attention easily. So, I’m rating the story a 6.5. The slice of life was decent, the fantasy world was interesting, but the blend of the two just didn’t seem to work as well as it could have, and the story in general felt like it was missing something. AnimationI’m fairly mixed in this section as well. It’s fairly apparent after watching My Beautiful Girl Mari that the whole point of its creation was to showcase the animation. But as far as rating the quality of that animation, I’m definitely feeling mixed. Most of the panning shots and background scenery were indeed beautiful. The fantasy world was detailed and had interesting plant life, which actually reminded me a lot of a lighter version of Nausicaa or A Tree of Palme. At the same time, the overall animation was a little weird. None of the graphics were outlined in black, leaving a very flat look. Imagine Paranoia Agent, but in tones of gray and brown and dirty blue. Normally this would have been fine, but this animation was mixed with CG shots that were designed to look real, or beautiful background scenery that had a much higher level of detail. In general, it just didn’t seem to mix well. I wish the creators had stuck with either the flat non-outlined look, or the CG look, or the eye candy look. Instead, the combination was a little confusing and lowered the overall quality of the animation, in my opinion. Character designs definitely don’t look Japanese (which makes sense as this is Korean), with very oval shaped heads and round eyes. In general, the animation was a little jerky as well in the non-panning shots. Characters walking around looked a little funny. Colors used, as mentioned above, were mostly dark and drab blues, browns, and grays, which were very appropriate for the seaside look. In general, good animation, but combined poorly together when perhaps one style should have been used instead. That, or a flawless combination of CG and close to CG graphics. SoundWhile nothing memorable comes to mind, the overall orchestral tracks were light and pleasant to the ear. Nothing stood out, that’s for sure... but in general it stayed in the background where it belonged. One nice thing about watching this movie in native Korean is that it sounds a lot different than the usual anime. Most anime fans tend to chastise dub watchers and claim that Japanese is the only way to go, but then again, many anime fans tend to know some Japanese. I think they forget that if you know nothing of the language, hearing it the entire time can be a little exhausting. I was reminded of this when watching the Korean track, since I know zero Korean. The dub, on the other hand, is pretty bad. The best voice actors were two random friends of Jun Ho that had about 1 minute exposure. Everyone else seemed scripted and choppy. The grandma’s voice was definitely the worst. You could clearly tell it was a young woman faking her voice to sound old, and doing a bad job anyways. Sometimes the dialogue was ok, but most of the time, not so good. I’d definitely suggest watching the Korean vocal track. CharactersIf there was a point to the story, it would definitely be the characters and the development. Unfortunately, not much development even happens, but it’s probably the focus nonetheless. Nam Woo and Jun Ho both try to cope with the fact that Jun Ho is leaving, which slowly plays itself out over the course of the hour and twenty minutes. Mostly though, we see Nam Woo and his struggle to be ok with his mother dating, and I guess dealing with growing up in general. We know he’s angsty, but nothing really comes of it ultimately. Any time you think there will be some development, he goes back into the fantasy world, we see clouds floating around and the giant dog, and it goes back to the real point of the movie: eye candy. Admittedly, the dog and girl are pretty cool, but the girl, with her white hair all over her body and/or dark eyebrows with bleached hair, is a little freaky to say the least. Probably if I had to choose a favorite character it would be the dog, so that really says something I think. I also did appreciate one of the secondary female characters and the sad tale of her romance. If only Nam Woo and Jun Ho’s stories would have been anywhere near as interesting... OverallWhile My Beautiful Girl Mari is decent eye candy, it falls short in most of the other areas. I would have liked for a more cohesive mix of slice of life and fantasy, as well as a faster pacing. The odd mix of animation styles was a little hard to swallow as well. If you check this out, definitely watch the Korean track, and expect a slow but pretty ride. It wasn’t bad, that’s for sure... but My Beautiful Girl Mari also won’t be for everyone. Think of it like watching Wonderful Days: pretty, but not necessarily anything of substance.

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