Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall is about a young middle-school boy moving to a new town and trying to learn how to make new friends and deal with his difficult family life with the help of a playful fantasy creature – in this case, a mermaid – that causes as much trouble as it solves. The story is boilerplate, with too many side-stories and supporting characters, but the way Yuasa tells his coming-of-age fantasy is gorgeous, fun and never boring.
That young middle-school boy is Kai (Michael Sinterniklaas in the English dub), whose only pleasure is uploading his music to the internet. His parents recently divorced, which forced him to move from Tokyo to the fishing village of Hinashi Town. He’s drafted into a local teen band by Yuho (Stephanie Sheh) and Kunio (Brandon Engman), and he impresses them with the fact this his music can call upon Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), a mermaid from the surrounding bay. But Hinashi Town has a history with mermaids, and soon Lu’s presence starts to cause problems.
Lu’s animation impresses from the start. I’ll admit my upbringing and exposure to anime in my early teens left me generally disconnected from the common style — which isn’t to say all anime is one-and-the-same, but any medium is a language and this is one that simply does not speak to me the way it speaks to others. It happens. I’m always listening and trying to learn it. Lu helps, perhaps because Yuasa’s animation is so psychedelic, fluid and weird in the best way. That weirdness sets Lu apart as an animated release. It’s as fun, silly and filled with goodwill, characters, ideas and messages as you might expect, but conveyed with a stellar, memorable visual style.
Kai plays in a rock band, and it’s through music that he bonds with his friends, Lu and his family. Takatsugu Muramatsu composed the soundtrack, and many of the best visual sequences are supplemented by his pieces. That’s where I found myself the most transfixed and engaged.
Where I didn’t? There is a reason why it has won multiple animation awards, but it felt a tad overlong, like the levity was pulled down by the self-seriousness of middle-school angst. Lu’s antics, the soundtrack and the colorful and expressive animation will hold children’s attention and give the accompanying parents something to enjoy. But viewing the movie alone felt like I was missing an essential element of the experience. The vibrancy of Lu’s character, the music and the experience felt like something to be enjoyed with an audience.