Photograph: Netflix/Studio Ponoc
  • Film
  • Recommended


The Imaginary

3 out of 5 stars

Studio Ghibli veteran Yoshiyuki Momose heads to the rooftops of London for a sweet fantasy adventure

Phil de Semlyen

Time Out says

The soaring, boyish shadow of Peter Pan lingers over an enchanting anime that’s set between a village-y London of bookstores and cafés and an imaginary neverland to which its young hero regularly escapes with her imaginary pal. 

Crafted from English author AF Harrold’s 2014 children’s book by Studio Ghibli alumnus Yoshiyuki Momose, it arrives with much less fanfare than a typical Ghibli joint (it’s the work of Studio Ponoc, an anime house founded by Ghibli veterans), but still with plenty of enchantment to offers in its painstaking melding of old-fashioned British settings and Japanese animation styles. The Imaginary will captivate youngsters who are into Ponyo and Arrietty, but might occasionally unsettle them with the odd dark turn. 

Amanda is a young, pixie-cropped girl who lives with her bookshop-owning mum in a chocolate box corner of London. She also lives with Rudger, a sparky blond tyke, but only she can see him. He’s one of the Imaginaries of the title: a BFF who exists to bring her playful flights of fancy to life, from swooping on the backs of giant birds to icy escapades with giant yetis. 

With no Ghibli film in the offing, it’s an often delightful way to fill the anime gap 

Both worlds are as beautifully hand-drawn as you’d expect from a filmmaker who cut his teeth as an animator on Spirited Away, with some trippy digressions as the pair find themselves at a magical library full of forgotten Imaginaries. Here, the real and fantasy realms connect. Via its portal, the duo try to escape a villainous Imaginary-hunter called Mr Bunting, a bulbous-nosed creep, and his scary sidekick, a wraithlike figure with major Ring energy.

Like Ghibli, Studio Ponoc doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. Some of the more difficult themes, like grief and death, and the moments of peril feel calibrated for a slightly older audience than the movie’s cosier flights of fancy. And despite the assured tones of Hayley Atwell as Amanda’s mum, some of the voicework on the English dub is quite broad. The Japanese subtitled version would be a strong recommendation for older kids and grown-ups.

But with no Ghibli film in the offing (although My Neighbor Totoro is getting a UK cinema re-release in August), The Imaginary is an often delightful way to fill the anime gap. 

In select cinemas worldwide Jun 28 and on Netflix worldwide Jul 5.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Yoshiyuki Momose
  • Screenwriter:Yoshiyuki Momose
  • Cast:
    • Louie Rudge-Buchanan
    • Evie Kiszel
    • Hayley Atwell
    • Sky Katz
    • Jeremy Swift
    • Issei Ogata
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