Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko (2021) by Ayumu Watanabe

Following the impressive “Children of the Sea”, the golden team of Ayumu Watanabe and Studio 4ºC, once more focus on a school girl, Kikuko, although this time she is attending elementary while her mother, the titular Nikuko, is an even bigger part of the picture (pun intended). 

Nikuko, whose name means something on the lines of ‘meat child’, has settled in a seaside town with her daughter, Kikuko, following a series of relationships with men who either exploited or abandoned her, or even both, as the impressive, initial montage eloquently presents. She works in the local tavern, while her daughter, on the cusp of adolescence, attends the local elementary, with all the ‘romance and the politics’ that come with the age being in full blossom. The two of them, however, could not be more different, as Nikuko is big, loud and immature while Kikuko, small, cute, pretty, shy, and mature for her age, a concept that occasionally brings friction among the two. As the first snows are coming, the situation becomes more complicated. 

Ayumu Watanabe directs a film that begins with the mother as the main character, but soon changes to the young girl, in a decision which I felt could be the opposite, since the anime titles that focus on individuals of similar age are in abundance. Nevertheless, this is just my opinion, and the title actually works quite well, focusing on the past of Nikuko, for the most part, and the present of Kikuko, along with the obvious antithesis between the two, which form the very appealing main elements of the narrative. Regarding the young girl, her relationship with a local boy, Ninomiya, who is an expert in doing faces, a treat he only keeps for her, and a dilemma regarding which of two rival school “gangs” she will spend lunchtime with emerge as both adorable and funny, and indicative of school life and its issues. 

A third element in the title revolves around food, with the local (among others) cuisine, being an intense point focus, with the drawing and even the animation (the way Nikuko bends her loafs of bread with honey will definitely stay on mind) highlighting the work done by Studio 4ºC, with the prowess also extending to character movement. Furthermore, this concept is also where another crucial, secondary character emerges from, with mentor-like, top chef Sassan, being among the most likable presences in the movie. In general, the character design by Kenichi Konishi is another of the great aspects of the film, since the majority of individuals are drawn in a retro style, while Kikuko’s is more modern, with the antithesis allowing the latter to stand out nicely. The same prowess applies to the background, with the intense details adding to overall playful realism that dominates the style here. 

Lastly, the drama that eventually takes place close to the end, through an extensive flashback and its repercussions, works quite well for the narrative, adding more depth to it and a comment about what constitutes a family, and essentially functioning as a sort of catharsis for both the protagonists, and the viewer. 

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“Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” is another great title by Studio 4ºC and Ayumu Watanabe, which is bound to satisfy all fans of the modern style of mainstream anime movies, as it was formed by Studio Ghibli (some references actually appear in this film too, as in the featured image).