"Anna" (Hailee Steinfeld) lives in a fog. Her isolation is shown and told matter-of-factly. An asthma attack, puberty and self-worth issues all come to a tipping point. A lot of Ghibli protagonists seem to have everything figured out before the story begins, all the more convenient for them to save the day. Anna can barely stand being alive in this state. She doesn't even know how to save herself.
Tell me if you've heard this one before: A person with an illness is advised to go to the country for the "fresh air", which conveniently allows the animators to draw pastoral scenes. This is not exactly treading new ground. It's pretty much how "The Secret World of Arrietty" and "My Neighbor Totoro" begin. Maybe this would be more of a problem for me if it weren't so damned charming.
"When Marnie Was There" is a familiar story told with warmth and sincerity. It could have been told with more clarity, but I also think uncertainty is at the heart of it all.