A portrait of a moody, self-loathing, socially self-destructive young introvert who forms a bond with the titular figure, a girl who the film teases out as being either real, spectral, or imaginary for most of the runtime.
Intentionally or not, that bond really comes across as pivotal to the protagonist’s awakening sexuality. I was fascinated by Studio Ghibli treading into uncharted territory for themselves there, but it’s entirely possible it was unintentional – still, the film is loaded with subtext that fits that end.
That might have been a more interesting direction than what the film ends up going with, which is much more conventional and feels pat compared to the successes of Ghibli’s more creative endeavours. The lead character is well-characterised in her social anxiety not just being some easy flaw, but the story around her is both too convoluted and ultimately too simple. Too pat and unambitious for a studio that had accomplished so much by now. Three marsh houses, and a dance.