Anime Mirai 2014 – Harmonie

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There’s just no substitutive for talent.

Anime Mirai has been good for one really solid effort every tear – Oji-san no Lamp and Death Billiards from the last two – and while Harmonie is the first of the 2014 offerings that I’ve watched, if one of the other three tops it that’s going to make it a very good year indeed.  This is a first-rate offering in every way, and there’s really only one drawback.  It’s the same one you get with every Anime Mirai project that’s this good – it makes you wish it could be an actual series or full-length movie.

Yoshiura Yasuhiro is the writer and director here, and he’s already established a solid track record for a mere 34 year-old – Eve no Jikan being the most well-known of his works.  Ikariya Atsushi, the top animator from White Fox (he was in charge of visuals on Hataraku Maou-sama, Fate/Zero and Jormungand) handles animation direction and character design, and the art and animation here are stellar.  The combination of Yoshiura’s trademark photo-realistic backgrounds and Ikariya’s superb character designs is especially effective.

The story, while simple, is every bit the equal of the visuals.  When I say an anime reminds me of the film Colorful that’s high praise indeed, and Harmonie does – both in the overall look and in the way it crawls inside the adolescent psyche with unerring immediacy and emotional accuracy.  The hero of the piece is Honjou Akio (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu) a first-year high schooler who’s a bit of an otaku and mostly hangs out with his two like-minded friends, trying to stay out of harm’s way.  But Honjou pines silently for Makina Juri (Ueda Reina), a beautiful but socially awkward girl who’s sort of dating but not really dating the popular hunk, Gotou (Furuwaka Makoto).

There’s a sense of fate to the strange turn of events that bring these two together.  Makina’s shallow and catty friends play a “joke” on her where they change her ringtone, unbeknownst to them to a song she heard constantly in a dream as a child and recorded herself humming.  Honjou has perfect pitch and can play back any song in its entirety after one hearing, which he does on his piano app while hiding from the popular kids in the stairwell.  One thing leads to another, Makina loans Honjou an MP3 player with the entire song, and he listens to is while falling asleep – only remembering later that the player also contained a track with Makina explaining her dream to a doctor (which she’s completely forgotten about).  This leads to his unwittingly convincing her that he’s her soul-mate, having seen the same dream because of hearing the song – which in turn leads to Honjou being faced with a difficult choice.

That’s an interesting turn of events – seemingly far-fetched but in a way, something I could almost see happening.  The real key here is that Yoshiura brings it off with complete conviction, taking us inside Honjou’s head and making us feel what he feels.  The dream sequences – and the song too – are really gorgeous, and the story certainly raises some interesting questions.  This is, in the end, a relationship built on a lie – but does that mean that something beautiful can’t be forming as a result of that lie?  Honjou may have seen Makina’s dream because he heard her describe it, but there’s a sense that he truly understood it in a way few people would.  And the fact is, Makina has been feeling lonely and isolated because of that dream for her entire childhood – not least because of her mother’s constant demonizing of her for not letting go of it.  Now that’s she’s finally found someone she can share her world with, does it really matter what the cause of that was?

These are the sorts of stories we should all want to see more of in anime – character-driven and built on a foundation of strong writing, and beautifully drawn and animated.  It seems to me that it’s this sort of flight of imagination that anime is uniquely suited to bringing to life, yet there seems to be little demand for it in mainstream circles.  For that reason alone it’s a good thing the Anime Mirai program exists – maybe an idiosyncratic talent like Yoshiura-sensei would have made Harmonie at some point anyway, but there’s nothing about it that’s remotely commercial.  I’d certainly love to see the next chapter in this story, but I’m fully aware that we’re lucky to have even the one.

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17 comments

  1. t

    last year really marked the path of anime mirai as something significant thanks to LWA and death billiards. arve rezzle was good too, Ryo quite less. but still, it was a very very good year for anime miari. and I wondered whether this year they can recreate the success of last year or it was one-time success?

    it's still too early to answer about this year's anime mirai. but Harmonie was pretty lovely and nice project. animation is pretty good and it has a good flow and atmosphere throughout the movie until the end. characters' expression and behavior is very right and interesting. and of course, I liked the ending. it was ambiguous and raised some questions whether the protagonist will keep with his lie (probably yes according to the last line but it's not necessary) and whether a relationship can keep with some lie even if it's small but you're still earnest about your feeling? there was also the ending song with the so called "dream" of her which in the end she show the hero (of the dream) that she's a robot and made of those colors as her heart. he whisper something and she seems happy. it was really lovely.

    I can;t say it was astonishing and really outstanding because it didn't make me really excited or something. but watching it was really really nice and lovely.

    p.s
    have you noticed the little teaser for the movie Sakasama no Patema here ? look at the poster on the wall in this picture. it's from the same director (BTW, movie BD will be released tomorrow).

  2. Heh, I was trying to see what movie that was and didn't recognize it.

  3. M

    Trust LWA to get a petty snub. I take research has never been your strong suit either?

    2011: Oji-san no Lamp (didn't see the others admittedly)
    2012: Wasurengumo was excellent, Pukapuka Juju was nicely done.
    2013: Little Witch Academia was a prefect fit and encompassed the young spirit of the project. I liked Death Billiards ep01 too. It was kinda bittersweet though as it only served to remind me of the Old Madhouse.

    I haven't started on 2014 – but the Studio 4°C outing has me the most intrigued.

    "These are the sorts of stories we should all want to see more of in anime – character-driven and built on a foundation of strong writing, and beautifully drawn and animated."
    Which rock have you been under? We get plenty of what you described.

  4. R

    For a certain definition of character driven I suppose.

    I don't think I've seen anything that resembled Harmonie narrative or structure wise (or visual wise really) for a long time now.

  5. Z

    Just about every anime movie these days that isn't connected to an existing franchise is of that type. HAL, Shinkai films, Hosoda films (the Mardock Scramble trilogy being the exception).

  6. R

    Yup…love Shinkai's films and Hosada's last 3 instalments, and I can watch any one of them again and again. As for Anime Mirai, I like Oji-san no Lamp, Wasurengumo, and Death Billiard. Talking about OVA/movies, I actually quite like the Otona Joshi no Anime Time series — wish that there will be more of them.

  7. R

    Movies yes, and some OVAs, but I'm still sad that anime, as in multi-episode affairs, really doesn't have much in this vein. And even if you argue that there are, you can't deny the fact that the number has dropped, especially given the recent trends in anime.

  8. M

    Sure, but there's far less stuff in the vein of Sidonia, Death Billiards or even untainted magical-girl fantasy à la LWA.

  9. R

    As sad as it is, I very much enjoy Mushi-shi and Ping Pong, and there are others — not a lot — that I will for sure devote my time in this season. I guess we all are digging deeper and deeper into quality than going for quantity.

  10. s

    In my opinion, out of the anime mirai 2014's that have come out this far, I found this one to be the best of them. This was so well conceived and directed and it expresses why anime is such a powerful art form…again it just makes the most simple things we take for granted in life so beautiful and i love that. This piece of animation was an example of that; I like how quiet and somber this project was and couldnt help but get that "mono no aware" welling up inside me.

  11. F

    This was absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word. How I wish such delicate and lovely moving stories would be more plentiful….

    Little Witch Academy and Oji-san no Lamp were also very good, but for me Harmonie is the most beautiful and moving of any anime mirai production I have seen.

    And btw – the ED audio and visuals were so lovely I literally began to weep.

    Thanks to the staff who put this exquisite work together. Arigato. I am in your debt for producing and sharing such a lovely work of art.

  12. Flower and Sonic, I agree this is probably the best of the Mirai projects overall. I would have pegged Death Billiards as my #1 before this year, but factoring everything in I think Harmonie edges it out.

  13. m

    the animation in death billiards in goddamn gorgeous.

  14. R

    You know, the japanese gobernment doesn't adopt anime mirai this year (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2014-04-04/japanese-government-does-not-adopt-anime-mirai-this-year), so I will enjoy every moment of this projects while it lasts.

  15. So much for "Cool Japan"…

  16. B

    I'd say that was a very self-contained story with a tight script, it didn't waste any time and was a perfect fit for a 25 minutes long feature. I don't need to see what happens next, it has already said everything it wanted to say: two people who feel isolated who finally find someone who can understand them. Got it.

  17. M

    Okay, pretty good. Again, the length was both a curse and blessing. Just short of developing things organically but also shy of going OTT with drama. Ending scene of the dream doll showing the boy her insides was kind of weird…

    I wouldn't say I was blown away but it was certainly above what I'd expected. Very good for what it is, but other Mirai shorts I've seen felt more at odds with today's animation than this.

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