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.