I’m always ready to go back to Chichibu…
As usual with theatrical releases, I’m going to defer my main writeup until I have a chance to sit down with the subtitled version of Anthem of the Heart on Blu-ray. But as always I think it’s important to share a few impressions after seeing a movie for the first time, on the big screen.
So first off, yes – I did cry. It didn’t help that the person next to me was one those Japanese ladies that cries constantly and makes “Aww” noises at everything, which got incredibly annoying (I see these women at the movies a lot). But I did get there eventually myself – every time Okada Mari and Nagai Tatsuyuki venture into this mythology, it gets emotional.
As far as I can tell, there’s no direct link between Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda and AnoHana apart from the Chichibu setting. I saw no crossovers, no cameos, no references. But there is a thematic consistency here, and I think it’s quite notable because these series and films are so different from everything else Okada is doing these days. Quite frankly, I think this is her best side – there are very few otaku tropes here, and not a lot of irony. Both AnoHana and Anthem are, at heart, very innocent stories, unapologetically emotional and nostalgic for the bittersweet days of youth. And I think Okada is better at this kind of story than any other kind.
Is Anthem of the Heart as good as AnoHana? I don’t think I can judge, because it didn’t have 11 episodes to ingratiate itself to me. But as a standalone film I think it works very well, with an involving story and very relatable characters. As with AnoHana this is one where you want to check your cynicism at the door – the heart is worn very much on the sleeve, but there’s just so much heart to wear.
I won’t spoil the experience too much, but I will say that the set piece that closes the movie is really spectacular – not in terms of animation, but as a construct. It’s a great emotional payoff and a really clever bit of staging, very cinematic and grand while still feeling intimate and unforced. I think it’s fair to say that the same crowd that ripped AnoHana as melodramatic (as if that were a pejorative term) and saccharine are going to condemn this movie – emotional openness and lack of irony are not welcome at the cool kids table these days where anime is concerned. But the commercial success of both AnoHana and Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda is proof that there’s still a hunger for those qualities. Thank goodness for that – and that Nagai and Okada are so adept at building a story around them.