From the creator of Natsume Yuujinchou, the director of Natsume Yuujinchou and the studio that animated Natsume Yuujinchou comes a very bittersweet yet superb short story of a girl and her youkai. Or, to put it more clearly: a girl and her friend who isn’t a youkai nor is a human. Obviously because this is going to be compared with the above mentioned series, I will say this: do not miss out on watching this. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen Natsume as this 45 minute OVA delivers a short, yet very beautiful simplistic look at the relationship between two living beings that anyone can enjoy.
I was a bit disappointed by this movie, to be honest. But the reason for it is my extremely high expectations coming into this movie: everything about this series is related to Natsume Yuujinchou, my alltime favorite series that’s been airing since 2008 (with a one year break in 2010) and my expectation was that the same sort of comedy, drama, heartwarming and bittersweetness that appears in Natsume would also appear in Hotarubi. That’s a huge mistake, as it’s nigh impossible to take the best parts of a 4 year old series and put in within a 45 minute restriction. This is a really bittersweet film, I won’t spoil what happens but it’s quite obvious once the main character Gin tells Hotaru that if she touches him, he’ll disappear: fill in the dots. But like Natsume Yuujinchou, it’s less about the actual plot and more about the interactions with the characters and Hotarubi does this quite well in roughly 45 minutes: focusing only on the girl Hotaru and the mysterious Gin, with the Natsume-style narration being done by Hotaru: it’s very hard not to compare this short movie with Natsume, and that is more of a strength to how extremely well Yuki Midorikawa tells her stories rather than any weaknesses or such.
It’s a simple story of two people, separated by circumstances out of their reach, and a simple journey of understanding and friendship. This was a really short movie, and despite what many said: I wish it were longer, expanding more on Hotaru and Gin’s relationship but that’s my only real complaint. Gin is a very interesting character, neither a youkai nor a human who’s life is literally in a catch-22 limbo: if he does get touched by a human, he disappears but he’ll eventually disappear from the weak magic keeping him alive. Indeed, it’s the final few minutes of the film that is extremely heartbreaking when the youkai tell Hotaru that all Gin ever wanted was to hug a human, and that’s exactly what happened. Despite the youkai present, this film is very much grounded in reality: nobody can live forever, so treasure the memories of years past and have no regrets. Was it pretty obvious that Gin would disappear? For me, I thought so. But what made that event much more heartbreaking was the many years Hotaru and Gin spent just playing together like children, cherishing the little things in life as a deterrent to the stark reality that the happiness would not last forever. Even Hotaru commented at the festival that “this may be our last time together”, a very poignant foreshadowing of the split second event that changed everything. Midorikawa could have made the situation in which Gin and Hotaru actually hugged which cause the disappearance, but it was the random act of kindness of helping a child (a human child) that ultimately proved to be the end of Gin, a bitter display of irony. It’s storytelling like this which is sorely lacking in today’s anime that still proves to be a timelessly impeccable effort that shows no sign of ever decaying.
Despite the above spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film: it won’t deter the experience one bit. This is a really well put together story that utilizes well-timed comedy, heartbreaking drama and the all important declaration of love into one little neat package. Natsume Yuujinchou fans in particular will really enjoy this movie, but quite frankly this is a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone, don’t miss out.
Director/Screenplay: Takahiro Omori
Character Designs: Akira Takata
Music: Makoto Yoshimori
Animation Production: Brain’s Base
Animation – 8/10: Very simple and it gets the job done. The nighttime scenes and the festival was really well animated.
Story – 10.5/15: The movie has no real plot to speak of and the 45 minute format doesn’t help at all. But it gets the job done and the ending is the textbook definition of bittersweet.
Sound – 8/10: Really stellar seiyuu performances for Gin and Hotaru. Particularly Gin, who at times sounded strikingly similar to Natsume, with his occasional snarky comments towards the younger Hotaru. The music is also very soft and sweet, Natsume Yuujinchou fans will know some of the music as it is similar to the series.
Characters – 16/20: Really solid main characters and their growth throughout many years is really great. Of course many years in a 45 minute movie means a lot of short scenes, which I felt weren’t quite enough to establish a better sense of Hotaru and Gin. But this movie did a great job with what they had to do.
Enjoyment – 40.5/45