“Beautiful word, beautiful world” —Movie tagline
Released on September 19, 2015, in Japanese theatres, Anthem of the Heart (alternatively known as Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda, literally “The Heart Wants to Shout”) is a film following Jun Naruse, Takumi Sakagami, Natsuki Itō, and Daiki Tazaki, as they strive to put on a musical for a community event, overcoming their differences and various hurdles along the way. Each of the characters overcomes their own hurdles as this production moves forward, and despite the class’ initial doubts, Takumi and Daiki manage to motivate the others forward: even though Jun goes missing on the day of their performance, the play proceeds smoothly, and each of Jun, Takumi, Natsuki and Daiki allow themselves to be honest with their own feelings, having learnt the importance of being truthful with their words. This is a lightning summary of Anthem of the Heart, a film I have been greatly anticipating since hearing about it back during December 2014. In comparison with Taifuu no Noruda or Garakowa, two other anime films that were long-anticipated, Anthem of the Heart meets expectations for maintaining a reasonably consistent story throughout and exploring the impact behind words of a language: in conjunction with a fitting soundtrack and high-quality visuals, A-1 Pictures is able to bring the magic and miracle of the musical performance to life, weaving it together with each of the characters’ own growth and depicting how their participation helps them move on with their lives in the face of adversity.
With the tagline “Beautiful word, beautiful world”, Anthem of the Heart is upfront with its theme about words of a language having a substantial impact on those who wield and receive them. In particular, these impacts can be both positive or negative, and after her words lead her parents to divorce, Jun develops selective mutism, being unable to speak and experiencing referred pain in her stomach whenever she speaks. Although Anthem of the Heart vividly depicts a faerie egg as the cause of this, there is a scientific explanation for what happens to Jun (probabilities notwithstanding), but either way, Jun comes to fear spoken language, feeling that the words were responsible for destroying her world. Meanwhile, Takumi reveals that his lack of words about his preferred educational path against his mother’s is what led his parents to separate: he holds himself accountable and believes that thoughts should be expressed more forwardly. In this manner, he becomes the foil for Jun: whereas she fears what words can do, he longs to be more expressive so to minimise conflict. This mirrors the notion that all things have constructive and destructive application, and that words are no different. Jun and Takumi thus form the anchors for the narrative: the solution plainly lies in between the two extremities, and Anthem of the Heart uses a class musical as the framing device to help both understand that the right words, at the right time, are what matters, and that music can convey feelings are more effectively than words alone. The musical is also shown as a powerful force in helping Natsuki and Daiki understand themselves a little better. Daiki’s character growth is the most prominent, and despite being the most vociferous opponent of the musical, through participation in the musical, he comes to terms with his injury and promises to do his best for both the musical and baseball team. It’s a splendid transformation, and seeing Jun’s spirit eventually pushes him to support the musical. Overall, the changes that the musical wrought for each character is an impressive one. So, through music, each of the characters learn that there is an appropriate time to speak up, and an appropriate time to be silent.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Taifuu no Noruda, Garakowa: Restore the World and Anthem of the Heart, three movies that were on my list of things to watch. Early last year, one of my friends asked me to keep an eye on these three movies because of their potential for excellence. He’s quite interested in animation and I was curious to see how each of these three movies would play out given their premises.
- As of now, all three of the films have played in Japanese theatres and have been rendered accessible; of these three films, Anthem of the Heart stands head and shoulders above the others in terms of narrative strength and overall quality. Taifuu no Noruda resembled a short story in length, with a running time too constrained to build a compelling world, and the plot in Garakowa was unfruitful in presenting a central theme.
- On the other hand, Anthem of the Heart is honest, compelling and captivating. The characters are easy to empathise with, and I definitely recall days during high school where my peers were more than hesitant to participate in events until several students (myself included) motivated them to find interest. Subsequently, spirits were high and efforts admirable, suggesting that high school students are definitely capable of performing well, provided that they have peers who can encourage them along.
- Takumi is quite skilful as a musician, quickly piecing together a short song that mesmerises Jun. Appropriate use of lighting throughout the movie brings the emotions of each scene to life. Although nowhere near as detailed as what is seen in any of Makoto Shinkai’s films, the artwork of Anthem of the Heart nonetheless succeeds in conveying a sense of occupancy in its environments.
- Takumi is not initially keen on the community outreach project, and although their music instructor is quite enthusiastic, suggesting that they do something different this year, it is ultimately Jun and Takumi who realise the merits of doing a musical. Their instructor thus serves a more minor role, illustrating that it’s ultimately the students who bring everything together.
- In the beginning, trailers and concept art betrayed absolutely nothing about what Anthem of the Heart would be about. After its première in Japan during September, the film began screening in North America. In Canada, the number of theatres screening the movie was downright disappointing: while Toronto did screen the movie, I happen to be a few thousand klicks west. It eludes me as to why Halifax, Nova Scotia would be chosen over other cities, such as Vancouver, British Columbia or Calgary, Alberta — there aren’t anime fans of substantial numbers in the Maritimes compared to B.C. or Alberta, so wouldn’t such a decision result in a loss of profit?
- While Jun no longer speaks freely, she appears to have plenty of thoughts within her, and so, she shares a conversation with Takumi via SMS, marking the first change that the proposed musical has on two of the main characters.
- Jun is voiced by Inori Minase (Chino Kafuu of GochiUsa and Suzune Tanahashi of Love Lab), although her voice has none of Chino’s qualities here. I ultimately found that, given Anthem of the Heart‘s setting in the real world, the egg faerie is a product of Jun’s fantasy and is present to visually represent the sort of psychological pressure that she experiences after her parents separate. Though the curse is attributed to why Jun cannot speak without experiencing stomach problems, individuals armed with a background in human medicine could probably provide a more succinct, viable explanation of the mechanisms that resulted in Jun’s selective mutism.
- Prior to Anthem of the Heart‘s release, I noticed an inordinate amount of discussion comparing the then un-aired Anthem of the Heart to AnoHana, an anime that Mari Okada had also helmed. Most of the participants note that Okada has a unique style (read: “propensity to create melodramatic narratives”), and worried that Anthem of the Heart would be correspondingly poor because it would express this style.
- No such thing actually happens in Anthem of the Heart, and with due respect, there is no resemblance at all between Anthem of the Heart and AnoHana with respect to execution. Granted, the characters’ backstories similarly have tragedy or adversity involved to some extent, but in execution, Anthem of the Heart cleanly illustrates how participating in the musical gradually shifts everyone to become more attuned to their words.
- Jun speaking out against an argument between Daiki and one of his teammates results in a pain so intense she’s taken to the hospital to be checked out, and also marks a turning point for Daiki, who suddenly realises that contrary to his earlier words against Jun, she’s actually quite perceptive and caring but lacks the means to say so. This action also sets in motion his new-found commitment to the musical.
- Thus, armed with every intent of setting things right, Daiki illustrates a much more personable aspect to his character: he apologises to his baseball teammates and the committee, agreeing to put in his best effort from here on out to make sure that Jun’s words are not wasted.
- Daiki’s change of heart is perhaps the first indicator of how Jun’s words are, contrary to her beliefs, more than capable of having a positive impact on those around her, and suddenly, with Daiki fully on board, the entire mood of their class shifts, as well. Realising that the musical would allow them to show off their own talents and participate in a meaningful way, Jun’s classmates begin deciding on which roles they would like to have within the musical.
- Watching this occur was particularly rewarding, and the atmosphere in Anthem of the Heart takes a sudden turn: apathy and antipathy turn to genuine interest, and with this, preparations for the musical finally begin in earnest as Jun’s classmates feel that if they’re going to do this, they might as well do things well.
- The story that the class will use in the musical is a fictionalised version of what Jun herself had experienced: she pours her heart and soul into creating a faerie tale of sorts that mirrored what had happened to her in the past, and how Takumi’s appearance was the force that led her to begin breaking out of her shell. These feelings are intense enough for her to consider adding in a love story into the play, as she’s begun to develop feelings for Takumi.
- Students with background in dance choreography begin creating different dances for their musical, and elsewhere, Takiumi’s friends begin creating the songs, all of which are based off of actual songs. While the focus is given towards Takumi’s group, scenes showcase the efforts going on elsewhere in preparation for the musical to show that the effort required for such a performance is non-trivial; without the committee to have kicked things off and motivate the other students, things would have been impossible.
- While sharing lunch on the school rooftop, a sudden breeze foreshadows the frigid weather that is inbound for the day of the performance. From a technical perspective, anime typically use the school rooftop as a hangout spot for the same reason that the protagonists typically hang out in the back of the classroom close to the windows: this is typically done to simplify the animation. Unlike Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the school rooftop in Anthem of the Heart does not convey that same sense of distance and merely serves as a lunch spot.
- Takumi’s father is a musician of sorts and travels frequently. He has a vast music collection, and much of the music the students use in their performance is sourced from some of the more common songs here. “Over the rainbow” from Wizard of Oz and several other recognisable pieces are heard, later used in the performance itself.
- Daiki, Jun, Takumi and Natsuki cheer after a successful full rehearsal concludes: the students’ high spirits and enjoyment of their performance illustrates how far things have come since the movie started, but here, I suddenly realised that a wrench would be thrown in the midst of things. Had the performance proceeded smoothly, Anthem of the Heart would have ended very quickly, and I predicted that there would need to be a single disruptor that provided the rising action leading into the climax.
- That factor turns out to be the unbidden feelings that Natsuki has for Takumi; upon seeing another couple engaged in what is known as snogging in England, the interactions between Natsuki and Takumi cool off, leading Takumi to reveal that he’s not in love with Jun by any definition. Jun hears this, and becomes heartbroken: she had put in so much effort into the musical because Takumi had helped her, and begins to develop feelings as a result.
- So excruciating is the pain of heartbreak that Jun runs away on the morning of the presentation, leaving the other students at a loss for what to do. Daiki pieces together that Takumi and Natsuki probably still have feelings for one another and learns that he’ll probably have no chance with Natsuki, but he sets aside his own feelings and tells Takumi to find Jun, arranging for Natsuki and one of Takumi’s friends to take on the musical roles as an interim solution.
- Takumi’s efforts to find Jun eventually leads him to the spots where they shared moments together, and he eventually deduces that the “castle on the hill”, an old love hotel, is probably where he would most likely find Jun. In the time that has passed since, the love hotel has become a haikyo, falling into disrepair and crumbling. A despairing facility, Takumi continues on after noticing Jun’s footprints.
- My constitution has recovered since last week, and aside from needing to acclimatise back to my normal lifting patterns, I’m pretty much back to normal. As such, I was able to capitalise on a fantastic deal at a local Harvey’s: a classic flame-grilled burger with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bacon, plus fries and a soda, cost no more than six-fifty. So, I stepped out during today’s lunch hour to grab lunch, then returned to the lab to finish watching Anthem of the Heart. The burger’s grilled flavour is rather more pronounced than those from other fast food places, going well with the vegetables and make for an interesting complement to the movie.
- Entering the love hotel where Jun had seen her father exiting years ago, Takumi finally finds Jun, who speaks her mind about everything she’s experienced thus far, laying down a verbal beatdown outlining her frustrations during the film’s climax. Aware that her feelings for Takumi will not be returned, she nonetheless makes up her mind to return to the musical, after learning that Takumi and the others are grateful for her voice and words.
- In a highly emotional entrance, Jun puts all of her feelings into song, moving her mother and finally succeeds in conveying the feelings she had after all this time. Once Jun arrives to perform, her mother realises that the entire musical is in effect, a summation of all of Jun’s experiences. Throughout Anthem of the Heart, Jun’s mother visibly expresses shame and displeasure about what’s happened to Jun, but the musical serves as a turning point: from here on out, things will look up for the two.
- The final song is performed with everyone on stage: there are actually two different variations of the song’s lyrics occurring simultaneously to the same melody, and adding quite a nice touch to things. The film’s soundtrack was quite good, especially with regard to the vocal pieces, as was the ending song for the film. Titled “Ima, Hanashitai Dareka ga Iru”, or “Now, I have someone I want to talk to”, the song was performed by Nogizaka46 and performed very well sales-wise.
- Takumi’s grandparents and Jun’s mother’s reaction to the finale speaks volumes about how moving the play had been: shots of the audience find that far from the senior audience they were expecting, their musical had audience members of all sorts. It is not incorrect, then, to say that the performance went very smoothly considering everything that’s happened.
- Thus, the musical finally comes to an end, and with it, this here review has also draws to a close: Anthem of the Heart ends with Natsuki and Takumi discussing increased openness about how they feel about one another, while Daiki makes known his feelings to Jun. While this may appear out of the blue, considering how much of an impact Jun’s had on him, this particular turn of events does not seem too implausible.
- Anthem of the Heart came out for home release on March 30, and it’s been some ten days since, but I think I can still lay claim to having the internet’s first set of screenshots. The past week’s been quite busy, as our lab was preparing for a pivotal presentation to industry and medical experts. The presentation was yesterday, and I spent most of today coaxing citations into the LLNCS format for my third conference submission. My second submission was accepted to a conference in July, and that means it’s time to apply some minor changes to it as per the reviewers’ comments, as well as register for the conference itself.
- I can’t believe how quickly this semester has finished: my course on biological computations is done, (all that’s left is to finalise my project implementation for submission and study for an oral exam), and the students are set to present their iOS projects. Once lectures end, my only goals will be to wrap up the third conference paper before April 18, package my simulation into a standalone program and help prepare for a TEDx talk. Provided I manage my time well, this will sound busier than it is, and in the near future, I’ve got plans to write up talks for Aria The Avvenire‘s second OVA episode, plus She and Her Cat: Everything Flows.
From an execution perspective, Anthem of the Heart is an immensely fulfilling and enjoyable experience, telling an honest, direct story about how Jun and each of the characters mature after circumstances bring them together. The only blemish in an otherwise spotless film were the events leading up to the climax ending: I’ve been around long enough to know that fiction almost demands a destablising event in order to build suspense further, and as such, was expecting something to happen such that the play would be hindered. That something turned out to be Natsuki and Takumi’s unspoken feelings for one another. Upon overhearing this, Jun runs off heartbroken, jepordising the play (she is one of the main actors). A miracle does occur; Takumi succeeds in finding Jun, and the play proceeds smoothly, but the inclusion of a love story is a jarring departure from what was otherwise a very focused, driven film. However, Jun, Takumi, Natsuki and Daiki set aside their feelings to focus on delivering the best possible musical. This is quite moving, as it illustrates that people should not allow their feelings to impede what’s immediately relevant; all of the love confessions occur after the musical had concluded. Overall, Anthem of the Heart earns a strong recommendation: while there are faults in the narrative’s rising action, there are far more positives than there are negatives. Besides the concise plot and a well-explored theme, technical elements such as the artwork and sound are well-executed: taken together, Anthem of the Heart is a fine movie that was well worth the wait, and ultimately, it is suitable for anyone looking for a solid way to pass two hours.