The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Her Blue Sky: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

Shinnosuke Kanamuro and Akane Aioi are members of a high school band; Shinnosuke is an aspiring musician and inspires Akane’s younger sister, Aoi, to become a bassist. When Akane and Aoi’s parents die in a vehicular accident, Akane is left to look after Aoi, turning down Shinnosuke’s offer to accompany him to Tokyo. Thirteen years later, Aoi has become a high school student, and Akane works at the municipal office alongside former drummer Masamichi Nakamura. As Akane and Masamichi work on a music festival to bolster the town’s tourism, Aoi encounters what she initially mistakes to be Shinnosuke’s spirit. When Aoi and Akane head to the train station to welcome enka singer Dankichi Nitobe, Aoi is shocked to see Shinnosuke present. She deduces that the younger Shinnosuke (dubbed Shinno) must’ve returned for a reason, and working with Masamichi’s son, Masatsugu, the pair learn that Shinno had been in love with Akane, and resolve to try and help the two fulfil a decade-long dream of getting them back together. Aoi’s intentions had been to leave town so as not to hold Akane back as soon as she graduated, and feels that doing this would allow Akane to live the future she’d once dreamt of. When two musicians performing in Dankichi’s band fall ill, however, Aoi learns that the older Shinnosuke is unfriendly and distant after she is asked to perform in their place. Moreover, things further become complicated when Chika Ōtaki decides to help out with the festival, hoping to get to know the performers better. As Aoi practises for the upcoming festival performance and contemplates her future, she struggles to put into words about why she’s chosen the path that she did. As it turns out, Aoi had long felt that she had been holding Akane back from her ambitions, and moreover, has begun to fall in love with Shinno. Aoi also learns that Akane had never once felt restricted in looking after her, and begins to wonder if she really should leave town after all. Amidst the preparations for the festival, Akane heads off to search for Dankichi’s pendant, but is caught in a landslide. Shinnosuke ends up heading to the temple where Shinno is and meets his younger self for the first time; when the older Shinnosuke is reluctant to act, his younger self manages to break free of the curse leaving him tied to the temple, and he takes Aoi with him. It turns out that Akane was unharmed, and he rescues her from the caved-in tunnel. Aoi decides to leave Akane with Shinnosuke and Shinno to share a conversation, and when Akane implies that her feelings for Shinnosuke remained after all this time, Shinno vanishes. Walking home, Aoi notices that perhaps, the sky was a little too blue. The music festival is a great success, and some time in the future, Aoi graduates from high school, while Akane and Shinnosuke get married. This is Her Blue Sky (空の青さを知る人よ, Hepburn Sora no Aosa o Shiru Hito yo, literally “To Those Who Know of the Blueness of the Sky”), a film that was announced in March 2019 and released in October later that year. With Mari Okada’s writing and Tatsuyuki Nagai directing, Her Blue Sky follows in the footsteps of AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about pursuit of the future, regrets and their resolution.

At its core, Her Blue Sky speaks to the idea of appreciation and counting one’s blessings, and the idea that while dreams can change, people come to nonetheless find value and enjoyment in what they do; consequently, dreams are never really lost even as their form becomes different. In Aoi’s case, her single objective had been motivated by a desire to let Akane live her own life; after their parents’ death, Akane had taken care of Aoi every step of the way, and the neighbours began talking. For Aoi, she aimed to return Akane’s kindness by becoming self-sufficient and making it on her own, leaving Akane to direct her efforts at whatever future she desired. However, upon finding that Akane had made the decision to look after Aoi as best as she could, Aoi realises that she’s been so set on the future that she’d been oblivious to the fact that Akane had found new happiness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinnosuke had reached the aspirations he had started out with and became a musician, but this came at a cost to his other dream of being with Akane. This desire manifests as a spirit; like AnoHana, Shinno is spirited, encouraging and uplifting, but also laments his older self’s lethargy and lack of drive. When he returns to town, his past memories prompt him to regard old friends with distance, but over time, as the older Shinnosuke learns of how some things didn’t really change since the day Akane turned him down, he begins to open up a little, as well; he plays a song for Akane and later shares a conversation with her about how he feels. Her Blue Sky shows that some dreams are never really forgotten, and that there may be a chance to recapture them if one were willing to reach out and take a chance. Bearing Okada’s signature style, Her Blue Sky is a poignant and turbulent film, pulling no punches in its portrayal of raw emotions that speaks to viewers about taking a hold of the moment, as well as how no matter how final some decisions may be, fate may be kind enough to offer second chances and give people a chance to follow their dreams, now that they’ve been given some time to consider their decision.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Her Blue Sky‘s lead creative team (Tatsuyuki Nagai, Mari Okada and Masayoshi Tanaka) is referred to as the Super Peace Busters and previously did both AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, both of which I’d watched and written about. Altogether, I found that Her Blue Sky was very similar to AnoHana in terms of themes, and followed the method used in Anthem of the Heart in terms of plot structure. While this renders Her Blue Sky somewhat predictable, the Super Peace Buster’s 2019 film is enjoyable in its own right, being a film whose journey matters rather more than the destination. In all cases, one of my favourite aspects about each film is that it takes some time to warm up to the characters, making the journey all the more rewarding.

  • Entering Her Blue Sky, I had no idea what to expect: I saw a fifteen-second preview indicating that such a movie was in production back in March 2019, but beyond this, had not otherwise read on any details surrounding the film. Discussions and hype had been next to non-existent, so without even a synopsis to go on, I watched Her Blue Sky completely in the absence of any a priori knowledge, and as a result, my experience was superbly enjoyable. In an earlier time, a band’s members spend their halcyon days together making music, setting the stage for the film’s events.

  • Her Blue Sky is produced by Cloverworks (SaeKano: The Movie and Aobuta: The Movie): it should be unsurprising that visually, the movie is a visual treat to behold. Compared to AnoHana, background artwork remains of a high standard, but it was the character designs I especially liked; they’re a cross between the designs seen in AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart. It’s been around seven years since I watched AnoHana, and five years since Anthem of the Heart: in spite of the time that’s passed, I still distinctly remember both series as having their own strong points that made them enjoyable.

  • In the beginning, Her Blue Sky indicates that music and community would form the bulk of the premise surrounding the film. Given that it’s Okada helming the writing, I imagined that past and present would also be a core element in the film. Finally, because of the track record AnoHana and Anthem of The Heart leave, I imagined that it was possible that some sort of supernatural element would be around, as well.

  • The existence of a supernatural piece in Her Blue Sky was soon affirmed when Shinno reappears. The film’s opening moments may come across as a little unrelated, but what’s happening here is a juxtaposition between the current Shinnosuke packing his guitar away, and the spirit form of Shinnosuke appearing at about the same time. In Japanese folklore, these living spirits are known as ikiryō, and their appearance indicates that there is some sort of unfinished busniess that needs to be attended to. Such spirits can be benevolent or malevolent, and Okada’s use of ghosts in her writings paint spirits as people who have past regrets they wish to sort out. By reappearing, they guide the living to a path that helps the individual to overcome their regrets. In doing so, they also have a tangible beneficial impact on the living.

  • Shinno’s reappearance shocks Aoi, who had been in the middle of practise. Aoi is the opposite of Akane: whereas the latter is personable, cheerful and capable, Aoi is sullen and moody. From what is seen of Aoi while she’s at school, she badmouths the other students in the music clubs, tends to keep to herself and doesn’t really appear to have much direction. In appearance, she’s resembles Anthem of the Heart‘s Jun. While Aoi concentrates on her own world, Akane is helping organise a special promotional event with the hope of increasing tourism to their area.

  • Like AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, Saitama: this city of 63 358 is located some 55 kilometres northeast of Saitama city, in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the Chichibu Park Bridge, with its distinct cable-stayed span, is an iconic part of both AnoHana and Her Blue Sky. The city’s economy is primarily based on silk farming and limestone mining, but has shifted towards tourism in recent years, taking advantage of the area’s beautiful scenic attractions to draw visitors in. Within Her Blue Sky, this exact sort of project is occurring, and the municipal staff decide to hire Dankichi Nitobe, a famous enka singer. to sing praises for their city.

  • Accompanying Dankichi is Shinnosuke, and this initial revelation creates bemusement amongst the characters, as well as the viewer. As soon as it is established that the younger Shinno is a ikiryōHer Blue Sky‘s themes fall into place very quickly: ghosts and spirits, being of a different plane, are typically presented as having uncommon wisdom and knowledge with which to guide the livnig. It becomes apparent that Shinnosuke had left behind something important on his pursuit of the future, specifically, pertaining to matters of the heart. Right out of the gates, there is a marked contrast between the younger Shinno and the current-day Shinnosuke.

  • While Aoi is initially irritated by Shinno, there is a kindness and energy about his character that makes him immensely likeable. Flashbacks reveal that he had encouraged Aoi to take up the bass and promised that they’d one day perform together. Conversely, Shinnosuke appears distant, detached and irritable. The gap between their personalities is not unjustified: youth are often optimistic and engaged, filled with hope about making it big in the world. It is with some apprehension that I remark I understand how Shinnosuke feels. Reality is cruel, unfeeling, and the path to one’s goals is often littered with broken promises and shattered dreams, which can render one cynical and unhappy.

  • While browsing through old yearbooks, Aoi finds entries from Akane, who’d poetically written about how the proverbial frog-in-a-well and suggested that while ignorant of the outside world, the flip-side was that this frog’s entire world could still be one of beauty, since its limited reach would force the frog to appreciate what others take for granted (and therefore, miss). The story of the frog-in-the-well has its origins as either a Sanskrit or Chinese saying: the Sanskrit phrase kupamanduka (कूपमण्डूक) is very similar to the Chinese phrase 井底之蛙 (jyutping zeng2 dai2 zi1 waa1) in meaning, referring to someone who is complicit in their knowledge. By taking this phrase and presenting a different perspective on things, Her Blue Sky challenges the viewer to consider how things can often be a matter of perspective, and this holds especially true for Aoi, whose motivations are driven by her existing understanding of things.

  • When the bassist and drummer for Dankichi over-indulge and succumb to food poisoning, the music festival appears to be jeopardised. Conveniently, Aoi and Masamichi are on hand to assist: having continued her dream of becoming a bassist since she had been a child, she’s become proficient with the bass guitar, and similarly, while Masamichi no longer performs or practises, his skill as a drummer remain reasonably intact. Dankichi decides to have the pair audition, and if their performance is satisfactory, then he would be happy to have them as substitutes.

  • It turns out there was never any doubt: sullen attitude aside, Aoi is a capable bassist, and Dankichi is convinced that she’ll get the job done for the music festival. Like Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Aoi is able to sing and play at the same time, although it goes without saying that her style is considerably different: if memory serves, Mio became a bassist because she prefers being away from the spotlight,

  • It turns out that Shinno can be seen by most everyone, so he hides when Akane shows up. Shinno’s spirit manifests as a corporeal entity whose only constraint is that he cannot leave the temple walls: whenever he tries to exit, an invisible force prevents him from exiting. Such a phenomenon must be vexing to experience: for much of the movie, Shinno is confined to this building, and while he has no need to eat, he does enjoy the food that Aoi (and Akane) brings him. A recurring theme in the film is Shinno’s wish to try mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri from Akane, but the latter insists on making kelp-filled onigiri for Aoi, symbolising what Akane’s priorities were at the time.

  • Shinnosuke’s remarks to both Aoi and Masamichi conveys a sense of elitism and unprofessionalism: this was done to really accentuate how different Shinno and Shinnosuke are. Shinnosuke is acting in such a manner deliberately to keep the distance between a former friend and his love interest’s sister, and I’ve noted that people will often be overly critical of others to cover their own insecurities in a workplace setting. Someone who is genuinely knowledgable and comfortable with the extent of their knowledge will be critical in a constructive manner, offering solutions in conjunction with pointing out a shortcoming – the simple act of proposing a solution (or even a suggestion of how to begin tackling a problem) is all that makes the difference in whether or not someone is being professional.

  • Because Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, its portrayal of the area is faithful to that of the original. With anime, it never fails to impress me as to how faithfully real-world locations are rendered. Here, Masamichi shares a conversation with Aoi and her classmate, Chika, concerning practise. Shinnosuke is disinterested, and Aoi leaves to practise on her own, while Chika manages to run into Shinnosuke and strikes up a conversation with him.

  • The next day at school, Aoi confronts Chika about her previous encounter with Shinnosuke – Chika had long expressed a desire to date a musician, and Shinnosuke is presented as getting along with the ladies, having gone to a nightclub earlier. I imagine that Shinnosuke is simply detached from his world as a result of his experience (primarily, when Akane turned down his offer to accompany him to Tokyo) and does what he does to dull the pain. However, being impulsive and brash, Aoi assumes that Chika managed to hit a home run with Shinnosuke and refuses to speak with her after that.

  • Masamichi had long had feelings for Akane, but never acted on them out of respect to her and Shinnosuke. Aoi never really felt that there was anyone for Akane other than Shinnosuke, but incensed that Shinnosuke supposedly got it on with a high school student, she decides to help Masamichi. Masatsugu, on the other hand, is more-level headed about things. Despite only being a mere ten years of age, he is mature and observant, preferring to advise and watch.

  • Chika is insistent that nothing of the sort has happened; while Shinnosuke might be an unscrupulous fellow, it is unlikely that he would do the sorts of things that Aoi imagine has happened. Viewers can take Chika’s words as truthful – she notes that Shinnosuke isn’t exactly what she had in mind about musicians, and there’s a hint of disappointment here that clearly indicates that Aoi is overthinking things. Further compounding the issue, Aoi herself has begun falling in love with Shinno and his boundless optimism for the future.

  • After a disastrous attempt at the hotel when a drunken Shinnosuke attempts to sweet-talk Akane, the two do not have a proper conversation again. The two meet again while Akane is breaking from event planning, and finds Shinnosuke playing his guitar. Without the effects of alcohol impairing his judgement, he properly articulates how he feels to Akane, implicitly expressing a longing for his old dream of being with her. Akane tactfully indicates that after all this time, things might not have changed, and asks him to sing for her his debut song, “Her Blue Sky”, which gives the film its title. The old Shinno begins appearing in Shinnosuke – he livens up his singing considerably, leading Akane to laugh and recall their old times together.

  • Upon seeing Akane cry after Shinnosuke heads off, Aoi begins to understand what Shinnosuke meant to her. However, one rainy day, while looking for ointment for an itch, she stumbles upon an old notebook Akane had been using to draft out things to keep Aoi happy. Realising that Akane had been doing what she did of her own choosing, and that Akane’s dreams were never really given up (just postponed), Aoi feels compelled to be truthful with how she feels about things, as well.

  • Earlier, Masatsugu had spoken with Shinno, expressing that he’d fallen in love with Aoi and intends to become someone who can support her. Masatsugu is very perceptive, and correctly deduced that Aoi had fallen in love with Shinno: once she realises the extent of what Akane’s feelings and dreams had been, she confesses her feelings for Shinno, as well. Kokuhaku and feelings in Her Blue Sky are raw, rough around the edges – AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart was similarly done to accentuate the idea that love is a messy business, never as elegant or neatly-structured as færietales would have us believe.

  • The rainy, moody weather of the day before had served to provide a backdrop for Aoi coming to terms with her feelings. The next day, it is beautiful and sunny, conveying a newfound sense of hope. Aoi apologises to Chika for having lashed out at her: overall, throughout Her Blue Sky, I never did get the impression that Chika was an unsavoury character. While perhaps a bit more carefree than others, she’s genuinely kind and gets along with Aoi. I imagine that until now, Aoi never really had a friend, and Chika had only begun speaking to her because she imagined Aoi was secretly dating and had been curious to find out.

  • Preparations for the festival are now in full-swing, but Dankichi laments that he’d lost his pendant, which is a sort of good-luck charm he uses in performances. Dankichi’s unusual demands and requirements probably speak to the eccentricities of creatives – they might possess approaches and methods that seem a little befuddling for others, but once they hit their stride, are capable of creating magic. This is why working with artists always requires understanding and patience: inspiration can come from anywhere, and giving artists the appropriate (and reasonable) amount of freedom allows for a product quality to result. After looking through Dankichi’s phone, the staff work out the location he’d likely dropped it.

  • Akane sets off for the pendant’s last known location to search for it: a remote mountain tunnel in a park nearby. However, in typical Okada fashion, unexpected calamity strikes when a small earthquake sets off a landslide, trapping Akane inside the tunnel. Undeterred, Akane continues looking for the pendant. Aoi cannot help but feel that Akane might be in danger, and with the staff only promising to assess the situation before sending out someone to look, Aoi decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out Shinno. An unexpected setback right as things are on the right track seems to be Okada’s signature style, raising the tension ahead of the story’s climax.

  • Shinnosuke and Shinno finally meet for the first time, and predictably, Shinno is disappointed his older self has become so pessimistic and apathetic, while Shinnosuke feels his younger self is ignorant and naïve. Shinno decides that, if Shinnosuke will not help to search for Akane, he’ll do it himself. Spurred on by Aoi, Shinno manages to break free of the force holding him at the temple and takes to the skies with Aoi in two. Shinno’s being bound to the temple was a metaphor for his own being held back by old feelings: for now, with his eyes on the present, with someone who cares for him, he is able to take ahold of the moment.

  • Shinno and Aoi soaring above Chichibu acts as the film’s climax – in the skies above, Aoi comes to understand what she’d wanted to do for Akane and knows that helping her to find her happiness with Shinnosuke is going to be her way of saying thanks. On the ground below, Shinnosuke finally is pushed to chase his dreams in a very literal sense: chasing after his younger self represents a very tangible objective for Shinnosuke to catch. This final scene is rich in symbolism: in the deep blue skies above Chichibu, Aoi finally appreciates how beautiful her home is.

  • Akane is unperturbed to meet with Shinno: they briefly share a heart-to-heart conversation before Shinno extracts her from the collapsed tunnel. As Akane and Aoi embrace, Shinnosuke struggles to find the words for the scene, while Shinno smiles. With Akane confirmed to be safe, they inform the others and prepare to head back. Aoi decides to give Akane some private time with Shinnosuke: during the ride, Shinnosuke expresses to Akane that as a musician now, he’d only really reached half of his dreams, and still yearns to be with her.

  • When Akane says she’d like to make mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri, Shinno vanishes. The onigiri had come to symbolise where Akane’s heart was – after all this time, she’d been intent on looking out for Aoi, but now that she is aware of how much Aoi’s grown, she finally feels ready to pursue her own future. Making the sort of onigiri that Shinnosuke likes comes to represent how she’s now able to return his feelings in full, confident that Aoi will find her own path as well. Satisfied his regrets have been addressed, Shinno disappears, leaving Shinnosuke, Akane and Aoi to pursue their futures.

  • The sun thus sets over Chichibu as the day draws to a close, and this moment is only one of many that showcase the beautiful landscape artwork in Her Blue Sky. On an unrelated note, as yesterday was New Year’s Day, we did our annual 打邊爐 (jyutping daa2 bin1 lou4) – it’s a tradition I’m fond of, featuring fish balls, squid balls, beef, lamb, fish, prawns, fresh oysters, cuttlefish, lettuce and cabbage, rounded off with yi mien to absorb all of the flavours from the resulting broth. Hot pots originate from Mongolia and are common across Asia, being best for cold evenings. With this being said, the contents of a Cantonese-style hot pot are always delicious: yesterday night, a Chinook resulted in temperatures remaining a balmy 2ºC even after sunset, but this didn’t stop things from being delicious.

  • Her Blue Sky scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) in my books – it was an immensely satisfying and meaningful tale of appreciation and of what it means to properly pursue a dream. I understand that the home release for Her Blue Sky came out back in June 2020, but it was only now that I managed to find some time to sit down and watch this properly. Having managed to avoid all spoilers and discussions for the film, I ended up with the best possible experience of Her Blue Sky. With this review in the books, I start 2021 strong with a positive post, and before the winter season kicks off, I’ll aim to finish off my thoughts on Warlords of Sigrdrifa – my reason for kicking off 2021 with a talk on Her Blue Sky rather than Warlords of Sigrdrifa will soon become apparent. At present, I’m still working out the most optimal posting pattern for the anime I intend to follow this upcoming season.

Her Blue Sky thus ends up being a fine film to kick off a New Year with: with messages of second chances, and appreciation of what one has, Her Blue Sky suggests that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises. A mind in the proverbial well may be ignorant of the world, but is assured a view of the blue sky that busier minds may take for granted and consequently, miss. This film seeks to suggest that stepping back and taking stock of a situation allows one to better understand where things are headed, although in the heat of an emotionally-charged moment, people often forget this, leading to regret and longing. However, by employing a little help from the supernatural, Her Blue Sky provides Akane, Shinnosuke and Aoi with their happy endings; altogether, Her Blue Sky is a superb and moving film. In conjunction with Cloverworks’ technically excellence, Her Blue Sky is an experience for viewers, capturing hearts and minds with a compelling story and impressive visuals. Returning viewers to the town of Chichibu, Saitama, Her Blue Sky brings back memories of AnoHana, and like AnoHana, incorporates supernatural elements to convey a specific idea. While Mari Okada often receives flak for creating what is felt to be excessively melodramatic situations, I’ve long found that her works are always solid thematically: Okada’s use of emotion is always strong, and the tears are never really that far off as a result of how scenarios in her stories are presented. Consequently, I found in Her Blue Sky a particularly moving story for beginning the year with, encouraging viewers to grasp their dreams more firmly the first time around, or for folks (like myself) who miss an opportunity the first time around, realise that sometimes, second chances are offered, and more often than not, are offered with the same sincerity as they were initially.

2 responses to “Her Blue Sky: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

  1. Michael E Kerpan January 2, 2021 at 14:55

    Is this streaming/screening anywhere in the USA yet?


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