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Review: The Anthem of the Heart (Anime Film)

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words... well, words hurt twice as much.

STUDIO: A-1 Pictures
RELEASE DATE: September 19, 2015
DIRECTOR: Tatsuyuki Nagai
WRITTEN BY: Mari Okada
LENGTH: 120 min.
GENRES & THEMES: Drama; High School setting; Romance; Supernatural
SOURCE: Original anime project
Long ago, the young girl Jun Narase dreamed of one day attending a ball at the glamorous castle on the hill. After once seeing her father driving out of that castle, she returned home to excitedly tell her mother, not realising she'd just described her father's infidelity. And so her family falls apart, and after her father tells her it was all her fault, she falls into despair until a strange egg tells her she can save herself from further heartbreak, and maybe even find her prince on a hill. All it would take is to forever seal away her dangerous voice.
Source: ANN
Feel welcome to express your thoughts and disagree (politely) in the comment section (discussion is always fun!!), but no opinion bashing will be allowed! Do remember the final verdict is my own opinion, which may differ from yours!

Yes, yes; I know I'm late to the party and nobody cares about this film anymore, but let me write!!!
Anthem of the Heart (or Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda. for the intellectuals who like tongue-twisters) offered a premise and visuals that promised an enjoyable two-hour film by the masterminds behind the AnoHana tearjerker success, and when the trailers were released, the hype was on for me. It looked and sounded like the sort of film I'd enjoy without remorse, so honestly why it's taken me near two years to pick it up is quite a mystery... Perhaps what's been holding me back was sixth sense that warned not to let my expectations rise to high, one whose voice I ignored.
KokoSake is the story of a little girl named Jun who likes to run her mouth and gets blamed for her parents' divorce by her cheating father, so a magical fairy egg (??¿¿) curses her and seals her lips à la Little Mermaid so she may never hurt others with words again. Fast forward to the future and awkwardly silent teen Jun is assigned to the Charity Committee along with baseball star Daiki Tasaki, cheerleader Natsuki Nito, and Goodguy Lead™ Takumi Sakagami. Their task? To put on a musical for the upcoming outreach event. Boom, we got ourselves a film.
It's always uncomfortable to give low ratings to films & works that I consider touch on issues that have to be addressed and discussed more openly, especially when a quick glimpse at MAL ratings suggest most people thought KokoSake was a blast. Alas, there's always a black sheep to ruin the fun (har har har, here I come.) At it's core, this film is the story of a girl whose life gets messed up by her father's unjustified blaming, and worsened by her mother's lack of understanding and insensitive comments. It's a premise that I feel will hit home for a lot of people, and it's easy to feel for Jun's plight when there's no grey or in-between here: Jun's parents are absolute dickheads, full. stop. Like, these are the sort of people you want to see burn, which is frustrating because you know it's not necessarily what's best for Jun but man do you want to smash her mother's head in. (I'm a violent person, I know.)
It's a good twist on the "misunderstood teenager" setting that I abhor so much (mostly because it tends to end with the teen admitting they were wrong and nobody acknowledging their suffering), and the fact that the musical within the story stresses how much words can hurt people is a commendable effort to raise awareness on how the careless words of a parent can negatively influence a child's life.
"The most egregious sin in this world is to hurt others with your words."
And honestly, KokoSake does a decently good job at this, especially when woven with its magic-sprinkled setting. True to Jun's wild imagination, the film uses cliché fairy tale elements (reminiscent of tales like Cinderella or the aforementioned Little Mermaid) to move the story along, mostly introduced through the "story within the story," i.e. the musical our unlikely gang of friends have to put together. And though the film appears to be heading towards your stereotypical ending, it decides to turn the pancake around and offer us a new vision: one where reality is far more complex than fairy tales. KokoSake backpedals on the well known princess story ending it has cleverly mislead you to believe it was following, and goes for a surprisingly good finale that exhibits that, unlike in fairy tales, happy ever afters aren't necessarily what you originally wanted them to be.
It's a refreshing twist on the stereotypical expectations the anime world has of high school animes, and though I can see how some may find the deconstruction of the castle the film appeared to have been building frustrating, it's truly the film's strongest point. So after all this praise, why is it, you may be wondering, that I began this review so negatively?
Well, to put it simply, the film lacks coherence in everything other than its main message on the power of words, particularly when it comes to anything to do with character construction. Which, bearing in mind they're the element through which the film is meant to channel its message, is quite the flop. I had walked into KokoSake expecting something similar to AnoHana, where the MC, affected by a supernatural phenomena, becomes the catalyst that spurs the characters around her forward. Perhaps it was a bit naive of me to expect a film to round off four characters in just two hours, especially when it took AnoHana 11 episodes to do that, but what is even more ridiculous is that that's exactly what it tries to do.
This film is the case study example of biting more than you can chew. There's just too much going on for a single film to handle. The end result? A hodgepodge of half-baked backstories that really aren't as tragic (or clear) as the overly-dramatic dialogues want you to believe. Natsuki's frustrations all lead back to a shallow forgotten relationship she had with Takumi years back, Daiki's baseball drama is outright skippable, and despite the film's finale's greatest attempts to smash Takumi's image of a flawless prince in shining armour, he really is just a flawless prince in shining armour that serves little purpose in the story other than making Jun swoon. To top it off, the entire cast is entangled in a complicated shifting romance tug-of-war that I really wish Mari Okada had left out. (save for the literally last ten redeeming seconds of the film, bless them.)
Thus, rather than fleshed-out characters, we are stuck with a bland cast that falls victim to bad writing and pacing. The main duo have as much chemistry as a banana and a mango, and the gang of four appears to become friends because that's what's expected of them. ╮ (. ❛ ᴗ ❛.) ╭
As a byproduct of all this mish-mash of ideas that got stuffed in, the main theme (which, supposedly, is meant to be Jun's plight) get's incredibly watered down and loses the importance that I sense the writer/s initially wanted to give it. However despite that, the script still tries it's best to give this a larger-than-life feeling, where the future of the cast depends on the success of this musical, but fails to realise that the blandness behind the characters' frustrations doesn't live up to the triumphant finale they get given. Perhaps if Mari Okada had dropped the musical idea (and thus successfully escaped the curse of the obligatory anime cultural festival-like arc) and focused solely on the characters that mattered, bringing down the scale of everything, the film would have managed to deliver itself better. Alas, it was not meant to be... obviously a story of such magnitude had to finish with an uplifting musical number, because reasons. ┐( ̄ヮ ̄)┌


Conclusions

I feel that Anthem of the Heart had the makings of a good story about trauma and personal problems, but failed to polish its potential and delivered its message rather sloppily. It's true the ending redeemed itself and offered an unexpected twist, but the film essentially sticks to all the drama high school anime archetypes you already know, and though the idea of using songs to better convey one's inner feelings is an excellent premise that could sell-out theatres in Broadway, it feels like little more than an excuse to force the characters to reach "enlightenment." The animation is attractive and fluid, and the soundtrack a wonderful throwback to tunes like Over the rainbow and What child is this, but there really is little to nothing in this film that other anime works haven't done better.
Yet despite my heavy end criticism, I feel that most Mari Okada fans will find this film an enjoyable ride. If you liked her previous works, then chances are Anthem of the Heart is still in tune with your tastes, even if it's not the blast I was hoping it would be. Perhaps my negative impression stems more from my high expectations for this film, but unless Naoto Kumazawa makes some interesting changes to the script, chances are I'll be skipping out on the live action adaptation that was released this past July when it comes out on DVD.

FINAL VERDICT!

Give it a go(?)

I feel that the ending really bumped up my final impression of the film...
Also, *le gasp!* this is my first anime review in a year!




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