Let me talk a bit about Ryousuke Nakamura. For a long time, this guy was my hero. He started off as an assistant director to Monster, in my opinion a big reason why that series got such a ridiculously solid adaptation, and then in 2008 he came with the groundbreaking Mouryou no Hako. No TV-series was like what we saw there. A year later, he completely rewrote the classic story of Hashire Melos to the point of brilliance, while he still kept incredibly faithful to the original work. This guy’s hands were pure genius. Afterwards, he left Madhouse, the company he was under contract of, and he started working freelance.
Now the problem with working freelance is that it’s a lot harder to land really good jobs. The best example of that is Dai Sato, a brilliant writer (think Erbo Proxy, Eureka Seven), who in the meantime of writing episodes here and there has resigned to writing kiddie shows in order to pay the bills. Ryousuke Nakamura thankfully fared better, but even then he has not gotten the golden opportunity that will give him complete freedom yet. The only television-series he did was Aiura, which was a 5-minute episode show about a bunch of girls that do nothing. It was incredibly well executed and all, but you can’t do anything with that kind of a setup. Beyond that he’s done all kinds of jobs here and there, from episode directing to storyboards, to production progress, to also just animating.
There is only one serious thing that he took the main seat as the director at… and its biggest focus is a romance between middle schoolers. That’s also its biggest problem right there: Monster! A tense thriller across Germany! Mouryou no Hako, a ground-breaking mystery chockful of Japanese folklore after World War II. Aoi Bungaku! A look into the mind of the writer of Hashire Melos! Nerawareta Gakuen! A teenaged romance with time travel!
So yeah, there are cliches. He doesn’t shy away from that. In some cases, he even takes cliches, gives the illusion of subverting them, only to subvert those subversions again and adhere to the cliches, repeats that several times after. And yeah, when you take into account that there will be lots of teenaged hormones… this pretty much is a beautifully executed movie. It takes care to make its four main characters well rounded, the side cast all are enjoyable and likable, the story brings in enough twists. With the cliches ingredients, it tries to make as much of it as it can and the themes that it uses, and the ideas that the whole story revolves around are actually pretty damn interesting. This also is not one of those romances in which nothing happens. Stuff does happen. It’s cliched obviously, but the most important part is this: both the characters and the relationships between these characters are constantly evolving.
Visually this show is perfect. You can see lots of the signature tricks that Ryousuke Nakamura loves to pull for his series. There obviously are the shots that are spammed with sakura leaves, but also the more subtle things. When characters move, they move full of energy and inspiration. Their facial expressions are full of emotions. All of this leads to a cast that feels very believable and relatable. This movie is already more than a year old and I didn’t notice any sort of buzz around it. It’s a pity, because it’s pretty damn charming for what it is. I’d say that the acting in Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo was a bit better than this one, but it’s definitely not by much.
Then there is the ending. I want to talk about it, but I’ll be as vague as possible for the sake of spoilers. At first sight the ending seems to suggest that it was rushed. Things happen fast. However, I believe that it somehow worked out very well. It’s the kind of ending that doesn’t explicitly spell everything out for you. It allows you as a viewer to fill in the blanks, and it’s even a bit open to interpretation at some points. I would not call it rushed to the point where it becomes flawed. Instead it makes the ending work and gives you something to think about. Not bad for a movie targeted at kids.